Friday, 27 March 2015

The Rat Race for the Cash Race

“We have to take it step by step, it is a rat race," Manchester United Manager Louis Van Gaal recently said ahead of the business end to the season where the chase for Champions League qualification truly begins. 

Being a poker grinder and trying to qualify for cash races whilst earning daily bread can also indeed be compared to a rat race of its own.

This is the final week to qualify for this month's cash races at most casinos in the capital. 

To qualify you have to gather an amount of points within a window, points are usually awarded per visit and sometimes double on certain days of the week.

I am in the top 150 of two which will be played on the second weekend of April. 

In itself it's an achievement to keep my roll going these first initial two months and to qualify for two events.

Previously I've only played small tournaments in Las Vegas whilst on vacation and a maximum of three small ones on these shores in the last 6 months. 

I've only placed in Las Vegas and came two places short of placing in my first afternoon tournament at The Vic.

The maximum amount of runners in any of those would be 50 so at 150 these upcoming cash race tournaments will be the biggest I have played in and potentially the most rewarding. 

For example last months cash race at The Vic was a three way chop for £7,000 each I believe.

As tournament poker is a different mindset to cash play I've started an online account to play small tournaments in the build-up to the cash races. 

In the week leading up to the cash race I also aim to play an afternoon tournament at the Empire Casino on Leicester Square where Birds of a Feather Star Lesley Joseph was recently spotted enjoying a few slot machines.

My main focus whilst qualifying for the cash races has been the £1-£1 stake tables where I have played in the region of 20-25 hours a week. 

The field is continually diverse at that level in terms of ability. 

Big stake players may play some hands whilst waiting for their game, novices will give it a try as it's the lowest stake and alongside that you have your grinders.

There is rarely a day of of the week where a certain veteran poker player at the age of 81, who still has his wits about him isn't at a certain casino. 

When he raises pre-flop people fold like dominoes.

Karin Brutieg who has cashed over $35K at Live Tournament Events
In terms of novices recently there was the runner up of Greek X-factor, Nikolas Metaxas, and in terms of recognised faces from television there was Norwegian Karin Bruteig who has placed in EPT events.

This week has been disappointing for me on the £1-£1 and I haven't been able to get on a run of relative positive sessions whilst on the other hand limiting losing sessions to a buy-in or two. 

Essentially my decision making has to be better if I am to see consistent positive sessions. 

This week looks like to be a losing week but that will come off the back of 4 consecutive winning weeks which is a reason to be optimistic.

There has been bad beats along the way but as I reflect I think bad decision making takes more responsibility for the losses this week. 

When you are short-stacked and playing a limited range you can find yourself very frustrated after being card dead for a period of 45 minutes or an hour. 

Over-playing a marginal hand pre-flop has probably been my most costliest error.

This weeks bad beat includes losing the second nut flush to a straight flush. 

The straight flush is so rare that the dealer originally gave me the pot until a player who was not in the hand acknowledge it and shouted "straight flush" which crushed my aspirations of a much needed double down at the time.

With my place in two cash races almost a certainty I can now focus on gathering positive regular sessions on the £1-£1 before I adjust to tournament play for those big ones.

Good Luck.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Downswings and Dealers

"Every defeat is a scar in your heart forever" are the words from the Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger. 

During downswings where big pots are lost on the river card I can sympathise with those words.

The pots where you win are hard to remember but I can picture that river card landing several times to crush my hand - a hand which I can be in the region of winning 96 percent of the time on the flop.

There's immense frustration when you get 'your money in good' and the long-shot comes in at the 11th hour. It's that Annie Power moment all over again.

Dealing with downswings and bad beats is part of being a poker player. The correct play even at the right time may get cracked. 

The aim is to not let yourself crack and make irrational calls following a bad beat which leads to a complete tilt. The Chips are plastic but the money is real.

Recently, I witnessed a Canadian guy completely crack when he shoved his £175 stack into a £12 pot heads-up on mid-pair (which were 5's) and get called-off by an elderly gentleman who had nut flush on the flop. 

That was when I first heard of the term of 'Angle Shooting' in a casino - we'll go into that down the line.

It takes consistency, patience and a strong mentality to turn things around during a down-swing. 

Even a small break from the tables can be advised to freshen the mind and to switch-off from the game.

I am pleased that following a bad run of 4-5 sessions I posted my record winning session which boosted confidence and bank-roll. 

My focus has to be as strong as ever as in terms of bank-roll I know I'll be walking on ice soon if a larger downswing appears on the horizon. 

During that past down-swing even dealers who witnessed the bad beats had to comment with a soft 'unlucky' as the cards continually surprise even them. 

Dealers are incredible characters. The majority of the them genuinely love the game and that is understandable. 

But when you play casino's in London regularly you'll notice dealers playing poker at other casinos in the capital. 

If you play at Aspers in Stratford then you'll see dealers from The Vic on Edgware road. 

