EPT11 London: A chin-wag with the Firm

PokerStars Blog talked to members of "The Firm" - David Lappin, Daragh Davey and Dara O'Kearney -- on the morning of Day 1B at EPT London, as O'Kearney and Kevin Killeen, one of their staked players, were involved in the UKIPT Champion of Champions tournament.


O'Kearney was knocked out in fourth, freeing him up to join the conversation, and Killeen in third. Killeen played the EPT Main Event in which, at time of writing, he is still involved.

O'Kearney had won the UKIPT Online Qualifier of the Year leader board. Daragh Davey had just taken over from Max Silver at the top of the Live Player of the Year leader board.


Discussions between David Lappin and Dara O'Kearney

Here's how the conversation progressed, in between both Lappin and Davey leaping up to rail whenever either of their friends and colleagues were involved in a pot.


David Lappin (DL): Yeah. We think how do we tactically go about this. Even living not at home for a three week stint - Isle of Man running straight into this one - it's actually kind of miserable. You miss people. Dara's wife came to the Isle of Man but isn't here; my girlfriend is going to come over for a couple of days but that's all. So you're hoping to create some kind of normality for yourselves, so we got an apartment, rather than doing the hotel thing. It's better value but it gives you a kind of living space. It's very strategic. The main focus was getting Daragh (Davey) to win the leader board, because he was our best shot at catching Max. Then to a lesser degree, one of us maybe catching third place. Then Dara and Kev having this shot in the tournament of champions is brilliant. And then Dara having the online qualifier locked up maybe 11 months ago. So that wasn't too close.

But I did try to run down the guy who came third. I was well behind him going into Marbella and I think I won 23 satellites between July and now, so that kind of helped me get into that race as well. It's all fun, though. Over these 16-17 months, it's a huge slog.


Dara O'Kearney (DO): The satellites have been kind of good to us. We do have a high ROI. But they have got tougher this year because there are a lot more regs playing them. At particular times they tend to be really tough. As the event nears they tend to get softer because there are more recreational players taking one or two shots to get in. But when you're three months away from the next UKIPT, it tends to be just regs. This year was the first year I looked at some lobbies and thought, no I'm not going to reg for that.


DL: The third event?
DO: Well, I guess, yeah. There's always a mathematical chance that somebody is going to go on a run. But realistically I guess I probably had it locked up about six months ago. Six months ago I stopped thinking I should play them all because of the leader board. I was thinking whether this is a good tournament to play or not. [Before that] every night I'd been playing I'd regged all the satellites.


DO: That's exactly it. Historically, the tournaments I played the most on PokerStars are satellites. They're something I think I have at least an edge in. I would have been playing them anyway, but I had an added incentive just to grind them and make sure I showed up every night.


Daragh Davey (DD): I've had a stupidly good week. I've been running good. I've been playing quite well, but I've been running ridiculous. I viewed that [Isle of Man] as part of this week. It's nearly a seven-day block. I was doing terrible before that. I went 20-something without a cash. And then I cashed everything in a row.

DL: Coming into the Isle of Man, you were no cashes in 23/24 and then didn't cash anything until the very last day. We both played the PLO, which was actually a really good tournament for points because it's a smaller field so you're more likely to get points. We ended, the two us us [Lappin and Davey] three handed. Daragh knocked me out. And then that kind of started the streak, because the minute we arrived here you've cashed three out of five or six tournaments.


DL: We all support one another. From maybe six or eight months ago, it was clear that Daragh was going to be in the running, top three at least. Even just the day to day slog of being a poker player can be quite volatile. We live together so it's unusual for you both to be running well at the same time. You have periods where one of you is running quite well and the other guy is feeling like, well I'm bricking every night. There are a lot of chats over coffee the next morning, pep talks back and forth to each other. The camaraderie that we get from having this kind of collective is massively valuable because inevitably twice or three times a year you're going to go on a bad run. And when that happens it's a really lonely game, and you do feel very much on your own when you're down-swinging. And to have that kind of collective...And also we have 10 per cent of each other, and we do stake the other guys. It does even out that variance, that we have that sharing policy. It's morale as much as it's anything else. But it's also a bit of tactics too, a bit of strategy, a bit of talking out hands.

