Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Vic Players Part 1

To the Vic the other night for their Xmas dinner. VC aka She Who Is Blessed aka The Champ had booked a table and invited DY, JQ, Bad Beat, John Duthie, Ashley Alterman, Panni and myself to eat a rather dubious selection of Christmas fare (in other words, I ordered wrong). Willy Tann joined us halfway through. To be included in this motley crew was an honour and looking around I thought to myself that I was glad we were just eating and bullshitting rather than playing poker; I fancy I would have been the "star" (unless of course JQ went behind - just kidding!).

The funny thing about the Vic is how many detractors it has, including all the above regulars. The players above are sort of allowed to gripe about the gaff because they do go there all the time and keep the games going etc, but I've noticed most people who slag it off usually do so because they can't win there. Instead of saying, "Man, that 100 Hold'Em game at the Vic is tough sometimes, there's a lot more to this poker lark than I realised", they say things like, "The place is just full of grumpy old men and some of the players were rude to me", or, "The staff were useless, I had to wait ages for a seat". The truth is that it does get annoying when you have to tell some cretin for the 25th time that night that it's up to them, or to put their blind in, or to turn their hand over, or to not pass out of turn - that's probably why the howwible man was nasty to diddums; they don't suffer fools gladly at the Vic (unless of course they're a soooooperstar) and I don't blame them.

Anyway, this is all a pre-amble to my series of descriptions of Vic characters (at least two readers asked me to do it, and that's enough for me) that I have had the pleasure of playing with over the years. First of all, these *ahem* portraits are in no way meant to be critical or negative - they are affectionate reminiscences and pretty much everybody I plan on writing about I like. Even though I hardly go to the Vic at the moment I'm sure I'll go back to being a more regular player there in the future so I'm not trying to offend anyone or make enemies. I'm apologising now in case anybody gets pissed off with me. Having said all that I must admit that what has inspired me to blog about Vic players was Stewart Reuben's most recent book (24/7 or something like that) which was fantastically rude about loads of people that he has played with through the years. I'll do about one a week until I get bored (or filled in), or you get bored (already this blog is just one long nostalgia trip I must admit) and to start us off I'm going to talk about one of my favourite ever players:

Francis Rohan

Basically, Francis is an absolute legend. His catchphrase, “You’ll be alright”, has been appropriated by many other players (Derek Kelly of the Gutshot has a column with the title You'll Be Alright and sometimes I wonder whether, a) he knows what it means, and, b) that it originates from Francis).

Francis is one of those classic poker players who truly believes he is the best player in the world EVER. He really does think every one else is an inferior player compared to him, hence his nickname Simply (as in the Tina Turner song Simply The Best). I’ll never forget him saying to me that he would “like to be locked up with Mark Mead with money” ! Francis always sits with small money and plays virtually every hand, punctuating every witticism with his trademark “Eh”. A most affable person and very hard to dislike. Always good company at the table as well as a boost to any game, his colourful quips told in his distinctive northern accent always leave his audience in fits of laughter. He once ended some anecdote with the immortal words, “one day I’ll be sitting on a great big fat Dundee!”.

Francis often goes MIA for months at a time; when you ask him where he’s been he usually replies that he’s been playing in the provinces at places like Southampton, “nicking twos and threes”. Francis is also very fond of a drink and can become quite belligerent when he’s had a skinful. He once had a real go at me when he thought I had pulled a stroke on him. I protested my (genuine) innocence and Michael Arnold came to my defence. Francis then went off on one at Michael ; I felt Simply was out of order but now realised he was very drunk so kept my mouth shut, as did Michael. I didn’t see him for about a week or so and when I did I thought I’d apologise to him (even though I had done nothing wrong) as a way of making peace and letting him know I held no grudge. He immediately apologised and all was forgotten.

I am told that Francis once had a great run at a festival (one before my time) which is possibly where he got his belief that he is the greatest poker player on the planet. Of course the next festival that rolled around he was telling everyone how much he was going to win etc and then duly did his cobblers. He is also renowned for his nipping skills though I truly believe he has good intentions. I once saw him approach Mickey Finn and try to assure him that he would soon be floating in readies and thus able to repay the famous American player. Finn just smiled and told him to forget it - Finn’s world weary smile spoke volumes. Not only how many times he had heard this sort of stuff from Francis, but also of the affection he had for him. Francis may well still have a long queue of bogeys (creditors), I don’t know. I do know that Adrian Holmes has long given up on the money that Francis owes him.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


I recently bought a copy of The Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman which is definitely going to be the poker book for a while, The new Harrington on Hold'em if you like. It looks like a really good book, but I know most of it is going to go straight over my head, so I'm sort of wondering why I got it. Anyway, it got me thinking about which poker books I enjoyed the most and gleaned some sort of knowledge out of.

1. Shut Up and Deal by Jesse May

This for me is not just the best poker novel, but easily the best book about poker EVER. This is the book that turned me into a winning player, not Super System or Sklansky or all those sorts of strategy books, but this, a rambling narrative about a young pro trying not to go on tilt. Essentially, it took the mystique out of poker for me, made me realise that their isn't some sort of secret key that unlocks some secret door which leads to being a winner. The descriptions of Foxwoods and Atlantic City so mirrored the Vic it was uncanny - I suddenly saw all the draks and the hustlers and the rocks through new eyes; my naivety and green-ness were finally stripped away.

