I played my first live tournament in early 2005. My memory of the detail, like a block of cheese left on a radiator, is extremely fuzzy. I think the buy in was £20, but it may have been £10. I recall a sandwich platter provided at the break but it could just as easily have been a Chinese buffet. I remember trebling up with kings twice in two hands but it’s more likely that I was drunk and only did it once.
I do have one very clear memory of the tournament which is that I cashed. I finished sixth in a field of over 100 players and took home £138. I was so happy about making the money in my first live tourney that I kept the receipt pinned up on a corkboard in my kitchen, where it remained for at least a year until it was finally disintegrated by the grease, moisture and general detritus that somehow eminated from my cooker to the rest of the kitchen over that period.
I was reminiscing on my debut success while on the train to Glasgow for last week’s Unibet UK Tour as I hadn’t had a live cash for a while. I’ve picked up quite a few packages now, thanks to a consistent spell of running golden in UK Tour satellites, and I now have enough ammunition to fire repeated bullets at the events which, to date, have had all the success of a US airforce patrol carrying out manouveres over an allied position. I have a little secret that I’m going to let you in on; the last live cash I had was actually at that very tournament in early 2005. I hadn’t collected from a cash desk since my first casino visit twelve years ago and my Hendon Mob profile, if I had one, would be utterly devoid of flaggage.
I must confess that there’s a certain disingenuity to my statement – I’m not a total donkey. I didn’t play any live poker at all for most of that barren period. I played a maximum of four live MTTs in 2005 and didn’t play another until January 2016, four months after I took up poker for the third time. Still, given that I harbour ambitions to turn professional in the not too distant future, the fact that John Paul II was the wearer of the official Pontic hat the last time I made the money is a troubling hole in my record. Not only that, I’ve fired roughly fifteen bullets at various events since January 2016 and haven’t even got close to a payout, let alone snaffled one. I may be running golden in the online satties but once it comes to live target tournaments I’m running distinctly brown.
As well as hoping that this leg of the tour would see the end of my winless streak, I was looking forward to the social aspect. These events have really come into their own since they began early last year and a thriving community has grown around the tour. It was nice to catch up with a number of familiar faces and to meet others I’d previously known only known as an online alias. The presence of a number of Unibet’s ambassadors provided an additional element too. They each carried a £100 bounty, were fun company at the tables and, in keeping with my utter inability run well in the live arena, almost every hand I played over the course of two days had me sitting out of position to at least one of them.
I anticipated that ‘rivals’ Ian Simpson and David Lappin, both at my first table, would be opening very wide and I expected them to play a lot of pots against each other. Although I don’t think going up against the better players at the table is often likely to be a good strategy I figured that, even with David on my direct left, there could be some value spots to be had by puncturing their own meta-game with well timed moves. Unfortunately I spent the first few levels looking mostly at bottom 10% hands so found my plan scuppered. I also discovered, to my cost, that Ian had himself taken the highly profitable approach of opening extremely wide, never folding and being ahead on the river every time, propelling him to the chip lead at the end of the day.
In fairness, although he ran exceptionally well on day one, Ian deserves credit for some exceptional decision making. One successful call with third pair against a river bluff on the drawiest of boards was particularly noteworthy (or fishy if you agree with the remonstrations of the villain). For my part, I got myself into an extremely tricky spot in a 3 bet pot and went busto check-raise jamming Ad2d on a Ax5x5d4d board with little fold equity and not quite the right price to get the stack in.
Day 1b runbad began with my plans to arrive for the 4pm start of play thwarted at 1.15pm by the discovery that play actually started at 1pm. The notion of a nice lunch and a stroll around the city was quickly abandoned in favour of the distinctly non-GTO option of wolfing down a dry supermarket sandwich and flagging down a taxi in the pissing rain. I then found myself with an even worse table draw than on Day 1a, out of position against two cash game specialists, Unibet Open commentator David Vanderheyden on my direct left and international vest enthusiast Espen Uhlen Jørstad two seats further down. Parked directly between them was Neil Caterham, a man whose determination not to surrender his big blind is akin to the Red Army’s defence of Stalingrad.