DD: There's a lot of that to be honest. There's a huge database of minds, if you like, and I can just go on to a Skype box and I've got five, in my opinion, of the best players in Ireland to immediately give me an opinion. It's pretty useful to have. Again, it doesn't really work unless everybody checks in. So the collective is really useful to have.


DL: I guess that's kind of an umbrella term for what has been a different group of people at different times but has always included the two Daras and myself, and different guys we've staked, different guys we've co-staked between us. And guys who have come through, made enough money to go out on their own then. We wouldn't claim too much responsibility for that but we'd still be very much affiliated with them.


DD: Oh yeah. We're all pretty nerdily meticulous about results and graphs and particularly in regards to staking people. We'd have spreadsheets and statistical data online and stuff like that.

DL: We might conduct a coaching session with the guys we stake once every fortnight or stuff like that, or every three weeks. If the guy's running well you might leave him go. He can make the money and he's happy with his game. But if he struggling, or the odd time you want to check in or do a hand-history review. We look through these different analytical tools and see what his game selection is like, see if he is making more money in this kind of game, that kind of game. Even that paints a picture of whether certain networks are getting easier or getting tougher. The thing we always pride ourselves on is that as often as our players have got in the limelight and had the big scores, it's the workaday grinding mentality, it's the 'this is our job, and this is what we are doing professionally'.

DD: It's hard work. Somebody can be a far better player than you and you can make more money than them if you work harder.

DL: The amount of guys I've seen come and go over the eight years I'm playing, who were much better poker players than I am, much more creative minds.

DD: I don't think any of the three of us claim to be the best. We're not even anywhere close to it.

DL: It's kind of that almost paranoic, 'Oh my God, everybody's getting better, the game's getting tougher, we have to at least compete.' Hopefully, we'll compete well and be up there. But that's what motivates you every year, because the game continues to get tougher. I think the next two years are going to be the toughest yet and if we can grind out that living wage - maybe have an outlier that will give you a nice cherry on top, that will give you a deposit on a house or whatever that happens to be - but our whole attitude towards a whole year of poker is we're working to make our €70-€80K. If you have a result, then it might be a bigger year, but it's about grinding out that type of wage.


DL: Well you [Daragh Davey] bought yourself a nice pair of shoes recently, when you had a €50K month.
DD: They're very nice...No, to be blunt.
DL: You get a nice pair of shoes and a sushi lunch the next morning, might be as extreme as it gets after a big Sunday.
DD: No, I wouldn't lavish it up. I might downplay it more. When you have a big result you don't go too mad. You never known when the next downswing is. I'm a bit younger, obviously, but we've been doing this for a long time and you know about the swings and roundabouts.


DL: I think time is the test on that one. When I got into it, and I think almost every poker player shares this kind of origin story, which is that you did it against the advice of everyone around you when you started doing it. And that probably wasn't bad advice, whether it was your parents or your friends or whatever. That was probably pretty good advice because it does gobble up most people. Through whatever it is - maybe a bit of good fortune at the start, maybe having that mindset of this is going to be my newsagents or my coffee shop and I'm going to work really hard at my little business and trying to make it a bigger business - having that outlook on it, a year goes by, you made a living. Another year goes by. Your friends come round and say, 'OK, that's clearly what you do now and I believe you now.' Some of them didn't even believe you at the start. 'Oh sure, you're only telling us the wins.'

DD: You hear daft stories all the time of people making absurd livings in casino games and stuff like that. You laugh and think, 'That's going to end in tears.' People were judging me, David and Dara in the same way.

DL: My family still don't really understand it. They now go, 'That's what Dave does', but they don't get the ins and outs of it at all.

DD: I think it's very difficult. I have a couple of friends that do, but the majority don't. When you get into the game they think you're mental, but after five years they see you're still doing this and doing OK, I guess it is your job. They still don't understand it.