I bought a copy of it in Vegas when it came out and ended up sitting next to Jesse in the media tournament at the WSOP ('98 I think). He duly signed my copy for me and we have been friendly ever since. I think I have read this novel about seven or eight times - when I first bought it I devoured it, reading it twice in a row. It is a perfect evocation of cardroom life, really capturing what it's like to go to a casino poker room every day. All the various characters that inhabit that type of environment are portrayed with great clarity and empathy. I suspect readers that have taken up the game in the last couple of years wouldn't "get" this book - it was written just before the internet and TV boom. Mind you, several people I know didn't seem to get it at the time either. David Young and the late David Spanier spring to mind, "It hasn't got much of a story has it?", they both moaned. But that's the whole point; poker, like life, is just one long meandering road. When you spend months, actually make that years, just playing poker, nothing really happens apart from pissing your life away and Jesse has written a crystal clear reflection of that.

2. King of a Small World by Rick Bennet

This is also a novel and for those of you who prefer a more traditional narrative this may be more up your street than Shut Up and Deal. It is well written and is mostly set in the private games (spielers rather than home games) of Washington D.C. As an indication of how small the poker scene used to be (even in America) both this and Jesse's book are inspired by the same player (and dedicated to him), one Cong Do.

3. One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson

I chose this because apart from being a well researched biography with plenty of anecdotes concerning Stuey's sick degenerate gambling and drug use I found Ungar's story really moving. I never knew how much pain he suffered from in his life (which explains his prediliction for illicit substances - in fact, I'm surprised he never became a heroin addict) and all of this is chronicled in an unsentimental and fair manner. I wonder how Stuey's style of play would fair these days against all these twenty-somethings who are basically playing like he used to. He was a fascinating character from a time when the game had many characters; unfortunately it seems like the more poker grows the less interesting people there are who play it.

4. The Biggest Game in Town by Al Alvarez

Sort of the grandaddy of poker books. Another one that I have read several times. With his poetic and literary credentials it's no surprise that Al basically mythologised the early poker scene at the 'Shoe. And why not? Most of the faces that feature are legends and icons of the game (see the last sentence in the paragraph above) and at the time poker was very much a secret little subculture that deserved to be documented. Needless to say Biggest Game is very well written.

5. Fast Company by Jon Bradshaw

Like Alvarez, Bradshaw is a very good writer and this book is a bunch of profiles of master gamblers and hustlers. Poker is represented by pieces on Puggy Pearson and Johnny Moss. Other profiles include legends such as Titanic Thompson and Minnesota Fats. Simultaneously debunking and romanticising these larger than life characters Bradshaw comes very close to understanding what it takes to be a winner.

As you can see, it's these sort of anecdotal books that I find more interesting and illuminating, rather than the sort of advanced manuals that most of us need to read to improve our game. I even prefer According to Doyle over Super System, now that I think about it. The truth is when I read all those Sklansky type books I wasn't ready for many of the concepts in them. Ironically, now that I know a lot more about the game I would get a lot more out of those sorts of books, but because I do know more I can't face ploughing through them anymore. I learnt to play live and I still prefer that. I have always enjoyed the interaction with all the various weirdos and chancers one meets at the poker table -all the bickering and moaning and gallows humour enhances the game for me. In short, it's the people that make the game and I guess that's why I liked the books I listed above.

Speaking of poker players, I'm thinking of writing a few descriptions of the various duckers and divers I have played with at the Vic over the years. Would any of my small handful of readers be interested in that?

Monday, December 4, 2006

Holdem 100

To the Holdem 100 yesterday held at the Gutshot where I managed to treble up three times by going all-in blind, but still never managed to hold on to any chips. Hold on, I hear you say, The Sweep going all-in blind!!??!! What the fuck is going on?!?!? Well it was a tournament in aid of the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital so I thought I'd piss about a bit. This is an annual event created and run by my very old friend Conrad Brunner (now a top marketing guy at PokerStars btw). It's always good fun and it's interesting to note that at the first one held at Porchester Hall (10 years ago) most of the players had never played poker before, let alone Texas Hold'em. I remember having to be a table captain and tell everybody when it was their turn, how much the bet was, sort out the side pots etc etc. Now everyone knows what a flop is and that the blinds are going up in two minutes and they're all asking if there are add-ons etc. What a difference ten years makes, eh? To find out more check out http://www.holdem100.com/

Anyway, a sort of interesting hand came up between the eventual winner, Wilson Chan, and the eventual third place finisher, Murray Sharp. Wilson was obviously an experienced tournament player and probably a regular at the Gutshot. Murray is a complete nutter who I have played with before in a couple of private games.

