There used to be a £110 entry, monthly NLHE tournament in Manchester with £10k guarantee. It was a good game, attended by both sharky regs and gambling fishies. Loud, fun, a little unruly perhaps, but nearly everyone knew everyone, so it always stayed on the right side of friendly.

Very sadly, this game died off. There was some controversy over the origin of the guarantee, I think this may have killed it, I genuinely don’t know. I probably should take a greater interest in the politics surrounding poker, especially in my local area, but honestly? I just want to play the damn game.

I played in this game twice, and really enjoyed both times, but I’m going to tell you a story from the 2nd time. I’m choosing the 2nd time because the 1st time, I was busto in level 6 after playing KK like a wanker and if I retell that story, I’ll cry.

During the 2nd attempt, I had a pretty easy time of it. It was one of those lovely tourneys where everything goes your way. I was stacked up enough to coast a couple of flips against some small stacks. When I say ‘coast’, I mean I really can’t remember if I won or lost any of them now, they just weren’t that important at the time. He AQ, I had JJ, blah blah. I vaguely remember a couple of people leaving the table after some of them.

I do clearly remember playing a hand against a local player called Ali Mallu. I was utg+1 on 500/1000/100 and opened for 2500 with Ad10d. It passed to Ali on the button, and he raised to 7500, all out to me.

I had 52k behind my open and Ali was the only player at the table that had me covered; as usual, he was a massive stack. I’ve dealt to Ali Mallu for a long time, but I haven’t had many opportunities to play against him. I love the way he plays poker, he’s brilliant, fun, inventive and mental.  He delivers wicked evil speech play in more than one language and does it with charm. I think I just wanted to play a pot against Ali Mallu, so I flatted the raise.

What I see when I look at Ali Mallu across a poker table
What I see when I look at Ali Mallu across a poker table

I’m not sure it was the worst play. I think he was definitely more likely to be raising light than value 3betting.  I think he might have mined me with a low pair, given my stack. I didn’t feel the need to get into a betting war with Ali Mallu preflop with A10, but I didn’t want to look as if I’ll just crumble to him either. I called, but I was a bit scared. There was more in this pot for me than just chips, I was being presented with a opportunity to play a pot against a local legend.

We looked at eachother as the flop was dealt and I smiled. I must look scary when I’m flirting, because he instantly looked away. Was I intimidating him? Or was this pot just boring the tits off him? I’d probably settle on the second answer as more likely, but at the time, every look was significant, every twitch of his hand a potential tell, purely because I was so emotinally engaged in what was actually a pretty standard pot.

Flop was Kd Jd Kh, and I bet out 12k. I was buzzing. I was putting Ali Mallu to it with A high! My heart was pounding as he looked at his cards for about half a second and then passed. He had no real interest in that pot. He was having a preflop stab at a weaker player who had magically accumulated some chips, accurately reading my preflop range, but underestimating how much I just wanted to play a pot with him. He had no interest in my immature emotional involvement with the hand.

What Ali Mallu sees across a poker table when he looks at me
What Ali Mallu sees across a poker table when he looks at me

I don’t think I made a mistake betting out to Ali here. I might have extracted more value from a weaker player, but giving this man control of a pot is nearly always a mistake, so I was happy to take it down right there.

I won a nice little pot and I felt smug, it gave me a boost of confidence to play through the next few levels fairly unscathed.

We got to the final table after about 7 hours of play and it was a lively affair. The structure was such that average stack at the start of FT was about 40bb, which isn’t terrible for a one day event. There were some fun hands and a good deal of shouting.

I didn’t do much early on, I nicked a couple preflop and flopped a set from bb for a 20bb pot. I mainly kept my head down and laddered until we were 5 handed. I made a silly move against a rock and had to give up on a costly pot, leaving me shorter than I would have liked.

I was on the bb with 16bb behind when a guy who had been fairly active (and had lost 2/3 of his stack the previous hand) open shoved for 8bigs. It passed to me and I looked at him, he seemed pretty comfortable with his shove, he had the air of a man who wanted a call.

I looked down at AhKs and called him. He flipped his cards and showed pocket tens. We were racing, but the unfair thing about tournament poker is that I was racing for ½ my stack and he was racing for his life. I won the race, and he was out. He wasn’t happy with me and there followed some more shouting.