DL: It is funny because in your working context, you're not on top of the tree but you're doing well for yourself. You're respected amongst your peers. Guys have a lot of time for your opinion on poker. But every poker player is the black sheep at Christmas dinner. Even if they've made a million bucks that year, it's, "Oh, you're the poker player." The auntie is looking at you going, "Oh, this is the scumbag of the family." And we all have that, even though actually if you look at the types of people who do well in poker, it's a lot of nerdy maths guys, young people who are students. But they're still treated as if, 'Oh God, what's your life?' I think it's a moral judgment, how, arguably, right or wrong gambling is.

DD: You're a professional gambler.

DL: I think it's also a judgment on the lifestyle, the night-time stuff. 'Oh, he just travels around and he plays these games and he's online and he's on his computer too much.'

DD: Maybe the vulture element of the game, that you're picking on weaker people. And again, I don't think that online MTTs is like that at all. The majority of people playing tournaments are playing for fun, so I don't think there's a big negative to them. There's this big, 'Oh, you're living off these guys who should be in Gambler's Anonymous' but I don't really think it's like that. That's just a perception.


DD: I was a student studying architectural technology. In short, my story is a very typical origin story. I was playing in poker games for, like, £5 and I think I came third in my first tournament without having any real notion of what I was doing. And kind of was hooked. I started playing very low online and probably lost for my first year and then started playing live cash games.

When I turned 18 I started playing live, and went on a slow trajectory of losing a little bit, to breaking even, to very gradually winning, getting a little bit better. But it was a very slow process. And when I finished, the crash had happened in Ireland and I had no job prospects, and I was like, well, what do I have to lose?

I had a couple of thousand in the bank maybe and it's like, let's use this as a bankroll over the summer and see what happens. I ran absurd at the beginning. I think every professional over the course of their career has to have a period where they run over EV, particularly at the beginning. Otherwise you wouldn't be a professional. If you ran bad at the start, you would have failed and there'd be nothing you could do about it. So we're quite privileged to be sitting here.

So I kept going and going and then it was just a €1-€2 live cash game player and just tried to make my wage. The games were very good back then. It was 1/2 but they were actually pretty big, bigger than some 5/10 you might see now.

DL: When I left school, I went and did an arts degree. I was working in a very busy restaurant in town and I did three masters degrees and an MLitt over the course of maybe seven or eight years in college. And then the objective was to become a screenwriter. There's the film world in my family background, so that was kind of what I wanted to do, it was what I was really interested in. I'd worked in films and things like that. And I got a job with the national broadcaster in Ireland, RTE, to write a TV show, which, exactly when the crash happened, 2007, they had their budget slashed.

DD: I think the crash might feature in all three of our stories.

DL: And my show was axed immediately. So I lost my job. I was playing poker recreationally, maybe making beer money at that point. I wasn't a donkey, but I was still very new to it. And I just kind of took a chance. I thought, I'm going to have to go back to that restaurant that I worked in for six years through college. I was really depressed at the idea of that. I gave it a go and it kind of snowballed. The first year I just about survived on what I made. The second year built up a little bit of a bankroll. Then I moved to the States. I had a big result in Spain, had a couple of good online years, and then I was much more stable. I had this big buffer and it was my job. I'm never feeling like I've got to struggle to pay the rent anymore. I broke up with my girlfriend, who I lived with in Connecticut, and I came back in 2011. I didn't know anyone in the Irish poker community.

DD: It was quite funny because there was a bunch of people, myself included (I played sporadically online at the time), who knew the screen-name 'Lappin' but we had no idea who he was.

DL: At that time I was probably at the peak of my rankings. I was probably playing the best I've ever played compared to everyone else. I don't think it's been quite as good since. So I got introduced by Jono Crute, GAWA6 online, really really nice, Belfast-based, English guy, Irish guy, who now lives in Canada. Jono introduced me to Dara at the first UKIPT festival I went to, must have been in Cork maybe, three years ago. We made a man date to go have dinner one day because we got on that night. And we've been really good friends ever since. We've been close with him and his wife and my girlfriend. We all kind of socialise a lot together, go to each other's houses and have meals.


DD: And we're all completely ruthless against each other as well.