If you play at The Vic then you'll see Aspers dealers as well as a handful form everywhere.

You'd think that after that many hours dealing cards during a working week the last thing you'd want to do is play poker. It's the opposite.

This bunch do exactly that. 

Even to the point when I went to Aspers and noticed about 15-20 dealers from The Vic, they had indeed collectively entered a tournament on their staff night out! 

Not a night of karaoke or drinks behind the bar but they all play poker together!

These dealers have seen it all but it shows me how the game can absolutely grip people of all ages, races and religions. 

In the past seven days alone I have played with a former professional boxer from Iran, Irish travellers, several Lawyers, a policeman, many members of GA and a violinist to name just a few.

So far my passion for the game is growing and I am focused on the short term goals which is to make at least two cash races this month and to give those tournaments' with a large guaranteed prize pool 'a right old go'.

Good Luck.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Swimming With Sharks

The first target of not blowing up my poker cash roll in month one has been achieved which is certainly something to be mildly pleased about. 

I'm now in the thrust of week one month two since I left my job for the poker grind and in particular £1-£1 No Limit Texas Hold 'Em cash stakes.

As a beginner I've swam with sharks and survived. 

Certainly at The Vic you are playing the great and the good of the poker world, in the last month alone there has hardly been a session when I've glanced at £1-£2 and not seen Elisabeth Hille, who cashed $590,000 when finishing 11th at the 2012 WSOP Main Event.

The second target of matching my previous salary wasn't achieved in Rookie Month but I was able to skim off the top during winning sessions for expenses and living costs.

Sessions have recently involved a couple of hours at Aspers in Stratford followed by a longer appearance at The Vic on Edgware Road. 

Aspers appears to be a softer game and with every appearance you notice a plethora of Vic players who have crossed the capital after hearing positive things along the grapevine.

In terms of current form, my four in last five poker sessions have cashed positive results with the only loss limited to a bowl of rice. 

Looking back at the figures I ran bad initially at the start of week one, month one which can be summarised as a mixture of bad play and bad beats by a Rookie. 

I payed for my education and have acknowledged the mistakes made on my behalf which I believe I have rectified and that has translated in consistent positive cash sessions as of late.

Arsenal Manger Arsene Wenger believes you must improve your performance every time by two percent and if I aim for this consistency then the next target of matching a monthly salary could be achieved in month two.

It does only takes a couple of negative sessions to knock you out your stride and to start doubting your play similar to how a couple of losses is seen as a disaster or crisis for an elite football club like Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City.

Elsewhere I had a bad beat in not qualifying for the monthly cash race at The Vic in London.

Most London Casino's offer cash race poker tournaments where regular players are awarded a seat in a guaranteed prize pool tournament at the end of the month after meeting a minimum requirement of appearances in that previous calendar month. 

At 'The Vic' the top 100 players enter for free with the next 100 offered the chance to buy in for £165. 

For the month of February I was 10 points short of the monthly tally to qualify for free and with 5 points awarded for a daily appearance and 10 points for a Sunday - I was marginally short of booking a free seat in this event.

Cash is still the priority and although £165 is seen as good value to enter this tournament I don't think I will unless I continue to run good between now and then. 

Tournaments and big prize pool guaranteed ones is where the opportunity lies to win big money and although I'm not playing tournaments I do see myself playing them regularly when I'm confident enough with my cash-roll.

The immediate target is to be patient, do my hours and wait for the hands to come. 

If I make the right moves then the rest will look after itself the majority of the time and the cherry on the cake will be making two cash races at the end of the month.

Good Luck.

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Big Sam Approach: Tough To Beat

In this game patience shall be rewarded.

That has been the main lesson I have learnt as I bounce back from an opening week which damaged my bankroll.

Like a football team that loses a few games and drifts towards the relegation zone they assume the position of 'becoming tough to beat' as they shore things up and stop the rot.

That's what I have done, I bought in for lower stakes which immediately left me with a short stack and from the off every pre-flop raise is questioned even more. 

By opening my range too soon with a bigger stack I was seeing too many flops and fed the table with drabs til the point I was left with a short stack with only seeing 3-4 flops in an hour. 

That left me frustrated and I began chasing which occasionally leaves me blinkered and leads to walking into monster hands.

Since the 'Big Sam' approach has been taken I have cashed positive sessions in four out of the last five appearances on the table which included my biggest cash out so far.

All of my play so far has been on the cash table at £1-£1 stakes.

I am eager to play some tournaments as the potential of placing on the final table can be very rewarding. 

I want to step up the tournament play after more growth to my bank-roll which is still down from Day One's total after the early damage that was done in 'rookie week'.

Most London casino's offer free entries to monthly tournaments after qualifying the previous month for a set amount of appearances which points are awarded for. 

This format is known as the 'Cash Race' and with guaranteed prize pools, which are usually taken from the poker rake, they are hugely rewarding. 

