Being in the Center Ring

I am just back from the UKIPT event in Dublin, which was a pretty important first for me. I've certainly been to my share of UKIPT events, but this was the first one in which I've played in the main event.

It was awesome.

As you may be aware, we first tested the idea of having Rational Group employees playing in UKIPT events at the UKIPT in Isle of Man this past October. We think it was a big success - on both sides of the aisle. The PokerStars and Full Tilt employees got to meet our customers face-to-face, talk about the work they do here and answer questions. Our customers got to put faces to the company that provides their online poker and get their questions answered.

All in all, we thought it was a big win all around.

With that in mind, we opened the door to Rational employees playing in Dublin and a bunch of us made the short flight over from the Isle of Man. I had been too tied up with organizing to play in Isle of Man, but I wasn't going to miss the fun in Dublin.

This is not going to be a blow-by-blow description of hands I played, but a couple stand out in my mind. For Day 1b, I thought I played relatively well (particularly by my standards). Probably the most interesting hand I had was when Jake Cody sat down at our table. The first hand he was dealt in, he was in the big blind, and I woke up with KK on the button. Jake called my raise, flop came Q-7-7. He bet out and I just called - I saw no reason to scare him away. On the turn (an eight), a second flush draw arrived and Jake bet 1K. I thought I should extract value from something like AQ and if he re-raised me, I would be pretty sure he had a seven and I could fold. So I raised to 3K. He paused, thought, and called. On the river (a completely blank), he checked. Now, I probably should have bet - I would get really good value from something like AQ. But for whatever reason, I just showed down my kings. He smiled and turned up 77 for flopped quads. "Your raise on the turn probably saved you a lot of chips - I was going to bet big on the river."

That was my big excitement for Day 1. Well, there was another massive hand that I won, but I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say that I shoved top pair with a flush draw, got called by a worse flush draw with no pair, and folded out the top pair with a better kicker. That pot put me up around 90K chips at the end of day.

But what really matters about the whole day was how much fun it was. The bloggers were covering what we did, including Marc Convey arriving just as I was tabling a straight flush that I had rivered (and gotten called). "Is that a straight flush?!?!?" "Yeah Marc - when you have five in a row and they're the same suit..." "Careful, Lee - only one of us has a pen and that guy wins."

It was delightful to get dealt to by the dealers who I know out on the UKIPT and EPT. I'll tell you something - they are really good. Perhaps I can be accused of some bias, but people who attend all the poker tours tell me that we have the best dealers and floor staff. You really notice this stuff when sitting right there at the table.


It's like this - I've seen the circus that we call the PokerStars tours, and there's nothing like it. It comes to town, the tent gets pitched, the popcorn heated up, and the crowds arrive. Me, I've always been one of the guys selling tickets or rigging tent poles - important work to be sure, but I've never been one of the acrobats or lion trainers. It was like being in the center ring of the circus and it's a blast.

But the attention I had on Day 1 was nothing compared to Day 2. You see, the seating fates saw fit to park me on the immediate right of the guy who was juggling chainsaws while walking on a tightrope. Specifically, serial UKIPT-final tablist (and one-time winner) Max Silver had done the seemingly impossible by stacking up 311k chips on Day 1 (a UKIPT record). And there he was on my immediate left, his chip stacks casting a shadow over my section of the table.

We were seated smack in the middle of the room and it seemed that we were never without a blogger or a couple of passers-by stopping to gawk (Max's chip stack was a railbird magnet). Not only that, but our table featured seven of the top 40 chip stacks in the tournament at the time. You'd think such a mix might create a tense atmosphere, but in fact, it was a ton of fun.

At one point, I put out chips to raise and accidentally brought along a €5 note that I was about to use to buy coffee. Just for giggles, I left the note out there with the chips. The dealer said "3300, and five Euros". Max immediately said, "Raise," reached into his bag and pulled out a €20 note. He threw that on the table and then followed it with about 8k tournament chips. Ed Gascoigne in seat 9 said, "4x three-bet - what's up with that?"

In short, even with the pressure of the tournament, there was plenty of room for humor - we got great life EV.

My departure from the tournament was unfortunate - had it been a bad beat or I'd simply mistimed by running queens into kings, that would have been fine. But the sad fact is that after taking a moderately bad beat, I got tilted and didn't play my A-game.

What makes me particularly upset is that that is the area where I could possibly have an edge over the field. I mean, I certainly don't (and won't) have the tournament experience these guys do, and I am nowhere near the student of the game that they are. But I'm a few more decades along in the game of life than most of the players (Max Silver is younger than both of my sons). If nothing else, I should be able to translate that into "rolling with the punches" equity.

So I get a life lesson/reminder with my PokerStars hoodie and headphones - it's all good.

Interestingly, after I busted out, I had no desire to jump back into another tournament. People said "Ooh - Dublin Cup is starting soon, sign up!" But that wasn't really calling me. I was much more inclined to go sit in a cash game. I talked about that with my friend and colleague Dirk "That's a lot of money" Thijssen, who, it must be noted, finished 5th in the main event - bringing his live tournament final table record to 2 for 2. Dirk actually brought up the circus analogy first and talked about how much fun it was to be right in the center ring, with the ringmaster and the spotlights. In fact, in describing Dirk's departure from the main event, our bloggers wrote:

Dirk Thijssen has been eliminated but he walks away as the player who probably had the most fun at this final table so far. Big moves, accompanied by a constant smile, seemed to be his remit for how to approach today.

It's certainly a personal decision and plenty of people think the side events are the nuts; who am I to argue with that? But it's clear to me that the prize pool is not what attracts me to UKIPT main events. It's that, well, when we were kids, didn't we all want to be in the center ring of the circus?

I'll see you on the Isle of Man in October. I'll be the guy sitting next to a guy with a ton of chips.

Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980s.

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