DL: It is a huge strength to have that loyalty, at the kind of friendship level, with people you make business decisions with. The reason this trio has been the constant within the group is that we're all really similarly thinking about the game, whether that's bankroll management, game selection. Or whether that's how to run poker as a business, whether for yourself or your staking company. And even though we've had other people involved at different time, I think it's the shared ethos that means we're probably stuck together for the foreseeable future as well.

DD: It's very boring. We're being very sensible.


DL: Maybe retire? Maybe not play any more.
DD: I'd keep playing. I mean, I probably won't be doing this forever. The game might dictate that, to be honest. I'd say there'll be significantly less professionals in five years time. We'll see. Only time will tell. But probably something normal, buy a house, stuff like that.

DL: That's the thing I love actually, when you hear a lot of the English guys, guys like Jake Cody and Jon Spinks, it's family now. It's, 'I've been with my girlfriend for a good few years now. We want to have kids. It's time to get married. We want to buy a house.' It's hard to buy a house. They won't give you credit because you're a poker player. Maybe you'll get a mortgage because the girlfriend has a steady job and I have a deposit.

That's what I think is brilliant, when you see poker players having ostensibly normal lives, that's actually the stories that should be championed. If a few hundred people in Ireland and Great Britain can make a living from it, and apply it to making the lives of people around them better, and having a steady life, I think that should be the objective, from my point of view. I'm not taking away from guys who have big scores and live balla lifestyles, going off to Vegas and whatever, but I would feel like that would play into all the trappings and all the dangerous stuff in poker.


DL: Oh, every few weeks to be honest.

DD: I've lost count of the people who have applied to us. It's a lot.

DL: They'll send an email. They might even send a hand history. And you always sound elitist when you talk about this stuff, but when someone sends you an application you probably already know the answer. Sometimes the answer is very much yes. You think, 'Brilliant. We were hoping this guy might come to us at some point.' And a lot of the times they're kind of recreational guys who are maybe wanting to be staked because they don't want to use their own bankrolls, their wives would be giving out to them if they were risking their own money. They'd probably be treating it like a bit of a free-roll to make a few bob.

DD: They aren't really the type of people we want. If someone is treating your backing as a free-roll, that's a very dangerous situation.

DL: When people come to you with that kind of mindset, or you just know them by reputation - they might be decent players - but you already know the answer. But I think it's really important that, at some level, our collective has developed into a brand, identifiable in Ireland as one of two or three groups, you have to be really respectful of it. I would always do a hand history for free for those guys. I'd say, 'Look, we're not going to take you on, but I went through your hand history and here's a few tips.' That kind of thing.

First and foremost, that's just a nice way to treat someone and it only costs you an hour of your life and they took the time to apply. And I guess on the second level, you do end up being surprised once in a while. You looked at the hands and you think, 'OK, that's not actually bad.' So you look at a second one....


DD: We do, but the roles change all the time. Maybe one day, Dave does the hand history and I do it next week. And Dara does the transfer and some accounting work, stuff like that. I chat to the lads on Skype, see how they're all getting on. Stuff like that. It's all little bits. All three of us will do all three jobs. Dave would be the main coach.

DL: Doke would do more of the transfers on a day to day basis, because he's more of an online presence.

DD: I still play live a fair bit. I'm not online seven days a week. Dara pretty much is, six or seven days a week, I'd say Dara pretty much always is.

DL: But then on the hand histories and stuff, it probably was more me a year ago I think. But it's more equal now. We both do the hand histories. And then what we might do is tag the relevant hands. You might get 300 hands in a hand history and you start tagging 12 of them. And then Dara O'Kearney will join us for that. So we've essentially streamlined it. So all people - the the guy that we stake and the three of us - will talk. It's important as well because you sometimes also have another guy we stake there so you won't feel that you're being ganged up on just because it was a bad hand history. You're kind of going, look, we actually do have a few problems and maybe we have to fix a few leaks. You always feel as though, maybe, emotionally, that might not be easy for a guy to be told, 'Look, this really sucks, you need to do better.'


DL: Oh, it is. That's all it is.


