The venue for the Irish Open was the Hilton Doubletree hotel, who got my stay off to a sweet start. When I was checking in I was handed a large, fresh, warm and extremely delicious chocolate-chip cookie along with my room key.
I think more hotels should do this kind of thing. The financial cost is small compared to the resulting customer satisfaction level. Maybe I love cookies too much, but if I'm a customer of yours and you unexpectedly hand me a delicious freshly baked cookie, chances are I'll write good things about your business on the internet. (Contact me for postal address to send all cookie bribes.)
It was the night before the event kicked off and the venue was already buzzing. There was a ton of cash game action going on as well as a huge satellite to the main event and the bar was packed. Of course the bar was packed. If it was empty I sure as hell wouldn't think I was in Ireland.
For most people it would be a tough choice, whether to dive straight into the poker or head to the bar and socialise with all the familiar faces from the poker community. I always do things differently though. Instead, I left the venue and headed straight off to Nando's on the other side of town. You see, I'm a bit partial to their hot spicy chicken and this was the first time that I'd been in a country with a Nando's for well over a year. Priorities, priorities.
When I got back to the Doubletree I spent the rest of the night in the bar catching up with a bunch of my poker pals who I hadn't seen in almost a year. Everyone stayed there well into the small hours and some great banter was had.
Main Event Day 1
With the main event starting at 1pm and with a 600 big blind starting stack there was no reason not to wake after noon and then head out for a bit of brunch. Poker is a tough "job". I finally took my seat in the tournament just before 2pm, near the end of the first level. Back to work!
The tournament was very well run, with excellent dealers. It seemed to be most of the same dealers and floor staff who work at the PokerStars events. I believe all those guys and girls work in a freelance capacity, which is exactly what you should do when you're elite at what you do.
I didn't recognise anyone at my starting table, never a bad thing. Based on my table and from what I'd heard from my friends on the breaks, it seemed like the standard of play in this €3,500 event was considerably weaker than a €770 buyin UKIPT event. Value time!
I was splashing around, playing a bunch of small pots for about an hour before I got involved in a big one. Of course, I had the goods. I flatted a 3-bet out of position with 44 and flopped a set. Unfortunately, my opponent flopped a bigger set with TT.
Set-over-set in a 3-bet pot is usually a tournament-ending situation but fortunately we were so deep at that stage of the tournament that I only lost a third of my stack. I still had 200 big blinds so I took the cooler on the chin and continued enjoying my poker. The tournament room was buzzing, the atmosphere was incredible and I was soaking it up.
I did have one tough player on my direct left but he made a dubious hero call to bust out. Not versus me unfortunately, but when he was tanking I was still sweating so hard for him to call. I knew that he was very likely beat, and I wanted him gone from the table and replaced by a random player.
Unfortunately that random player happened to be a world class player, Dominik Nitsche. My first words to him were "oh, f*** off!!!". Fortunately he was smart enough to take that as a compliment and he replied "don't worry, I have a short stack. Take my advice and don't try to bluff anyone in this tournament, they never, ever fold."
I couldn't help myself though. But yeah, it turns out he was right, I'd have had an easier job trying to take players off marginal hands at some stupid Zynga play money game than I would in the Irish Open main event. After spewing off a chunk of chips I sat with my tail between my legs and nittied it up until the dinner break.
Every day we were given a free dinner voucher for a buffet in the restaurant. In these all-you-can eat situations I am completely obsessed with maximizing the financial value of what I consume. It's like a challenge.
I estimated that the salmon fillets had the highest € per calorie value so I stacked half a dozen of them on a plate, along with some vegetables - which have a very low € per calorie value but you've still got to be balanced.
With a full stomach I started to waddle out of the restaurant, before I noticed my pal Nick Abu Risk at one of the tables. I went over to say hi and that's when I noticed there was a dessert area with massive slices of chocolate fudge cake and fresh cream. Damn! On one hand I was full, but on the other hand I'm sure as hell not passing up on free chocolate cake, so I somehow managed to shovel a massive slice down my throat then wrapped up another couple of slices in some napkins and took them back to my room for later.
Back in the tournament and I was playing a bunch of pots with one particular player. "Where are you from?", I asked him. "Holland", he said. Then followed Dominik with the wise crack "Oh, you should get on well with him Dale.....". Ha ha ha.
The most important hand of the day for me came in the BB400 level. I was playing a 20K stack and with QhJc I 3-bet the player on my left. He called out of position and the flop came Qs9s8c. He checked. I bet, and he instantly check-raised me to half my remaining stack.