He kept saying “I was ahead, I was ahead” in a mournful voice, and I guess he was, a teeny-weeny bit, but it was still only a race. If you’ve got to the final table of a tourney, it is a given you will have taken some races earlier on, just obviously none for your life that you lost. It might hurt you more in your feeling places when you lose a race that deep, but it’s still only a race. Just because it means more, doesn’t make it more likely, unlikely or ‘brutal’.

Tournament play so often comes down to a coin flip
Tournament play so often comes down to a coin flip

He implied that if I’d seen his cards before I called, I would have been right to fold, given his 2% edge. There might be an argument for this in cash NLHE, I don’t play much cash, educate me; but I’m not passing in a NLtourney, I want and need to take the race at that point. I didn’t need to see 1010 to work out I most likely had about 50% equity in that pot. Gamble, gamble, gamble.

I did take on board his colourful criticism, and I did examine the hand. I still don’t think I can pass there, I think I was right to call, and I’d do it again. He was just more emotionally invested in the pot than I was, so the injustice of the very likely evaporation of his minute edge hit much harder. As soon as I saw his cards, I was working out the best push/pass range against these four other players with my remaining 8bigs, whereas he was keeping his fingers crossed, his tournament life in the hands of the cruel-hearted poker gods.

I sat down with a healthier stack, he hung around for a bit, swearing, and then disappeared. The remaining four of us threw chips about for nearly a sodding hour before equally chopping, it was a dull end to a fun game.canstockphoto12973547

The story the guy with 1010 will retell from that tourney is very different in specifics to my favourite story from that game, the one about Ali Mallu, but it’s the same in origin; poker is more than just maths. Poker captures your emotions as well as your intellect. I can’t just sit for 12hours and pretend to be a calculator. I am not a robot. Nor will I stick my face in an iPad. I am not a zombie.

I cannot remember the board that resulted in my AK beating that 1010, just like Ali Mallu will not remember the hand we played together that I got so excited about. It was important to me for reasons that are nothing to do with him, he’s just a dood, going about his business, it’s of no consquence to him that he, and other local players like him, are part of my route of emotional engagement with poker.

I gave up ranting and raving about losing flips years ago, that was an old way of me getting excited about things at a poker table, but I recognise the drive in the 1010 guy to be that passionate, to get more for his time and money than just the right to play with chips and cards.

I think live poker demands this from me because it is so slow. I am of the on-line poker generation, and what-the-fuck live poker? Pick up the pace! Life is short!

I’m not even a mad multi-tabler online, my absolute max is eight tables at once and that is me working flat out. How the on-line players who play 64 tables at once can even play four levels of a live game baffles me, I can only assume there is something interesting about live poker that the internet cannot offer.

Live poker would be interminably dull without the characters and passion; the people, the shouting, the over-excitement about marginal edges, it’s an all important part of the live game. Can you imagine a 150 seater cardroom where people only chatted as much as they do in chat boxes in $25 sngs? Zzzzzz.

I wonder what pots the players I get excited about, get excited about. I wonder how they find their passion in the live game. I worry when I see younger online players playing online on their iPads whilst sitting at a live table. I’m not sure I can articulate why this annoys me so much, but I am convinced it’s bad for the live game.

Err... Hello? Is anybody home?
Err… Hello? Is anybody home?

Those kids are not doing their duty of bringing 1/10th of the personality to the table. Even if a player’s quiet, it’s nice to have their full attention. You still get more from them than from looking at the top/side/back of their hood as they drool onto a 8” screen.

Maybe I’m just too old. Maybe they find their passion in headphones that drown me out, I dunno. What I do know is that live poker offers me more than just poker alone, it offers an experience, some excitement and a chance to brush shoulders with my heroes, however obscure they might be.

So while it’s a risk to my own game (limping with A10, out of position to Ali Mallu? Really?) and sometimes an annoyance (dood, it was a flip, take your ragey flip-face somewhere else), the passion in the live game is an absolute must. As much as I love sitting in my pants and clicking buttons, it’s always worth getting dressed for a live game; as they say in the theatre, nothing compares to the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.

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