DD: Oh, way more. Admin each might be an hour or two each a week. I still play my own 30-40 hour week. And again is it obviously very poker related but it is an external thing to poker. It's heavily rooted in poker, but it's another thing to focus attention on. It's pretty easy to get sucked into poker, constantly playing and that's all you think about.

[Dara O'Kearney arrives after being eliminated from the Champion of Champions event.]


DL: I think we did. That first chat we had about it over dinner in your house one night, that's exactly what we were saying, 'Imagine we got to this point, and how do we get there?' The two options for getting there were looking for external funding to help us promote the whole thing, and the other was to grow it slowly and organically, with one or two guys that we stake, then another guy and then another guy and we build. And we thought the second one was better. There was kind of a goal in mind. It was viewed as something that would be really nice. It wouldn't just be a nice bit of income, it would actually be the back-up, the spine of your support network as a poker player, dealing with the travails.

DO: I was the first to get involved in staking, within the context of the current group, when I staked Daragh. It was more curiosity than anything else, to see how it would go. Daragh did really well and so that was a good first encouragement.

A lot of the motivation too was just to try and help develop players. I kind of feel, particularly given the economic situation in Ireland at the time, it was really bad, and as a poker player you don't really contribute anything to society. So I had a long chat with my son, my son is a very conscientious eco-warrior type guy, so I had lunch with him out in Vegas and I said, 'Basically I'm contributing nothing to the world.' And he said, 'Maybe there's something you can do with the money, which might compensate.' Part of the motivation is just to try and develop more online players in Ireland. Because there weren't really that many good online players in Ireland at the time.

DD: There was nothing like this existed like this back then. There might be one or two other groups like this now.

DO: Yeah, there are.

DD: Staking was very frowned up in Ireland for a long time. It was strange. I don't think so much in England but in Ireland it was viewed as cowardice, which was so silly.


DL: We have actually directly had a couple of those, even within the context of staking. We've had some disappointing outcomes with guys you've staked. And that's the conversation you've been putting off and dreading for a long time because you want to see them all do well because they're good guys and they work really hard. But maybe they just don't quite cut the mustard.

DD: It's not up to us to say, 'You're never going to make money.' We just have to end our agreement and then maybe they can make the decision as to what they'll do for the rest of their lives.

DO: Probably at some point most of us have advised, maybe not someone we staked but a friend, that it's time for you to quit. You're not going to make it. The longer the gap you have on your CV, the harder it is for you to get back into the real world. And that's tough. It's a really high turnover business, and if we think back to the players who would have been seen as the top players in Ireland five years ago, as opposed to now, there's very little overlap.


DO: It is a risky occupation. The reason why I selected Daragh specifically as the first person I wanted to stake is that...Dara was obviously a very good player at the time, but he wouldn't have been seen as one of the top young players by most people, because when I said, "I'm staking Daragh, they said, 'Why?'"

DD: I was viewed as some live cash game nit.

DO: But my reason for picking Daragh was that I thought that he had the right temperament, that he would handle the swings, the lifestyle in general, and learn really quickly, not get upset if he had a long bad run. Basically it was just stability of temperament, which a lot of the other guys who would have been seen as really talented players at the time didn't have. And they're gone from the game now because long term that's more important than how good you happen to be at poker at that precise moment.


DO: Yeah, yeah, totally. And personality wise Daragh is almost the same as I was at his age.
DD: That's a scary thought.


DO: I guess I'm unusual in that even though I'm closing in on 50 now, I only actually started playing seven or eight years ago. So I came to the game very late anyhow. When I was Dara's age, I wasn't playing poker. I was doing other things. The different things that I've done, I've tended to be successful in them and you do follow the same approach because it's all about discipline, learning to be good, recognising your own shortcomings, which I think stands you in good stead in any walk of life.


DO: Brutally. We take great pleasure in it.
DD: I played a hand against Dara last night [in the £300 hyper] and he openly said it to me. Poker is completely unsolvable and there are so many different answers and it's so good to get different opinions. And of course everyone messes up all the time. Anyone who says they don't mess up in poker is a liar. It's just impossible to play perfect.