Murray comes to the table with around 14,000 chips. Wilson has about 7,000. We're ten handed and the blinds are 100/200, so still early doors-ish, as they say. Everybody folds around to Murray who is in the small blind. He makes it 600 to go. Wilson, in the big blind, gives it a bit of a dwell and then goes all-in. In the modern poker vernacular, Murray insta-calls. Murray has A5 offsuit and Wilson has 93 offsuit. A nine comes on the river giving Wilson the pot. Ok, so no big deal, it was a blinds skirmish - Wilson got caught making a move and then got lucky. What was interesting was hearing Murray grumble about the hand for a while, muttering about Wilson's luck and so on. I was struck by how quickly Murray called with A5, which let's face it, isn't exactly a powerhouse. However, given that we now know Wilson's hand, it was a great call. In fact, given that we know Murray's hand I think Wilson made a great move too( I certainly would've folded A5 to a re-raise, probably a flaw in my tournament game...). Anyway, I guess I'm trying to say that there's just loads of marginal tournament situations and that I'm still bemused when I hear people saying things like, "If I win that hand I'll be chip leader and then I'd make the final....etc" or, "How can that cunt call?" or, "Did you see what that idiot raised with?".

Friday, December 1, 2006

Playing With The Suicide King

To continue the theme started on my first post and inspired by Warren Wooldridge’s piece on pokerverdict.com about playing with world class American pros at past WSOP events I thought I would add my paltry reminiscences. I have been going to the WSOP since 1996 (the year Huck Seed won the main event) although unlike Warren I have only ever played in three bracelet events. Why go? I hear you ask. Well, basically I used to go for the cash games and general pissing about (aka playing dice or pai gow) with various other layabouts, liggers and chancers (aka poker pros). Before the internet/ WPT/ Moneymaker revolution (choose which you think is applicable) the WSOP was a great laugh. The ease of flitting between the Nugget and the ‘Shoe fostered a real camaraderie between the European players. There was always somebody at the Horseshoe bar to share a poker story or two with.

Over the years I have played with many faces in both low limit and mid limit games. I’ll never forget looking over and seeing Surinder Sunar playing in a $1 - $5 stud game! This was in 2004 as well, not way back in the mists of time; he must have wanted to practice stud with weak players or something – no way could he have been potless. I remember playing with O’Neil Longson in a $1/$3 blinds no limit hold’em game when the last time I had seen him was the previous year when he was playing $50/$100 blinds. All these hands and players and games just jumble into a blur, but one of the most memorable is sitting down to play the $1,500 Razz event in 2005. I looked around the table and felt good, most of the other players looked like your typical poker desperadoes. The WSOP had been running for well over a month so by now most people were skint, and whereas a few weeks earlier they would never have played a non hold’em event the Razz tourney looked like maybe a good way to get out of it. My optimism was short lived though as who should fill the last seat but Ted Forrest, aka the Suicide King or Professor Backwards himself. Great, not only is the guy considered one of the best players in the world, but any type of stud game is his speciality. I have been around poker a fairly long time and usually my first reaction on seeing a good player at the same table is one of disgust (as you can tell from the last sentence), but I must admit this time I actually felt a little excited at the thought of playing with a bona fide legend.

Ted surprised me by limping into lots of pots, even when he had the lowest showing door card. I suspect he felt very confident of his play on the later streets and it was also his way of keeping the pots small until he wanted to make it bigger (remember, this was a limit tournament; rammin’ and jammin’ on 3rd and 4th street usually means no-one is folding by the last card). I tussled in a couple of pots with him, but nothing memorable although I do remember that I was fortunate enough to hold good cards over him and was never faced with a tricky decision against him.

What was notable was the amount of players who came up to Ted whispering asides to him and weighing in. Occasionally Ted would dip into his pocket and pull out a massive wad of hundreds and peel a few off and hand them over to whichever hapless railbird was talking to him. I later told Neil Channing about this and he remarked, “Yeah, he runs this town”. Interestingly, one of these players was former main event winner Huck Seed. He came over several times to report on his and others’ progress in the tournament. I had the feeling that Ted was Huck’s backer, but this is purely speculative.

I played the tournament quite well, I think, apart from one hand which I related to my mate Ben Battle who had bought a piece of me. “I was the bring in with a K and this guy raised in late position after about 5 players folded around to him. I had A 2 in the hole so I called. I then caught good and he paired, so I bet and he called. Then I paired my deuce and he caught good. I now checked and he bet and for some inexplicable reason I called. Now on Sixth street he catches good and I get a bad one – he bets again and I finally see sense and fold. The whole hand was a disaster and I never should have defended my bring in with a King showing, that just can’t be a good play”, I said. As I finished this sad tale I noticed Ted nodding in agreement with my last sentence – acknowledging my rick and maybe, just maybe, giving me a little encouragement. He could see that I was at least self-aware and not blaming my wasting of precious tournament chips on bad luck. At least I like to think of it like that, for all I know he was nodding at some fellow degenerate across the room. As an aside, I later realised that the late position raiser was Prahlad Friedman, another professional with a pretty good record too.

In the end, Ted and I got knocked out at exactly the same time in a weird three way coup. I had the best hand, but of course got done over. It turned out that Ted and I had exactly the same amount of chips too, so although I didn’t do very well in the tournament I can at least say my play was equal to that of one of the best players in the game. Or something like that……