Although it was a fun table to play at and I found enough spots to chip up nicely during the early levels, I lost chunks to David in a hand similar to the previous day’s exit fiasco then eventually went out in an awkward spot during the last hand of the re-entry period. UTG had lost a big pot and made it known that he was looking to double up or rebuy. He jammed about 15bb with A5s. I was UTG+1 and had AQo so had to jam my 29bb. Espen turned up with AKo so got his stack in too. There were plenty of Ks and 5s on the runout but not very many Qs. Not fancying my chances of running up my remaining 125 chips (1/4 of a BB at the next level) I forfeited them and re-entered.
It took me about fifteen minutes to identify that my new table was mostly soft, which was a relief. I also had a window of roughly 90 seconds to reflect on this information before being moved to another seat, which happened to be the exact seat that I’d busted from a little earlier. David and Espen remained (with the very solid Adrian ‘NMPFan’ now also on my right for good measure) but Neil had been eliminated, replaced by Willie Elliot, whom I haven’t played often but I know to be a very good player. I received no further luck when Willie was eliminated as Tim Bruneel, the Unibet Community’s resident ICM calculator, arrived with a 14bb stack to replace him. An up and down couple of levels thereafter terminated when I shoved 18bb with TT against an early position raise and a call. The initial raiser tabled AK and flopped an A to eliminate me as an also-ran and prompt yet another early visit to the bar.
With no Day 2 to look forward to, I was able to wind down by having a jaunt around Glasgow city centre with Chapess in a Chair then we had a couple of beers before returning for the real highlight of the weekend. For Chapess, the bar. For me, the honour and prestige that comes with playing the Unibet Community freeroll, kindly laid on by the Unibet team, and containing three tables full of the finest, and drunkest, Unibet staff, community members and ambassadors. The community games are always fun occasions and one of the more amusing dynamics, particularly now the ambassadors are in play, is identifying who is pretending that they don’t care about the outcome whilst hiding that they’re far too competitive to deliberately lose at anything. I’ll happily confess to being firmly amongst that number. It was clear that pretty much everybody else was too.
In contrast to the previous two days, where my game had been quite rusty, I felt that I played played pretty well this time around. I also ran ridiculously well which, if nothing else, is an important way to succeed in a poker tournament. The first hand that stood out was quite early when I 3-bet Marc Convey from the small blind with AKo, fired twice on a board of low cards and checked the river assuming that he would bet most of his own aces for value and would bluff a lot of non A-x holdings if I gave the impression that I could be giving up. Marc duly obliged this time and I think I was fortunate enough to get the absolute maximum value from the hand.
I then folded myself almost to death, having to play the short-stack ninja game to reach the final table then winning a couple of flips to put myself back into contention. Given that the game was a turbo structure, the five-handed bubble lasted a stupidly long time, eventually bursting with Daiva Byrne in first place with about 30bb and myself second with about 20bb. Vinny Javad and Natalie ‘Mynona’ were third and fourth with about 9bb each.
My second standout hand, for no other reason than I got paid, saw Daiva min-raise the button and Vinny and Natalie folded. Given the ICM considerations and the stack sizes I had to flat-call most of my playable range and with QTs it was a fairly simple decision. The flop of Q9Q was ideal as I was in perfect shape apart from the few combos where I’d be coolered. Expecting a c-bet in the vast majority of cases I opted to check-raise shove as a call from my stack size would look strong and a jam would get plenty of calls by weaker holdings as I’m repping a lot of TJ and 9x hands. Fortunately for me I got paid by AK, giving me a big enough stack to pretty much lock up the tournament.
The prize for winning the tournament was a €100 ticket for a UK Tour final satty and a €100 ticket for the €50k guaranteed special tournament to celebrate the dealing of Unibet’s half-billionth hand. There may be no trophies or Hendon Mob flags for community freeroll winners but I managed to spin the ticket for the €50k guaranteed tournament into a 6th place finish and €2,400 prize, which is a pretty good consolation for not cashing in the main event. It was also a very nice, gin infused way to spend a Sunday evening. Massive thanks must go to the organisers, the ambassadors and the usual UK Tour crowd for another top weekend and I’m already looking forward to bricking the next one.