DD: There's huge financial relief because straight away I have my buy-ins for the main tournaments I play every year. And my hotels. And again, these two guys grind the satellites for these tournaments relentlessly, but even though I play them, I would have nowhere near the edge these two have in those tournaments. They frustrate me a lot because they have quite big buy ins. I usually pay somewhere in the region of a $50 average buy in and these are £200 satellites. That can sometimes be the biggest buy in on my screen. Knowing that I don't have to buy into those is a pretty big relief. In terms of winning it, and the notoriety, it's pretty cool. It's...good.

DL: What I think is the greatest achievement of it is that it's not the measure of one bit of luck in one tournament. The person who wins a poker tournament is probably the person who ran best that day. The person who wins a 16-month leader board over 80 or 90 live events, he probably ran decently during that whole period but that's still a bit more of an iron man. It's a bit more of a test.

DD: I just ran stupid this week, but I still had complete bricks in Marbella and a couple of other stops. I didn't get anything. I think I've cashed 13 or 14 tournaments and finalled eight or nine. So that's pretty good consistency I feel like, which that leader board does reward. Then again, you can argue the merits. I think a lot of people would agree that maybe Duncan McLennan maybe should have won the leader board because he did win two main events, when I won none.


DL: There were four months particularly.

DD: Particularly when the end game started happening and we knew we were in a fight. In Marbella there was a particularly nasty experience for me, where I had a really big stack in the Main Event -- well, not really big, but I think I had three starting stacks -- and I lose two huge hands. I get it in with aces against ace-king and lose and ace-king against ace-queen and lose. I'm left with an ante on the last hand of the day. While this is all happening, and the countdown [to the end of the day] I registered the pot limit Omaha tournament downstairs. It was a turbo and I'm being blinded out of that. So the last thing I wanted to do was go and play more poker, but I had to bag up my chip -- literally, I think it was two chips; I think it was one of the most embarrassing things I've ever done -- then run downstairs. A bit of my stack has gone in the pot limit Omaha, but I needed to go play this as well. So yes, there was a lot of trying to plan out the most amount of tournaments you can play and the best tournaments that had an opportunity for points. But again, it did kind of factor into some play.

DO: When I started playing, when I would go to a festival like this I would play everything I could because that's the way you would maximise your return and cover your travel expenses and things. Then about two years ago, I was feeling a bit burned out from playing live, I was playing so many live tournaments, so I was talking to Jason Tompkins and Jason has always taken the opposite approach. He only plays main events, and doesn't play side events. He feels that that's the best way to bring the A game in the main event. So I had made a decision that that was what I was going to do, that I was only going to play main events. So for the first, I guess half of the season I would play almost no side events. But then, suddenly I was in the top ten of the leader board because I'd cashed in some main events, and I actually started thinking about the leader board. So for the last three stops, I guess, I played pretty much everything I could.

DD: It does factor into your equity, because you're now playing €100 turbos or something like that. And particularly on some of the final tables I was playing for a lot more money than everyone else at the table. Each ladder is worth points, so you'd factor all that in.

DL: Coming into this last stop I just had this image of David Curtis (UKIPT Events Manager) just sitting at his desk deciding that there's going to be five extra UKIPT side events in London, thinking, 'Ha, ha, ha. I'm going to make them play.'

DO: ...I'm going to make them play deuces wild. I'm going to make them play pot limit Omaha high lo split.

DL: And just doing his evil devil laugh. 'I'm going to ruin their lives.'


DL: That's interesting because we've a really good duo of friends, two brothers from Scotland, Willy and Dode Elliot, and aside from being good poker players themselves and really big supporters of the game, supporters of the UKIPT and whatnot, they love a rail. They love coming to watch you and coming to support you and we've become really good friends over the years and particularly this season of the UKIPT. So it got down to three tables left, and probably two tables got paid, and he was just hovering around. And I went up to him and said, 'You didn't do it, and I don't want to seem like I'm cross or anything, because I'm not, because I love your support, but please don't mention the leader board here.' Because then your opponents at the table know you're on a satellite bubble effectively, when you're on something else that's much more important. They can use it to put pressure on. You might be sitting at a table and some guys know.

