Luck of the Irish

Ever considered entering a
big tourney and then balked
at the thought of facing the

Playing live tournaments gives you experience that just can’t be gained sat at home clicking a mouse button, no matter how high the stakes. Shouting, whooping and groaning at your TFT monitor is all well and good but to cut it in the flesh you need to know more than just the hand rankings. It’s also the best bloody fun you can have without the risk of being put in prison or having divorce papers filed against you.

With more cash swilling around the shiny prize pools of live tournaments than ever you’ll have to up your game if you want to stave off the thieving poker pros. And that’s exactly what three Irish lads managed to do in Dublin in January.

Which just goes to show that with practice, study and a little bit of luck, you can beat a field packed with pro players such as Andy Black, Padraig Parkinson, Donnacha O’Dea, Roy ‘The Boy’ Brindley and the Hendon Mob.

Local heroes

Kieran Walsh, Damian Kavanagh and Dave Masters bagged the top three spots and €255,000 between them at the Irish Poker Championship’s €1,000 No-Limit Hold’em main event. With no previous high profile form to boast, they nudged the Mob’s Barny Boatman into fourth.

Kieran Walsh, the 23-year-old from Cork beat the 391-strong field to take the €150,000 first prize (and more importantly for us he also knocked out Dacey three places from the money in 41st). Walsh, who has been playing for almost seven years, claims that he’s only taken it seriously for the last couple. But the first lesson of poker is that it’s vitally important to learn from your mistakes; so where was it that the lad from Cork went right while Dacey and 389 others went so wrong?

‘In big tournaments you shouldn’t get involved unnecessarily. I lay down small sets a couple of times. You just can’t be afraid to lay down good hands,’ says disciplined Walsh, who only played three hands in the first three hours of play but still more than doubled through his starting stack.

Pace yourself

A major difference to reconcile if you’ve bloodied yourself on Internet cardrooms is the length you have to wait for blinds to reach gut-wrenching proportions. In large buy-in events you can start with 10,000 chips with measly 25-50 blinds. ‘When the blinds start very small you have to pace yourself,’ explains Walsh. ‘You don’t have to make a move when you can afford to pass almost every hand. Just stay aware of the average chip count and aim to be around 25 percent over it.’

At 23, Walsh says that he’s read pretty much all the seminal poker titles but name-checks poker legend Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2 and David Sklansky’s Tournament Poker for Advanced Players as being particularly helpful. And seeing the way that he plays comes as no surprise.

Sklansky’s tournament bible advises walking away from pots that could lead to you getting knocked out even if you think that you’re favourite. Tournaments are all to do with survival. The longer you last the more your chips are worth and the less chips you have the more each is valued. Sneaking into 38th place with one chip or a thousand would net you a tasty €2,000 at this tourney. Each and every blind is a lifeline that could see you make the money, and as your stack dwindles you have to treat them like a lioness would her cubs. Snarl as much as you want but only get your teeth out when you absolutely have to.

No sudden moves

World Series of Poker Main Event finalist Andy Black swears by the fact that ‘you’re only short PokerPlayer news editor Rick Dacey fared better in Dublin than his torrid showing in the PP vs GLC match last month, but lasting more than four hands shouldn’t have been difficult. With 15.5 hours of table play – much of it with Andy Black, Barny Boatman and Donnacha O’Dea to his right – Dacey brings his post-Newport 75mph (miles per hand) down to a respectable 1.9mph (average of 30 hands an hour). Knocking out the Hendon Mob’s Joe Beevers en route, Dacey came 41st, three places off the money. A rash all-in move against eventual winner Kieran Walsh brought his demise. Fool! stacked when you’ve less than seven times the big blind’. It’s a point he made earnestly to Dacey (which you’d think he would have remembered before trying to push Walsh off Queens with an all-in raise deep into the second day of the tournament).

However, pros do genuinely fear the all-in raise. It reduces the skill level and pushes the gamble – something your average Hellmuth will detest. Although it’s as subtle as a sledgehammer, the all-in shunt cuts the chance for skilful players to get further information. Unless they have a truly premium hand and/or a perfect read on you they’ll almost certainly pass just in case the equivalent of a poker Yahtzee takes them out.

The fact is there’s no substitute for experience and if you don’t get used to high pressure decisions from a big name player sat next to you, you’ll never get that life changing win. But even worse, you’ll miss out on a good time.

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