That's a tough spot. JT, 99 and 88 are all in his range, But so are many more hands that have pair + draw or combo draws. It just felt like a draw with the speed that he bet and the sizing but I wasn't that confident getting my stack in. I was either going to be crushed or up against a big draw. I was never getting it in way ahead. But there was already a ton in the pot.
After a couple of minutes in the tank my opponent called the clock on me. I shoved my stack in with 3 seconds remaining. He flipped over KTs for an over card, gutter and a flush draw.
Fortunately I won the flip.
Towards the end of the day there was a lot of noise coming from one end of the room. The players who had already busted were taking part in a sumo wrestling competition for €500 with the legendary Mad Marty MC'ing.
(video taken by Christian Zetzsche)
Great banter, just the kind of stuff that I was expecting from the Irish Open, although some of the older players were complaining about the noise. You can't please everyone I guess.
I had one old geezer at my table actually call the clock on me because I was talking to the dealer during a hand. In my defence, I didn't realise that the action was on me, it was just 10 seconds and the dealer was really, really, really cute.
I played out the hand and then said sorry to the bloke who called the clock, being the bigger man in the situation. "I don't accept your apology" he scorned, "You're wasting everyone's time, just shut up and play poker". What a miserable git.
It looked like I was going to end the day with not much more than the starting stack but then on the very last hand I was lucky to pick up AA. I was even luckier than the guy on my right picked up KK. So I ended the day with a more respectful 72,400 chips, about 2.5 starting stacks.
It was then off to the bar for some more value as Paddy was running a "flip for your pint" promotion. You could order you drink then flip a coin. If you called it right then Paddy paid for your drink. Sound.
There were loads of shrewd poker pros at the bar looking to maximise their expected value of the drinks promo. Jake and I got chatting to two of them, two legends of the game, Surinder Sunar and Mike Sexton.
Surinder was double-fisting with a pint in each hand, obviously getting the full value from the drinks promotion. Mike was fascinated with the idea of living in Thailand and the lifestyle there so was asking me tons of questions. I'm pretty sure I convinced him that he should at least take his next vacation there.
Main Event Day 2
I woke up with a couple of hours to spare before play resumed on day 2. So I sat in bed with the table-draw and google / hendon mob researching my opponents (another great table) then I went out for breakfast with my friend Cristin Maschmann to some poncy organic restaurant called Farm.
She had been there plenty of times before and suggested that I try the best thing that they serve, Spanish Omelette. No, thanks. I didn't come to Ireland to eat some daft Spanish food, I had my eyes set on the Full Irish Breakfast.
No trip to Ireland would be complete without the full fry up breakfast.
I returned to the hotel and found my table. I was full of energy and ready to start accumulating chips.
And so I did. On the very first hand I picked up AK under the gun and 4-bet with it pre-flop versus the big blind who had a similar stack size of ~90BBs. He called. The flop came rags, he checked, I bet, he called. His range at that point is mostly overpairs and maybe AK and some flopped sets.
There was about 45BB in the pot and we each had about 68BB behind. Fortunately the turn was a K. He checked, I bet again, about 20BB and he tank-folded.
I think that I made a mistake there and should have checked back the turn to get another bet out of him on the river, given that I have a solid idea of his range. I think my line, 4-betting from UTG on the first hand of the day and betting flop and turn is just too strong to be a bluff most of the time and he can fold a hand like JJ. Whereas with JJ he may lead small on the river or check-call a bet. I also don't go fully broke the times that he flopped a set.
It's funny how looking back on my own hands it seems so clear what line I should have taken, but at the time I make stupid mistakes. I guess not playing for almost a year doesn't help.
I was doing well, with over 100K chips, putting me top ten in the chipcounts.
Jude Ainsworth, the extremely aggressive Irish player, got moved to my table. He was getting into a 3, 4, 5 betting war with the young Finnish fella on my left every other hand. My own attempts at getting involved in these battles just saw me spew off chips.
After losing a pot to Jude I picked up KK the next hand. The Finnish fella opened under the gun and I instantly 3-bet him. The action got back round to him and he 4-bet me.
At that point I decided that the best way to play it would be to just call with the KK and keep my range wide. I think he'd be folding his bluffs to my 5-bet most of the time, although he's Finnish so you never know. By just calling I can get another big bet out of him when he c-bet leads the flop.
The flop came all rags, rainbow board. He lead the flop and I decided to take my time and then just call. This left a pot-sized bet left in my stack for the turn. The turn was another rag, he checked to me and I shoved in my stack. He snap called with AA.