DD: I think it was the first or the second side event here, we had worked out the points and I think it was ninth was a huge bubble for me. If I got that, Max Silver would now need two results to catch me, not one. That would give me a more than 40 points lead and 40 points is the maximum you can get for any one side event. So tenth to ninth is this monstrous bubble to me despite there being no money jump. So I'm just sitting there really tightly, patiently, and eventually it just bust and everybody was just, 'OK, final table. Nothing's changed.'

DL:...but Daragh's there fist-pumping in the corner.

DD: For me it was huge.

DL: It's a completely irrelevant ladder jump to nothing, but we were like, 'It's huge!'


DL: Absolutely. And there are all these ambassadorial roles that guys who are very good get to play from time to time. Daragh over the years has had two pro deals with two Irish sites, and aside from that being extra income, extra profile and extra other things, if you can parlay that kind of stuff into, well, it's not free money because you earn it in another way, but if you can turn that into additional income, that's huge for a poker player. That's the Mecca. If you can get one of those deals, even if it's a modest enough deal, that's not money you have to risk to win.


DL: We try to handle those situations as well as we can.

DO: I'm usually the one who people apply to so I'm usually the one who has to go back to them and I do it very tactfully. But no, I don't think I've ever had a hostile experience. You leave it open ended. You say, 'This is our current decision, but keep grinding away. Certainly if you prove yourself over a future period, maybe we can review.' Maybe that assuages one or two. We don't want to give them the two fingers. I think most people are really understanding. They realise that at the end of the day it's a business decision and you have to make it. At the end of the day, you're not doing anyone any favours by taking them on if they're not going to make it, because you're just going to waste their time.


DO: I think generally we're well liked. Obviously we all have people that we don't get along with when we run into. It's a high pressure conflict situation, where it's a very unusual working milieu, if you want to call it that, because the people that you work with are also your direct competitors. Even these two guys are my direct competitors a lot of the time. Because of that, you're always going to have disagreements that arise. When we come to this generally, people are really positive. When we sit down at a table there are people that I wouldn't realise know who we are are very, very friendly. This tour in particular is a very friendly tour. And then I think Ireland is a very friendly place to play poker too, which is where most of us play live poker.

DL: I think our blogs...Dara and I write almost weekly, or every couple of weeks. And I think that helps people kind of know you without having met you or talked to you very much. You're kind of doing a diary, you're talking about your life. It can be very personal. It can be very boring, strategic and only there for poker people. It's not done as a tactical thing. Dara doesn't sit down and think, Oh right, I'll do this blog today because that thing is coming up and we might get more profile out of it. But you're generally writing what comes to mind. Sometimes it's hard to come up with new stuff, but once you look back and go, Oh God, I've been writing this blog for years and years and years. I've got hundreds of entries. You do realise that people who have followed it have gotten to know you in a way. And that hopefully helps. I'd like to think that we don't ever...we might embellish once in a while, but we don't tell any lies about how we operate our business or how it works. It's good to be straight about that.

It's the shared ethos, and when Dara talked about seeing loads of potential in Daragh, and similarly how Daragh saw potential in other guys, it's about instilling that ethos. We're not really rich. We do well, but we're not really rich. We have the attitude, let's teach this guy how to be his own player.


DD: Hopefully things just keep going as they've been going. The firm in its current incarnation is actually probably one of the smallest in terms of number of people because a bunch of guys have been quite successful and left. We didn't really want to slim it down, it's just the way it worked.


DO: Myself, David and Jason Tompkins, who lives in Australia now, would be the three founding members, I guess. Daragh was the first person that I staked and that worked out very well for me. Also Daragh made a lot of money, so he no longer needed to be staked, but rather than sever the relationship, the logical thing was to get Daragh up, to kick him upstairs as it were. And that's worked out really well. That's the current incarnation.

DD: We're currently staking two or three guys.

DL: There's a few in limbo because they're based in America and trying to travel.

DD: I'd say actively two.