There are players who are not essentially bothered about making 'daily bread' on the cash tables in fact they are just stamping their appearance that day to make sure they qualify for the monthly tournament. 

These 'cash race grinders' will hit several casinos across the week to qualify in various cash races for the chance of placing in one and cashing a four to five figure sum.

After my regular appearances this month at the Vic I am currently in the top 100 players (94!) in terms of points which means I shall qualify for the next cash race. 

The next 100 have an opportunity to buy-in for a fee of around £165.

The immediate plan of action is to freshen up the scene from The Vic and try Aspers in Stratford. 

Talk amongst poker players during cigarette breaks has been the action is at Aspers at all levels while The Vic has been a tad tame recently. 

Following padding to the bank-roll I will aim to compete in tournaments for a week including the afternoon 2pm at The Empire in Central London which apparently attracts many tourists.

The weekend is on the horizon and that brings another opportunity to make daily bread from the casual player.  

Good luck.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Pigeon Steps

A journey of million steps starts with one but more importantly i've gone 10 steps backwards, jumped sideways and another 5 back. 

Yes, the early days have been a struggle as I attempt to cut my teeth on the £1-£1 poker circuit in London. 

My destination of choice has been 'The Vic' but after this weekend I will try the Aspers in Westfield for a change of scenery and possibly luck.

After an initial 5-6 positive sessions I have hit a run of no positives in a matching 5-6 sessions which has seriously damaged confidence and more importantly the bankroll.

I have generally been playing evening sessions ranging from arriving at 5-7pm and leaving anytime from 11pm-2am. 

Initially, I opened my range too soon to find action which wasn't my natural game. I played too many hands and gave chips away chasing the monster which just left me with busted straight and flush draws.

After tightening things up the bleeding has continued as I've seen big pockets cracked and ultimately made poor decisions by playing hands I shouldn't be involved in because I'm chasing following the occasional bad beat.

I've had Aces cracked by a set 4's landing on the River. Being first to act I slow-played and checked the flop and turn to let him get there too which was so infuriating. It was a £1-£1 game and £90 was in the pot pre-flop.

In another hand short stack re-raises all in on the turn when I'm on J, top pair and an ace - the flush draw is out there. Short stack lands his flush on the river.

Have also walked into straights after hitting a flop with two-pair A-J with flop of A-K-J. Small blind had Q-T. 

Hands that have cost me like that have been A-J and A-Q. Ultimately there has been a combination of bad luck during this negative run but more vitally bad play. 

Decisions making has to improve.

Back to real basics now and I will be playing 'A-B-C' Poker and instead of initial targets of daily bread let's see a run of positive sessions that gave me the initial confidence to embark on this journey.

Another weekend is on the horizon and this offers an opportunity to turn things around.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Objective

After 10 years in national radio I have decided to make a career handbrake turn to follow a burning ambition to be a full-time poker player. 

Previous to my 10 years in radio I was based in the television industry for the best part of three years.  

I started out as a runner and have had various titles such as Editorial Assistant, Technical Operator, Assistant Producer and for the last 4-5 years as Producer.

This blog will cover my journey and transition into the London Poker scene as I attempt to go from novice -to-full-time-to-respected pro. 

The version of poker I will be playing is Texas Hold 'Em which has exploded in casinos and online over the past twenty years. 

If you are not aware of the format then I can recommend the Matt Damon and Edward Norton film called 'Rounders'. 

Monday February 2nd 2015 will be known as Day One of my journey in my new profession.

Reasons for this change or 'handbrake turn' can be attributed to the possibility of genuine economic growth in terms of income which wasn't the case in a salary based job in my previous employer. 

At the age of 30 I have seen London living costs rise constantly whilst my salary stayed the same over several years which left me with a burning desire of wanting more and wanting it quick.

Also I can my pick my own hours, have a variety in locations and the adrenalin rush which can come with playing vital hands. 

Lastly, I am working for myself and not an international company which is what I have done since I was 17 and started that first media job as un-paid runner 3 days a week for a sports television channel. 

One of the first targets I have will be to match my monthly salary in Poker winnings while also maintaining growth in my original Poker float or 'bankroll'. 

I will be avoiding the online poker scene and will be specialising in cash games while occasionally free-rolling tournaments once a week, providing I have hit my cash-game targets in that specific week. 

Hitting my daily target will be known as achieving 'my daily bread'.

Initially I will be playing the lowest staked cash game available at London casinos, usually it will be £1 for both small blind and indeed big blind. 

After several positive months playing the £1-£1 I will promote myself up to £1 small blind and £2 big blind and so on. 

Providing months of positive and growing returns I will aim to pay for a trip crossing the Atlantic to launch an assault on the Las Vegas poker scene.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned and I'll keep you in touch with the journey. Feel free to follow on twitter @RealJohnnyPoker or Instagram @JohnnyPoker