There was no K on the river and he had me slightly covered so it was time for me to GTFO. I've never felt so bad busting a poker festival before. It's a fairly standard way to bust out and I didn't play the hand badly but it was more the fact that I was doing so well up until then, it was my first poker tournament in so long and I didn't know when the next one would be. Painful.
I returned to my room in a daze. I had a good sulk for 10 minutes before I decided to pick myself up and deal with my pain in the gym. The Doubletree has an excellent gym on the top floor with brand new equipment and a nice view, so it was a good way to get off tilt.
I was the only person in the gym. Meanwhile, downstairs, there were people in their hundreds at the bar. I prefer to drown my sorrows with food though and the free dinner buffet was just a couple of hours away, so I was busy working up as big an appetite as I possibly could. Which turned out to be five plates worth of an appetite.
At night we had a lads night out on the town. We headed to some classy place but were turned away by the bouncer like we were riff-raff.
I was wearing a Jaws T-shirt that I bought for something like two quid at a market in Thailand and Jake was wearing a pair of white trainers, but overall our group was reasonably presentable. So you'd think that it wouldn't be too much trouble for the bouncer to accept a €100 handshake? Nope, he refused. Unbelievable. How well paid are bouncers in Dublin that they can turn that down?
So it was on to plan B, the nightclub across the road that I'm sure would have let us in even if we were all wearing Borat man-kinis. "This place is really scummy, but it's good-scummy!" Jake promised. And he was good to his word. It was exactly as described and we had a cracking night.
It's been a while since I've danced to S Club 7, 5IVE, Coolio, Cotton Eye Job, Mambo Number 5 or that stupid Macerena song so I'd forgotten how much fun it was. Just as well that the DJ at Copperface Jack's hadn't updated his playlist in the last 15 years.
The next day I attempted to make Easter Sunday a fun day by playing the PLO side event.
Unfortunately it wasn't much fun or very exciting. I lost half my chips when I was priced into calling pot sized bets down to the river with a wrap and flush draw versus what I believed to be top set of aces.
I lost the rest when I 3-bet QJT8 double suited from the big blind versus a button open. He 4-bet pot which just about put me all in. The flop ran out nice 974 giving me a big wrap, the turn brining a flush draw but it was all a big tease as the river paired the board and my opponent's AAxx held up.
That was it for me as far as poker went. The rest of the day was spent at the other type of green felt tables. Paddy had organized a speed pool competition where the winner got to play against 1997 snooker World Champion Ken Doherty for €500.
John Eames and Charles Chattha made the final 6 so we had some good guys to route for. There were around 200 spectators around the table and the place was jumping. I've never seen that kind of atmosphere at a poker tournament before.
I had one full day left in Dublin and wanted to get outside, away from the poker and do something fun. The previous days I could see big hills in the distance from the view out of the window at the hotel gym and thought it would be a good idea to hike up them. Some of the local lads told me that the easiest place for me to go do that would be Bray.
Unfortunately I couldn't convince anyone to go with me. It's not easy getting poker players to do anything that doesn't involve gambling or drinking and the weather was really awful so that was no surprise.
What was a surprise was the awesome weather when I woke up early on Easter Monday to take the trip to Bray. It was about 18 degrees C with no wind, which is about as good as you're ever going to get in Ireland at the beginning of April.
There's a train that goes from the city centre directly to Bray in about half an hour, so that was easy. The town was just like those seaside towns in the UK that I used to visit when I was a little kid. I thought that all those places had kind of died but Bray was absolutely packed with people. The beach was made of rocks, not sand, and there were still people all over it. Every ice cream stand or fish and chip shop had a queue of people two dozen deep.
I didn't stay in the town with all the day-trippers. I was eager to hike up the hills and enjoy some peace and tranquillity.
I was up those hills for hours. Filling my lungs with fresh air, getting some good exercise and enjoying the beautiful scenery.
When I was hiking up the first hill I saw an Irish father putting sunscreen on his child's face. I remember laughing to myself "it's a lovely day sure, for the time of year, but even the Irish aren't going to get burnt in this weather".
Well, after 6 hours outdoors, I returned to the hotel, had a hot shower, looked in the mirror and my face and neck were bright red. I got sunburnt.
I can't remember a time during my 4 years living in Thailand when I got sunburnt, then I fly to Ireland at the start of April and............ feckin hell!
The trip to Bray was a nice way to conclude my trip to Dublin. I always make the effort to do something fun and non-poker related when I travel for poker. Even if the poker goes bad I still have fond memories of the trip, and that was certainly true for this one.