EPT11 Malta: Poker: A cross between sailing and rally driving
If poker is a sport -- and one must always acknowledge deep uncertainty about that -- then it is a very strange one, defying persuasive analogy. There is almost nothing about the likes of football, basketball, hockey, cricket, or even the pub sports (darts, pool and snooker) that is similar to poker.
In this pursuit, there can be many hundreds of competitors each playing against a randomly-selected other group, and despite personal tuning (physical prowess, training or study), one mis-step can undermine it all -- either by you or one of those random others.
Broadly, these factors come under the blanket title "variance" and although it does infect some sports -- the golf ball that bounces off a sprinkler head and into either bunker or the cup, for example -- it is nowhere else so prevalent.
It is also notable in poker how many ways there are to skin a cat. Some players adopt an all-action, build-a-stack-or-go-home approach, while others opt to plot a more steady course, gradually accumulating. Variance (there it is again) will often decide which route is the most appropriate is which circumstances, but it is definitely possible to categorise players according to their most commonly-adopted style.
This afternoon, during the first level of Day 3 of the EPT Malta Main Event, it was possible to find a point on the tournament floor that afforded an uninterrupted view of both Sam Trickett and Benny Spindler. Both are brilliant, with results and respect to prove it, and both have unorthodox styles, prepared to take what may be considered unconventional lines at surprising times.
While watching those two for a while, I was struck by a potential analogy between poker and a cross between Olympic sailing and rally driving. In both, the general idea is to reach the finish line before anyone else in the race, but also in both, one is often at the whims of the course.
In sailing, you have to get lucky with both the currents and the wind, otherwise all the planning in the world is going to go to waste; in rally driving, you have to hope you don't hit a stray pebble, else you might go careering off a cliff. There's no way to win either a poker tournament or a rally without at times taking risks and pushing angles to the limit, but that very practice can precipitate doom.
In the short period beside Spindler and Trickett it was notable that both players were trying to stir the currents beneath them, or encourage the gods to blow the winds of fortune, but their results were mixed.
Sitting in the cut off, Spindler raised to 6,000 (blinds were 1,500-3,000) but was then blown towards the rocks in the form of a three-bet shove from Tobias Peters. Spindler asked for a count and assessed the potential damage -- Peters had 48,300; Spindler about 100,000 more than that -- and folded. A few hands later, Spindler opened from under the gun, making it 6,500 and took blinds and antes.
While Spindler was still in the shallows, waiting for a cyclone to strike, Trickett, by contrast, was riding out a tempest. Alexandros Kolonias opened from the cut off and Trickett three-bet to 15,000 from the button. It was only those two to a flop of 6♥T♥7♦.
Kolonias checked, Trickett bet 16,000 and Kolonias called. The turn was the 9♥. Kolonias checked again and Trickett shoved out a full tower of blue chips, covering Kolonias. The Greek player seemed to know he was either careering head-long into a brick wall or being offered a short cut ahead of large chunks of the field. He pondered for a good long while, with what we later discovered was 7♣6♣ before calling with bottom two pair.
Trickett flipped over Q♦8♣ for a straight and the river blanked. That was the end of Kolonias.
Trickett assumed something close to the tournament chip lead, while Kolonias was wrecked and Spindler continued to bob through the doldrums, awaiting his chance to ride the rapids.
Fortunately for both, the course is long -- another two and a half days before a winner is crowned -- and the wind can change quickly.
Follow all the action from EPT Malta on the main EPT Malta page. There's action from the Main Event on the Main Event page, and information from the Italian Poker Tour event on the IPT page. It's also about time you downloaded the EPT App, available on both Android or IOS.