DO: We stake Kevin Killeen and Kevin plays really, really high which exposes us to a lot of variance.

DD: Kevin will make or break all of us.

DL: He'll be either the golden calf or the person who puts us all in the poorhouse.

DO: Kevin is so good that given the choice between staking, let's say, 10 low to mid-stakes grinders or staking Kevin, it's better for us to stake Kevin, even though he plays higher than any of us do.


DO: The way we've operated throughout our history is that the different players we've staked have had different people involved. So, Daragh would be involved in some players and not others; David would be involved in some and not others.

DD: Dara and David had the idea to start the firm, but there were other people staking other people at the time. They kind of got brought in under the umbrella, even if it wasn't the three or four founders doing the staking.

DO: I'm the only person who's been involved in staking all the players that we've staked.
DD: He's the Godfather.

DO: I think it's probably 15, in the various incarnations, who have left because they've been very successful. Overall it's been a very successful operation.

DD: Hopefully it will continue. You never know. It's very difficult to predict the future. Poker, you can argue, is receding right now.


DO: It does actually. Because I did the really long stuff, the 24-hour stuff, I developed an ability to do something really boring for a very long time, which is what poker really becomes beyond a certain point, when you've learned the game. Poker is much more exciting when you're learning the game and you have to think about more situations. But when you reach a certain level, a lot of the situations are automatic and you're doing the same things over and over again, particularly when you're grinding online. Just having the mindset that you're actually able to do that without losing your mind, that's one thing. Stamina helps as well in a live situation. I definitely feel, when there's a really long day, I play better than the rest of the field towards the end because I'm able to take the whole mental stamina side. I think it also helps just to be generally fit in poker. It's something that I've actually let slip in the last few years because I was running less and playing poker more. At the moment I'm trying to get the balance the other way, run a bit more.

I think the main thing is just having the mindset that I'm doing this, in the case of the running 24 hours, to get through it. If you're playing a tournament like this, and you're playing it for the next 10, 11, 12 hours, and you're coming back tomorrow and doing the same thing, and then the next day and so on. You need the mindset to do it. The things which make you successful as a runner, like discipline, taking the long-term view, mental stability, not reacting too emotionally to setbacks. That helps in poker. Injuries are the hardest thing to deal with as a runner. You still have all the energy. You actually can't get out running. Everything tended to play up, like if I got an ankle injury, suddenly my knee starts feeling sore. You know there's nothing you can actually do but rest, and that's something that's very, very difficult to do if you're a runner.

I guess the poker equivalent is when you're having a long downswing and you literally get up every day and you end the day with less money than you had, which is different from most professions. In most professions, when you go to work you get the immediate reward, which you don't get in poker.

DD: Having said that, in poker if you put in the work in the long run -- and the long run is very long term -- you should get the rewards. Variance can only go so long. If you're not getting your rewards, you probably should start questioning after a very long time, why.

DO: It's interesting how many sports people do take up poker and end up getting pretty good at it. It's the same thing, once you have that mindset, there's a lot of stuff that is universal to all sports. Poker, as a mind sport, is the same: dealing with adversity, taking the long-term view, dealing with defeat, dealing with victory.


DO: I was gutted, yeah. In terms of equity, this is the biggest tournament that I've played in the last couple of weeks. Apart from the money, I would have loved to have won it just to have that on my CV. So yeah, I was totally gutted. My brain kind of shuts down [after I've busted]. It's just the way I process it. I go off and then come back and I'm fine. In the moment, it's terrible. It's the worst feeling. Early in my career, I developed this ritual when I bust I immediately walk out the room. I don't want to interact with anybody because I know from personal experience that if I do interact with somebody, I might not be the nicest person. So you just get all that rage and annoyance out of your system.

DL: It is the hardest thing. And even as an online guy, it mightn't be one huge knockout punch, like the biggest tournament of the week that you've invested a lot of emotions into, but you're doing it online you're just being jabbed at all day. Daragh and I grind together and Daragh is very zen. He doesn't get too bothered and I'm on the couch and my policy is just to scream stream of consciousness of expletives, and then it's over.


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Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour