Copenhagen, Denmark – Trip Report and Vlog

Copenhagen, Denmark – Trip Report and Vlog

Why would anyone leave Scotland in the winter, only to travel to an even colder country?

Well, £25 each way flights and the promise of the best pastries and bacon in the world was good enough reason for my brother and I to book a trip to Denmark.

For this trip report I made a vlog. I’ve considered doing this in the past but it seemed like too much hassle to do it well. Technology is getting better though and I was able to film, edit and upload this vlog in Ultra HD using just my phone (a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge).

I chose to record the videos POV (point of view) style rather than with a selfie stick and camera pointed at myself as most vloggers do. Usually when I’m watching a travel vlog I want to see more of the place and less of the vlogger’s face. Let know which you think works best.

We booked a famous old hotel, Copenhagen Plaza, right next to the central train station. It should have been an easy journey there from the airport but we were stupid tourists and didn’t know the metro trains aren’t the same as the train trains. So we ended up 20 minutes walk away from our hotel.

Never mind though, as it meant our first glimpse of Copenhagen was the beautifully picturesque area of Nyhavn, a canal district that dates back to the 17th century.

Long weekend in Copenhagen. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 10, 2017 at 9:46am PST

We chose not to visit any of the bars there as they are famously overpriced. If we were going to be buying anything that’s overpriced it better be a burger at Hard Rock Cafe.

I really do prefer to eat the local food when I travel but my brother insisted we eat at Hard Rock Cafe. It turned out to be a decent compromise though as every Hard Rock Cafe in the world has a Local Legendary​ burger that’s locally inspired.

The Danish version replaces the bun with Danish rugbrød bread. The patty is a spiced beef and pork mix and is topped with beetroot relish and fried leeks.

I was happy, as I got to eat a delicious burger and can still claim to have eaten the local cuisine. Right?

After dinner we found a trendy bar called Bar 7. I was feeling good about my decision to quit drinking alcohol 4 years ago as I watched my brother down 150 Krone (£17 GBP / $22 USD) cocktails.

At least one of us happy to be in Copenhagen. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 10, 2017 at 2:21pm PST

We stayed in the bar until 1am, which is when I returned to the hotel. We had plans for a full day of sightseeing the next day so a good night’s sleep and an early wake up was a good idea.

Try telling that to my brother, who decided to hit a nightclub and return to the hotel after 6am with an empty wallet and a hand covered in blood. Apparently a piece of broken glass got stuck to his shoe and in his drunken state he thought it would be a good idea to rip out of with his bare hand.

Again, I’m glad I quit drinking.

Leaving the hotel at 1pm, we still hoped to get a lot of sightseeing in. Our first stop was Rundetaarn, also known as the Round Tower.

The tower was built in the 17th century by Christian IV, or at least he ordered it to be built. It was used as an astronomy observatory but we used it to observe a a 360 degree view of the city on what was, unusually for Copenhagen in early march, a beautiful sunny day.

We then went in search of food, to Torvehallerne – an indoor speciality eatery market with over 60 stalls. There was gourmet food everywhere but we ended up just eating some porridge, or Grød as it’s called in Denmark.

It was no ordinary porridge though. At the Grød bar in Torvehallerne, which sells nothing but porridge, we went for the ‘All In’ option that included every topping they have.

Started the day with gourmet porridge and all the toppings. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2017 at 8:58am PST

Apple-vanilla compote, rhubarb compote, coconut flakes, caramel sauce, peanut butter, apples, banana, skyr, cocoa nibs, almonds, hazelnuts, freeze-dried raspberries and valrhona chocolate drops.

Best. Porridge. Ever.

We then paid the price for starting the day late. We arrived at the botanical gardens 10 minutes after the closed the main greenhouse building there. We walked to Rosenborg castle, which was also closed, then to the Church of Our Saviour, where they closed it literally seconds before we arrived.

Fail. Trying to come up with a new plan on the fly, I looked at Google Maps and saw there was a place nearby called Freetown Christiania that was apparently a self-proclaimed autonomous area.

We went to check it out but it wasn’t our scene at all. It was some hipster area that was covered in graffiti and junk in a way that was supposed to be cool.

There was an area there called ‘Green Zone’ which turned out to be a large area for people to smoke weed and sell weed-related paraphernalia.

I stupidly walked into the green zone while recording video on my phone and was surrounded by angry locals within seconds. It was a scary moment but they let me go unharmed after I deleted the video and pleaded ignorance as a stupid tourist.

Unsurprisingly we didn’t stick around after that, and went looking for a place more our scene, which happened to be another big food hall.

This one was called Papiroen. It used to be an old paper factory but is now full of gourmet international food. There was Thai, Korean, Arabic and all kinds of delicious-looking international cuisine everywhere. Still, I wanted to sample the local food, so I was drawn to the stall with the Danish flag selling Smørrebrød.

Always eat the local food when you travel. Smørrebrød (open face rye bread sandwich). #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2017 at 11:25am PST

Smørrebrød is an open face rugbrød sandwich with cold meat or fish topping. It’s a healthier and more delicious way to eat a sandwich compared to the standard two pieces of white bread.

The fast food of choice in Copenhagen seems to be hotdogs. There are hotdog stands everywhere you go in the city.

Leaving our hotel for a night on the town, we took a short walk to John’s Hotdog Deli – a hotdog stands famous for using quality ingredients and was featured in Vice.

Just had the most incred hotdog. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2017 at 3:12pm PST

The hotdog was the highlight of the night for me. We wasted a couple of hours trying to find a decent bar, but despite it being Saturday night everywhere was quiet. We did eventually we save the night by finding an Irish pub with live music.

The next day we switched hotels to the Hilton. I had a free night voucher to use at any Hilton in the world and since the Hilton in Copenhagen costs £270 a night it was worth using it on this trip.

The way I got the free night was by clearing the signup bonus on the Hilton Barclaycard, which was to spend £750 on the card in the first 3 months. This should easily be achievable for anyone so I recommend everyone in the UK take advantage of this.

We checked out the Copenhagen Plaza at midday and left our bags there as we had no time to waste. We had to get to the places we wanted to see the day before, before they closed.

First we checked out Rosenborg Castle, a pleasure palace built by Christian IV in the early 17th century.

Visiting Rosenberg Castle. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 12, 2017 at 5:14am PDT

Which holds a lot of old furniture, some badass weapons, the king and queen’s crowns and some massive silver lions.

We then visited another place we were too late for the day before – Church of Our Saviour. We barely had a look inside the church itself. That wasn’t what we were interested in. We were interested in climbing the tall spiral staircase up its tower.

Which came with a stunning view.

Another day, another wonderful view of Copenhagen. On top of Church of our Saviour. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 12, 2017 at 7:25am PDT

I’d been in Denmark almost 48 hours at that stage and hadn’t eat a pastry yet. I set to put that right and didn’t even have to go looking for a bakery. They’re everywhere.

When in Denmark, eat pastries. Kanelboller. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 12, 2017 at 8:01am PDT

We spent our last evening at football, watching the Danish Superliga match between FC Copenhagen and Esbjerg. We got there 5 minutes late because the bus we tried to get on was full, but that was fine as there were no crowds or queues to get in.

FC Copenhagen Vs Esbjerg. #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 12, 2017 at 10:23am PDT

If I was to compare the standard of play to Scotland, it would be like watching a lower end Premiership team playing against an upper level Championship team.

The next morning, before catching our flight home, we finally got our fill of the famously delicious Danish bacon, courtesy of the Hilton breakfast buffet.

Unlimited Danish bacon. I do love a good breakfast buffet. #Hilton #Copenhagen #Denmark

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 13, 2017 at 2:27am PDT

We had a fun weekend visit to Copenhagen, still getting plenty done despite leaving the hotel after noon on both days.

Obviously we missed out on the best part of Copenhagen, which is Tivoli Gardens – the second oldest amusement park in the world, dating back to 1843. Unfortunately it was still closed for the winter, but leaves a good reason to visit Copenhagen again in the future.

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Milan, Italy – Trip Report

Milan, Italy – Trip Report

I arrived in Milan around 8am after a long overnight flight from Hong Kong. Having had the luxury of a comfortable night’s sleep, thanks to the unforgettable experience of travelling in first class, I was ready to spend the day exploring rather than recovering.

This was my first trip to Italy and I had scheduled it so that I could experience the ‘Derby della Madonnina’ – the famous derby match between AC Milan and Inter.

I had yet another stay with AirBnb, booking a beautiful apartment in a residential area, right beside a metro station, for about a third the price of a decent hotel room in the city.

Just checked in to my Airbnb apartment in Milan. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 15, 2016 at 11:38pm PST

Before booking I contacted the host and told her I could only book if I could check in at 8am. In this scenario the host has to block out the previous night on the booking system, so they’re not always keen to do this. Thankfully, as I was booking for a whole week, the host agreed to my request.

**** £30 / $38 free credit for new Airbnb members ****

After settling into my wonderful new home I went out exploring. It was the coldest weather I’d experienced in close to 3 years at around 10 degrees C, but still bearable wearing a hoodie – the only warm item of clothing in my whole suitcase.

My first stop was Sforza Castle – a huge 15th century fortress complex that contains several museums.

I was enjoying strolling around the castle’s courtyard for all of about 30 second before I was approached by a big African dude. He attempted to tie a string bracelet around my wrist. “It’s free my friend. Africa!”

This gentleman was part of a team of over a dozen Africans running this hustle. It’s a long running scam where they offer you a “free” bracelet, or more like just walk up to you with a distracting smile and friendly talk while physically attaching it to your wrist. They then ask for a donation and get really offended and pushy if you refuse.

I was quick enough to shake the gentleman off me, and the next one, and the next one, but I saw plenty of other tourists getting these worthless bits of string tied around their wrist, quickly followed by a confrontation.

One lady repeatedly demanded the man take it off her and he reluctantly pulled out a pair of scissors and cut it off. Another lady was walking away, visibly upset, screaming “I don’t have any money” while being followed and harassed by one of the hustlers.

I saw this scam being played out at every tourist spot in the city. There’s literally hundreds of African guys doing this exact same scam, praying on tourists. It must be a profitable business.

Maybe it’s allowed to go on because they technically aren’t breaking any laws, but since they forcibly attach these difficult to remove bracelets to people by grabbing their arm, then demand money from them, it certainly counts as a scam in my book.

Inside the buildings of Sforza Castle there were no scammers and plenty of history. Lots of art and statues. The most interesting of all having a large room all to itself.

The Rondanini Pietà. Michaelangelo’s last work. The bloke died before he could finish it. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 16, 2016 at 8:40am PST

The Rondanini Pietà, famously the last work of Michelangelo, is a marble statue of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. Michelangelo started working on it in the 1550s and it remained a work in progress when he died in 1564.

Standing in front of the statue, I thought about how incredible it was to be so close to history. Milan is full of such opportunities.

And none better than the Duomo di Milano – a hugely magnificent cathedral that was built in the 1300’s and took centuries to complete.

Visiting Duomo di Milano. What a structure! #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 16, 2016 at 7:27am PST

Again, with it being a popular area for tourists, the ‘friendship bracelet’ scammers were out in full force.

Getting away from them was all the more reason to go inside the Duomo.

As spectacular as it looks from the outside, it is even more so on the inside. For me, the stained glass windows were the highlight.

I bought the combo ticket that combines entry to the Duomo with access to the rooftop. Opting to take the stairs rather than the lift isn’t just healthier, it also saves you a few Euros too.

I completed my day of history and culture with a visit to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which is where Leonardo Da Vinci painted his masterpiece ‘The Last Supper’.

Viewing Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:13am PST

It was just as well that I’d spent my first day walking around seeing all the main sites as the next day the weather turned awful with constant ice cold rain.

The weather forecast for the whole week was more of the same. I considered just spending the rest of the week in my cozy AirBnb apartment, watching movies and eating my way through the massive bag of Italian cookies that the lovely Airbnb host gifted to me when i checked in.

Instead I came up with a more productive plan. Join a gym, eat lots of Italian food and make friends by playing Tinder.

The first two parts of my plan were easy to accomplish. There’s no shortage of gyms or delicious Italian food in Milan. Playing Tinder however, in a city where every guy looks like a feckin Armani model, was insanely tough. I’ve never had such a low match rate anywhere in the world.

I bought a weekly pass at a nice local gym and got in good workout before going out for dinner, sampling two Milanese specialities.

I started with a Milanese Risotto. Risotto is rice cooked in a creamy broth. Milanese style adds saffron, making it yellow and more delicious.

And next up was Veal Milanese. A tender veal chop, breaded and fried.

Always eat the local specialities when you travel. Veal Milanese (breaded veal chop). Delizioso! #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 17, 2016 at 12:18pm PST

A superb introduction to the local food, even if I did have to eat it alone.

The next day my plan fully came together as I spent the whole afternoon in the gym before meeting a nice girl for dinner. As she lived in Milan she obviously knew where the best pizzas were.

Taking the advice of a trusted local on where to eat is always better than googling it. As I’ve said in many blogs before, if you make friends with the locals when you travel you’ll have a much better experience.

It was more of the same next day as enjoyed a plate of seafood spaghetti in a homely little restaurant.

Seafood spaghetti for lunch. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 19, 2016 at 5:56am PST

And had the company of two wonderful girls.

Making friends in Milan. Nothing cuter than a Chinese girl with an Italian accent. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 19, 2016 at 5:52pm PST

We spent the night at the Martini bar, on a terrace overlooking the Duomo – which looks incredible all lit up at night.

The Duomo Di Milano looks even more incredible at night. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 19, 2016 at 1:10pm PST

All the Italian guys were dressed up in smart suits and there I was, just casually hanging out in my hoodie. I had no problem getting into the place dressed like that though, despite it being Saturday night in an upscale place.

They probably thought I was some baller who just doesn’t give a damn. Rather than the truth – an average dude who just doesn’t give a damn.

I was having so much fun the last couple of days that I totally forgot that I was supposed to buy my e-ticket for the sold out Milan Vs Inter match on a resale site.

When I woke up the next day, in the afternoon, the day of the match, the sale of e-tickets on the site had already closed. Damn!

The match wasn’t until the evening so I had some time to try to get hold of a ticket.

I asked my friend for advice and she told me to try the Milan fan store in the centre of the city. So I took the metro there and stood in a massive queue to get in, only to realise I’d left my passport, which is needed to buy tickets, back in the apartment.

So another metro trip back and forth and another long wait in the queue, only for the staff to tell me that tickets had sold out weeks ago, but if there were any returned tickets for sale they’d be at the club’s HQ known as Casa Milan.

Casa Milan is way on the outskirts of the city, but I made the long journey there only to be told that there were no tickets available.

The only remaining option was to go to the San Siro stadium an hour before kickoff in an effort to buy someone’s spare ticket or more likely get gouged by a ticket tout / scalper.

I still had a couple of hours spare and it started to rain so I found a nice cafe to relax and eat a delicious Cannoli, ticking another item off my list of Italian food to eat in Italy.

Having a sweet time in Italy. The cannoli I’ve been eating has helped. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 20, 2016 at 9:37am PST

To this day I still think about that Cannoli when I’m hungry, it was so good.

Full of sugary energy, I took yet another trip on the metro, arriving at the San Siro stadium. It was pissing down with rain but the atmosphere around the stadium was buzzing.

I walked around the stadium twice, asking if anyone had a spare ticket, but had no luck. I didn’t even see any ticket touts.

I was about to go back to my apartment, wet and disappointed, when I decided to ask one of the big African guys who were selling ponchos and knock-off merchandise if he knew anyone selling tickets.

He did, and took me to his friend – an old, sketchy looking, Italian man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

He had tickets to sell but wanted 3x face value for them. It was almost all the money I had on me but I agreed. I’d only complete the transaction however if he’d do a ‘name change’ for the ticket on the Milan website.

There’s two stages to getting into the stadium. First security personnel check the name on your ticket against your passport, hence why I needed the name change document on my phone. Once you’re past security, you scan the QR code on the ticket at the automatic turnstiles.

The sketchy looking dude took my phone and tried to complete the name change online but the website kept throwing up an error. It looked more like the web page was broken rather than him entering the wrong details. 20 minutes later, he’d made no progress and I wasn’t​ too happy about him holding my new phone and his cigarette in the same hand.

I was about to take my phone and leave when he suggested that I show the ticket and the error on my phone to the security and see if they’d let me pass. I gave him the money but made him come with me so I could get the money back if I couldn’t get in.

On the way there the big African dude who introduced me to the tout asked me for €5. I had about €5 left in my wallet but needed money for the metro home and didn’t know if there was an ATM nearby, so I had to say no. Of course he got really pissed off with me.

At the stadium entrance, the security personnel wouldn’t let me pass but the ticket tout did a lot of talking in Italian and they eventually let me through. It was 10 minutes before kickoff and the electric atmosphere was pouring out off the stadium.

I excitedly approached the turnstile and scanned my ticket only to be confronted with a red cross. My heart sank. I knew right away that I was screwed.

I spent half an hour waiting to speak to a staff member who could check the validity of my ticket and it turned out that the ticket had already been used to enter the stadium. I had been well and truly scammed.

All those years. All those trips abroad. I thought I was too savvy to get scammed. But this bastard got me.

I went looking for him, the rain still pissing down, but he was probably somewhere warm and dry with his feet up counting my money.

I did find a young Singaporean guy who had the same thing happen to him. He was in tears. I wasn’t crying but I did feel absolutely awful. A sense of shock combined with a horrible sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Walking back to the metro, soaking wet and feeling miserable, I turned around to have one last look at the San Siro.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept waking up in a panic, thinking about what had happened and what I could have done differently.

I just kept beating myself up for being so stupid. It would have been a lot easier to deal with if I directed my anger towards the scammer rather than myself, but what happened was really my own idiotic fault. I had the chance to buy my ticket cheaper on a reputable resale site ahead of time but I ended up handing over a fist full of cash to a scumbag criminal​ for a worthless piece of paper. What an absolute fool.

I wasn’t even bothered about the lost money. Ok, I’m Scottish, so I was bothered a little bit, but I was mainly bothered by the fact that I let a scumbag get one over on me and that I missed out on the experience of watching the derby – the main reason for my trip to Milan.

The next day I consoled myself the only way I knew how – with more incredible Italian food. My first trip to Italy certainly had to include a couple of plates of pasta.

When in Italia, eat pasta. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 21, 2016 at 7:26am PST

And 5 scoops of the best Gelati in town.

I’d ticked everything off my list of Italian food, and I was desperately missing Asia, so on my last day I went to eat lunch at Armani Nobu – the famous Japanese fusion restaurant in an Armani designed space.

I enjoyed a bento box of goodness that included the incredible Miso Black Cod that I loved so much at Nobu Bahamas.

Had enough of Italian food this trip so I’m eating lunch at Nobu. #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 22, 2016 at 5:46am PST

And the delightful chocolate fondant cake with Matcha green tea ice cream.

Chocolate fondant with matcha ice cream for dessert. #Nobu #Milan #Italy

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 22, 2016 at 6:13am PST

It’s amazing how much a good meal can change your mood. Despite feeling miserable for the last couple of days I left Milan with a smile on my face.

The smile didn’t last long though as I boarded my easyJet flight to Edinburgh. Back to life. Back to reality.

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My £10,315 First Class Cathay Pacific Flight (that cost me £30).

My £10,315 First Class Cathay Pacific Flight (that cost me £30).

Four years ago I got into the hobby of collecting airline miles. I previously hadn’t even bothered to sign up for any airline’s frequent flyer clubs, in the mistaken belief that I would need to do a crazy amount of travel to get anything worthwhile out of them.

Since I started reading blogs such as Head For Points and the Flyer Talk forums I’ve since collected hundreds of thousands of miles, but very few of them came from actually flying. Most were from churning credit card signup bonuses (what would be called “bonus whoring” in the online poker world) and various other offers that have come up from time to time.

I’ve previously written about some of the excellent miles redemptions that I’ve made for Business Class flights in the last couple of years:

Bangkok to Istanbul with Malaysia Airlines @ 65,000 Avios + £14.10 GBP
Istanbul to Bangkok with Royal Jordanian @ 65,000 Avios + £101 GBP
Bangkok to Hanoi with Qatar Airways @ 18,000 Avios + £98 GBP
Bangkok to Osaka with Japan Airlines @ 20,000 Avios + £26.90
Osaka to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific @ 20,000 Avios points + £26.90 GBP

This was my first time making a redemption in First Class, travelling from Hong Kong to Milan with Cathay Pacific for the bargain price of 120,000 Avios + £30 GBP.

Flight to Milan, man. #HongKong #CathayPacific

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 15, 2016 at 8:24am PST

Sure, 120,000 is a lot of miles to use up on one flight. I could certainly have used them more frugally, but the opportunity to fly First Class for the first time in my life, to do it with a top airline like Cathay and pay only 30 quid in taxes, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The cash price for the same ticket was $12,670 USD (£10,315 GBP).

Without getting into the miles collecting hobby I’d never have the opportunity to fly this route in First. Even if I won the lottery I still wouldn’t pay that much cash for one flight.

My flight was at 00:40 but there was no point in getting a hotel room for that night as I knew how good the Cathay lounges at HKG were. Instead I went out in Hong Kong for some afternoon shopping and noodles before heading to the airport at 6pm.

I arrived at the airport 6 hours before takeoff. I checked in was fast-tracked through exit immigration and security in just a few minutes. A breeze.

I was directed to go to Cathay’s new First Class-only lounge ‘The Pier’ but I had done my research and first headed to ‘The Wing’, which has both Business Class and First Class sections. My reason for going there first was the excellent private cabanas in the First section.

Cabana at The Wing, Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge. #HongKong

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 15, 2016 at 2:45am PST

The cabanas have a large bath, shower and sofa. It was a good place to relax and wash up after an afternoon getting sweaty walking around humid Hong Kong.

In most lounge or flight trip reports that I’ve read on the internet, the bulk of the article is usually about all the premium alcohol that’s served. However, I’m a sober Scotsman and as much as it pained me to pass up the value of all those expensive champagnes and single malts I was determined to make up for it with another vice – binge eating.

Binge eating is all the more enjoyable when everything is free.

I visited The Wing’s restaurant in the First section where there was a small buffet of quality grub and an A La Carte menu with 5 options. I don’t often get the chance to order the whole menu in a restaurant so I ceased the opportunity and ordered all 5 dishes. The waitress acted as if that was unusual. She’s obviously never seen me eat before.

The dishes were Lamb Stew, Pan-Fried Salmon Fillet, Hokkien Shrimp Fried Noodles, Slow Roasted Chicken, Mushroom Risotto with Scented Truffle.

It was all top quality nosh but as you can see, the portions were small. Not that I was complaining, as I planned on doing more eating when I got to The Pier.

I had a half hour walk around the airport as I tried to build up an appetite for more free food.

When I arrived at The Pier I walked straight past the bar….

….. and went straight to the restaurant.

The restaurant, which was beautifully laid out with a relaxed atmosphere, only had two other’s eating there so the service was very fast.

The menu at The Pier contained everything I ate at The Wing, plus a whole lot more.

I didn’t think I’d be able to eat the whole menu this time, but I’d certainly be able to put a big dent in it.

I started off with Pan-seared Canadian Snow Crab Meat with Pepper Aloi.

I bit through the crispy outer layer into some tender and delicious crab meat, and finished the tiny portion in about 10 seconds. I could have ate about 50 plates of the same. I wonder how they would have reacted if I asked for 50 plates, alas it was a better idea to sample the rest of the menu.

Next up was another starter, Yakitori Beef, which I asked for medium-rare and was cooked perfectly.

Followed by some Wok-fried Clams.

Followed by Wok-fried Beef Tenderloin.

Followed by the Angus Beef Burger with Truffle Mayonnaise. I’d heard about how good this was and it more than lived up to it’s high expectations.

There was only a few items on the menu that I hadn’t tried but after the burger I was feeling pretty stuffed.

So it was onto dessert. I always have room for dessert.

First was Poached Pear in Almond Syrup, which was served hot, along with a Vanilla Panna Cotta.

Both were excellent. In fact all the food was excellent, with The Pier’s menu being a step above The Wing’s. I wished that I had room for more, but all I could reasonable manage at that point was the Fruit Plate with Mango Sorbet.

After all that eating I booked myself in for a complementary foot massage. There was a 30 minute wait so I was given a wireless disc that would buzz when my massage was ready.

Feeling that I was slipping into a food-induced coma, I booked a day suite to have a nap.

The day suites are quite small and are really just a large sofa bed and table. They’re nowhere near as impressive as the cabanas in The Wing. They are very comfortable and quiet and have a good view of the runway though.

30 minutes later I was woken up by the buzzer as my foot massage was ready.

Complimentary 20 minute foot massage. #TrackieBs #HongKong #CathayPacific

A post shared by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 15, 2016 at 7:14am PST

The massages lasted 20 minutes. Having spent a lot of time in Thailand and having dozens of foot massages, I’d say that this one was below par, maybe a 4/10. The masseuse didn’t put much effort into it at all. A massage has to be strong otherwise it’s just a waste of time. It was very late and perhaps she’d been working all day.

After my massage I found a room full of cheese and fridge full of desserts and suchlike in jars.

I grabbed a jar of Mango Mousse and two jars of  Coconut and Red Bean Pudding and relaxed in the computer room until my flight was ready to board.

It was my first time using an Apple computer since I was in High School so it took me a while to get used to the one button on the mouse.

On the plane the First Class cabin had just 6 seats. There were 4 customers, including myself, and 2 flight attendants looking after the cabin so service was excellent.

This is what the seat looked like:

The TV swings out so you can have it in front of you, and behind that is a large storage area with hangers.

Suffice to say it was the most comfortable I’ve been on a 13 hour flight.

Immediately after takeoff we were served caviar and champagne. I turned down the champagne in favour of a delicious mocktail. I still had a belly full of food but there was no way I was turning down the caviar.

Straight after that they wanted to serve supper. We’d been in the air less than an hour but it was after 1am already. I told the attendant that I was pretty full after eating everything in the lounge and she asked “oh, so you’d like to skip supper?”.

No!

I manned up and took my supper, choosing the Modern Hong Kong Menu.

A starter of pork belly salad rolls and a shredded duck soup went down an absolute treat.

Followed by an incredible main of Maine Lobster Ma Po Tofu.

I’d put that on par with the Angus Burger as being the best thing I ate that day.

Dessert was a sweet broth made with Longan, Foxnut and Golden Osmanthus, with a slice of Mango and Coconut Glutinous Rice Roll.

The Glutinous Rice Roll was incredible and reminded me of the similar ones I’d been eating at a Dim Sum restaurant in Hong Kong.

Feeling myself about to slip into another food-induced coma I went to the bathroom to wash up, while the flight attendant converted my seat into a bed. I was provided with a wash bag full of Aesop (an expensive Australian brand) products and some comfortable pyjamas.

No problem falling asleep on this flight.

After suffering through many overnight flights in economy in the past I really appreciated the level of comfort I had right then.

After a long sleep I woke up to a Dim Sum breakfast.

Along with a fruit salad, basket of pastries and a delicious Hong Kong Milk Tea.

And that was my First Class experience, comfort and food, and comfort food. We landed in Milan, Italy, with my Avios balance 120,000 miles lighter and me about 1 kg heavier.

I wish that I could travel like that all the time but it’ll take me a while to earn more miles. I’m currently working my way through an American Express signup bonus and have been buying things for other people and having them give me the cash in order to hit the spend requirement on the card.

That might seem like a lot of hassle to most people but the end result is worth it – believe me.

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Hong Kong – Trip Report

Hong Kong – Trip Report
After a week of eating everything in Osaka, I travelled to Hong Kong with the intention of doing plenty of hiking to burn off those excess calories.

I’d visited Hong Kong several times before but was unable to take advantage of its excellent hiking trails as it was always raining. I hoped for better luck with the weather on this visit.

Just as I did between Bangkok and Osaka, I was able to book an excellent value miles redemption ticket between Osaka and Hong Kong. I travelled business class with Cathay Pacific, KIX-HKG direct, for just 20,000 Avios points + £26.90 GBP ($33.79 USD). The cash price of the same ticket was a ludicrous £1877 GBP ($2357 USD).

It was only a 4 hour and 25 minute flight but, just like my flight from Bangkok to Osaka, the airline uses a long haul aircraft for the route. This makes a big difference in terms of comfort as you get a fully flat bed in business class rather than just a wider seat.

This was a 10am flight so certainly no need for a sleep. I just lay back and watched The Secret Life of Pets.

The Secret Life of Pets

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 8, 2016 at 8:44pm PST


The food was excellent and there was plenty of it. Starters of green tea soba noodles and a duck salad. A main of big juicy beef steak with mashed sweet potato. For dessert, cheese and crackers, followed by a fruit salad, followed by a small tub of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Cathay Pacific know how to make me happy.

I arrived in Hong Kong in the late afternoon, checking into the Shangri La owned ‘Hotel Jen’.

Earlier in the year a photo I entered into Shangri La’s social media competition won me 20,000 loyalty points, which are worth $2,000 USD of hotel stay or food. I had been steadily trying to use up the points at the Shangri La buffet in Bangkok but still had plenty left.

There was a promotion running for 25% off hotel point redemptions so I was able to book 6 nights for 9,000 ($900) worth of points. Not bad considering that good hotels are insanely expensive in Hong Kong. It has the highest real estate values of any country in the world.


Promenade

After settling into my room it was way too late to do a hike that day. Instead I started off my stay with a long jog along the promenade. A great way to admire how beautiful the city is at night.

A wee jog along the promenade. Hong Kong is so pretty at night. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 9, 2016 at 5:16am PST


Victoria Peak

After an hour of jogging I still had loads of energy. Not surprising given how much I’d been eating for the past week. I planned to hike up to Victoria Peak for some more exercise and another stunning view of Hong Kong at night.

However, Hong Kong isn’t so easy to navigate by foot, even with the help of Google maps. It’s the polar opposite of Osaka which is completely flat with grid block streets.

After wasting more than half an hour walking around in giant circle, I ended up upon the base station of the funicular tram that goes all the way to the top of Victoria Peak. Given that it was getting late I decided to spend my money and save my energy by purchasing a ticket.

I’d already been to the observation point of the peak in 2011 with my poker buddy Amatay Jones but that was during the daytime and the fog was really bad. This time I was there for the night time view. There was still a fair bit of fog but the view was slightly more than decent.

Up The Peak. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 9, 2016 at 6:50am PST


Dragon’s Back

The next day I was ready to go on my first Hong Kong hike, but when I opened the curtains I looked out to see black clouds and rain. Wow I really do have terrible luck with the weather in Hong Kong.

At around midday it was still raining but just a light drizzle. It looked like the rain may stop soon so I decided to gamble and began the hour long metro and bus ride to Dragon’s Back – a trail that’s very popular with the locals.

It was a fairly easy hike and I passed plenty of old people and little kids on the route. It was a beautiful view from the top and it really does look like a dragon’s back.

Out for a hike up the Dragon’s Back #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 10, 2016 at 12:09am PST

Thanks to the fresh air, beautiful scenery and exercise I remember thinking to myself “I feel absolutely amazing right now”.

I felt considerably less than amazing after getting caught in heavy rain on the last 3rd of the hike though. Oh well. Thankfully this was the last of the rain on my trip.


Lion Rock

The next day I was up early for another hike – MacLehose Trail section 5. The MacLehose trail is 100 Km long and split into 10 sections. It earns it’s name from Sir Murray MacLehose, who was British Hong Kong’s longest serving governor and responsible for the creation of the country parks.

It was a much more challenging hike than Dragon’s Back – not a child or old person in sight.
The more challenging a hike, the more rewarding it is and at the peak of the trail the prize were some incredible views of Kowloon.

Hiking MacLehose Trail section 5 #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 10, 2016 at 11:37pm PST

At that moment it felt like nothing else mattered. I thought “this is living”. I wondered “all those people down there and barely anyone up here. Why?”. If I lived in Hong Kong I’d be out hiking every chance that I got.

The trail is home to Lion Rock, a big rock that looks like a Lion’s head and needs to be climbed rather than hiked. I trusted my new £600 phone with a friendly young local and dragged myself up to the top for a photo opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

Climbed up Lion Rock. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 11, 2016 at 1:00am PST

After a 10.6 km hike, plus another 3 or 4 getting to and from the Metro station, I had earned myself a good Chinese meal.


More delicious and a lot healthier than the “Chinese” food that’s served in the UK.


Shang Palace

For dinner that night I treated myself to a visit to Michelin two-star restaurant Shang Palace. It’s in the Kowloon Shangri La which meant I could pay for the whole bill with my Shangri La loyalty points.

Eating some decent grub at Michelin two-star restaurant Shang Palace.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 11, 2016 at 7:07am PST


I opted for the Barbecued Suckling Pig, Roasted Crispy Goose, Roasted Pork Loin combination ($468 HKD / £48.18 GBP / $60.32 USD) and Deep-fried Prawn Toast with Foie Gras ($128 HKD / £13.18 GBP / $16.50 USD).



For dessert – Chilled Mango Pudding ($48 HKD / £4.94 / $6.19 USD) and Walnut Cookies ($45 HKD / £4.63 GBP / $5.80 USD).


It was a beautiful restaurant and a delicious meal but I was happy that I wasn’t paying for it with real money. Especially considering that I was still hungry at the end of it. That’s why I’m not a good match for fancy restaurants, the portions are too small and my appetite is too huge.

Not to worry though, as I found a bakery open late that was selling Portuguese Egg Tarts. A few of those in my belly and I was right as rain.


Wong Lung Hang Stream

Another day, another hike. I planned to hike every day of my stay in Hong Kong.

This hike was along a Wong Lung Hang Stream. It’s a river leading to a waterfall and involved jumping from rock to rock the whole way. I tried my best not to get my feet wet but eventually slipped and had to spend the rest of the day with soggy shoes on.

When I made it to the waterfall it was time to get wet on purpose. I wasted no time to jump in for a swim.

Hiking along Wong Lung Hang Stream trail and taking a well deserved dip. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 12, 2016 at 2:15am PST

Somehow the ‘pick ‘n mix’ sushi I bought from a stall at the metro station had survived a few hours in my backpack so I was able to sit by the waterfall and enjoy a tasty lunch, along with a bag of almonds and chocolate whey protein shake. Healthy living.

Lunch. Somehow the sushi I bought at the train station survived a few hours in my backpack. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 12, 2016 at 2:34am PST


I’d originally planned to hike to the waterfall and then return back on the same route. However, I met a friendly local couple there who told me that I could climb up over the waterfall for a great ‘off the beaten path’ hike with wonderful views and come to a bus stop at the end.


It seemed like a good idea. There was a very faint path through the trees that I followed until a mean looking spider was blocking my way.

Had to get over my fear of spiders on this trek. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 12, 2016 at 3:48am PST


I decided to go around it rather than through its web, then got completely lost. No sign of any path.


I just kept hiking up the steep mountain, through the trees and plants with jaggy branches cutting my legs to shreds. I figured if I got to the top of the mountain I’d be able to find a clear path to continue my hike.

I was wrong. After an hour I made it near to the top and realised that I was well and truly lost. Not only that but there was less than two hours of daylight left. Panic!


I could at least see where civilisation was, but it was so far away and I knew that I couldn’t even retrace my steps to get back there.


I heard a stream and slid down to it on a steep muddy decline on my hands and arse. The stream I heard was basically a steep set of mini waterfalls all the way down. I knew if I followed it I’d end up back at the main river.

It was extremely dangerous and slippery but I had to move fast to beat dusk. I fell a few times. Just some bumps and bruises, until I had a really bad slip and fall with my ankle getting sprained and jammed in between two rocks.

I was already in trouble and now I’d have to get through the rest of the journey with an ankle sprain. I looked up to see the sun starting to dip below the mountain and I wasn’t even half way down.


I looked at my phone and it had 12% battery left. I just hoped it would be enough for me to use the flashlight on it if I didn’t make it back before dusk.

Many times it seemed like I hit a dead end, but I was eventually able to find an alternative route through while still trying to follow the water down. It was a slow process involving careful feet placement and grabbing on to rocks and branches.

I did eventually make it back to the main stream and then back to civilisation with just 10 minutes of daylight left. My ankle was throbbing and my legs had about 100 scratches, many of them bleeding, but I felt emotionally great. I guess from relief more than anything else.

I smelled terrible. A mix of sweat, river water, mud and blood isn’t a good aroma. The Metro train I took back to my hotel was full of people but nobody was standing within a meter of me.


Dim Sum Square

After having one of the best showers of my life I was ravenously hungry. It would have been easy for me to just lay in bed in my comfy hotel room and order room service, but I’d been looking forward to a highly recommended late night Dim Sum restaurant called Dim Sum Square. I hobbled my way there.

Like most Dim Sum restaurants you are given a piece of paper with all the menu items and you just tick the boxes of the ones you want. I ticked 11 of the boxes, about 40% of the menu, only for the waitress to try to convince me to order less. “This too much, TOO MUCH” she tried to warn me.

Dim Sum dinner. 4 more plates on the way. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 12, 2016 at 6:16am PST


I ordered 220 HKD (£22.65 GBP / $28.36 USD) of Dim Sum which was probably a larger bill than the table of 4 Chinese people sat next to me spent as a group.


That photo wasn’t all of it. There were 4 more dishes still to come after I’d eaten some to make more room on the table.

The food was delicious, especially those Baked Pastry BBQ Pork Buns which always go down a treat at a Dim Sum joint. The bill was 1/5th of the fancy Two-Michelin Star restaurant I ate at the previous night and I actually left feeling full and satisfied.


Hotel Gym

I had two more hikes planned for my stay in Hong Kong but with a sprained ankle it unfortunately wasn’t an option. Disappointing but I’m sure I’ll be back in Hong Kong many more times in my life and will eventually hike every trail there.

It’s important to keep active even when you’re injured so I visited to the hotel gym to do some upper body work.

The gym at the Hotel Jen is on the rooftop at the 29th floor with a great panoramic view. It was a nice environment for me to spend a Sunday afternoon working up an appetite for more delicious Dim Sum.

Decent view for a light Sunday afternoon workout. @HotelJenHK #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 13, 2016 at 12:06am PST


Ding Dim

Another Dim Sum restaurant that was recommended to me was Ding Dim.

I went there alone and they tried to seat me at a small bar area. The restaurant was tiny but I insisted on being sat at one of their double tables. I knew I’d be needing the space for all the food I was going to order. The staff were reluctant as there were only two single tables and two double tables in the whole tiny restaurant. However, they weren’t so busy so did let me have a big table to myself.

This time I only ordered only 8 items and still I had the waitress, who herself must have weighed no more than 35 kg, try to convince me to order less. “Each one is three portions” she explained to me. “Yes, I know” I told her. “This too much for one person” she said. “Trust me, I will eat it all” I told her as she walked away shaking her head.

Another day, another dim sum dinner. #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 13, 2016 at 5:35am PST


I ate the lot very quickly then asked for the menu to order some more, much to the waitress’s amazement.

The highlight at this joint were the glutinous rice balls with mango in the middle. Pure heaven.


Ho Lee Fook

The next evening I met up with a poker pal, Chihao Tsang, to eat at a posh and extremely popular restaurant called Ho Lee Fook. The name of the place seems like a joke but the food was seriously good.

We had originally planned to do a hike together, work up a large appetite, then reward ourselves with a big meal. I had to cancel the hike plans due to my ankle sprain, so it was just straight to the big meal.

Enjoying roast goose, chashu pork and ginger-soy chicken at Ho Lee Fook (lol) with @chihaotsang #HongKong

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 14, 2016 at 4:28am PST


We indulged in some Chashu Pork, Ginger-Soy Chicken and of course Roast Goose. A trip to Hong Kong has to include some delicious roast goose.


Chihao was full after that, but we were right across the road from Ding Dim where I’d eaten the previous night. I convinced him to go there with me to eat their incredible mango glutinous rice balls for dessert.

I couldn’t resist ordering a few BBQ Pork Buns as well.


I think he only ate two or three pieces which meant more for me. Sharing food with a skinny Asian guy is a great thing. I must do it more often.



Flight to Milan

After a wonderful stay in Hong Kong I headed back to Europe for the first time in a couple of years. I flew first class with Cathay Pacific to Milan – another excellent miles redemption – and I think that flight experience deserves a trip report all to itself. Stay tuned.
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Osaka – Trip Report

Osaka – Trip Report
The wonderful thing about travel is the experience of something different than what you’re used to. And for a European it doesn’t get any more different than Japan. When you’re in Japan, you know that you’re 5,000 miles away from home.


However, one thing that’s Japanese that I am used to is their food. I seek out Japanese restaurants no matter where I am in the world. It was four years since my last trip to Japan so another visit was well overdue. I’d been hearing that the food capital of Japan was Osaka, so, of course, I booked a flight there.


I used some of my Avios (British Airways) miles to book a business class flight with Japan Airlines direct from Bangkok to Osaka for 20,000 Avios + £26.90 ($34.10 USD / €32.08 EUR) in cash. An excellent value redemption considering the cash price of the same ticket was £963 ($1221 USD / €1148 EUR).


It was a 5 hour flight but fortunately Japan Airlines use a long haul aircraft for the route. Long haul is usually defined by most airlines to be over 7 hours. The benefit of flying in a long haul aircraft is that you get a flat bed in business class rather than just a big seat. And with a 23:25 takeoff I needed it.


I got a solid 3 and a half hours sleep in. The cabin crew asked me before lights out if I wanted to be woken up for breakfast or left to sleep. Of course I value food higher than sleep so I wasn’t going to miss my first Japanese breakfast of the trip.




With the 2 hour time difference the flight landed at 6:25. Early morning arrivals are good in that you get a whole day at your destination. In fact, more than a full day for me because I generally don’t get out of bed before midday. But they are bad in that it’s usually way too early to check into a hotel.

I wasn’t staying in a hotel anyway as they are absurdly expensive in Osaka. You can find a small apartment that’s of the same standard as hotel room for about a quarter the price on Airbnb. Airbnb seems to be very oversaturated with hosts in Osaka so with much more supply than demand prices are very low.


Since I was arriving early I contacted hosts before booking to ask if I could check in at 8am. My first choice host refused, saying I’d have to pay for the previous day, but my second choice host agreed to it even though that meant she’d have to block out the previous day from booking, basically giving me a free day. So that’s the one I booked.


I got an 11% discount for staying a full week and the net total after Airbnb fees was $240 USD (£189 GBP / €225 EUR) for 7 nights. Which is roughly the same price as 1 night in the Holiday Inn in Osaka.

I also got a $50 credit from Airbnb for my first ‘business trip’, a promotion that they are still running. All you have to do is book a place that they deem suitable for business travellers and tick a box to say it’s a business trip.



I took the subway from the airport to my Airbnb as the 14,000 JPY (£96 GBP / $121 USD / €114 EUR) taxi fare didn’t appeal to my Scottish thriftiness. It was right in the middle of the early morning rush hour. I was in a train jam packed with Japanese men in business suits for an hour but as the first station was the airport I got a seat.


When I got to my destination station I couldn’t find an exit with a lift or escalator so I dragged my 32Kg suitcase up the steep staircase step by step. I was half way up when a middle age man in a smart suit, who was going down the stairs, stopped and asked me if I would like some help. I politely refused, telling him that I was going to be eating a lot in Japan so I needed the exercise.


A few minutes later, outside the station, I brought up Google Maps on my phone to get the directions to my Airbnb. I was messing around with my phone trying to get the compass to calibrate when another man in a suit stopped and asked me if I needed help. I showed him where I was going on my phone and he pointed my in the right direction.


Japanese people really are that friendly. I’ve since mentioned it to Japanese friends and they’ve said “yes, that’s normal” or “yeah, if you look like you need help of course someone is going to offer it to you”. In Japan perhaps, but in the vast majority of big cities in the world not at all, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised.




My Airbnb place was tiny, Japanese style, but somehow there was space for everything. Except my head in the shower. Talking about Japanese style, the toilet had about 16 buttons on it with Japanese letters, and it seems like every single one of makes water shoot your my arse, the only difference being the temperature and force. You’d have thought I’d given up trying after the 4th or 5th button but I was really hoping one of them would play some music or something cool.


After a quick shower, which would have been quicker if I didn’t bang my head an absolute belter on the ceiling, I set out on a mission to munch some delicious Japanese food.


Unajyu


My first stop was at Unatoto Unagi, a restaurant specialising in Una (grilled freshwater eel) with a reputation for being delicious and very good value. Prices start at 500 JPY for an Unadon (Una in a rice bowl). I went for the slightly larger Unajyu (Una in a rice box) at 800 JPY.


Unajyu for lunch. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 1, 2016 at 10:04pm PDT


I could have stayed there binge eating Una all day, especially considering how cheap it was, for Japan at least, but decided to go straight from there to another restaurant.


Okonomiyaki


I had tried Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) a few times in Japanese restaurants in Bangkok and thought it was decent but not brilliant. A friend on Twitter, Asako, recommended her favourite Okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka called Ajinoya. No matter where you are in the world, if a local tells you that a restaurant is great, it always is.


I walked 25 minutes from Una restaurant to the Okonomiyaki restaurant. I could have just taken the excellent Osaka subway but the centre of Osaka is completely flat and the streets are in grid shaped blocks. It’s so easy to find and walk to anywhere in the city.


Plus, with the amount of food I was planning to eat, the exercise was welcome. As was the fresh air and mild weather, I’m used to hot and humid Bangkok where you can’t walk anywhere for more than a minute without sweating your arse off.


At Ajinoya they have a Teppanyaki style bar, so you sit right in front of the chef as he cooks your meal.


I opted for the Ajinoya mix, their original Okonomiyaki, which is made with octopus, pork, squid, minced meat and shrimp. Topped off with mustard, mayonnaise, teriyaki sauce, fish flakes and seaweed.


Best okonomiyaki in Osaka. #Osaka #Japan

A video posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 1, 2016 at 11:37pm PDT


After eating that heavenly Okonomiyaki I now know that the previous Okonomiyaki I’ve been eating outside of Japan were garbage, not even comparable to what I ate at Ajinoya.


Pablo – Part 1


I already knew where I was going for dessert. I had done my research and discovered that there’s a chain of bakeries known for their incredible cheese tarts.


I didn’t order the cheese tart. I found something even more appealing to me on the menu – matcha cheesecake.


Dessert time. Slice of delicious matcha green tea cheesecake. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 2, 2016 at 12:41am PDT


It was a delicious, thick and dense slice of cheesecake and the matcha flavour was very rich. I left Pablo with a big smile on my face.


Supermarket


They say you should never go food shopping on an empty stomach because you will end up buying way more than you need. Well I went to the upscale supermarket, Koyo, near my Airbnb with a stomach full off Una and Okonomiyaki but still ended up buying half the shop.


There was so much good, fresh food there. I bought a box of tuna sashimi, a bento box full of everything, two matcha custard pancakes, a few bottles of matcha latte, a banana and strawberry cream sandwich and a bunch of Japanese chocolate bars. I really only went in there to buy milk.


Gym – Part 1


The one thing that I miss out on by staying in an Airbnb rather than a good hotel is access to a gym. After spending all day eating I thought I’d better look for a gym where I could buy a day pass. Usually this an easy task in most cities in the world but it seem that gyms aren’t that common or popular in Japan.


I found one 15 minutes walk from my apartment called Oasis Health Club. It looked nice from the outside, as did the lobby inside, so I paid my 2,000 JPY (£13.80 GBP / $17.07 USD / €16.39) for a day pass, which is less than the going rate in Osaka gyms, and proceeded to get changed in a locker room full of naked Japanese men.


I thought Japanese men were quite conservative but it seem when it comes to nakedness they are quite liberal. I saw more hairy Japanese penises in 5 minutes than I want to see for the rest of my life.


I was expecting this gym to be really high tech and awesome, Japanese style, but all their equipment looked like it was made in the 1980s. What a letdown. And the crazy thing is it was really busy. If that gym existed in the UK it would have zero customers, because your local council run gym would be cheaper and better equipped.


At least I only paid for a day pass. I would look for an alternative gym a couple of days later.


Curry


On the afternoon of my second day in Osaka I opened the doors to my balcony for a bit of fresh air and the smell of curry poured in. Curry is very popular in Japan and there’s a curry restaurant on most streets. It seemed there was one on mine too. So I followed the smell.


Next door, up some stairs, I found a tiny local curry restaurant that’s only open for 5 hours each afternoon and has space for just 10 people. I had to wait 15 minutes to get a seat, then sat along the bar with locals, who were looking at me like I was an alien.


When the staff handed me a menu, all in Japanese language, everyone was looking at me, I guess wondering if I could even read Japanese. Of course I couldn’t, but Google Translate can. With the phone app you just hover your camera above some Japanese text and it translates it into English in real time. I was able to confidently order the curry that I wanted plus several different toppings.


Maybe I convinced them that I could understand Japanese. At least until the staff spoke to me in Japanese and I just had to sit there and smile, then the game was up. Another bluff foiled.


At the small curry restaurant next door to my Airbnb. Couldn’t resist the smell any longer. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 2, 2016 at 10:22pm PDT


The curry was superb and I enjoyed the setup of the place with one long bar placed around the cooking station, so you can watch the staff make your meal while you wait.


Osaka Castle


The trip to Japan can’t just be all about food, can it? I suppose it could be but it would be a shame not to see some sights while I was there. The most obvious one being Osaka Castle.


Visiting Osaka castle. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 3, 2016 at 12:03am PDT


It is indeed an impressive sight but I knew going there that it was just a reconstruction. The original castle was built in 1583 and destroyed in 1868.


You can take an elevator to a 360 degree observation tower at the top of the castle, but there was a long, long queue so I hoofed it up the stairs. Working up an appetite for later and the view was well worth the effort.


View from top of Osaka castle main tower. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 3, 2016 at 12:08am PDT


Kushikatsu


That evening I met my twitter friend Asako who gave me the awesome Okonomiyaki recommendation the previous day. As an Osaka local and food lover, she knows all the best places to eat, so she was a good person to go out for dinner with.


Made a friend in Osaka, she’s a poker player. @asako_220 #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 3, 2016 at 5:10am PDT


We went to a Kushikatsu restaurant. Kushikatsu are pieces of meat and vegetables that are coated with panko batter, deep-fried and skewered with bamboo sticks. Every table has a big metal tin of sauce for dipping but you can only dip each stick in before your first bite, as everyone uses it. This means the sauce is full of the flavours of everything that’s been dipped in it that day.


Eating kushikatsu. This Scotsman approves of deep-fried Japanese food. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 3, 2016 at 5:48am PDT


That’s when I learned my first Japanese word. I asked Asako how to say “delicious”. It’s “oishi”, and the kushikatsu certainly was oishi!


Poker


Asako is a poker player so after dinner she offered to introduce me to the Osaka poker scene.


Playing the live pokers for the first time in 18 months, at Bluff Bar Osaka. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 3, 2016 at 6:50am PDT


Gambling is mainly illegal in Japan but just like the many pachinko parlours that exist, there are poker rooms and casinos that have found a legal loophole. These “amusement casinos” allow you to trade cash for chips, and with the chips you can earn points, which can then be exchanged for something of value like travel vouchers.


At least that’s how I think it works. I never actually got to the stage of cashing anything out.


We played at Bluff Bar, which I’m told is one of around 20 amusement poker rooms in Osaka, in a nightly tournament with about 20 players. It was a fast structure style of game. Online it would be called a “hyper turbo” for sure. Which I was more than happy with as I’m more than decent with a short stack.


Other than the amusement poker rooms, there are many private home games, as there are everywhere in the world, whether real money poker is legal or not. If you wanted to play in a home game the amusement casinos would be a good place to meet people who could introduce you to those games.


For a country in which gambling is mostly illegal, the poker scene in Japan is surprisingly large. And I believe it’s going to get much bigger in the coming few years, as last week Japan’s parliament passed a bill legalising casinos. I’m not sure how freely they will be handing out licenses or when then first legal casino will be built and opened but it’s a huge step forward.


Takoyaki


Eating Takoyaki in Osaka is an absolute must, as that’s where it was invented. It’s a cheap and ubiquitous in the city. But I didn’t want to go to just some random Takoyaki stall and try my luck. I, of course, followed another awesome recommendation from Asako.


I tried Takoyaki at Akaoni, otherwise known as Red Ogre, which is so good it’s recommended in the Michelin Guide.


Enjoying sone Michelin Guide recommended Takoyaki. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 3, 2016 at 9:48pm PDT


And for those wondering what Takoyaki actually is, it’s balls of egg-rich batter with diced octopus inside. A quick, easy and delicious snack, not to mention inexpensive.


Sushi


I’ve probably ate more sushi in the last year than most westerners will eat in their entire lifetime. Still, eating it in Japan is a treat. But I didn’t go to some fancy sushi restaurant. I did the same thing I did on my Tokyo trip in 2012.


I visited Takashimaya which is a very upscale department store. All the upscale department stores have a deli and supermarket in their basement floor that sell incredible but incredibly expensive foods. Still, a pack of fresh sushi would work out cheaper than going to a fancy restaurant, and I was eating alone so to hell with going to a fancy restaurant.


The only problem with the deli and supermarkets in these big department stores is that they have nowhere for you to sit and eat the food. It’s all for taking home. However, and here’s a great tip, if you take the lift and push the button for whatever is the highest floor is, more often than not you will find there is access to the rooftop which will have some benches or some kind of seating area.


Picked up some quality sushi from Takashimaya department store. Eating it on their rooftop 🙂 #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:08pm PDT


The rooftop of Takashimaya had a few benches and nobody else was there, probably because it was 14 degrees C that afternoon, so I got to sit in peace and enjoy my delicious sushi. And it was fancy restaurant quality sushi for sure.


That box of sushi cost 2400 JPY (£16.30 GBP / $20.35 USD / €19.47 EUR), which I think represents good value.


Pablo – Part 2


For my post-sushi dessert I went back to Pablo. This time to try the food that they are famous for; their freshly baked cheese tarts.


Only I discovered they also have a matcha version of the cheese tart, so screw the original, I went with the matcha.


Warm, freshly baked matcha cheese tart. This is what heaven tastes like! #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 4, 2016 at 12:31am PDT


I wish I was a good enough writer to explain how delicious that cheese tart was. The pastry was sweet and flaky and the filling was warm and tasted so good that I uncontrollably closed my eyes and made a loud “mmmmmmm” sound on the first mouthful. Orgasmic!


Japanese Sweets


After that cheese tart I had a taste for sweet food. On my way back to my Airbnb I did a bit of shopping for some Japanese confectionary.


I’ve been out shopping for Japanese confectionary. This is my haul 🙂

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 4, 2016 at 6:15am PDT


My favourites out of that lot were the Bake which are sweet cream cheese blocks, the Meiji rich matcha biscuits and the matcha Pocky Midi which are little fat biscuit sticks covered in thick matcha chocolate.


Gym – Part 2

As I sat in my Airbnb surrounded by the empty wrappers of the snacks I’d been eating, I decided I should probably hit the gym. But that meant finding a new gym, as I wasn’t going back to the previous one.


I tried a few possible places but they only do yearly memberships, no daypasses. I then had the bright idea of going to Osaka Swimming Pool which is local government run and has a gym that only costs 650 JPY for a day pass, a third the price I had paid at the last gym.


I wasn’t expecting much, but I knew it couldn’t be any worse than the place I tried a couple of days earlier, and it least it was cheap.


Well I was right in that they had the same ancient equipment, but I was wrong in that it wouldn’t be worse. It was distinctly worse because they only had dumbbells up to 12 Kg. Almost unbelievable that someone would kit out a gym with maximum weights of 12 Kg, but there it was.


I did my best to improvise a workout routine that I could do with those weights and got a half decent workout in regardless. It’s very rare that I’m the biggest and strongest guy in the gym but at that particular gym I certainly was.


Hoshi no Buranko


More exercise the next day as I left the city to go for a hike in Katano, which is halfway between Osaka and Kyoto.


The train I took there was beautiful. It was a double decker with elegant decor and a smell of perfume. One of the nicest trains I’ve ever been in, and it only cost 370 JPY (£2.51 GBP / $3.14 USD / €3.00 EUR) each way for the 1 hour journey.


Anyone who travels by train in the UK will realise that the Japanese have it pretty good when it comes to train travel.


I hiked out to Hoshi no Buranko (‘swing of the stars’), a 280-meter wooden suspension bridge in Fumin no Mori Hoshida national park.


Hiked out to Hoshi no Buranko, a 280m long suspension bridge in Katano. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:50pm PDT


The bridge was very impressive and I crossed it four times. The rest of the hike wasn’t that interesting, just a regular forest, but it was good to plenty of fresh air and exercise.


Dotonbori


I went looking for post-hike food as soon as I got back to Osaka. I walked around the Dotonbori area, which is the touristy, flashing-lights area of the city.


Dotonbori area of Osaka. Lots of people and flashing lights. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 5, 2016 at 4:16am PDT


It was absolutely packed full of people as it was Saturday night and every restaurant that I wanted to eat at had a long queue.


Tempura


Eventually I found a good place to eat. It wasn’t recommended to me, and I didn’t find it with online research. I found it by following the smell of tempura, walking into the restaurant and looking at what the customers were eating.


Looked good, smelled good and was indeed very good.


Tempura bowl for dinner. Battered, deep-fried, delicious. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 5, 2016 at 4:42am PDT


Tempura is seafood and vegetables that have been battered and deep-fried. The perfect food for a Scotsman in Japan.


Unlike the Kushikatsu, which has a Panko batter, Tempura is battered similar to fish in a British chip shop (or Mars Bars in a Scottish chip shop).


Slightly more healthy than fish and chips from a Scottish chippy though, as the only vegetable we would dream to deep-fry is a potato. Also, Tempura is served with rice rather than chips.


I hope I’m not betraying my country when I say I prefer the Japanese version.


Kyoto


The next day I left Osaka again, this time all the way to Kyoto. Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan so has a lot of history and old pretty buildings and temples. Unfortunately there are a crazy number of tourists there, so many that you can barely walk down the main streets. All the shops and restaurants are aimed at tourists and so are their prices.



I spent a few hours looking around temples in Kyoto when I heard some beautiful music. I followed the sound and found there was an orchestral concert in an outdoor theatre, and it was free.


After the concert I took a train to Arashiyama, where I visited some cute monkeys in a temple that was a steep half hour hike to get to, and then to the reason I came – the bamboo forest.


Taking a wee stroll through the bamboo forest in Arashiyama. #Kyoto #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 6, 2016 at 12:22am PDT


It was really impressive but, like everywhere, crowded with tourists.


Katsu Sandwich


After taking the train back to Kyoto I visited a Hafuu Honten, a famous steak restaurant that is in a quiet, nondescript, residential street. There is a usually a two day advanced booking period to get a table there but the menu item that I wanted was available for takeout.


That menu item was a beef cutlet Katsu sandwich.


Indulging in a beef cutlet sandwich from Hafuu Honten. Best thing I’ve eaten this trip. #Kyoto #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 6, 2016 at 1:22am PST


It was incredible, and as a sandwich that costs 1,900 JPY (£12.94 GBP / $16.17 USD / €15.46 EUR) it bloody should be incredible! Although I actually think that’s good value considering how good it was.


The panko batter crust was very thin and crispy and the beef was cooked perfectly. Beats eating a Big Mac that’s for sure. I’m going to say that it was my favourite meal of the trip.


Anko Pancakes


Before taking the train back to Osaka I visited Isetan which is a huge luxury department store at Kyoto station. Of course I headed straight down the to bottom floor, where there was sure to be lot of delicious food.


I found a stall selling freshly made Anko pancakes. Anko is a sweet paste made from adzuki beans and is very popular in Japan.


Anko (sweet adzuki bean paste) pancakes. I’ll take a dozen mate. Half for now, half for later. #Kyoto #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 6, 2016 at 1:52am PST


I bought a dozen but by the time I got back to my Airbnb in Osaka I only had half a dozen. It was an enjoyable train ride.


Universal Studios Japan


The other main reason I came to Osaka (other than the food) was to visit Universal Studios Japan. I’m a big fan of theme parks and spent two days at Disneyland and DisneySea when I was in Tokyo.


I knew ahead of time that USJ is usually very crowded. I found a website that gave estimates of how crowded the park would be on certain days and certain times. It seemed clear I had to go there at 8am on Monday morning, otherwise I’d be spending the whole day stood in queues, and that’s no fun.


I arrived just after 8am and I couldn’t believe how many people were queuing to get in at that time. I stood in line, studying the plan of action I had put together and the map of the park.



As soon as the gates opened I sprinted straight to Hogwarts. The new 4D Harry Potter ride is the most popular ride in the park, and can max out at 180 minutes wait time at peak times. For me it was a 0 minute wait time.


Spending the day at Universal Studios Japan. Harry Potter and Spiderman rides were incred. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 6, 2016 at 6:55pm PST


The ride was incredible, especially when you’re flying around the quidditch stadium on a broom. It just feels so real. The funny thing is that all the characters voices are dubbed in Japanese and I was laughing pretty hard at Hagrid’s voice.


There was still almost no queue when I got off the ride and I thought about going on it for a second time but decided to stick to my original plan. I ran straight to the other epic 4D ride in the park – The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which was every bit as good as the Harry Potter ride.


I then ran to the Jurassic Park section for a thrill ride on The Flying Dinosaur roller coaster, which already had a 40 minute wait time by the time I got there. It did, however, have a single rider lane, with only five minutes wait time. I don’t know why people would want to stand in line for 40 minutes just to be able to sit next to their friends on the ride, but they did. The single rider lanes were always almost empty.


It was the same story at the other big roller coaster Hollywood Dream.


In the first hour at the park I was able to ride all the ‘must-ride’ rides in the park, leaving me to spend the rest of the day to enjoy the park and the rest of the rides casually, watch the parade, eat copious amounts of Baskin Robbins and a couple of tasty turkey legs.


Chomping on a delicious turkey leg at Universal Studios Japan. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 6, 2016 at 9:21pm PST


I spent about 10 hours in the park and did everything, so was thankful I didn’t buy a two-day pass.


It’s been announced that in 2020 the new Super Nintendo World will open at the park so I will surely be returning when that opens.


CoCo Ichibanya


So far in Osaka I had eaten curry and eaten Katsu, but not eaten a Katsu curry. After visiting USJ I visited CoCo Ichibanya, my favourite Katsu curry restaurant.


They have 27 branches in Thailand, where I’m a Platinum VIP card holder after spending 20,000 Baht (£449 GBP / $558 USD / €535 EUR) there. But I wanted to try the original Japanese version to see if there was any difference.



Well the meal was excellent as always. The curry sauce tasted the same, the menu items were slightly different, and the meat seemed to be of better quality. The real difference though was in the price, as it was more than double what it is in Thailand (even before my Platinum VIP discount in Thailand).


Still worth paying for though, for what is top notch Japanese curry.


Gym – Part 3


I finally found a good gym. It was a brand new place called Urban Fit24 and it was everything I had originally expected of a gym in Japan. Brand new latest generation equipment and immaculately clean. Members enter the gym by using a fingerprint scanner at the door.


They also really know how to kit out a gym. There were none of the useless equipment, that just wastes space, that you see in most gyms and the free weights section was well equipped, with good power racks.


I’d been used to gyms in Thailand which are equipped terribly and full of the most obnoxious people you can imagine. For example having four Smith Machines but zero squat racks and guys taking their tops off and flexing in the mirror, screaming on every rep, sitting on benches for hours taking selfies and playing Candy Crush.


There was a list of rules at Urban Fit24 that was definitely Japanese style, “no removing clothes, no loud talking, no using smartphone when on equipment”. Perfect, a great environment to work out in. I’ve never had such an enjoyable workout. Not a single obnoxious asshole in the entire gym. Japanese style really does suit me.


I would join that gym in a heartbeat if I lived in Osaka. I just hope their yearly memberships work out cheaper than the exorbitant rate I paid for a day pass.
Ramen


Before leaving Osaka I ‘carbed up’ for the journey with some delicious ramen with 400g of noodles.


Loading up on carbs via Tsukemen dipping ramen with 400g of noodles. #Osaka #Japan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Nov 7, 2016 at 9:15pm PST


The type of Ramen I ate was Tsukemen dipping ramen. The Tsukemen soup is so incredibly rich that you’re given it in a separate bowl and then dip your noodles into it for a couple of seconds before putting them in your mouth.


I still drank the remaining soup straight after I finished the noodles. Damn it was strong.


Kuidaore


There is a Japanese word associated with Osaka called ‘Kuidaore’, which means to eat one’s self into ruin by indulging in extravagant foods.


If I stayed in Osaka I don’t know what would come first. Dying of obesity or becoming flat broke, but either way it would happen soon.


A friend asked me what Osaka was like and I told him “It was expensive and delicious”.
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Living in Thailand – 2016 Update

Living in Thailand – 2016 Update

Two years ago I published a blog about living in Thailand. Since then I’ve written lots about my travels overseas to other countries, however an update on the place that I spend most of my time is well overdue.

The weather, the food and the girls are still hot. The only thing that’s changed recently is the cost of living, for me as a Brit at least. Our currency, Pounds Sterling, is now worth about 25% less against the Thai Baht than it was earlier in the year before the damn Brexit vote.

What makes things worse is knowing that most of the Brits who voted for Brexit never travel overseas, other than a yearly visit to some garbage tourist-trash resort in the south of Spain, so the currency devaluation won’t even affect them.

It’s ok though. Nothing ever stays the same in this world. You just have to adjust to the new normal. And that’s why I’m now taking girls on ice cream dates rather than for dinner. 🙂

Having said that, Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice are still cheap enough to eat on a daily. And after eating them literally hundreds of times over the last 6 years they haven’t become any less delicious.

Tiger Shrimp Phad Thai. Yum.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 21, 2014 at 8:49pm PST

I’m still living in Thailand on back-to-back tourist visas, which allow me to stay for 3-months before having to leave the country and come back. I don’t mind the hassle so much as it forces me to travel somewhere new every few months when I might otherwise be feeling too lazy. I’ve had some awesome experiences on those trips as you’ll know if you’ve been reading my trip reports.

I did have an education visa while I was studying at Thai language school. It’s handy being able to speak the local language but I didn’t feel like it was worth the time and money I was investing in it.

After 6 months of school I quit and instead spent that same time and money on a gym membership. Since then, I’ve made made almost zero gains with my Thai language skills but a whole load of fitness gains and that’s fine with me.

Outside of the gym I enjoy running in the parks. Yes, Bangkok is a massive concrete jungle, but it does have a few parks. My favourites being Lumphini and Benjakiti. They’re great places to enjoy open space, exercise, fresh air and see some wildlife in an otherwise crowded and polluted city.

I love jogging at night. #Bangkok #Thailand

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Oct 28, 2014 at 5:35am PDT

And the wildlife doesn’t get any better than the massive monitor lizards that roam around Lumphini park. I always stop to say hi to them when I’m out for a jog.

Big bastard. #Bangkok #Thailand

A video posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 19, 2015 at 5:11pm PDT

I’ve mainly stayed put in Bangkok during my time in Thailand. A lot of other poker players who have moved here end up living in Chiang Mai (chill place in the mountains) or Phuket (touristy beach resort) or even one of the small islands. I like those places too but for long term living I much prefer the big city with the big modern malls, 24 hour gyms, 24 hour restaurants and metro / sky trains to get around.

I grew up in a small town in Scotland where there was basically nothing other than a small corner shop, so city life has always been attractive to me and Bangkok is a very liveable city. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve been here as tourists who can’t imagine it being a good place to live, but then I find out that 100% of their experience of Bangkok was staying in some filth-ridden backpacker area like Khao San road, which is 0% of my experience because I wouldn’t step foot in that area if you paid me.

Having said that, I have travelled outside of Bangkok a few times in recent months, to Hua Hin, Chonburi, Chiang Mai and Nong Khai. No visits to any beaches. I know that’s what most people consider to be the best part of Thailand but with ADHD and Scottish genetics I’d be bored and sunburnt after 5 minutes.

My favourite experience so far has been sharing a picnic with some monkeys on top of a small mountain in Hua Hin.

I was with my (now ex, thankfully) Ukrainian girlfriend who grew up in Hua Hin. As always, having someone with local knowledge to show you around ensures that you have exceptional experiences when travelling.

We were visiting a temple that had loads of monkeys running around. I was extremely excited to see them but they were really aggressive, stealing food and hissing at people. She told me that these monkeys are real assholes because they are constantly being annoyed by tourists all day, every day, but she knew where some friendly monkeys live at a mountain near a temple that tourists don’t visit.

So we travelled for half an hour on our rented motorbike up some steep roads, stopping off at a 7-Eleven on the way to buy some food for the monkeys.

And she was right, the monkeys there were so incredibly nice. I can related, I’ll be incredibly nice and shower with hugs anyone who feeds me also.

Having a picnic up a mountain with friendly wild monkeys. #HuaHin #Thailand

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 22, 2014 at 6:24am PDT

I had a taro-filled bun in my hand that I was feeding to one monkey, but I got distracted by another monkey and closed my fist. The monkey that I was feeding politely tapped my hand until I opened it again and fed him another piece of bun, it was adorable. I’m sure if I tried to feed the monkeys in the tourist area they’d have ripped my fingers off.

Over the last couple of years quite a few poker friends have visited Bangkok.

The Polish fish otherwise known as DaWarsaw was here for 6 months, so it was nice that I was only the second whitest person living in Thailand during that time.

Bad news for him was that the poker site that sponsors him wanted him to live in Poland, so he had to return home. Good news for me was that he didn’t have time to sell his stuff, so I was at his condo an hour before he checked out seeing what I could scavenge.

I’m now the proud owner of a large leather office chair worth 6,500 baht. My big Scottish ass is very comfortable as I write this blog.

My friend Clay, a poker dealer from Las Vegas who I randomly met on a bus in the middle of nowhere in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, came to stay in Bangkok for a few months. And that was all the time he needed to fall in love with a beautiful Thai girl. They are now married and living happily ever after in the states.

Another poker friend, Kolja from Germany, also came to stay in Bangkok for a short time and fell in love with a Thai girl. He now travels between Germany and Thailand regularly, trying to balance having a full time job as a teacher (if you can call being a teacher full time, they get a ton of holidays) with having a full time Thai girlfriend.

As for me, nearly 6 years here, and the only Thais I’ve fallen in love with were those cute little monkeys that I had a picnic with in Hua Hin.

Spacegravy, sometimes known in real life as Grayson, who I’ve known since battling against him in $16 SNGs over 10 years ago, was here for a short time to check out Thailand as a potential place to live.

Having an ex PokerStars Team Online meetup in Bangkok with Spacegravy. #Bangkok #Thailand

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 5, 2014 at 8:27am PDT

As an American pro poker player, he’s basically a refugee – unable to play online in his home country. The land of the free they call it. Unless you want the freedom to gamble with your money over the internet that is.

Grayson liked Thailand but eventually decided to move to South America to make travelling to and from the States easier.

Max Silver and his Irish missus passed through Bangkok on their honeymoon tour of Asia. I planned to take them to a fancy rooftop bar. And we were actually in the place, for all of about 15 seconds before being politely asked to leave.

For once in my life it wasn’t my fault that we got kicked out. It was because Max was wearing flip-flops. He was a little embarrassed about it, even more so when I was explaining to strangers in the elevator back down why we got kicked out. (And probably even more so now that I’m telling everyone on my blog – sorry Max!).

I did have a plan B though, and somewhere that Max could meet the dress code. I took the honeymoon couple for a romantic stroll down Soi Cowboy, one of the world’s most famous red light districts.

As you can see, they loved it.

And knowing that Max is a big foodie, I took him to my favourite Thai restaurant which is a small family run joint hidden up a narrow residential street. Flip-flops allowed. I’ve had several of the best meals of my life in that place and I always take visitors to Bangkok there, to give them an experience they wouldn’t get as a regular tourist following a guidebook.

Another Max, Max Greenwood, who I first met in Vegas over 9 years ago, flew into Bangkok from Canada with his girlfriend to start their tour of South-East Asia. Just like the other Max, he is a massive foodie so I took him to that same awesome restaurant. Oh, and to Chatuchak Market for some cheap but delicious coconut ice cream

Vers and Cardlo69, two SNG players who I’ve known online for a decade, were in town while backpacking around Thailand and neighbouring countries. I arranged to meet them in a fancy new mall for lunch and the pair of them turned up looking like they were dressed for the beach.

They were a bit offended when I burst out laughing upon seeing them. I’m certainly no fashionista – in fact I’m a right scruffy bastard who rarely has an opportunity to look down on anyone else’s choice of clothing. However this was one of those rare occasions. “I mean, come on, you’re in a mall in a big city wearing stringer vests, small shorts and flip-flops for crying out loud!” I told them.

As we ate lunch I learned about how they were getting scammed a lot, including paying almost triple the correct fare for their taxi from the airport, which they didn’t even know was too much until I told them.

“No wonder”, I said, “If I was a Thai that was looking to scam some tourists and I saw you two walking down the street wearing beer logo vests and looking clueless, I’d be sure as hell I found myself a couple of marks”.

They were getting the worst experience of Bangkok, while at the same time thinking it was good. They told me the foot massage they had on Sukhumvit Road was great and the Thai food they’ve been eating on Khao San road was excellent. Then I took them to a big fancy spa that is as cheap as than the small crummy massage joints on the tourist streets but actually has properly trained, professional staff, and of course to my favourite local Thai restaurant.

The bar was then set miles higher for what constitutes an excellent massage or meal in Bangkok.

Some of my best experiences of travelling were when I had someone local to show me around. Since I’m practically a Bangkok local at this stage, it makes me happy that I can help my friends have a much better experience of Bangkok when they visit.

So here’s a good tip for any of my readers planning to visit Bangkok. If you want the fastest, least safe but most fun way to get around the city, look for the guys wearing orange jackets.

Chauffeur driven. #Bangkok #Thailand

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jun 15, 2015 at 8:10am PDT

Peace!

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Yangon, Myanmar – Trip Report.

Yangon, Myanmar – Trip Report.


Since I don’t want to get a job, go to school or marry a Thai girl, I’m still living in Thailand by means of back-to-back tourist visas. This requires me to briefly leave the country every 3 months. I usually try to make the most of these visa-runs by visiting other parts of Asia that I haven’t been to yet and which interest me.

The only nearby country I hadn’t visited yet was Myanmar (formerly Burma). It was at the very bottom of my list but after more than 5 years of visiting other neighbouring countries multiple times, it was about time that I checked it out.

Flight

I chose to visit Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the largest city in Myanmar, because there is a Thai embassy there and it’s just a 1 hour, 1300 Baht (28 GBP / 37.50 USD) flight from Bangkok.

That’s the price flying with the Thai budget airline Nok Air.

Like the budget airlines in the UK, you have to go to some spartan departure gate that’s all the way at the ass-end of the airport and then spend 15 minutes being transported like cattle to the plane in an overcrowded bus.


But unlike the budget airlines that we’re used to in the UK, Nok Air gives you free checked-baggage, a pastry snack and water and in-flight WiFi included in the cheap base fare.

This is a good tip for anyone who is going to be traveling around Thailand or to neighbouring countries. Nok Air is almost always the cheapest and provides a much better service than Air Asia. It usually doesn’t appear on booking sites like Kayak so you have to go to their website directly when looking for flights.

Money

In Myanmar US dollars are accepted almost anywhere. Sounds convenient until you realise that the standard rate that retailers charge, of $1 to every 1000 Kyat, is overcharging you by about 15% on the interbank exchange rate. They also won’t accept US notes with even the slightest crease or mark on them.

Having done my research in advance, I bought some Myanmar Kyat at Super Rich in Bangkok for only 0.5% off the interbank rate before going..

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on May 15, 2016 at 2:21am PDT

A 5,000 Kyat note makes for a good souvenir to keep if you love elephants. It’s only $4.20 USD.

Kilts

The most notable thing I observed on my taxi ride from the airport into the city was that the majority of men were wearing a Longyi, which is something like a sarong or a casual kilt. Well I’m Scottish, so get it round me.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on May 14, 2016 at 9:07am PDT

The first thing I did in Yangon was procure myself a Longyi and I wore that Burmese kilt the whole day while I explored the city. I got plenty lot of strange looks from the locals.

Some people laughed at me and others gave me nice comments and wanted to take photos with me. It’s probably how I’d react if, for instance, I saw a Japanese guy walking around Edinburgh in a Scottish Kilt. Something you may only see once in your life, if at all.

Shwedagon Pagoda

The only real interesting attraction in Yangon is Shwedagon Pagoda. I think I’ve seen enough temples in my life that I’d be totally cool with never visiting another one ever again, but options for things to do were very limited so I went anyway.

I arrived just after midday when it was scorching hot. They made me remove my socks and shoes at the entrance to the huge complex and right there I knew I was in trouble. The floor was completely made of marble and every step burned the soles of my feet. I tried to stick to the shadows but it was impossible. To get from one area to the other I had to run as fast as I could to minimise the time my feet were in contact with the ground. And because of that, sweat was pissing out of my pores.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on May 14, 2016 at 9:37pm PDT

It is a beautiful place but the profuse sweating and burnt feet took away from the experience. If you plan on going, learn from my mistakes and visit in the evening instead.

I only stayed in Yangon for one night, picking my new Thai visa up from the embassy the next afternoon and flying back to Bangkok. But that was 3 months ago. I returned for another visa run last week, knowing how quick, cheap and easy the trip would be.

Train Ride

I noticed that there was a small railway station near my hotel and did some research on where it goes. It turns out that it was the Yangon Circular Railway line that is used for people to commute cheaply into Yangon from the surrounding suburban areas. It goes through 39 stations on a 46km loop and takes 3 hours to get back to return to where you boarded.
This seemed like a fun way to spend the afternoon and at only 200 Kyat (0.12 GBP / $0.16 USD) for a ticket, the price was right.

They leave the doors on the train open during the ride so rather than take a seat I just stood in the doorway, getting an unobstructed view of the scenery, the breeze in my hair and a bit of a thrill as I was hanging out superman style and having to pull myself back in when there were obstacles that could kill me.

A video posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Aug 10, 2016 at 4:59am PDT

I did this for the full three hours. Never got bored.

At almost every station there are hawkers selling food. Some of them would jump on the train, and walk down the aisle selling tasty snacks such as samosas and chopped pineapple.

The train ride was a good way to see a lot more of Yangon quickly, cheaply and easily. There was beautiful scenery, then there were big piles of garbage. There were quaint farming villages, then there were giant slums. There were groups of Buddhist monk children, then there were a group of men cock fighting (that’s with cockerels, not with their penises just to be clear).

Like I said, never boring, always something interesting to observe and think about.

Food

The rest of my time in Yangon was spent eating.

Earlier this year a photograph of mine won me $2,000 worth of Shangri-La Golden Circle points in a social media competition that they ran related to loyalty.

I’m planning to spend the full two grand on food rather than hotel credit and have been indulging regularly at the luxurious buffet at the Shangri-La Bangkok. There is also a Shangri-La hotel in Yangon so I made sure to pay it a visit on an empty stomach.

The national dish of Myanmar is Mohinga which is a rice noodle, catfish, curry soup. There are hawkers selling it on the street for 500 Kyat ($0.42 USD / 0.32 GBP) but my first time eating it was the $11 USD version at the Shangri-La. Priced in dollars rather than the local currency, I’m sure, because only foreigners would pay that much for a bowl of Mohinga.

Curry never photographs well, but here it is anyway:

It was incredibly delicious. The broth was very rich, with a unique flavour so I don’t have anything I can say it tasted similar to. I’d happily eat it regularly if I lived in Myanmar.

I balanced the high class food at the Shangri-La with a lot of cheap street food when I was exploring Yangon. It’s very much like Bangkok where you could just choose any random street to walk down and more than likely there will be some delicious food.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Aug 27, 2016 at 7:51am PDT

Myanmar is close to Thailand, China and India and these countries all have an influence on the cuisine. One of the most common street food snacks is samosas, which are irresistible. To be honest, any food that is deep fried and cheap is irresistible to a Scotsman.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Aug 11, 2016 at 4:24am PDT

After already eating way more than my fair share of samosas during my stay in Yangon, the day I checked out the hotel they had samosas at the breakfast buffet. If cheap samosas were irresistible, what were unlimited free samosas? They were a one way ticket to a full, aching belly that I was rubbing all the way to the airport.

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Manila – Trip Report

Manila – Trip Report

After another three months in Thailand my visa expired, meaning it was travel time. After living in Thailand for the best part of five years I’d already visited just about every country in Asia when it came time to do a visa run. Not the Philippines though.

The most obvious choice for a trip to Philippines would have been Cebu. It’s very touristy with lots of nice beaches. I’m not that big on beaches, or tourists for that matter, so I chose to go to the big dirty city of Manila – just a 3 hour direct flight from Bangkok.

The start to my trip wasn’t great. I was in Manila for less than a minute before getting scammed by a policeman for 200 Pesos. (100 Pesos = $2.15 USD = £1.52 GBP)

I’d just cleared customs and was looking to buy a local prepaid 3G SIM card. That’s standard practise when I arrive in any country, but I especially needed it on this trip to contact my Airbnb host to get the keys for the condo unit I was renting.

Strangely, I couldn’t find a kiosk selling SIM cards. I knew that there had to be at least one somewhere so I asked the policeman guarding the door, who immediately called over the boss policeman, who immediately whipped out a massive stack of SIM cards from his pocket. “Yes, I sell the SIM cards here, which one do you want?”.

It was obviously very sketchy. I assumed that the police probably stop anyone selling SIM cards there so that they can sell them themselves and get the commission from them. Oh well, what did I care? And what choice did I have? He made it seem like he was selling the SIM cards at face value and I needed one and had nowhere else to get one.

I required a 300 Peso SIM card so that I could activate the 7 day internet package for 299 Pesos. The policeman insisted on taking my phone and setting up the SIM for me. I’d rather do it myself, but he insisted. That took him about 5 minutes, then I handed him the 300 Pesos. “No, it’s 500” he snapped, with my phone still in his hand. “Sorry?” I asked. “300 Pesos for the credit and 200 for the SIM card” he informed me. What a dirty scam, but what could I do? I paid him and took my phone.

He then said he’d get a taxi for me. “No thanks mate, I’m going to the metered taxi queue over there” I told him. As I walked over I saw a small vending machine selling the 300 Peso SIM cards for 300 Pesos. Bastard!!!!

It wasn’t until I was in the taxi that I realised that police sergeant Bastard didn’t even set up my phone properly, Not only that but he kept the little setup information pamphlet that came with the SIM card. Fortunately I took a stab at creating default ‘internet’ APN and it worked, otherwise I’d have been screwed.

Obviously the amount of money I was scammed for was very small but still, it really pissed me off. I’m very experienced at travelling in third world Asian countries and thought I knew every scam in the book. Defeat isn’t easy to accept, especially to a policeman. There’s nothing you can do about it.

Condo

I decided to use Airbnb on this trip as there were properties listed that were twice as good and half the price of staying in hotels.

I rented a nice modern studio unit on the 44th floor of Birch Towers in Malate for $30 USD per night (after negotiating a small discount with the owner), which had a balcony with an amazing view of Manila.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 10, 2016 at 4:09am PST

Possibly one of the best bargains I’ve ever had when it comes to travel accommodation. The building even had a gym with freeweights so I was able to get some decent workouts in while I was staying there.

If you sign up for Airbnb with my referral link you’ll get a $35 USD / 25 GBP travel credit. I don’t ever recommend anything unless I personally use it and think it’s awesome. If you travel and haven’t used Airbnb yet you really need to give it a go. You will save money and stay in cool and unique accommodation.

Hiking

I got about 5 hours sleep before waking up at 3am to go on a hike outside of the city. I’d read in fellow traveler’s blog about Mount Pico de Loro and decided to follow his itinerary to get there via public transport.

In my opinion reading blogs is the best way to find fun and interesting things to do on your travels. If you do what most people do – visit the “Top Things to Do” on Trip Advisor or a Lonely Planet book, then you’re just going to end up at a bunch of tourist traps with a bunch of other sweaty white people.

I stuffed a small backpack with beef jerky and bottles of green tea and headed to the station to find the bus going to Ternate, Cavite.

I asked the driver when it was leaving and he said the bus leaves when it’s full. Even though there were plenty of available double-seats on the bus I chose to sit next to the smallest, skinniest girl on the bus rather than leave it up to randomness. Clearly the best strategy if you’re 100% going to have to sit next to someone.

The bus became full after 20 minutes but the engine didn’t start. Their idea of full is when the aisle in the middle is full of people standing. When that happened off we went, straight onto the motorway. Seems safe.

The only option to get from the bus drop-off point in the small town of Ternate to the mountain is by trike. Trikes are a common form of transport in Philippines and are just regular motorbikes with a metal side car attached to them. Seems safe.

A video posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 10, 2016 at 9:58pm PST

Before coming to the Philippines I’d read in some blogs about four or even 5 people sharing one trike to save money. Well I, alone, barely squeezed into the tin can that was attached to the bike.

After a rickety 40 minute journey and a few bangs to the head I arrived at the base of the mountain in the national park, ready to get some good exercise and fill my lungs with fresh air.

Early in the trail I had to walk through a stream full of large rocks. My foot slipped on one of the rocks and I looked down and only then did I realise that I was wearing the wrong shoes. I was wearing a pair of casual Sketchers memory-foam shoes that are super comfortable but not exactly suitable for hiking.

I decided to just power on and be extra careful with my footing.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2016 at 1:14am PST

After an hour and a half of hiking without a break I reached a small camp site near the summit of the mt. Pico de Loro – Spanish for ‘The Parrot’s Beak’. It’s clear from the photo I took why it has this name.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2016 at 2:27am PST

The camp site was set up by locals who live there and make a living from selling simple selling rice meals, instant noodles and bottles of water and Gatorade to hikers – at an enormous mark-up.

That mark-up seemed justified after witnessing how they brought their goods to the top of the mountain.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2016 at 2:57am PST

At the summit is a huge monolith rock which is climbable. It’s a little bit dangerous but the locals have attached ropes to the two toughest parts of the climb.

I met two 18 year old guys there who live at a village nearby and have climbed the rock about 20 times. They were extremely friendly. Friendly enough that I trusted one of them with my camera, worth about 3 months average Filipino salary, to take photos while his friend went ahead of me to show me how to climb the monolith.

I told him that I brought the wrong shoes and wasn’t feeling comfortable climbing the monolith in them. He just laughed and pointed down to his own footwear – a cheap pair of flip-flops. He the went ahead and climbed the monolith so fast that I had to climb just as fast to keep up with him so that I could copy his footing. No time to look down or be scared.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2016 at 2:37am PST

What an incredible feeling it was standing on that rock and taking in the 360 degree view.

On the way back down the monolith, when I was using one of the ropes to rappel, my foot slipped and I smashed my elbow and head into hard rock. Little bit of bleeding but nothing serious. I just held onto the rope and regained my footing. Just as well that I can hold my body weight easily as letting go of that rope would have been a death sentence.

Getting down the the mountain was much more difficult that getting up it. The top is very steep with lots of loose stones so I played it safe, got on my arse and shuffled down.

Halfway back down I was trekking through the jungle and met a dude who was resting. He injured his knee and was waiting there for his friends to come back who went ahead to climb the monolith. He had brought food with him – Chicken Adobo and rice – that he offered to share with me.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 11, 2016 at 3:17am PST

Filipinos are incredibly friendly. I must have crossed paths with about 30 people on my way up and down the mountain and every one of them smiled and spoke to me, even if it was just “hi!”.

When you spend most of your life living in a city you get used to ignoring strangers. Just walking by people all the time without even looking at them. Then you go climb a mountain in the Philippines and someone you met just 15 seconds ago is offering to share their meal with you.

I continued back down the mountain and drank the last of the green tea I brought. I was getting quite thirsty but found a small stream. The water looked clear and fresh but I wasn’t sure if it was safe to drink.

I remembered hearing something like if you take the water flowing fast over rocks that’s the safest water to collect from a stream. And it’s a mountain, the water couldn’t be coming from anywhere that it could be contaminated. So I filled a bottle and it was crystal clear. I tasted it and it tasted as good as expensive bottled mineral water.

It was so cold and refreshing that I sat there and drank 2 litres of it. I then continued my journey, to reach the base of the mountain only 15 minutes later, where they were selling bottles of water. Doh.

I asked the DENR staff “the water from that stream, it’s safe to drink right?”. They looked shocked and said “no, no it’s not”. I asked them “really? you guys never drink from there?”. They looked at me like I was crazy – “no, no way, it will make you sick”.

Fortunately I didn’t get sick but drinking all that water still turned out to be a bad idea. During the bus ride back to Manila I was absolutely bursting for a leak. With more than an hour of the journey remaining and the pressure on my bladder excruciatingly painful I did the only thing that I could do.

I sat near the back of the bus where there were no passengers, closed the curtain for privacy and pulled out an empty green tea bottle from my bag. Now, being an online poker professional, I’m no stranger to the act of urinating into a bottle, but never in a moving vehicle and always with a large wide-mouthed bottle. This was a challenge.

As the bus rattled around, driving fast over the bumpy road, I sat on the edge of my seat, slid up the leg of my shorts and carefully lined up my chaps-eye with the mouth of the bottle. I thought about how lucky I was to be a guy. What would a female do in this situation? The relief I felt was incredible, for all of about 5 seconds before the bus hit a bump and I was peeing all over my hand, leg and the back of the seat in-front.

After re-gaining my composure I quickly filled up the 500ml bottle before I was anywhere near done. Uh-oh. With one hand being used to temporary stop the flow and the other hand being used to hold the full bottle I was in a tricky situation.

As I sat there, on public transport, covered in dirt and sweat from the hike, penis in one hand and a hot bottle of yellow piss in the other, I was just happy that nobody could see me at one of the least finest moments in my life.

I placed the bottle between my knees, freeing my right hand so that I could find the bottlecap and secure it. Of course as soon as the bottle was between my knees – BUMP, SPLASH.

While filling up the second bottle I had a sweat. Was I going to need a third bottle? Fortunately I made it with 50ml to spare. What a relief.

I had brought a pack of anti-bacterial wet-wipes with me so I was able to clean myself up, as wekk as the floor and the back of the chair in front. Just as well because about 10 minutes later we passed through a town and the bus filled with passengers.

Next hike I’m bringing proper shoes, filtered water bottle and a urethral catheter. Lessons learned!

Poker

I played some poker at City of Dreams which is one of the big new Macau-style casino resorts in the Manila Bay area. The poker room has nice tables with big leather executive office style chairs at every seat, well trained dealers and floor staff and free drinks.

Unfortunately smoking is allowed right outside the poker area and as I was only 2 meters from the rail I had to deal with a lot of second-hand smoke. Very disgusting, I could smell the smoke coming out of my hair when I had a shower that night.

I would consider pending a whole month in Manila in the near future and just grinding live poker. There’s loads of casinos and card clubs there and the games feel quite soft compared to just about anywhere else.

Intramuros

I spent an afternoon in Intramuros – ‘the Walled City’. It’s the oldest district in Manila, surrounded by walls that were built in the late 16th century.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 15, 2016 at 5:24am PDT

Many party of Manila feel very sketchy and unsafe to walk around in but that wasn’t the case in Intramuros. Most of the buildings are used for government departments and also a large university. There’s police everywhere. It’s a very safe and friendly place to walk around and the people there are very friendly.

Everywhere I walked girls and effeminate dudes were saying “hi” to me. As I walked by one of them would see me and then nudge the others and they’d all stare at me. I guess they don’t get many white guys walking around their neighbourhood.

I felt like an alien. But a loved alien. A group of 8 university girls even asked to have their photo taken with me. Maybe they confused me for Brad Pitt or something? Who knows?

As I walked into one street the smell of barbecued meat hit me right away and so I instinctively followed that smell.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 15, 2016 at 5:42am PDT

A kid was grilling up lots of different meats that I had no idea what they were, But they smelled good so I bought three sticks. They tasted as good as they smelled. Hopefully what I consumed was pork, chicken and beef rather than rat, cat and dog.

Wakeboarding

During my time in Manila I was lucky enough to make a new friend. Elle is an Aussie-bred Aussie-bred Hawaiian-Venezuelan-Filipina girl who is really into wakeboarding.

It’s always awesome to meet someone who has a cool skill. It’s even more awesome when they’re willing to teach you that skill. Elle took me to the wake park in her dad’s Jeep the day after I met her.

My first attempt at wakeboaring resulted in me face-planting so hard that I hit the water before I even had time to close my mouth and eyes. Yet another mouth full of dirty water on this trip!

I did manage to stay up on my fourth attempt though.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 16, 2016 at 8:25am PDT

Wakeboarding is a lot of fun, even as a beginner. I could get used to the lifestyle, hanging around the wake park in the sun sipping cold drinks then grabbing my board and whizzing around the water.

I hadn’t been much impressed with Filipino food during my trip. It was my last night in Manila so Elle took me to one of her favourite restaurants so that I could try some good Filipino food before I left. Snails in coconut milk – yes it’s delicious. You have to try it if you go to the Philippines.

Thai Visa

The reason I travelled to Manila was to get a new visa from the Thai embassy there. Unfortunately, for the first time in my life my application was rejected for a very small reason that I could have easily rectified if I had time. I left my application to the last minute though and they wouldn’t accept a bribe “sorry sir. we do not accept ‘extra payment’ in lieu of the required documentation”.

I got back into Thailand on a 30 day visa-waiver so expect me to be travelling again soon. I’m thinking of going to Burma as it’s right next to Thailand and so is extremely cheap and quick to travel to.

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Vietnam – Trip Report

Vietnam – Trip Report

I had previously visited Vietnam in 2011 but missed out on a lot as I’d only spent time in and around Ho Chi Minh City. Needing to leave Thailand again for a visa run and having a friend who lives in Hanoi, I decided to return to Vietnam to check out more of the country.

I flew to Hanoi direct from Bangkok, in business class, with Qatar Airways on a short 90 minute flight. The return ticket cost me 18,000 Avios (British Airways miles) + £98 GBP in fees. Sure, for the same as I paid in fees I could have bought a cash ticket on a budget airline like Air Asia, but for much better take-off times and the opportunity to fly business class with one of the best airlines in the world I was happy to flick in the extra 18K Avios.

The first thing I did when I arrived there was to buy cheap local SIM card with data from a kiosk at the airport and then book a ride to the city with the Uber app. I chose to use Uber Black and was driven to the city in a nice new SUV for 25% less than the flat fare of a standard Vietnamese taxi and also got a further large discount for using a first ride promotion code. Isn’t technology brilliant?

I stayed in a nice hotel in the old quarter. Just as well that the hotel was quiet, clean and nice because it was in contrast to the noise, dirt and chaos on the streets outside – the like of which you could only find in a busy city in a developing country. It was brilliant.

Hanoi traffic. Good luck crossing the road. #Hanoi #Vietnam

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:01am PST


I met my friend Kat and we went to eat at one of the best ‘Pho’ joints in Hanoi – Pho Gia Truyen. Pho is rice noodles, generally served in a broth with herbs and meat and is one of the most famous Vietnamese dishes.

Best way to begin a trip to Hanoi. Eat Pho with a Vietnamese girl. #Pho #Hanoi #Vietnam

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 5, 2015 at 6:25am PST

The joint was packed with locals so I knew I was going to be eating some delicious and authentic local food.

Quite often when you eat cheap food in Asia it’s very carb-heavy, but my 50,000 dong (£1.51 GBP / $2.22 USD) bowl of Beef Pho was filled with as much beef as noodles. Very delicious, nutritious and the perfect start to my trip to Vietnam. The fact that I was eating it with a beautiful Vietnamese girl made it only better.

Apparently I’d been pronouncing “pho” wrong all my life though. It’s not pronounced like “foe”, it’s pronounced like “fuh”. Anyway, it was pho-cking delicious.

From my experience of visiting Ho Chi Minh city in 2011 I held the opinion that Vietnam was one of the worst countries in the world for a tourist to visit as far as people harassing and trying to scam you goes. Of course I was staying in the middle of a tourist area and was much more naive back then but it seemed that everywhere I went I was being approached by shady characters and was constantly being overcharged or scammed in some way.

On this trip almost everywhere I went in Hanoi I was with my local friend. Nobody approached us when we were together and I paid the local price for everything. I enjoyed the experience much more since I didn’t have to keep my guard up all the time. There were a couple of occasions where Kat, who’s a successful model, had to go for a casting or shoot for a couple of hours and so I’d go out alone. The motorbike drivers on the corner of every street were asking me where I was going and offering me weed and prostitutes but I just point blank ignored them and it wasn’t a problem.

After eating the pho we went exploring for more food and ended up at this classy joint:

I had a big tasty sweet potato fritter for only 8,000 dong (0.24 GBP / $0.35 USD). I’m guessing it was so cheap because his overheads are about as low as they could possibly be.

Next up on the food adventure was ‘Banh Cuon’ which is a sheet of fermented rice batter filled with seasoned ground pork and mushrooms.

To me it looked more like the lady was making a haggis, but thankfully it tasted a lot better than that.

People in the restaurant were looking at me and talking about me in quite an obvious manner so I asked Kat to translate what they were saying. Apparently they all thought I was crazy for wearing shorts and t-shirt. It was 18 degrees C with zero wind and every Vietnamese person was wearing a thick winter jacket like it was freezing. Incredible.

With full bellies we visited the weekend night market, which is full of tourist tat. Although I did manage to find some quality gear there:

Night market shopping. #Hanoi #Vietnam

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 5, 2015 at 8:47am PST

Kat begged me to take off the hat and glasses because she was embarrassed to be seen with me, but I knew how brilliant I looked so I stubbornly kept them on. She threatened to leave me there if I didn’t take them off, but I called her bluff.

We then took a lovely walk around Hoan Kiem Lake where every local that we passed was staring at me, saying stuff in Vietnamese and laughing. I even had several fans ask for photos.

“This is ridiculous.” Kat said, “Everyone is looking at us. You’re tall, you’re foreign, you’re wearing shorts and t-shirt in the winter, sunglasses at night and a really stupid Minions hat. PLEASE TAKE THEM OFF!”

I told her that it was fine because “I don’t live here. I’ll never see these people again.”

“Well I do and I will!!! Please take them off!”

I eventually agreed to take off the hat and glasses if she’d finally put on the cute bear hat I bought for her. Seemed like a fair trade – me looking stupid for her looking cute. People didn’t stop staring at us though.

Kat took me to a popular local ice cream shop called Kem Trang Tien which was like a big indoor car park, with about 100 people standing around eating ice cream next to their motorbikes.

The ice cream was 10,000 dong per cone (£0.30 GBP / $0.44 USD) and tasted very ordinary although the experience of doing what the locals do at one of their popular hang-out locations was worth a lot.

As we walked back to the hotel late at night I had the urge for just a little more food. Kat suggested I try a bowl of ‘Bun Oc’, which I didn’t realise until it was served is snail noodle soup.

‘Bun Oc’ aka ‘Snail Noodles’ #Hanoi #Vietnam

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 5, 2015 at 7:35pm PST

Vietnam was formally a French colony as part of French Indochina (with Cambodia and Laos) from 1887-1954. That’s why there’s a lot of snail, frog, rabbit and baguettes in Vietnamese cuisine still to this day.

The next morning we were back out food exploring. For breakfast I wanted to eat something that was uniquely local but that I’d actually enjoy eating – i.e. something without snails.

Kat took me through a local fresh food market to a stall where she said the lady was famous for making the best ‘Bun Cha’ in the city. Bun cha is grilled seasoned fatty pork meat on white rice noodles. At this stall the meat was clamped between bamboo sticks and barbecued before being served in a soup.

The bacon-y smell was incredible and I was salivating while waiting for my bowl to be served.

I’d say that this bun cha, along with the beef pho I had the day before, was the best thing I ate on the trip. Top notch.

We spent the rest of the day sightseeing, with Kat driving me around on the back of her motorbike. I’m so glad I didn’t have to be the one driving in the crazy Hanoi traffic.

The most interesting place we visited was Hoa Lo Prison aka the Hanoi Hilton. It was built by the French to hold political prisoners and then by the communist Vietnamese to hold prisoners during the Vietnam war. Now it’s a museum.

They proudly display the jumpsuit and gear of John McCain, that old American politician, who spent some time in the prison in the late 60’s after getting captured during the war.

The next day I travelled to Ha Long for a 3 day cruise in Halong Bay. I invited Kat but she had work commitments so I went solo.

I had booked the cruise after doing a considerable amount of research using TripAdvisor and other resources. There are very many cruise operators and agents selling Halong Bay cruises but I decided to go direct with Indochina Junk.

Indochina Junk have an exclusive license with the government to operate in Bai Tu Long Bay, which makes up about 3/4 of the Halong Bay UNESCO world heritage site. The other part of Halong Bay has literally hundreds of boats operating there at any one time, and that was a common negative comment that I read through all the TripAdvisor reviews.

Please note that I was given a media discount when purchasing the cruise but that doesn’t have any affect on my opinion.

The itinerary I chose was a 3 day – 2 night cruise on their Dragon’s Pearl boat. It has 11 cabins so it’s large enough to make some friends but small enough to be a peaceful and relaxing experience.

The rooms were basically like small hotel rooms, with air conditioning units and en-suite bathrooms with unlimited hot water. What made it better than a hotel room though was an ever-changing view from the window of one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Living on this boat for the next couple of nights cruising Halong Bay #halongbay #Vietnam #indochinajunk

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 7, 2015 at 3:22am PST

I was a little worried that I’d be lonely staying on boat for 3 days by myself but thankfully there was a good mix of good people on board who I got on great with.

There was a newly married Aussie couple who both serve in the Australian army, a young Dutch couple who quit their jobs to travel the world for a year, another young couple from California who took a couple of weeks break from their tech jobs, an Aussie woman with her 14 year old son, a quiet girl from Texas, a guy from Hawaii with dreadlocks who runs a non-profit company that provides surfing lessons to underprivileged kids and a Singaporean family. Great mix of people.

We spent the first couple of hours of cruising though the bay, with most of us on the sun deck marvelling at the breathtaking scenery. There were no polluted waters, strewn with garbage, like many of the reviews from people visiting Halong Bay had mentioned. As I previously mentioned, this was because the 99% of other boats in the bay are not allowed to sail through Bai Tu Long Bay where were.

We were then given a cooking class by our onboard chef, who taught us how to make Vietnamese spring rolls.

We made plenty and ate them straight after.

We spent the last hour before sunset in kayaks, giving us some exercise and a lot of freedom to explore the bay independently.

In the evening our chef made us a big dinner. My appetite is much larger than ‘big’ though, and I was nowhere near full. I’d been on a 3,500 calorie per day diet for a few months so going from that to eating the same sized portions as regular people would have been painful. The chef was very thoughtful though. After the waiter told him that I was still hungry he went back into the kitchen and made me an omelette.

We spent the night time on the sun deck under the stars chatting. Most of the group brought their duvets out from their rooms which was hilarious to me as it was only about 16 degrees C and I was still in shorts.

Everyone went to bed super early, like 9:30 pm, except for me and the Aussies who did some squid fishing from the front of the boat. We stayed up for hours and only managed to catch one baby, which we threw back. Shame because a calamari breakfast would have been lovely.

On our second day we did more cruising and more kayaking.

Kayaking in Bai Tu Long Bay #Vietnam

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 7, 2015 at 10:17pm PST

This time we visited a hidden lagoon. There was a narrow path of water which led to a large enclosed area which was just stunning.

We spent at least two hours in the kayaks, exploring the rock formations and small caves.

When we finally made it back to the boat my arms were aching. I’d been paddling solo whereas everyone else had been in tandem kayaks. Good workout though!

In the late afternoon we spent a couple of hours on a beach on a tiny island.

Everyone was relaxing as they were so tired from the long kayaking session earlier. The only ones with energy left were me and Tom, the 14 year old Aussie kid. We were having sprinting races along the beach, and the dogs belonging to the few guys who live on and maintain the island joined in with us.

We then took a tandem kayak out into the sea and tried to hijack one of Indochina Junk’s small private boats. “Yar – har – fiddle-dee-dee, being a pirate is all right with me! Do what you want ’cause a pirate is free, you are a pirate!” we sang as we paddled.

When we got to the small boat I screamed in my best pirate voice “Arrrrr, put your hands in the air. We are mighty pirates, we’re here to rape and pillage!”. The captain of the boat then ran and pulled up the ladders so that we couldn’t board. We tried to board on the other side but they started the engine and took off, with everyone on board laughing. Pirating isn’t as easy as you’d have thought. I guess I’ll just stick to pirating episodes of Game of Thrones.

By the time we go back to the island it was getting dark and spitting with rain. It turns out that everyone on the island had been waiting a while for us to paddle back so that they could board the tender back to the boat. “Where have you guys been?” Tom’s mother asked. “Arrrrrrrrrr” I responded.

In the evening we returned to the island. This time it was to enter the large cave where we would eat a special dinner.

It’s incredible what they’ve done with the cave. They have it all lit up with small candles and there’s rose petals scattered everywhere.

BBQ dinner in a small island cave in Bai Tu Long Bay. #Vietnam #indochinajunk

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 8, 2015 at 5:21pm PST

We were served a large BBQ dinner. I lost count of how many courses there were. They served me a double portion of everything, without me asking, which was really thoughtful of them.

With each course that was served they laid various ornaments that were freshly carved out of fruit on the table. Wonderful craftsmanship that took hours of work. They really put a lot of effort into making it a special occasion for us.

As it was the Aussie couple’s honeymoon they were presented with a surprise cake after the meal. “You’re going to share that, right?” I asked.

Waking up on the 3rd day I soaked in the fresh air and stunning view, sad that it was the last day on the boat.

Waking up to this view never gets old. #halongbay #vietnam #indochinajunk

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 9, 2015 at 12:02am PST

After checking out of our rooms we visited a small fishing village where the residents live on floating houses. Apparently they used to live in the caves until the government gave them grants to build the houses in recent years.

It was fascinating to observe their way of life. This is a photo of their local supermarket:

Back in Hanoi I spent another couple of days with my good friend Kat. We did a little bit of sightseeing, visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, which contains his embalmed body.

And the war museum which has some old Vietnamese and American planes from the war.

I would have enjoyed the war museum much more if I hadn’t already been to the one in Saigon which is 10x bigger and better.

Of course most of my sightseeing time was spent doing more local food exploring.

Feeling adventurous I tried ‘Balut’ which is a fertilised duck egg.

I though this was going to be absolutely disgusting. I’d seen photos online where you could see the head of the embryo / fetus (type ‘balut’ into google images). The one I was served didn’t look bad at all, with nothing that resembled a creature. I think the lady had chopped off the head when she de-shelled it for me.

As for the taste, well it tasted just like an egg, but with the crunchy texture of the unborn bird to go along with it. I wouldn’t say it was delicious but I’d happily eat it again. A decent protein snack.

Something that I would say was delicious and I’d happily eat every day was ‘Nem Cua Be’, which is crab spring rolls, made by these two girls:

Crispy fried pastry surrounding a large portion of delicious crab meat and vegetables.

The final meal of the trip was also notable, as Kat took me to one of her favourite restaurants. They make five unusual variations of pho.

We tried two. The first was ‘Pho Cuon’. which is beef and vegetables wrapped like a spring roll with flat pho.

And the second was ‘Pho Xao’, which is deep-fried pho.

Very nice and crispy, like onion rings.

This was my second visit to Vietnam but I still plan on returning in the near future. I’d like to do a mountain trek in Sapa when the weather is warmer as well as check out Nha Trang which is famous for it’s beaches and clear waters, perfect for scuba diving.

There’s a lot of Vietnamese food I’ve still to try also!

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Taiwan – Trip Report

Taiwan – Trip Report

Taiwan was one of the few countries in Asia that I hadn’t yet visited.

Needing to leave Thailand briefly for visa reasons, I saw some good value direct flights from Bangkok to Taipei with Tiger Airways and decided to fly there for a 6 day stay.

From Thailand to Taiwan on a tiger.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Aug 31, 2015 at 6:39pm PDT

Hotels are quite expensive in Taipei when compared to some other Asian cities. A room is around 3x the price that it is in Bangkok for the same standard and in the equivalent location.

Fortunately I found some good value, thanks to Airbnb, in a small 4-floor apartment building that had been converted into hotel rooms. A real hotel room, in the same central location next to metro station and of the same standard would have cost over $100 USD per night. These privately rented hotel rooms cost only $64 USD (42.50 GBP) per night.

I had $275 of free Airbnb credit from making referrals (thank you so much to everyone who signed up using my link) so I only had to pay $109 for the full 6 night stay.

When I arrived in Taipei it was lashing down with rain – not the best start to the trip. I hung out in a bar until the rain stopped and was fortunate enough to make some friends there. When the rain finally stopped we went to a local restaurant together.

I was very keen to try some local Taiwanese food. I’m a lot more adventurous now than I was when I first travelled to Asia. I have memories of myself and Amatay running around Hong Kong desperately trying to find a KFC or Pizza Hut because the local grub was unappealing.

We were handed a menu which was just a bunch of Chinese characters with no photos. If I had turned up at this restaurant alone I’d probably be on my way out the door and looking for nearest American fast food franchise. So I was very grateful to be with friendly locals who explained each dish to me and ordered food that they knew I’d enjoy.

We ate a bunch of different dishes including Mapo Tofu, Hainanese Chicken and something unpronounceable which was a stir-fry of squid legs, pork and vegetables. All very healthy and nutritious – a world away from Chinese restaurant food back in the UK.

Made some local friends and ate some local food. #Taipei #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 1, 2015 at 9:17am PDT

After dinner we went for some Taiwanese Bubble Tea at a chain called 50 Lan. I enjoy drinking bubble tea a lot in Thailand so I was keen to try it in Taiwan, where it originated. It’s iced tea with milk, flavourings and chewy tapioca pearls that you suck up through a thick straw. My favourite is green tea with taro.

I tried to look cool, posing for a photo while drinking the bubble tea but goofed up and spilled it all down my front. I had spent all night avoiding the rain but still ended up wet.

Epic Taiwanese bubble milk tea posing fail. #Taipei #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 1, 2015 at 9:32am PDT

The next morning I met with one of the girls, Karbo, for breakfast before she had to fly to Macau. We had a stroll through a fresh food market, sampling some food on our way, before going a small cafe to eat a typical local breakfast.

Some type of pancake with bacon pieces in the middle, noodles. fried radish and soy milk – all made for a tasty start to the day.

After saying goodbye to my friend I went straight to the gym in an effort to keep up with my workout routine.

I found a very modern and well equipped gym called 1st Fitness that works on a ‘Pay As You Go’ payment model. Most commercial gyms either require you to sign up to a lengthy contract or have a very expensive daily rate. 1st Fitness, however, only requires a one-off payment of $100 NTD (£2 GBP / $3 USD) for a membership card which you can pre-load with credit. Use of the gym is then charged at $1 NTD (£0.02 GBP / $0.03 USD) per minute from the time you enter until the time you leave.

While I was doing barbell squats I noticed a girl about half my weight in the rack beside me squatting the same weight as me. Rather than be embarrassed be this, I asked her if she wanted to work out together – since we’re lifting the same weight. And that’s how you make friends at the gym.

After the workout I asked her to “show me something cool in your city” and she took me to Memorial Hall, which is a large national monument with a history exhibit inside.

We raced from the flag to the top of the stairs and I can confirm that I’m much, much better at running than I am at lifting weights.

We then spontaneously decided to hike up Elephant Mountain, which has the best view of Taipei. It should have been an easy enough hike, about 1 hour walking up mostly wooden steps, but we tried out best to get up there in half the time so that we could watch the sunset from the top.

We made it with only 10 minutes to spare. As I stood at the viewing point, sweating and out of breath, I was constantly being bitten by mosquitoes.

Fortunately there was a well prepared German dude, wearing all the right clothes and a backpack with all the right supplies for a hike. He made me feel like a daft Scotsman, wearing cotton shorts and t-shirt with my only supplies consisting of a bottle of juice and a banana I picked up from the 7 Eleven near the bottom of Elephant Mountain.

He was nice enough to lend me some mosquito spray along with some information about Dengue Fever. “Taiwan has already had over 20,000 cases of dengue fever this year and over 50 deaths from it” he told me, “so it’s really important to protect yourself”.

Free from being bitten literally to death, I was able to enjoy the view…..

I’m up top of Elephant Mountain for the best view of Taipei. #Taipei #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 2, 2015 at 8:27am PDT

…. and take an awesome “selfie”!

Taipei 101 tower “selfie”. #Tourist #Taipei #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 2, 2015 at 9:05am PDT

We hiked back down the mountain and walked to Taipei 101, which is the massive tower in the photos. There they have a branch of Din Tai Fung, famous for their ‘XiaoLongBao’ (soup dumplings) and the fact that two of their branches have a Michelin Star.

Instructions were provided on how to eat the XiaoLongBao like a pro for maximum enjoyment.

Munching on Michelin star ‘xiaolongbao’ (steamed buns) at Din Tai Fung. Foodgasm! #Taipei #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 2, 2015 at 9:20am PDT

The restaurant has a large glass wall between the seating area and kitchen so you can watch the team of chefs make the dumplings from scratch. The XiaoLongBao dumplings really lived up to the hype and were well worth the hour wait to get a table.

My new friend, Claire, asked me if I was feeling tired due to all the hiking and eating. “Nope, not even close.” I said, “Let’s do a real hike tomorrow.”

And that we did. At 7am we boarded a public bus which took an hour to drop us off at the east coast of the Taiwan where we went to hike up Teapot and Banping mountains.

Hiked in the mountains around Jiufen for 7 hours today. #Taiwan #Tired

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 3, 2015 at 10:59am PDT

It was a hot and sunny day which made it a challenging hike but we stopped to rest and eat every half hour. We brought plenty of food and drink with us.

The hike started off on a well trodden path but the closer to the top the more challenging it became and we frequently had to climb rocks or go through thick jaggy stuff. Not that much fun for me wearing shorts.

Don’t stop til you reach the top. #Hiking #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 3, 2015 at 11:10am PDT

By the time we reached the top we were surrounded by thick fog, which was very unfortunate as it would have been an incredible and rewarding view from there.

Top. #Hiking #Taiwan #HowDoIGetBackDown

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 3, 2015 at 11:17am PDT

We decided to take a different path back down but due to the fog and some misleading signs we got completely lost. By the time we had eaten all our food and drank all our water we were still lost.

We also had the misfortune to find two Taiwanese guys who were both hiking alone but got lost and were trying to find their way back together. They had seen some signs and now thought they knew the way back to civilization so we followed them for half an hour.

I switched on my phone, which I had earlier turned off with just 2% battery life left, to quickly open up Google Maps. That’s when I realised that we were heading in completely the opposite direction of civilization. One of the guys told me that he doesn’t trust Google Maps and that we’re going the correct way for sure. I do trust Google Maps so we argued about it for a while. It was very frustrating trying to argue with someone who doesn’t trust a compass and a map just because the compass is inside a phone and the map is an app, so we eventually agreed to disagree and go our separate ways.

A couple of hours later we reached civilization. I often wonder what ever happened to those chumps.

At the base of the mountain there was a dessert stall selling bowls of brown sugar water with ice, tofu and tapioca pearls. A very simple, cheap and ordinary dessert, but at that moment in time it tasted like heaven. Water, ice, sugary food – each mouthful contained everything my body was craving..

After the hike we boarded a bus for a short journey to Jiufen – an old gold mining town that’s now a bit of a tourist attraction with very narrow streets lit by lanterns, famous tea houses with incredible views and small shops selling local delicacies.

Everywhere you go in Jiufen you’re wither walking up or down steep streets. Not exactly fun after walking up and down mountains all day. Fortunately everywhere you walk in Jiufen there’s also food, so we did keep walking.

We tried many of the local foods but my favourite was one of the simplest. Tea eggs are just boiled eggs that are cracked open and then boiled again in strong tea to add flavour. A nice tasty protein snack.

To say that I slept well that night would be a massive understatement. With tired legs and a belly full of food I went to bed and woke up 12 hours later. With another 3 hours lying in bed watching Korean soap operas dubbed into Mandarin on Taiwanese TV, I was starting to feel guilty about wasting almost a whole day of my trip.

I finally left my room at 4pm to go for a wander around the city. That’s when I met a pretty local girl who had just returned to Taiwan after studying in USA. She asked me if I wanted to hang out and took me to her favourite night market – Raohe Street Night Market.

Night markets are an important part of Taiwanese culture, where many locals go to socialise and eat good but inexpensive food. At Raohe Street Night Market the focus was very much on the food as more than half the stalls were selling tasty treats.

Omnomnomnom. Night market snacking. #Taipei #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:01pm PDT

Other than the cute Doraemon style sweet red bean pancakes (Dorayaki) my favourite was a stall selling steak. The steak vendor would cut up and blowtorch the steak to cook it then cover it with a spicy seasoning.

Tasty blowtorched steak. $100 NTD (£2 GBP / $3 USD). #Taipei #Taiwan #NightMarket

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:41pm PDT

A delicious and excellent value protein snack for only $100 NTD (£2 GBP / $3 USD)

I ended up spending my remaining 3 days in Taiwan with my new friend. My best experiences of travelling have always been when I’ve had a local friend to show me cool places, teach me about the culture and bridge the language barrier.

After stuffing ourselves full at the night market we headed to the outskirts of town to her father’s jazz cafe. It was a great atmosphere with live music and packed with locals dancing and having a good time. It was also the first time a girl introduced me to her dad on a first date, so that was a new and interesting experience.

The next day we woke up in the afternoon tired and hungry. I suggested we eat something that’s uniquely Taiwanese and was given a few options to choose from. I decided on the most unhealthy and delicious sounding food – Gua Bao which is a Taiwanese bun with pork belly meat.

The meat was just pure fat. I really enjoyed the first one. The second one not so much and I was beginning to feel sick while trying to get through the third one.

Our bellies were full and we were lacking energy. It was approaching evening so the best thing to do was a sunset cable car ride on the Maokong Gondola. It only costs 50 NTD (£1 GBP / $1.50 USD) each way and is a 4km long ride up a mountain to Maokong which is a small area with restaurants, tea houses and a food court – where we got some delicious fresh watermelon and milk smoothies to drink as walked around and admired the scenic view.

We later visited the largest and most famous night market in Taipei, Shillin Night Market. For an idea of how big it is, there’s around 600 food vendors there.

Beef Noodle Soup is a popular local food and a lot more nutritious than the Gua Bao I had eaten earlier.

Another local speciality that I indulged in was Hot Star XXL Fried Chicken at it’s original stall. They sell one thing – famously massive pieces of fried butterflied chicken breast. The two of us could barely finish one piece and after we finally did there was certainly no more eating that day.

Eating a piece of fried chicken that’s bigger than my head. #Taipei #Taiwan

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 5, 2015 at 11:23am PDT

On my last day in Taipei we visited the Taipei Zoo which has some cute pandas.

Panda <3

A video posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Sep 6, 2015 at 2:04am PDT

The zoo is large, well maintained and very cheap at just 60 NTD (£1.20 GBP / $1.80 USD) as it’s heavily subsidised by the government. For comparison, the zoo in my home city of Edinburgh in Scotland costs £17 GBP ($25.50 USD) to enter – that’s FOURTEEN times the price.

We spent about 5 hours enjoying the zoo so it was a really good value day out.

One of my favourite things about the entire Asian continent is how easy it is to eat well and enjoy yourself without spewing money. I had so many enjoyable experiences and ate so much tasty food in my 6 days in Taiwan, and I barely spent any money.

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Istanbul Food Tour

Istanbul Food Tour

When I flew from Thailand to Ireland this Easter to play in the Irish Open I broke up the journey with a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey. One night on the way there and another two on the way home.

At the time I booked the trip I didn’t know much about Istanbul or even what I actually wanted to do there, other than eating my weight in Turkish Delight. My main motivation for this itinerary was to save myself a lot of money. However I’m always glad for the opportunity to visit somewhere I’ve never been before.


Flight

Tickets from Bangkok to Dublin were absurdly expensive at Easter and I’m allergic to spending money, so that was no good. Fortunately, I hold a decent number of British Airways miles (Avios) that I’ve collected from churning credit card sign-up bonuses and a bit of flying. Unfortunately, there were no rewards seats available on the BKK – LHR leg to get me to Dublin.

So I started looking for routes from BKK to any city in Europe where a) reward seats were available, b) I had never visited before and c) had cheap direct flights to Dublin. Istanbul was the city that ticked all the boxes.

At that time BA had just announced plans to effectively devalue Avios miles through some significant changes to their loyalty program. It’s really crappy how you can save up loyalty points for years with a company only to have them slap you in the face and basically steal a third of the value back from you. I was at least glad for this opportunity to spend some of them in the short time before the devaluation was enacted.

My outbound flight was BKK-KUL-IST with Malaysia Airlines in business class. The good thing about holding BA miles is that they can be used to buy reward tickets on any airline in the Oneworld Alliance, of which I can think of seven off the top of my head that fly out of BKK.

This ticket cost me 65,000 Avios + £14.10 GBP in fees. Extremely good value as this would have cost 50% more Avios post-devaluation and the fees on reward tickets are rarely anywhere near this low.

Bye bye Pad Thai, hello Turkish delights. #Istanbul #Turkey #Adventures

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Mar 31, 2015 at 5:30am PDT

It was an overnight flight scheduled to arrive in Istanbul at 6am. My plan was that I’d get a good night’s sleep as I was flying business class, would be waking up at a reasonable time so wouldn’t get jet-lagged and would be checked in to my hotel, showered and changed before 9am so that I could make the most of my 24 hours in Istanbul.

It was a pretty good plan.

A two hour delay in landing and then another hour stood waiting at the baggage carousel before realising that my luggage was never going to arrive surely messed that plan up. Incredibly, after taking hundreds of flights in my life, this had never happened to me before. I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do about it but apparently none of the airport staff spoke English, or could help me or could give a damn.

Eventually I found a lost baggage room and after a lot more waiting and dealing with their unfriendly and, to be honest, just downright rude staff I was told that my luggage was currently in Malaysia. Nightmare!

Food Tour

To make the most of my 24 hour stopover in Istanbul I booked a Culinary Backstreets food tour. The idea is that a local tour guide takes you though the backstreets of their city to their favourite eateries. Places that most tourists wouldn’t find on their own.

I joined the tour 90 minutes late because of my flying woes, resulting in me missing breakfast. Wearing just a t-shirt, I was cold and hungry. “Don’t worry” the tour guide said, “we’re going to go eat ‘Kokorec’ now”.

The way that she pronounced ‘Kokorec’ sounded just like “cockroach” to me. I suddenly lost my appetite. I asked what kokorec was and was told that it’s roasted lamb’s intestines, a common street food in Istanbul. Yeah, appetite still gone.

Although kokorec is very common, our guide was quick to point out that there’s only two vendors in the city that she would ever buy it from. It’s very important that the intestines have been thoroughly cleaned and most street vendors in the city are severely lacking when it comes to food hygiene. Many of them also cheat by using intestines from grown sheep rather than lambs as it’s much cheaper for them to buy.

I was observing the vendor doing his thing when he carved off some meat – if you can call intestines meat – and offered it to me. The tour group stood and watched as Dale the guinea pig sampled the kokorec.

My first bite of food in hours. Anything is delicious when you’re hungry. Except for this – it tasted like absolute filth.

I tried to force myself to chew it up so that I could swallow it quickly then nod my head politely but the vile taste made it difficult to maintain my poker face. The vendor and everyone else could see that I was disgusted. The game was up, so I spat it out onto the pavement.

The rest of the group were given their kokorec in a bread bun with sauce and they all thought it was delicious. Which made me look bad for spitting it out on the ground. I tried to explain to them that all they were tasting was bread and sauce, disguising the dirty taste of intestines, but they were having none of it and made me feel like a killjoy.

It seemed like every one of these ‘foodies’ commented on everything that we ate that day as being delicious. I’ve met a lot of people like this when travelling, who want to believe everything they see and do in a foreign culture is awesome and are quick to criticise anyone who has anything negative to say about anything. It’s OK to actually have an opinion about things, and a personality!

Fortunately the kokorec was the only food on the tour that I didn’t like. Next up was another street vendor, an eccentric man in a narrow alleyway who sold meatless-meatballs. I prefer my meatballs to contain plenty of meat actually, but they were tasty none the less. Even better was the vendor’s banter, although he nearly crushed me to death with a bear hug when I gave him a thumbs-up verdict after my first bite.

We then went to a famous restaurant to eat Okra soup, which was somewhat decent. The wall proudly displayed dozens of photographs of Turkish celebrities who’d visited the restaurant. Being a smart ass I was quick to comment that I didn’t know who any of them were, and that I couldn’t even think of a single famous Turk. One of the lads there asked “You’re Scottish right?”, then pointed to a photo, “Do you know who he is?”

I did indeed, it was Tugay Kerimoğlu who played for Rangers back in the days when they actually had world class players. Consider me put in my place.

After a long walk through the streets of Istanbul we went to eat ‘Pide’, which is a Turkish pizza. “How is pizza a Turkish food?”, I asked. Apparently what defines it as a Turkish pizza is it’s long shape and the traditional topping of ground meat and vegetables. So not that much different from a regular pizza.

The pizza restaurant, which we were told only opens from 11am – 3pm each day, was in a small nondescript shop, in a local street, with nothing written in English. So definitely not a place that many tourists will find. And that’s exactly what I want when travelling – to eat where the locals eat.

Inside, two men were busy preparing and cooking pizzas in a fire oven.

Everything on the food tour was already paid for as part of the tour fee but I had a look at the menu which showed the price for one pizza as 10 Lira. That’s just £2.30 GBP or $3.50 USD and represents good value in my opinion.

We took our pizzas up to the roof of a nearby building. The sun was out and it was unseasonably warm at about 18C. Just as well for jacket-less me.

Enjoying some takeaway Pide (Turkish pizza) on a rooftop in Istanbul. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 1, 2015 at 7:38am PDT

I did expect to be eating food that was more exotic than pizza on the tour, but I was happy as it was some damn good pizza and the view from the rooftop where we ate it was incredible.

Next up was a little bit of dessert to satisfy my sweet tooth. Our guide took us to a small bakery that sold her favourite dessert which she called ‘angel’s hair cake’. We then took the cakes to a small local tearoom and ate them there with tea.

The cake was just finely shredded pastry soaked in syrup. It was extremely tasty, of course. It’s basically impossible to make any combination of pastry and syrup taste bad.

After another long walk to regain our appetites we visited a ‘Dürüm’ restaurant. Dürüm is more like what I’d consider a Turkish food. It’s a flatbread wrap with kebab ingredients.

The restaurant was packed so they set us up a table out on the street. The food was presented to us in a big tray with wraps, meat, vegetables and spices to assemble ourselves and eat. No sauce though.

Feasting on Durum. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 1, 2015 at 10:13am PDT

I asked the guide “Why no sauce?” and she replied that they never eat this food with sauce. I told her that I’d eaten similar food in Greek restaurants with some nice sauce. “Well, that’s Greece. That’s not how we do it here!” she informed me very sternly. Remind me never to mention Greece to a Turkish person again.

Everyone was commenting on how delicious the food was, including myself, although I couldn’t help but add “a bit of  ‘Tzatziki’ sauce and it’d be absolutely perfect”. I’ll get my coat! Oh wait, I don’t have one.

We had another long walk through the streets of Istanbul before arriving at a small family run restaurant which was in the top two floors of a town house. This was type of restaurant is very rare, we were told, as the owner cooks fresh home-made food using only high quality ingredients. There are many independent restaurants in the city serving home-made food but they all eventually become focused on profit and start using cheaper ingredients than they would if they were cooking for their own family.

At this restaurant the lady owner cooks the food in the traditional, often slow, ways, even if it means some ingredients need to be prepared the night before. “If she uses vegetables they will be fresh from local farms, if she uses olive oil it will be Tuscan olive oil” the guide told us.

We didn’t get to choose the food. The guide had ordered it the previous day. That’s the only way that you can eat in this restaurant. You can’t just turn up and get a table.

Before the food arrived half the group had to leave as our tour was already running over schedule. That meant more food for the rest of us. Everyone was completely stuffed, except for me and my insatiable appetite for delicious food.

The last thing to arrive was Manti, a pasta similar to ravioli with yoghurt sauce and spices. Making this dish the correct way is a very laborious processes and I’m pleased to say that I was the sole beneficiary of the fruits of that labour. Everyone’s bellies were full so I had the full bowl of deliciousness all to myself.

The tour ended about 5pm, so it was really a full day experience and a very enjoyable one at that. We were all given a free book with recommendations for restaurants in Istanbul so that we could continue food exploring on our own.

The Culinary Backstreets food tour cost $125 USD, but I got a 50% media discount for owning such an awesome blog, and also because I contacted them and asked if I could join the tour for free and they met me half way. The discount didn’t influence any opinions written in this blog in any way. As you know, I’m a man of integrity.

I think that at half price it was good value but at the full price I’d consider it expensive. Most of the food was pretty cheap and we shared it. There were 9 of us on the tour and I’d estimate that the total cost of the food was in the region of $150 – $200. I would guess the guide gets paid about $100 for the day, so that leaves around $800 – $900 profit.

Seems like a very profitable business. I’d like to do it myself if only the food in my native land was worth eating. I’m not sure I could convince tourists to pay me $125 each to show them around my favourite places in Scotland to eat deep-fried Mars bars, deep-fired haggis and Pizza Crunches (which are also deep-fried FYI).

After the tour I was full of energy so continued walking around the streets of Istanbul. I found a street market where I was able to buy a pair of CK boxers and a Versace t-shirt for a couple of bucks each. Fake of course, I just needed some cheap clothes until my luggage arrived from the other side of the world.

Having worked up an appetite again I was on the lookout for a tasty treat. Tasty treats are not hard to find in Istanbul and I quickly found myself a nice slice of cake consisting of sponge, cream and honey.

Walking back to my hotel in the evening I must have passed more than fifty shops that sell nothing but Turkish Delight, or ‘Lokum’ as the locals call it, in the space of half an hour. I’d already eaten way too much but I decided to buy some to take with me to Ireland the next day. There were free samples of every flavour and I decided on the pomegranate and hazelnut variety as being the most delicious.

Pomegranate Turkish Delight. Yum! #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 2, 2015 at 12:23am PDT

Of course, I couldn’t help but eat a piece right then, then another, then another. A sugar-induced coma ensued and I was dead until the next morning.

I woke up too late for the hotel breakfast but found myself a nice big pastry full of pistachios for brunch.

Breakfast time. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 1, 2015 at 11:50pm PDT

I headed back to the airport. Fortunately my luggage arrived there from Malaysia two hours before I was due to check in for my flight to Ireland. Nothing like cutting it fine. I did receive a $90 USD compensation payment from Malaysia Airlines a couple of months later so I actually went from paying very little cash for the flight to being in profit for it.

Second Stopover

After a fun time in Ireland I was back in Istanbul for another stopover on my way home to Bangkok. The Sultanahmet Newport Hotel where I stayed previously was very comfortable and exceptional value at around $44 USD (29 GBP) per night on Agoda, so I booked it again. It was in the old town, very close to a tram stop which meant that I could get to and from the airport quickly and cheaply.

The public transport system in Istanbul is excellent and very cheap. With an Istanbulkart RFID card, which costs 6L, you can load it with money and ride the bus, metro, tram and ferry for only 2.15L (£0.50 GBP / $0.76 USD) per ride and another 1.45L (£0.34 GBP  / $0.51 USD) if you’re transferring.

A trip from the airport to my hotel meant riding metro then transferring to a tram, taking about 45 minutes and costing 3.60L (£0.84 GBP / $1.27 USD). For comparison, a taxi ride would have taken between 35 – 75 minutes depending on traffic and cost around 50L (£11.62 GBP / $17.66). Of course taxing a taxi is more comfortable and convenient but there’s also a fair chance of getting scammed when you’re a foreigner.

I arrived in the evening and went food exploring again. I visited a durum restaurant called ‘Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi’ that the guide had pointed out to us during our tour but we hadn’t visited.

Arrived in Istanbul hungry. Lamb kebab sqewers it is then. (Cag kebabi). #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 7, 2015 at 12:54pm PDT

I ate some deliciously juicy lamb kebab for 16L (£3.72 / $5.65). That’s considered expensive for this meal in Istanbul – it’s a famous restaurant in an expensive part of town – but I still consider it decent value for some very decent grub.

Exploring for dessert I was spoiled for choice with the many varieties of pastry-honey-nut combinations available but settled for this one. And by one I mean two.

After an early night I woke up early to some beautiful weather and decided to explore the city by foot. I must have covered over 20 km that day (about half a marathon), not all of it on flat ground either. But what better way to explore a city and counteract my ludicrously high calorie intake at the same time?

Beautiful day in a beautiful city. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 8, 2015 at 6:08am PDT

I skipped the main tourist sights which were mainly religious buildings. While I do realise that religion has a massive influence on the culture of any civilisation, as someone who is strongly atheist I just have no interest in visiting these huge expensive monuments to religion. “Imagine all that money and time and effort had been put into something productive?” is what I think as I walk by them.

I visited the Grand Bazaar, a famous indoor market close to my hotel in the old town. I took the advice of the guide from the food tour who said “Turkish people don’t shop at the Grand Bazaar or the Spice Market. These places are for tourists, with tourist prices.” So I went there to look around and eat copious amounts of free samples from the many Turkish Delight stalls.

The sellers are quite pushy there and do get a little pissed off when you try six or seven samples and then leave without buying anything. Muttered words in Turkish as I walked away, probably calling me all the bastards under the sun.

I kept walking until I was away from the tourist trash, to where everything is real and the prices are real cheap. I found a man making fresh pomegranate juice at 2L (£0.46 GBP / $0.71 USD) per cup. So sweet, so refreshing, I gulped it down in two seconds and asked for another.

I drink pomegranate juice a lot in Bangkok but in Istanbul it’s much better. It’s a darker and sweeter fruit than they have in Thailand, who actually import from China, and it’s also half the price.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 8, 2015 at 6:19am PDT

Having walked up a bit of an appetite, I wandered into a small local restaurant in search of some sustenance. They didn’t have a menu but the owner tried to tell me what they serve in broken English “Chicken soup, chicken *something*, chicken *something* and *something* chicken”. OK I guess I’ll have the chicken soup then.

There were four tables in the joint, all of them empty, so I was a bit surprised when an old man walked in and sat directly across from me at my table. Maybe it was “his table” where he regularly sits, or maybe he just wanted some company. I don’t know because he spoke no English, but we did our best to communicate with each other using hand signals.

Sat in a local joint eating chicken broth and bread with an old Turkish bloke. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 8, 2015 at 6:29am PDT

He ordered the same as me, chicken soup which was a clear broth with shredded chicken. We both gave it a thumbs up!

The owner asked me if I wanted to dessert. Of course I did. I was given a fairly ordinary looking milk pudding that had a slightly unusual taste to it. It turns out that what I was eating was ‘Tavuk Göğsü’ – a dessert made with chicken breast meat. Everything in this restaurant really did contain chicken!

After eating the chicken dessert I went on the hunt for some sweeter treats. I searched my guide book and it seemed that ‘Karakoy Gulluoglu Baklava’ make some of the best ‘Baklava’ in the city so I took a long walk over there.

Crispy pastry on top, crushed walnuts in the middle and soft chewy pastry soaked in honey on the bottom. Mmmmmmm mmmmm mmmm mmm mm!

The crispy, nutty sweetness of quality Baklava. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 8, 2015 at 7:03am PDT

It seems like every Turkish dessert is just a different combination of pasty, nuts and honey/syrup. Still, that’s no reason no to try all of them.

More Turkish sweet treats. #SugarRush #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 8, 2015 at 7:07am PDT

Full of energy I just kept walking without any idea of where I was going and eventually saw a big tower with a line of people outside it. It looked like it would be a nice view from up there so I joined the queue.

It was Galata Tower which was built in 1348. The medieval dudes building it could never have imagined that seven centuries later some Scotsman would be using it as a vantage point to take an awesome selfie to post on Instagram.

Up Galata Tower. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 8, 2015 at 9:49am PDT

I ate some more kebab style food but it was very ordinary and disappointing to what I’d previously eaten so I returned to the dürüm restaurant where I ate on the food tour. I’m all for exploring new places but sometimes you just want a guaranteed good meal.

My final food destination in Istanbul was to visit Haci Bekir’s original shop. It has been there since the year 1777 and was the first is where the original Lokum (Turksih Delight) was sold.

Shopping at the original Turkish Delight shop, established 1777. #Istanbul #Turkey

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 8, 2015 at 10:07am PDT

I took full advantage of their free samples but this time actually did make a purchase. I don’t usually buy souvenirs or gifts for people when I travel but how can you return from Turkey without bringing your friends back some Turkish Delight?

Flight Home

My flight home was business class with Royal Jordanian IST-AMM-BKK which I also bought with BA Avios miles. This ticket cost 65,000 Avios + £101 GBP, again excellent value.

The first leg was only a couple of hours, then I had a few hours to relax in the Crown Lounge at AMM airport in Jordan. They have some nice facilities there such as a full size pool table and personal TV rooms with reclining chairs.

Nice ammenities at the Crown Lounge at Amman aiport. Pool table, personal TV booths.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 9, 2015 at 4:23pm PDT

After a hot shower (I was playing Tinder at the airport but unfortunately couldn’t get anyone to join me) I returned home to Bangkok on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner where I ate some nice food and then slept really well, especially knowing that I’d paid a fraction of what people sitting in economy had paid for the flight.

Baller on a budget. #ThriftyScotsman

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Irish Open (Dublin) – Trip Report

From Bangkok, Thailand to Dublin, Ireland. I made that long journey to play in this year’s Paddy Power Irish Open and end my 10 month hiatus from live poker tournaments.

The venue for the Irish Open was the Hilton Doubletree hotel, who got my stay off to a sweet start. When I was checking in I was handed a large, fresh, warm and extremely delicious chocolate-chip cookie along with my room key.

I think more hotels should do this kind of thing. The financial cost is small compared to the resulting customer satisfaction level. Maybe I love cookies too much, but if I’m a customer of yours and you unexpectedly hand me a delicious freshly baked cookie, chances are I’ll write good things about your business on the internet. (Contact me for postal address to send all cookie bribes.)

It was the night before the event kicked off and the venue was already buzzing. There was a ton of cash game action going on as well as a huge satellite to the main event and the bar was packed. Of course the bar was packed. If it was empty I sure as hell wouldn’t think I was in Ireland.

For most people it would be a tough choice, whether to dive straight into the poker or head to the bar and socialise with all the familiar faces from the poker community. I always do things differently though. Instead, I left the venue and headed straight off to Nando’s on the other side of town. You see, I’m a bit partial to their hot spicy chicken and this was the first time that I’d been in a country with a Nando’s for well over a year. Priorities, priorities.

When I got back to the Doubletree I spent the rest of the night in the bar catching up with a bunch of my poker pals who I hadn’t seen in almost a year. Everyone stayed there well into the small hours and some great banter was had.

Main Event Day 1

With the main event starting at 1pm and with a 600 big blind starting stack there was no reason not to wake after noon and then head out for a bit of brunch. Poker is a tough “job”. I finally took my seat in the tournament just before 2pm, near the end of the first level. Back to work!

The tournament was very well run, with excellent dealers. It seemed to be most of the same dealers and floor staff who work at the PokerStars events. I believe all those guys and girls work in a freelance capacity, which is exactly what you should do when you’re elite at what you do.

I didn’t recognise anyone at my starting table, never a bad thing. Based on my table and from what I’d heard from my friends on the breaks, it seemed like the standard of play in this €3,500 event was considerably weaker than a €770 buyin UKIPT event. Value time!

I was splashing around, playing a bunch of small pots for about an hour before I got involved in a big one. Of course, I had the goods. I flatted a 3-bet out of position with 44 and flopped a set. Unfortunately, my opponent flopped a bigger set with TT.

Set-over-set in a 3-bet pot is usually a tournament-ending situation but fortunately we were so deep at that stage of the tournament that I only lost a third of my stack. I still had 200 big blinds so I took the cooler on the chin and continued enjoying my poker. The tournament room was buzzing, the atmosphere was incredible and I was soaking it up.

Incredible atmosphere here in Dublin. The place is buzzing. Love it. #PPIrishOpen

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 3, 2015 at 7:51am PDT

I did have one tough player on my direct left but he made a dubious hero call to bust out. Not versus me unfortunately, but when he was tanking I was still sweating so hard for him to call. I knew that he was very likely beat, and I wanted him gone from the table and replaced by a random player.

Unfortunately that random player happened to be a world class player, Dominik Nitsche. My first words to him were “oh, f*** off!!!”. Fortunately he was smart enough to take that as a compliment and he replied “don’t worry, I have a short stack. Take my advice and don’t try to bluff anyone in this tournament, they never, ever fold.”

I couldn’t help myself though. But yeah, it turns out he was right, I’d have had an easier job trying to take players off marginal hands at some stupid Zynga play money game than I would in the Irish Open main event. After spewing off a chunk of chips I sat with my tail between my legs and nittied it up until the dinner break.

Every day we were given a free dinner voucher for a buffet in the restaurant. In these all-you-can eat situations I am completely obsessed with maximizing the financial value of what I consume. It’s like a challenge.

I estimated that the salmon fillets had the highest € per calorie value so I stacked half a dozen of them on a plate, along with some vegetables – which have a very low € per calorie value but you’ve still got to be balanced.

With a full stomach I started to waddle out of the restaurant, before I noticed my pal Nick Abu Risk at one of the tables. I went over to say hi and that’s when I noticed there was a dessert area with massive slices of chocolate fudge cake and fresh cream. Damn! On one hand I was full, but on the other hand I’m sure as hell not passing up on free chocolate cake, so I somehow managed to shovel a massive slice down my throat then wrapped up another couple of slices in some napkins and took them back to my room for later.

Back in the tournament and I was playing a bunch of pots with one particular player. “Where are you from?”, I asked him. “Holland”, he said. Then followed Dominik with the wise crack “Oh, you should get on well with him Dale…..”. Ha ha ha.

The most important hand of the day for me came in the BB400 level. I was playing a 20K stack and with QhJc I 3-bet the player on my left. He called out of position and the flop came Qs9s8c. He checked. I bet, and he instantly check-raised me to half my remaining stack.

That’s a tough spot. JT, 99 and 88 are all in his range, But so are many more hands that have pair + draw or combo draws. It just felt like a draw with the speed that he bet and the sizing but I wasn’t that confident getting my stack in. I was either going to be crushed or up against a big draw. I was never getting it in way ahead. But there was already a ton in the pot.

After a couple of minutes in the tank my opponent called the clock on me. I shoved my stack in with 3 seconds remaining. He flipped over KTs for an over card, gutter and a flush draw.

Fortunately I won the flip.

Towards the end of the day there was a lot of noise coming from one end of the room. The players who had already busted were taking part in a sumo wrestling competition for €500 with the legendary Mad Marty MC’ing.

(video taken by Christian Zetzsche)

Great banter, just the kind of stuff that I was expecting from the Irish Open, although some of the older players were complaining about the noise. You can’t please everyone I guess.

I had one old geezer at my table actually call the clock on me because I was talking to the dealer during a hand. In my defence, I didn’t realise that the action was on me, it was just 10 seconds and the dealer was really, really, really cute.

I played out the hand and then said sorry to the bloke who called the clock, being the bigger man in the situation. “I don’t accept your apology” he scorned, “You’re wasting everyone’s time, just shut up and play poker”. What a miserable git.

It looked like I was going to end the day with not much more than the starting stack but then on the very last hand I was lucky to pick up AA. I was even luckier than the guy on my right picked up KK. So I ended the day with a more respectful 72,400 chips, about 2.5 starting stacks.

Doubled up with AA vs KK on the last hand of the day. 72k for tomorrow. #PPIrishOpen

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 3, 2015 at 2:58pm PDT

It was then off to the bar for some more value as Paddy was running a “flip for your pint” promotion. You could order you drink then flip a coin. If you called it right then Paddy paid for your drink. Sound.

There were loads of shrewd poker pros at the bar looking to maximise their expected value of the drinks promo. Jake and I got chatting to two of them, two legends of the game, Surinder Sunar and Mike Sexton.

At the bar in Dublin with poker legends. #PPIrishOpen

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 3, 2015 at 5:03pm PDT

Surinder was double-fisting with a pint in each hand, obviously getting the full value from the drinks promotion. Mike was fascinated with the idea of living in Thailand and the lifestyle there so was asking me tons of questions. I’m pretty sure I convinced him that he should at least take his next vacation there.

Main Event Day 2

I woke up with a couple of hours to spare before play resumed on day 2. So I sat in bed with the table-draw and google / hendon mob researching my opponents (another great table) then I went out for breakfast with my friend Cristin Maschmann to some poncy organic restaurant called Farm.

She had been there plenty of times before and suggested that I try the best thing that they serve, Spanish Omelette. No, thanks. I didn’t come to Ireland to eat some daft Spanish food, I had my eyes set on the Full Irish Breakfast.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 4, 2015 at 3:37am PDT

No trip to Ireland would be complete without the full fry up breakfast.

I returned to the hotel and found my table. I was full of energy and ready to start accumulating chips.

And so I did. On the very first hand I picked up AK under the gun and 4-bet with it pre-flop versus the big blind who had a similar stack size of ~90BBs. He called. The flop came rags, he checked, I bet, he called. His range at that point is mostly overpairs and maybe AK and some flopped sets.

There was about 45BB in the pot and we each had about 68BB behind. Fortunately the turn was a K. He checked, I bet again, about 20BB and he tank-folded.

I think that I made a mistake there and should have checked back the turn to get another bet out of him on the river, given that I have a solid idea of his range. I think my line, 4-betting from UTG on the first hand of the day and betting flop and turn is just too strong to be a bluff most of the time and he can fold a hand like JJ. Whereas with JJ he may lead small on the river or check-call a bet. I also don’t go fully broke the times that he flopped a set.

It’s funny how looking back on my own hands it seems so clear what line I should have taken, but at the time I make stupid mistakes. I guess not playing for almost a year doesn’t help.

I was doing well, with over 100K chips, putting me top ten in the chipcounts.

Jude Ainsworth, the extremely aggressive Irish player, got moved to my table. He was getting into a 3, 4, 5 betting war with the young Finnish fella on my left every other hand. My own attempts at getting involved in these battles just saw me spew off chips.

After losing a pot to Jude I picked up KK the next hand. The Finnish fella opened under the gun and I instantly 3-bet him. The action got back round to him and he 4-bet me.

At that point I decided that the best way to play it would be to just call with the KK and keep my range wide. I think he’d be folding his bluffs to my 5-bet most of the time, although he’s Finnish so you never know. By just calling I can get another big bet out of him when he c-bet leads the flop.

The flop came all rags, rainbow board. He lead the flop and I decided to take my time and then just call. This left a pot-sized bet left in my stack for the turn. The turn was another rag, he checked to me and I shoved in my stack. He snap called with AA.

There was no K on the river and he had me slightly covered so it was time for me to GTFO. I’ve never felt so bad busting a poker festival before. It’s a fairly standard way to bust out and I didn’t play the hand badly but it was more the fact that I was doing so well up until then, it was my first poker tournament in so long and I didn’t know when the next one would be. Painful.

I returned to my room in a daze. I had a good sulk for 10 minutes before I decided to pick myself up and deal with my pain in the gym. The Doubletree has an excellent gym on the top floor with brand new equipment and a nice view, so it was a good way to get off tilt.

Awesome view from the gym at Hilton Doubletree in Dublin. #PPIrishOpen

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 4, 2015 at 9:44am PDT

I was the only person in the gym. Meanwhile, downstairs, there were people in their hundreds at the bar. I prefer to drown my sorrows with food though and the free dinner buffet was just a couple of hours away, so I was busy working up as big an appetite as I possibly could. Which turned out to be five plates worth of an appetite.

At night we had a lads night out on the town. We headed to some classy place but were turned away by the bouncer like we were riff-raff.

I was wearing a Jaws T-shirt that I bought for something like two quid at a market in Thailand and Jake was wearing a pair of white trainers, but overall our group was reasonably presentable. So you’d think that it wouldn’t be too much trouble for the bouncer to accept a €100 handshake? Nope, he refused. Unbelievable. How well paid are bouncers in Dublin that they can turn that down?

So it was on to plan B, the nightclub across the road that I’m sure would have let us in even if we were all wearing Borat man-kinis. “This place is really scummy, but it’s good-scummy!” Jake promised. And he was good to his word. It was exactly as described and we had a cracking night.

Messy night out in Dublin with the lads. #Dublin #Ireland

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 4, 2015 at 8:48pm PDT

It’s been a while since I’ve danced to S Club 7, 5IVE, Coolio, Cotton Eye Job, Mambo Number 5 or that stupid Macerena song so I’d forgotten how much fun it was. Just as well that the DJ at Copperface Jack’s hadn’t updated his playlist in the last 15 years.

PLO

The next day I attempted to make Easter Sunday a fun day by playing the PLO side event.

Playing the four card game at the Irish Open. #PLO #Dublin #PPIrishOpen

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 5, 2015 at 7:15am PDT

Unfortunately it wasn’t much fun or very exciting. I lost half my chips when I was priced into calling pot sized bets down to the river with a wrap and flush draw versus what I believed to be top set of aces.

I lost the rest when I 3-bet QJT8 double suited from the big blind versus a button open. He 4-bet pot which just about put me all in. The flop ran out nice 974 giving me a big wrap, the turn brining a flush draw but it was all a big tease as the river paired the board and my opponent’s AAxx held up.

That was it for me as far as poker went. The rest of the day was spent at the other type of green felt tables. Paddy had organized a speed pool competition where the winner got to play against 1997 snooker World Champion Ken Doherty for €500.

John Eames and Charles Chattha made the final 6 so we had some good guys to route for. There were around 200 spectators around the table and the place was jumping. I’ve never seen that kind of atmosphere at a poker tournament before.

Bray

I had one full day left in Dublin and wanted to get outside, away from the poker and do something fun. The previous days I could see big hills in the distance from the view out of the window at the hotel gym and thought it would be a good idea to hike up them. Some of the local lads told me that the easiest place for me to go do that would be Bray.

Unfortunately I couldn’t convince anyone to go with me. It’s not easy getting poker players to do anything that doesn’t involve gambling or drinking and the weather was really awful so that was no surprise.

What was a surprise was the awesome weather when I woke up early on Easter Monday to take the trip to Bray. It was about 18 degrees C with no wind, which is about as good as you’re ever going to get in Ireland at the beginning of April.

Took a train down the coast to the seaside town of Bray. #Ireland

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 6, 2015 at 8:10am PDT

There’s a train that goes from the city centre directly to Bray in about half an hour, so that was easy. The town was just like those seaside towns in the UK that I used to visit when I was a little kid. I thought that all those places had kind of died but Bray was absolutely packed with people. The beach was made of rocks, not sand, and there were still people all over it. Every ice cream stand or fish and chip shop had a queue of people two dozen deep.

I didn’t stay in the town with all the day-trippers. I was eager to hike up the hills and enjoy some peace and tranquillity.

Enjoying a sunny Easter Monday hiking up Bray Head. #Ireland

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Apr 6, 2015 at 8:27am PDT

I was up those hills for hours. Filling my lungs with fresh air, getting some good exercise and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

When I was hiking up the first hill I saw an Irish father putting sunscreen on his child’s face. I remember laughing to myself “it’s a lovely day sure, for the time of year, but even the Irish aren’t going to get burnt in this weather”.

Well, after 6 hours outdoors, I returned to the hotel, had a hot shower, looked in the mirror and my face and neck were bright red. I got sunburnt.

I can’t remember a time during my 4 years living in Thailand when I got sunburnt, then I fly to Ireland at the start of April and………… feckin hell!

The trip to Bray was a nice way to conclude my trip to Dublin. I always make the effort to do something fun and non-poker related when I travel for poker. Even if the poker goes bad I still have fond memories of the trip, and that was certainly true for this one.

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The Maldives – Trip Report

This trip report from my visit to The Maldives in December will be rather different to most other Maldives trip reports you will read online.

It will also be difficult for me to write. If you read until the end you’ll see why. But I won’t let that get in the way of me documenting my travels.

Last year I got into what I’d call my first serious relationship in as long as I can possibly remember. I was happier than I ever had been in my life. Life was awesome. Except for one problem. My girlfriend had to leave Bangkok for 4 and a half months to do an internship at a hotel resort island in The Maldives.

I knew it was going to be be difficult because we had spent every single day together up until then. I promised that I would fly over to visit her halfway through, to make the temporary distance-relationship easier to handle.

Value

A trip to The Maldives for most people would be for some kind of special occasion such as a honeymoon and would involve staying in an overwater bungalow on one of the resort island. Those places are really nice, but hugely expensive. Anything from $450 – $12,000 per night. That’s the price of paradise.

It wasn’t all paradise for me though. For my trip to The Maldives I had to stay in Male which is the big dirty capital city island, or it’s sister island Hulhumale. Not just because I didn’t want to spew thousands of dollars on somewhere to sleep at night. It was so that my girlfriend would be able to commute from her resort at Centara Ras Fushi to visit me after working her shift. Fortunately she did manage to get 4 full days holiday over the 8 days that I visited.

As for hotels in Male, I did days of research to try to find somewhere suitable. The cheapest rooms in Male and Hulhumale were $80 – $150 per night and all were rated 3 or less on TripAdvisor. Overpriced crap basically.

Somehow one of those places was only £26.75 GBP ($40 USD) per night on the American Express UK Travel site, even though it was more than double that on all the main booking sites like Agoda that are usually always the cheapest. So I made an easy value call there.

Not only that but I was able to take advantage of an American Express / TripAdvisor “£50 off £150 spend” promotion if you linked your Amex Card to TripAdvisor (for what reason I don’t know, or care). Therefore, 8 nights in the hotel total worked out at £164 GBP ($245 USD).

I was also really lucky when it came to buying the flights. As you may have heard, Malaysia Airlines were having a bit of bother last year and nobody wanted to fly with them. That meant ridiculously low promotional fares.

I booked Bangkok to Male via Kuala Lumpur for £167 GBP ($250 USD). I was also able to use the “£50 off £150 spend” Amex / Trip Advisor promotion a second time as I happened to have two different Amex cards at that time (I only get them to clear the signup bonuses for air miles and then cancel them). That brought the total cost for the return flights to Maldives down to only £117 GBP ($175 USD).

I also got entire rows to myself on all 4 legs of the return journey and my gold status with Malaysia Airline’s Oneworld partner Cathay Pacific meant that I got full use of the business lounges with my economy ticket. What a result.

About to board a Malaysia Airlines plane that’s going to a remote part of the Indian ocean. #Maldives

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 4, 2014 at 3:07am PST

Combined, flights and hotels only cost me £281 GBP ($419 USD) for an 8 night stay in Maldvies. I challenge anyone to do it cheaper than that!

Of course I was in a basic room in a basic hotel on a local island that had nothing fun or exciting to do, but that was OK. I didn’t visit Maldives for it’s incredible beaches. I have access to plenty of incredible beaches in Thailand. What I didn’t have access to in Thailand was the most important person in my life. That’s the one and only reason I visited Maldives so really nothing else mattered.

But I did find a few cool things to do there.

Scuba Diving

On one of the days when my girlfriend was busy working I decided that rather than stay in my room, lonely and bored, I’d go out and lose my scuba diving virginity. It’s something that I’d always planned to do and have travelled to so many amazing places that, looking back, were huge missed opportunities to go diving. I certainly wasn’t going to leave Maldives without going below sea level.

For a PADI Discover Diving course with two boat dives it cost just $105 USD (£71 GBP) with a local dive operator. All the equipment was new and in great condition. Everything felt safe.

Breaking my scuba diving virginity. I’ve been saving it for The Maldives. #Maldives #Scuba #Diving #FirstTime

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 8, 2014 at 2:09am PST

I can say without a doubt that diving is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It completely exceeded my expectations.

After explaining to me how all the equipment worked, my instructor wasted no time getting me into the sea. He took me slowly down to the sea floor, reminding me to equalise my ears every few meters. There was beautiful coral everywhere and so many kinds of tropical fish swimming amongst us. There was so much life and activity. It felt like I had discovered a new world.

With my instructor basically dragging me around, we came across a massive sea turtle that was eating some sea plants. The instructor pulled me right up close to the turtle, grabbed a handful of the plant it was eating and handed it to me to feed the turtle. Wow. What a magical experience. I never imagined that my first dive would be anywhere near that awesome.

Under the sea. #Maldives #Scuba #Diving #FirstTime

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 8, 2014 at 6:29am PST

After a rest on the boat we went for a second dive. I saw that one of the crew had an underwater camera so I asked if we could use it. There was normally an extra cost for that but my instructor took the camera with us in the water, took all sorts of cool pics, sent me the files and didn’t charge me a cent. Thanks mate!

This time we went into deeper water and I was able to swim around completely unaided with my instructor just swimming beside me. We found a really cool looking eel and I got up close to play with it while my instructor took photos. It was another incredible experience, but in the back of my mind I was thinking “I wish he had the camera when I was feeding the sea turtle instead.”

Making friends. #Maldives #Scuba #Diving #FirstTime

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 8, 2014 at 6:37am PST

Just before we were about to return to the surface we spotted some manta rays. The instructor got up close to take photos. I followed him, but not all the way. I wasn’t sure if they were safe to be around. I was thinking “Didn’t one of these things kill Steve Irwin?”. It turns out they are quite safe and that it was a stingray that killed The Crocodile Hunter.

Consider me hooked on diving after just one day. I plan to continue my diving adventures back home in Thailand.

Male / Hulhumale

The Male and Hulhumale islands where most of the country’s local population live are big dirty concrete jungles with nothing fun or interesting to do.

Alcohol outside the resorts is illegal as The Maldives is a Muslim country. People just tend to hang around in cafes and coffee shops. It just seems to be all men. I don’t know where all the women hang out. At home probably.

There were very, very few tourists in Male. Nobody has any reason at all to stay there unless they maybe got in on a late flight and need to stay overnight to get a ferry or seaplane to where they actually want to go the next day.

Everywhere we went in Male every single person that we walked past would stare at us. Well, they were mostly staring at my beautiful blonde-haired girlfriend than they were at me.  I think a lot of guys would be uncomfortable with having their girlfriend stared at like that but I just felt like I was the man and they were all jealous of me. They would stare at her, I would stare back at them and smile, and she would stare straight forward. That happened absolutely everywhere we went.

One time we were standing outside her colleague’s house talking to her for 30 minutes and I noticed a young guy a few meters away standing against a railing and looking at us the whole time. When we walked off I looked back and saw that he was following us, still a few meters away. So when we turned the corner we just stopped against the wall. The lad got the shock of his life when he turned the corner, did a sharp u-turn and ran away. Weirdo. I don’t know if he was just bored or up to something sinister.

The main reason that Male and Hulhumale are so dirty is that people litter like it’s a completely normal thing to do. I’d see people chug a can of juice and just drop it right where they stood. What the hell is wrong with these people? Have some love for the place you live.

Even on the bus, as soon as people were handed their ticket they would drop it right on the ground. Every single person did that. The whole floor of the bus was always covered in tickets.

If I saw anyone casually tossing litter on the street in my country I’d pick it up and stuff it down their shirt. Assuming they looked weaker than me, of course.

I guess in Maldives littering is just their culture. It’s socially acceptable. And it is their country after all. If they want to live surrounded by garbage then it’s up to them.

Kuda Bandos

After four days in The Maldives I was getting really sick of Male and Hulhumale. So, when my girlfriend got a whole day off from work we went on a boat trip together to a nice island called Kuda Bandos. It’s a ‘picnic island’, meaning that nobody actually lives there, it’s just used for day trips.

Spending the day on Kuda Bandos island. #Maldives

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 9, 2014 at 1:31am PST

We got there very early and had a whole section of beach and crystal clear water to ourselves. It was great to finally get a taste of the Maldives you see in magazines and on TV, rather than Male which is the polar opposite of that.

At lunch time one of the boat crew barbecued some fish for us on the beach. I was on an island paradise, eating delicious food with the girl I love. Life really doesn’t get much better than that.

Lunch on the beach, fish BBQ. #Maldives

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 9, 2014 at 2:42am PST

After lunch we went back to relax on our sun loungers. My girlfriend fell asleep immediately. It reminded me of watching movies together in bed,

After a few minutes I was bored just lying there doing nothing so I went barefoot jogging around the island.

I tried to relax again. Too hyper. I went snorkelling in the shallow waters.

I tried to relax again. Was looking at the sand. Decided that building a sandcastle would be fun.

Lying on my back relaxing at the beach all day….. or at least until the ADHD kicks in. #Maldives

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 9, 2014 at 2:09am PST

Confirmed big kid.

Dolphin Cruise

We managed to get a free sunset dolphin cruise. The crew that was taking us back from Kuda Bandos told us that the other couple who joined us had paid for the full boat for a dolphin cruise, so we’d be welcome to come along for free. Nice one.

We were in the boat trying to find dolphins for almost an hour. It wasn’t long until Sunset. I thought it was never going to happen. But eventually we found these amazing creatures.

Sunset dolphin cruise. #Maldives

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Dec 9, 2014 at 5:25am PST

They swam alongside us, jumping out of the water and doing flips. Dolphins are extremely smart and I’m pretty sure that they were well aware of our presence and were trying to entertain us. And they surely did just that.

Final Day

On the last of my eight days in Maldives I had a late evening flight and had to check out of my hotel at midday. My girlfriend was working until 6pm so I stored my luggage at the airport and tried to keep myself occupied for 6 hours on my own in Male. That’s a difficult thing to do. Especially on a Friday when shops don’t open until 2pm.

I walked the full length of the island down the middle and then the full radius of it. It’s pretty small at only 5.8 square kilometres

The most interesting thing I found was the harbour market.

And then I found the local’s Friday market. It was huge, and I got stuck in the middle of it. There were so many people there that there was no space to walk.

All the stalls were selling absolute garbage and yet it seemed like the whole population of the island had turned up to buy it.

What a nightmare. By then I was completely sick and fed up of Male. I had conflicted feelings at that point. I was looking forward to leaving Maldives and returning to the city I love, Bangkok. But the girl I love was staying in Maldives. So sad.

I met my girlfriend at the pier after she finished working and enjoyed her company for the last couple of hours of my trip. We went to a nice local restaurant at the fake beach and had some delicious local food. We both sulked as we ate it though, knowing that it would be another 2 and a half months before we’d see each other again.

Off we went to the airport. We sat together outside until it it was time for me to catch my flight. And had a final kiss goodbye.

And that really was a final kiss goodbye. Not just for the trip. Forever.

I won’t go into details but, rather brutally, we’re no longer a couple.

It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with.

And that’s why this was a difficult blog post to write.

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Returning to live poker at the Irish Open

It’s been 9 months since I played my last live poker event. I lost a coinflip on day 2 of the UKIPT Marbella main event and proceeded to get involved in a bit of football related light banter later that day (Oh sorry, did that celebration offend you?).

To be honest, I never was much of a live poker player. I much prefer clicking buttons on a laptop where I can happily play poker in my underwear without people complaining. I decided after what went on in Marbella that I’d only play live poker from then on if the event is held somewhere that I actually want to travel to and that I know a lot of my poker friends will be attending.

As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, my favourite place in the world to play poker, other than “the internet”, is Ireland, and the largest Irish event of the year is coming up soon. The €3,500 buyin Paddy Power Irish Open.

My plan is to make the long journey from my home in Bangkok all the way to Dublin to participate in the Irish Open this coming Easter weekend (Friday 3rd April – Monday 6th April).

Ireland is my favourite poker destination simply because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself every time I’ve played there. There’s just never a quiet table. There’s always some sort of banter going on, even from the pro players, who are obviously still taking the game seriously, but enjoying themselves at the same time.

You just don’t see that any more in most other countries. Most tables are filled with young guys cocooned by their hoodies and headphones not saying a word to each other. That’s not how poker is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be fun and social.

Check out some of my previous trip reports from playing poker in Ireland:

UKIPT Cork
UKIPT Galway
UKIPT Dublin

I’ve been playing the satellites on Paddy Power Poker to try to get in on their €50,000 last longer promotion for Paddy players in the main event.

Every night they’re running a Last Chance Saloon with guaranteed seats (72 in total) and they are incredible value. Not only is the rake just 1 cent but there’s been some decent overlays in the sats and feeder sats for them.

Last night I played the €199.99 + €0.01 sat with 10 seats guaranteed. There were only 153 entries so we had an overlay of €4,400, which is an extra 14% on top of the total buyins.

I was getting fairly deep. There were 35 players left, so we were close to one of the 10 main event seats.

Unfortunately I was short stacked after losing a big flip with AKs vs QQ and I had to make a standard +ev shove with 22.

I got snap called by JPMcManus. (Not sure if the real JP or an imposter.)

And couldn’t find a duck to crack aces.

A little bit frustrating but never mind. I’ll have plenty more shots at it this week. I’ll be playing the main event whether I satellite in or not, but I obviously want to get in on this €50,000 last longer prize for the last Paddy qualifier standing.

If anyone fancies a punt, Paddy have me listed as 50/1 to win. All I can say is I’m flattered.

http://www.paddypower.com/bet/poker/paddy-power-Irish-open

Looking forward to seeing some old friends and making some new ones in Dublin this Easter weekend. See ya there!

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Penang, Malaysia – Trip Report

As every foreigner who stays in Thailand for a while knows, you have to get your foreign ass out of the country every now and again when your visa expires.

For some that is a major hassle, but for me it’s a good opportunity to visit some cool places. Penang in Malaysia is my favourite place to do my Thai “visa runs”.

On my most recent trip I checked into my hotel and immediately walked over to Chulia Street. It’s pretty much a mini version of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. That’s not a good thing. I hate Khao San Road with a passion. Basically wherever Lonely Planet says is the “hot backpacker spot” in a city is somewhere that I’ll do my best to avoid staying in.

I did have a good reason for going to Chulia Street, which was to visit my friend Jim who runs the Jim’s Place guest house. He’s the go-to man when it comes to getting a Thai visa with no hassle in Penang. Well, unless you consider the hassle of trying to get past the dozens of aggressive trans prostitutes that litter that street at night.

All I need to do is give Jim a little bit of cash, my passport and a few details then he fills out all the visa forms, takes the application to the Thai embassy and comes back with my passport and a shiny new Thai visa.

Jim is quite the character and his cynical Thai-related rants are worth the trip to his place alone. Not to mention the hilariously politicly-incorrect notices that he’s posted up in the guesthouse lobby wall.

With “Sir Jim” taking care of my Thai visa I had a lot more time to explore, have adventures and eat the glorious food in Penang.

National Park

Penang National Park is my favourite place on the island. It’s 10 square miles of forest and sea, making it the smallest national park in the world. That means you can trek around the bulk of it in a single day. It’s free to enter and just a cheap public bus ride away from civilization.

Trekking through Penang National Park. Whole beaches to myself.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:06am PDT

I’ve been to the national park twice, on separate trips, and loved the experience just as much the second time around.

I enjoy trekking through the forest in the heat and humidity and coming across beaches where I can take a break and cool off in the sea. Most of the beaches are completely deserted. Not a single human there. Plenty of crab-eating macaque monkeys though!

Monkey see, monkey do.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:20am PDT

Penang National Park – a great place to hang out!

Hanging out in the rainforest at Penang National Park. #Penang #Malaysia

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Oct 17, 2014 at 8:51pm PDT

Penang Hill

Penang Hill is the highest point of Penang island and can be reached by a quick ride on a funicular railway cart.

It’s a great place to escape the heat and humidity of Penang and get some beautiful views of the island.

Up top of Penang Hill.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 19, 2014 at 3:46am PDT

Food

Other than the main sightseeing places it feels like I’ve spent most of my time in Penang eating. Penang has a reputation as a food paradise. Basically there’s food everywhere you go and it’s all great.

The best places to sample a bunch of different foods  are the big outdoor food courts with dozens of hawkers such as Red Garden Food Paradise, which also has live music.

Red Garden is where I first sampled Char Koay Teow. It literally means ‘stir-fried rice noodles’ and is something similar to Pad Thai. Just as Pad Thai is in Thailand, Char Kway Teow is a national favourite dish in Malaysia,  A tasty bargain at only 5.5 MYR (£0.98 GBP / $1.48 USD).

Penang Char Koay Teow. Stir fried ricecake strips with egg and prawns. Tastes incred.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 18, 2014 at 6:11am PDT

I finished off the Char Koay Teow with a plate of Penang Rojak for dessert. It is chopped fruit and veg with dried squid, honey and sweet peanut sauce. All sorts of flavours and textures going on there but it somehow works.

Penang Rojak. It’s chopped fruit and veg with squid fritters, honey and sweet peanut sauce.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 18, 2014 at 5:35am PDT

Talking of desserts, I was eating plenty bowls of Cendol and Ais Kacang in the hot afternoons to cool down.

Cendol is jelly noodles with coconut milk and flavoured shaved ice.

Cendol. Another ice cold dessert to get me through a hot afternoon in Penang. #Penang #Malaysia

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Oct 18, 2014 at 11:58pm PDT

and Ais Kacang is flavoured shaved ice with ice cream and all sorts of sweet treats.

Ais Kacang <3 #Penang #Malaysia

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Oct 19, 2014 at 11:05pm PDT

The main types of foods that can be found in Penang are the same as the main ethnicities. Malaysian, Chinese and Indian.

I had this incredible bowl of Chinese tofu soup for 10 MYR (£1.79 GBP / $2.70 USD) back at Red Garden.

More cheap Penang eats. Yong Tao Foo at 10 ringit. Some kind of Chinese soup. Yum!

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 21, 2014 at 8:19am PDT

And an all you can eat Chinese ‘Steamboat’ buffet for just 22.90 MYR (£4.13 GBP / $6.19 USD). At a steamboat

All you can eat BBQ buffet. #Penang #Malaysia

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Oct 16, 2014 at 8:05am PDT

And as far as Indian food goes, I found place that’s very popular with the locals called Restoran Jaya on Penang Road where most meals are around 5 MYR (£0.90 GBP / $1.35 USD). I’ve had many delicious cheap eats at that restaurant throughout my visits to Penang.

Cheap eats in Penang.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 17, 2014 at 11:23pm PDT

One thing Penang does have a lack of is pork. Malaysia’s populations is almost 2/3 Muslim so that would be the reason.

If you look hard enough you can find it though. Mostly in the Chinese places.

Finally found some delicious pork. Been sick of eating chicken sausages at breakfast. #Penang #Malaysia

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Oct 19, 2014 at 10:31pm PDT

I always leave Penang with a full stomach. 🙂

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Chiang Mai, Thailand – Trip Report

After my poker trip to Marbella I returned home to Bangkok with far fewer commitments and much more free time.

I used that free time productively – by dating pretty girls. Eventually I met a pretty girl that actually had a personality and that I actually enjoyed spending time with. Like me, she had a lot of free time on her hands, as she wasn’t due to start at university for another month. I suggested that we make the most of our freedom by taking a short vacation to Chiang Mai together.


We flew to Chiang Mai with Nok Air, which is Thai Airways’ domestic budget airline. It was certainly budget in terms of price, with a promotional fare of 900 THB (£17.45 GBP / $27.27 USD) each way, but was pretty much like a regular airline in every other way.

There were none of the hassles that one has to put up with when flying with the likes of Ryanair or easyJet in Europe. No having to check in online, print anything out, stand in long queues, be stuffed into a bus like cattle to get the plane or pay extra for every little thing. The 900 baht fare included a 15 kg checked bag allowance and a hot pastry snack and water during the flight.

It gets better. Over the last few months Nok Air have been rolling out a free in-flight WiFi service on their planes. Free unlimited broadband internet for all passengers during the flight. This is absolutely astonishing to someone who’s expectations of a budget airline service are rock bottom due to many negative experiences on the aforementioned European budget carriers.

For our stay I booked one of the best hotels in Chiang Mai, the Dusit D2. I got a great deal, paying 2,900 THB (£56.23 GBP / $87.96 USD) NET per night for a club floor Deluxe room, which was around 50% less than the usual best rate. Even taking the massive discount into consideration, 2,900 baht per night is still quite pricey by local standards. That’s despite the fact that it wouldn’t get you into anything but the most basic hotel rooms in most cities back home in the UK.

If I was travelling alone I’d have gone for a more mid-range accommodation at less than half the price, but since I was travelling with a girlfriend and only staying for a few nights it was worth splurging on a 5-star hotel.

After checking into the hotel we spent a few hours in the late afternoon exploring the city. Chiang Mai is situated in a mountainous region in the north of Thailand so it has a climate that makes walking a lot more comfortable than in Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hot and humid, but far less so than Bangkok which the World Meteorological Organization crowned ‘the hottest city on earth’.

After a relaxed walk around the city we visited the large Night Market that was beside our hotel. There we enjoyed excellent foot massages costing just 100 THB (£1.93 GBP / $3.03 USD).

For dinner we found a popular local restaurant where we sampled the Chiang Mai speciality known as Khao Soi.

Khao Soi is deep-fried crispy egg noodles in a curry-like broth. We ate Khao Soi Gai (‘Gai’ is the Thai word for ‘Chicken’) which was incredibly delicious and cost just 45 THB (£0.87 GBP / $1.36 USD) per bowl.

Elephant Sanctuary

After a great sleep in the incredibly comfy bed at Dusit D2 we woke up bright and early to travel into the countryside where we spent the day at an elephant sanctuary. I did a lot of research before deciding on which sanctuary to visit, which was important as most elephant sanctuaries in Thailand are places where these wonderful animals are regularly beaten or made to do stupid unnatural things purely for the entertainment of tourists.

At Ran-tong Save and Rescue Centre they purchase elephants that have been abused, either used as work animals or exploited for entertainment, and give them a better home where they are loved and treated kindly and with respect. There’s no heavy chains, sticks or hooks used to control the elephants, or big chairs attached to them that hurt their backs due to pressure being applied to the same point constantly, or being made to do stupid stuff like play football or paint pictures purely for the entertainment of tourists.

Ran-tong is quite a bit more expensive than the many sketchy elephant sanctuaries, at 4,800 THB (£93.39 GBP / $145.99 USD) for 2 people / 1 elephant for the full day, but I felt that it was worth paying to support a sanctuary that is actually caring for their elephants rather than hurting them.

At Ran-Tong elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 7, 2014 at 9:27pm PDT

We were given a 13 year old boy elephant named Superman for the day. The elephants age pretty much matches with humans in terms of maturity. Out of all the elephants he was the one with the strongest personality and was quite a mischievous kid as I found to my disadvantage when he picked up piles of wet mud with his trunk and started throwing it at other elephants. I got a face full of it when he through it over his back. When we got to some open area he decided he wanted to race against another elephant and started running, while I was on his back. Fun but a little scary!

Made a new friend, 13 year old male elephant named Superman.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:01pm PDT

We spent the day trekking around the countryside with Superman and his mahout controlling him by shouting commands. The mahouts have a special bond with their elephants and are the only ones that the elephants will accept instructions from.

With the sun beating down in the afternoon we took the elephants to a small lake to bathe and cool down.

Bath time.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:35pm PDT

We then had many further stops for the elephants to rest and us to feed them. They eat A LOT. Adult elephant can eat over 100 kg of food per day. After so many times feeding the elephants, the staff at the sanctuary fed us – Khao Soi! Yum! If I was able to eat 100 Kg of it, I certainly would have.

Tiger Kingdom

After a day with elephants we spent the next day with animals of a more carnivorous nature – tigers. *gulp*.

We visited the Tiger Kingdom ‘sanctuary’ where visitors are allowed to get up close to these ferocious animals. Again, this was a place that I did some research on before visiting, to make sure that the animals were not chained up, drugged or mistreated in any way. That was all true but after experiencing the place first hand I left with negative feelings.

Tiger Kingdom was much smaller and more busy than I had expected and it just felt like one massive tourist trap. There were literally hundreds of sweaty white people hanging around outside small tiger pens to have their 15 minutes of posing for photos with the tigers. Every idiot’s photos looking exactly the same as the previous idiot’s photos.

Cuddle time.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 7, 2014 at 3:54am PDT

Well count me in as one of those idiots. Unlike everyone else I didn’t just sit around near the tiger’s ass for safety, I actually gave it a proper good cuddle, but I guess that just makes me an even bigger idiot.

The tigers at the sanctuary were all quite docile and showed little interest in playing. But from a safety point of view maybe that was a good thing. I asked one of the trainers why the tigers are all so tired and he assured me that they absolutely don’t drug the animals. They just keep them extra well fed and tigers naturally aren’t active until night time when visitors aren’t allowed anywhere near them.

Unlike the elephant sanctuary I visited where every elephant was a rescued animal, every tiger at Tiger Kingdom was bred and raised there. I’d call that more of a ‘tiger factory’ than a ‘tiger sanctuary’. Tigers are being produced for the sole reason of making money from tourists. It just didn’t feel good and I felt quite guilty about being there and supporting their business with my entrance fee.

At a place like this I try to imagine what life is like from the animal’s point of view. If I were a tiger would I prefer to live for up to 15 years running around in the wild or for up to 20 years in Tiger Kingdom sleeping, eating and posing for photos with stupid tourists all day?

I’d certainly prefer the former. But I guess that if any of these tigers weren’t bred at Tiger Kingdom that they wouldn’t be alive at all. So if I was a tiger living at Tiger Kingdom I think I’d just enjoy all the rolling around, sleeping and eating all day until I’d eventually get bored and decide to do something fun like maul a tourist.

Night Safari

In other animal-related activities, we visited Chiang Mai Night Safari. It can be difficult to find fun stuff to do at night time if you don’t want to drink alcohol so the night safari seemed like a good plan.

The night safari is basically like a zoo except the animals are mostly free to roam around. You’re not allowed to walk anywhere but you get driven though the massive park on a bus with the driver giving commentary.

Making friends at Chiang Mai Night Safari.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 7, 2014 at 7:03am PDT

It was a fun, interesting and the animals seemed to be happy and healthy.

Art in Paradise

On the day we flew back to Bangkok we had a few hours to kill between having to check out of the hotel and go to the airport. It was early afternoon and the sun was blazing so we wanted to go somewhere indoors with air conditioning. We discovered ‘Art in Paradise‘ – a 3D illusion art museum where you can interact with the paintings.

Hanging out at a 3D Art Museum.

A photo posted by Dale Philip (@daleroxxu) on Jul 7, 2014 at 3:39am PDT

It was a lot more fun than I expected and it turned out to be the perfect place to take an 18 year old Thai girl who loves nothing more than taking photos at every opportunity she gets. Ok, I was taking a lot of photos too!

Unfortunately it was one of those annoying places with dual pricing. Entry to Art in Paradise is 180 THB (£3.51 GBP / $5.46 USD) unless you’re foreign in which case you have the privilege of paying 300 THB (£5.85 GBP / $9.10 USD). I was on a tourist visa at the time so had to stump up the whitey tax but 300 THB still represents good value for 3 hours of entertainment.

I’m happy to say that I’m now on a student visa in Thailand and I’m finally getting the Thai price at these kind of places.

I enjoyed the short visit to Chiang Mai and wasn’t bored for a single second that I was there. I can see it being a place that I’ll return to many times in the future as it’s such an affordable location to travel to and stay and there’s plenty of stuff to do there. Not to mention plenty of delicious Khao Soi.

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UKIPT Marbella – Trip Report

Marbella is a coastal resort in the massive tourist trap of the Costa del Sol in the south of Spain.

Beaches, hotels, bars, drunk Brits, drunk Germans – and not a whole lot else. It’s not type of place that I generally visit as I believe there are far more fun, interesting and culturally rich places on earth but I travelled to Marbella primarily to play the UK and Ireland Poker tour event.

Yes, that well known part of the UK in the south of Spain. Actually, Marbella is only 50 miles up the road from the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, so I guess that’s close enough.

I flew in from Helsinki, where it had just started to piss down with rain. It’s a good feeling sitting on a aeroplane before take-off, staring out the window at the crappy weather you’re leaving behind.

I had my 15 minutes at the beach in Marbella and that was enough to last me for the trip. Many of my fellow countrymen travel to the Costa del Sol and spend a whole week or two sunbathing on the beach or by the pool. Personally I can’t think of anything worse. Lying around doing nothing may seem like the perfect holiday for a lot of people but I find it to be so incredibly boring.

I’ve also never understood people’s obsession with the pursuit of a sun tan.

In Asia everyone is using skin whitening products and walking around with black umbrellas on a sunny afternoon. In Europe everyone is slapping orange gunk on their skin and lying face-up to the sun to absorb as much UV radiation as they can. Half the world are white and want to be dark, the other half are dark and want to be white. Madness.

Hotel

I chose not to stay at the official UKIPT hotel, the H10 Marbella. Personally, I can’t justify paying to stay somewhere so expensive (and quite frankly – overpriced) in order to play a €1000 buyin poker tournament. I’ve actually never booked into an official hotel for a UKIPT event for this reason. I can always find much better options myself that offer greater comfort, internet service, safety and value.

I received an email today offering hotel options for UKIPT London. For a week-long stay in the cheapest room of the cheapest hotel (£190 per night) you’d be paying around 1.73x the price (£1,330) of the main event buyin (£770) just for a bed to sleep in each night. If the only reason that you went to London was to play that event then your long term expected ROI in the tournament would have to be 173% in order break even from the expense of the hotel. That’s without even considering the cost of flights, trains, taxis and eating out.

My opinion is that it only makes financial sense to stay in these hotels if you win a full package online. Even then, it’s not like the hotel is free as you and the other players are paying for it in the cost of your satellite entries. The best value move is to play seat-only satellites and arrange your own accommodation with a discount hotel site such as Agoda, stay with a host or rent an apartment using  Airbnb or stay with a friend who lives in the area. Sharing a room with a friend who won a package is also something to consider.

As a professional poker player I believe that it’s important to treat poker like a business. Successful businesses are always looking for ways to streamline their running costs. Poker sites and the media try to sell us this image of pro poker players being “ballers”, throwing money around like crazy, but the reality is that you need to be smart and look for value away from the poker table in order to maintain a long-term sustainable career as a poker professional.

I’m not forgetting that most of the participants of a UKIPT aren’t professional poker players (thankfully). For most people poker is about fun and enjoyment more than it is about trying to earn money. For casual players or even professionals who travel to the UKIPT events mainly for a bit of fun and to meet up with their poker friends, if you can easily afford to stay in expensive hotels then fair enough, splash out.

Considering other factors than money, there are certain benefits to staying in the official hotel. If the poker tournament is being held at the same venue then being able to roll out of bed and straight into the poker room is handy for all the degens who find it tough to get out of bed before noon. Also, staying in the same hotel as most of the other poker players makes it easier to be social. For me though, the negatives far outweigh the benefits.

Have you ever tried to use the internet at a hotel that’s booked out with poker players? Yeah, don’t bother. Safety, at a hotel full of online poker players, is also a concern. You and your laptop could be an easy target for criminals.

By now most people are aware of what is alleged to have happened at EPT Barcelona last year. It was alleged that criminals, aided by people working in the hotel, entered the rooms of guests to install malicious Remote Access Trojans on their laptops. The motivation for doing so being to view the victim’s screen remotely and defraud them at online poker and in other ways.

I’d rather just be a random person in a random hotel or apartment than worry about being a massive target for criminals.

So back to UKIPT Marbella. I found a great value hotel using Agoda that was 20 minutes walk away from the casino. It also included breakfast and dinner buffet which was great as eating out in Marbella isn’t cheap. #ThriftyScotsman

Registration

After checking in to my hotel I walked over to Casino Marbella to register. It would save me queuing up the next day when I go to play Day 1b of the UKIPT main event.

I entered the casino and was immediately confronted by a woman in a suit dress. She looked down her nose at me and told me that I was not allowed inside the casino because I wearing shorts.

That was a bit of a “WTF?” moment for me. There has never been a dress code at any venue I’ve played poker at in the past, and there I was, at a casino in the middle of a beach resort, in the middle of summer, being told that I had to wear trousers to get inside. Absolutely ludicrous.

It wasn’t as if it was even a fancy casino and practically the whole venue was taken over by poker players anyway. Why couldn’t the poker players who’ve taken over the casino for a week just dress casually? Did they really expect everyone to turn up dressed up like James Bond to play a bowl poker tournament in a bowl casino in the bloody Costa del Sol? It’s hardly Monte Carlo.

I told the woman that my hotel was far away and that I couldn’t go back to change easily. She asked me if I was going to play at the gaming tables so I just lied to, ahem – bluffed, her and told her I was going to play roulette – as if I’m enough of a mug to play house games. She then gave me a pair of smart trousers to borrow and showed me to the toilets.

Trying to get those trousers up over my big massive Scottish thighs was a challenge but I did manage to get them on. They were far too small for me. The shorts that I arrived in were wearing basically 3/4 length trousers and fairly smart looking. The new skinny ass trousers that I was wearing were so small that they were barely a couple of inches longer than my shorts.

I was finally deemed to be dressed acceptably enough to enter the casino. I walked in slowly and awkwardly, trying not to rip the arse out of the trousers, while holding my long shorts in one hand. Yes, much more acceptable.

I walked through the casino looking for the reception desk for the UKIPT event but couldn’t find it. I asked members of casino staff but none of them spoke a word of English and one tried to send me back to speak to the snotty woman at reception.

I found the media desk where the bloggers do their blogging, so a bunch of familiar faces were there. Danny Maxwell, who’s the photographer who does all the photos, broke the bad news to me that the registration desk wasn’t in the casino, but in the hotel next to the casino. Doh. Quite annoying as the welcome email mentioned that we’d have to register with the casino, but not that it would be done in the hotel.

So as I stood there looking like my cat died, with my shorts in my hand, everyone had a good laugh at my misfortune.  Oh well, I have a good sense of humour so I found it more funny than anyone.

Over at the hotel the registration for the UKIPT Main Event was quick, friendly and the Spanish bloke spoke perfect English. However he did spell my name wrong, which is a massive pet hate of mine. Hyachachachacha.

It happens to me at least 80% of the time that I sign up for anything. It’s gotten so bad that whenever I’m asked for my name I make a point of handing them my drivers license AND spelling it out for them letter by letter. And they still manage to screw it up.

It’s just reading and writing. You look at 6 letter word and type it into a computer. Don’t change anything. Don’t type in what you think my name should be spelled like. Just type in the 6 letters that you see infront of you. It’s not rocket science.

UKIPT Main Event Day 1

After a slap-up breakfast buffet at my hotel I wrapped up a bunch of pastries in napkins, filled my pockets, and walked over to Casino Marbella to play Day 1b of the UKIPT Main Event.

I didn’t recognise anyone at my starting table. They mostly looked the same to me anyway – that is 20 year kids wearing hoodies, shades and massive headphones.

One Spanish kid two to my right was sitting with a tablet on his lap, watching full length movies throughout the whole day. If poker is so boring and uninteresting to you that you need to do that, then why do you even play at all?

On the flip site another Spaniard across the table from me was jumping up and down every time he won a pot. He got all-in for his last 5k in chips versus the guy sitting next to him, won the flip, slammed the table and cheered at the top of his voice as if he’d just won the tournament. Calm down son, it’s day 1 and you still only have half the starting stack, there’s a long way to go yet.

I was lucky enough to have friendly players on my direct left and right who were fun to chat with throughout the day. A Swedish guy called Kjell and an English guy called Tony Phillips (yes, that’s the correct spelling of his name) who’s a retired poker pro.

However, I was unlucky enough to have the worst dealers I’ve ever had in any poker tournament I’ve played. They weren’t just bad – they were atrocious.

The dealers switched several times through the day but it didn’t matter. Each and every dealer made misdeals or other screw-ups multiple times per orbit. It was very frustrating to deal with but I didn’t show that frustration to the dealers as I knew it wasn’t their fault. It seemed obvious as to what was going on.

The dealers at UKIPT events in the past have been the best, more professional dealers I’ve experienced at any poker tournament. Those dealers weren’t present at UKIPT Marbella though. At UKIPT Marbella there were local dealers, who I assume were employed by the casino with little to no previous experience and were given a crash course in dealing poker the day before the tournament.

Perhaps the casino said something like “If you hire our venue then you need to use and pay for our staff.”, or something along those lines to the UKIPT. I can’t think of any other explanation for replacing the best poker dealers in the world with complete novices for one of their events.

To add insult to injury, the 3% of the prizepool that’s taken out for dealer costs at UKIPT events was increased to 4% for UKIPT Marbella. Pay more, get less.

All of the bets and actions were announced by the dealers in Spanish. That was a surprise because I’ve played PokerStars events in other European countries and actions were announced in English, because they are international events and English is the universal language. Considering that this particular event carried the “UKIPT” name it was extra strange.

I certainly don’t to travel to foreign countries and expect everyone to speak English. If they want to announce bets in Spanish in a poker tournament in Spain that’s fair enough, but I wish I knew about it in advance so I could learn the numbers and the words for common actions.

Towards the end of the day there was an incident where Kjell, Tony and I were chatting away and the Spanish fella who was watching the movies on his tablet complained to the dealer. He couldn’t understand what we were saying so was worried about collusion, so the dealer told us that we’re not allowed to speak English.

Tony made that chirping noise that dealers use to get the attention of the floormen and got that decision overruled pretty quickly.

As for hands that I played, I can’t remember. Usually I will tweet throughout the day but as usual the WiFi was completely unusable. That’s not usually a problem as I will just use 3G on my phone, but none of us were getting a phone signal either.

I think that making sure there’s a usable internet connection should be more of a priority for the UKIPT in this age of social media. To have hundreds of people posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about your event in real time is the kind of advertising that you can’t buy.

I ended the day with 21,900 in chips – a 10% ROI on my starting stack. Grinders gonna grind.

UKIPT Main Event Day 2

With 22K in chips at BB1,200 I wasn’t messing around. In the first hand of the day I shoved over a raise then stole the blinds a couple of times to chip up to 30K.

It was folded to me on the Hijack with KJo so I minraised to 2,400. There was a blonde-haired, Scandi-looking lad on my direct left and 3-bet me to 6,000. It seemed a perfect spot for him to 3-bet light and having a Scandi on my left I wanted to make a stand the first time he 3-bet me so I shipped it in for 30K.

He sighed and flicked it in pretty quickly and I didn’t beat his pocket 9’s so that was the end of my tournament, sent back to my hotel to take a siesta.

Spain vs Holland

An event was organised beside the hotel pool. Unlimited free drinks and the Spain vs Holland world cup match shown on a big screen.

I guess I don’t need to go over this again but….. A few of the Spanish lads got a little pissed off at the manor in which I celebrated Robin Van Persie sticking the ball in the Spanish goal with incredible class. I mean the goal was class. My celebration – not so much, haha.

Link to the full story in an earlier blog post.

Despite all the threats and intimidation I did manage to sneak out of there without getting hurt, although I was constantly looking over my shoulder on the way back to my hotel – and for the rest of the week as it happens.

England vs Italy

The next evening another football screening was held. This one acted as the official players party and was held on the beach with unlimited free BBQ food. I was right into that, yum!

Gerald Cochlan had got there early and saved us the best seats, front and centre, right beside the big screen. What a hero.

It was a great night and lots of banter. Thankfully the English, unlike the Spanish, can take a bit of banter whether they’re winning………

….. or they’re losing.

Credit to René Velli for the excellent photos.

Like all players parties at poker events this was an absolute sausage fest, and I’m not just talking about the BBQ. Do you see any females at all in the above photos?

Well I did manage to find one – that troublemaker Kellyann Heffernan.

And ended up spending the next half hour explaining the offside rule to her……………… Sigh.

Side event

I don’t usually play side events when I travel for a poker tournament as I think that my time is better spent having fun and exploring the place that I’m visiting. There’s not much to do or see that interests me in Marbella and like I say, I’m not into sunbathing, so I decided to play the EPT Structure Super Turbo.

I turned up at the cash desk and they wouldn’t take my money. I had no idea what was going on and out of the three members of staff working there not one of them spoke a word of English.

Considering how the casino is the middle of a massive tourist resort that is quite ridiculous. Anyone working in any job where they have to interact with a many foreigners should be fluent in English. I could go to a casino in less developed countries like Egypt or Cambodia and every member of staff would speak English, and likely French and Russian too.

I figured out what was up as one of the staff showed me a piece of paper with the number 85 written on it. There were 85 alternates. To hell with that.

Lads

Having had a wasted journey to the casino I wandered all over the hotel trying to pick up a 3G signal so I could start messaging people to see who wanted to hang out. It’s really absurd when you’re struggling to get a decent internet connection in a developed European country. I’ve been in the middle of Cambodia streaming YouTube videos on my phone and I have a blazingly fast 4G service where I live in Thailand, but in the so called “glamorous” resort of Marbella in Spain it’s like the bloody stone age.

I eventually got in touch with Paul Febers and Andrew Hedley who invited me up to their room – which looked like it was hit by a ballistic missile. It was early evening but they were still nursing hangovers from the night before.

Andrew was eating what looked like a bowl of urine. “The hell is that?” I asked. They both burst out laughing. Andrew explained that they called room service – who spoke very little English, and ordered chicken skewers, steak, chips and soup. They waited forever, starving, then all that arrived was two bowls of clear yellowish liquid that they had no idea what it was. “I didn’t even have the energy to argue with him, I just signed for it and told him to get lost”.

There was a pile of €20 and €50 notes and change lying amongst the trash that was scattered all over the room. The lads started to debate who owned it and neither of them really knew. “No idea, ahh just you take it Paul.”, “Nah you take it mate, it’s probably yours.”. I found that hilarious.

I feel like the most value I get out of attending UKIPT events is the friends that I’ve made. Poker players often get a bad rap but all the UK and Irish lads I’ve spent time with at these events have been top lads. Sure, some of them are complete and absolute degenerates when it comes to drinking and gambling, but they’ve all been completely and absolutely honest and friendly in my experience with them.

Willie Elliot stopped on his way to the bar, where he was going to buy everyone a drink, to take this photo of a bunch of us hanging out at the pool. What a top man that Willie is.

and another with funny faces…..

Later that evening we had an awesome night out in the town, hopping from bar to bar and eventually gatecrashing a hen party. I went out with Neil Raine and Gerald Cochlan who I’ve been good friends with for a while, and also Trix Fraser and Ashley Locker who I met for the first time at UKIPT Marbella. Fantastic lads to have a night out with.

I bailed “early” at 2 am because I’d arranged a Karting with a bunch of the lads the next morning and wanted to make sure I’d wake up in time for it.

Karting

Willie Elliot and I had an idea to get all the lads out to a Karting track the day after UKIPT Marbella ended. Most of us were either staying longer or had a late flight so it seemed like the perfect way to get everyone together for one last get-together.

Between us we must have gotten about 30 people to say “yes” or “maybe” to attending, so we booked the track for 20 people. The actual number of people who turned up…… 7, that’s including me and Willie. That’s what happens when you organise something for the morning after a bunch of poker degens have a night out.

I tried my very hardest to win a race for the first time in the week…….

…. but no joy. We ended up racing against a group of Finnish lads who were excellent drivers. Fortunately we had an even better driver of our own, Dode, who showed them up.

The Karting was a fun way to end my trip to Marbella, and I did finally make a couple of Spanish friends after all.

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Helsinki, Finland – Trip Report

I was sitting at my laptop looking to book a flight ticket from Bangkok to Marbella to play in the UKIPT. The best I could find was a journey with Finnair that was a 10.5 hour flight to Helsinki, followed by an 11.5 hour wait in the airport before a 4 hour flight to Spain. Screw, that!

Whenever a long haul flight has a connection it’s generally no more expensive to book it as two separate legs on the same ticket and enjoy a few days stopover in the connection city, so that’s what I did. I did the exact same thing last year with an Emirates flight between Glasgow and Bangkok that had a connection in Dubai.

The way I look at stopping over on connections is that it’s like taking an extra vacation somewhere but not having to pay for the flights. I surely would have taken trips to Dubai and Helsinki at some point anyway, but this way I did it without the expense of the flights.

Talking of expense – it’s difficult to spend time in Finland without spewing loads of money. Nothing is cheap. Accommodation is of course the main expense, with just a standard Holiday Inn type hotel in the centre of Helsinki costing €155 per night. Bare in mind that the hotel where I’m currently living in in Bangkok costs €225 per month, so I wasn’t about to spend a couple of months rent on a few nights vacation.

As usual, Airbnb came up trumps. I was able to rent a studio apartment in the bullseye centre of city for €66 per night – less than half the price of a hotel room in the same location. The apartment was pretty small, with a sofa that converted into a bed, but it was all very clean and new and perfect for someone travelling alone.

 Airbnb

The benefit of staying in an apartment over a hotel isn’t just the cost. Having a kitchen is nice. Being able to pour myself a bowl of muesli in the morning or make myself an omelette late at night is a lot more convenient and cheaper than eating out or room service.

Another big advantage, especially for an online poker player, is having a dedicated internet connection that I don’t have to share with anyone. The owners of this apartment even provided me with a 4G 50Mbit portable router for free, so I was constantly connected to the internet everywhere I went in Helsinki.

Finnair Sky Wheel

I went out to explore Helsinki on foot during my first day. As I was staying in the very centre of the city everything was in walking distance. I was amazed at how clean and nice the city was and so much space with wide pavements and a lack of people. Basically the opposite of Bangkok. It was nice being able to walk down a street without having to navigate through hoards of people, food carts and motorbikes coming towards me at full speed.

I walked to the harbour area and came across the Finnair Sky Wheel that I didn’t even know existed. I turned out that it had just opened a few days earlier, so that’s why it wasn’t in any travel guides or blogs.

It looked like a fun way to get a different perspective of the city so I decided to give it a spin.

The first orbit was fun, the second less so, and after that it was just boring. There’s actually not to much to see and the sky wheel isn’t that tall. The windows also have a weird blue tint (possibly a UV filter) that makes it difficult to take a decent photo.

At a cost of €12 it was not worth the money in my opinion. Better value was found close by though. I was served up a delicious salmon steak and vegetables for €10 at the harbour market nearby. In Helsinki any meal under €10 is a bargain, you pay close to that for a Big Mac meal.

Reindeer Pizza

Wherever I travel to in the world I like to try any unique local foods. The only thing unique about Finnish cuisine that I knew about was reindeer meat. It’s popular in Lapland where it’s considered an expensive delicacy.

Well I didn’t take the journey to Lapland and I didn’t spend a fortune either, but I did eat some reindeer meat.

Kotipizza, a Finnish pizzeria has a pizza called the Berlusconi (€11.50) with smoked reindeer as its main topping. The pizza was created as a response to controversial comments made by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlsuconi who said he had to “endure” Finnish food when visiting the country and followed it up but saying “There is absolutely no comparison between culatello (speciality ham) from Parma and smoked reindeer”.

It was a mighty fine pizza. As for what the reindeer meat tasted like, well whenever someone eats some kind of unusual meat they usually say it “tastes like chicken”. This didn’t taste like chicken, it tasted quite unique, I’m not sure how to describe it actually, but it was nice.

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very unique taste, and if you ever saw it, you’d want it with cheese and tomato paste. Oh Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you hand me a fork tonight?” (thanks for that line Jen!)

Hietaniemi Beach

With a stomach full of bread, cheese and Rudolph the Reindeer, I took a night time stroll to a beach that I discovered using Google Maps on my phone.

I headed for the yellow area near the sea, which had to be a beach, and it looked like there was a massive park that I had to walk through to get there. I got to the big green area and it was actually a cemetery. I started to walk through it anyway, thinking there would be a park on the other side. Well, it turns out that whole massive green area is just one large graveyard. I couldn’t get out of it easily, every gate was padlocked shut and I’d walked too far to be bothered walking all the way back and finding a different route.

Getting stuck and lost in a cemetery late at night would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for the fact that night time in Helsinki has bright daylight during the summer. During my stay there it only got dark between 11pm and 4am and even then it wasn’t black-dark, the sky was a beautiful dark blue.

I did manage to find an exit to the graveyard, thankfully, and made it to Helsinki’s only beach. It was approaching 9pm at night but there were still a few people sitting on the beach, enjoying the sunshine ….

…. playing beach volleyball ….

…. and even a bloke on some ridiculously cool jet pack thing ….

Linnanmäki (Amusement Park)

If I visit a city and it has an amusement park, it’s high on my list of things to do. Helsinki has Linnanmäki, which opened in 1950. That doesn’t mean that the rides are ancient as the park has been constantly updated through the years. There are a lot of old rides still there but there’s plenty of new thrill rides too.

The oldest ride was the wooden rollercoaster in the photo above. It was built in 1951. It didn’t look very fast, about 60 km/h, but I had to ride it anyway because it’s a part of history. Well done to them for keeping it maintained for 64 years. It was actually more thrilling than I expected because of the fact that it’s all wooden and shaky – it makes it a bit scary.

The fastest ride was Ukko, which is a loop of 150 meters with 2 inversions. The speed hits 105 km/h.

I had a whole day of fun at Linnanmäki so I felt like I got value for my €37 unlimited-ride wristband. I left after 8pm and walked back to the centre of Helsinki. passing a lake and a park, in glorious warm sunshine. I remember how good I felt during that stroll. A massive dose of fun, exercise, fresh air and sunshine would put anyone in a good mood.

Suomenlinna

The fortress islands of Suomenlinna, where construction began in 1748, are a quick, cheap, 2km ride from the Helsinki harbour on a public transport ferry. The weather was glorious so it seemed like the perfect place to spend a day.

Many of the buildings on the island have been turned into museums or other attractions but even without visiting them I’d spent a few hours walking around exploring the forts.

I wished that I’d brought a picnic but fortunately there are restaurants and cafes on Suomenlinna. I had a nice salmon sandwich inside this submarine which has been converted into a museum and cafe.

I got talking to a local couple who were visiting the island. In Finland everyone speaks English with very high proficiency so it’s easy to approach people with confidence.

They proudly explained that they can travel on the ferry to Suomenlinna for free with their transport card, because it’s part of the public transport system. I told them that if I lived in Helsinki I would be visiting Suomenlinna all the time. “Yes, well the weather isn’t exactly like this all the time” the guy said, “We have maybe two weeks per year that’s as nice as this. This is the first time we’ve travelled here this year.”

He did explain that the islands were magnificently beautiful when covered in snow, but I was quite happy to experience the summer version.

I didn’t get off the island without a bit of drama though. I tried to walk closer to the flag in the photo above so that I could take a good photo of it. I walked on the grass and was physically attacked by a massive seagull. It probably thought that making it’s nest on a fortress island would be the safest place, not expecting an invasion from a big daft Scotsman.

Finnish Friend

I like travelling to places on my own because it gives me a lot of freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want to. I do try to make local friends though as I think that’s the best way to experience any place you visit. When you hang out with locals you learn and experience things that you won’t find in a travel guidebook.

I did manage to make a cute, blonde Finnish friend called Elina, but not until my last night in Helsinki. It was a shame because she told me that her family owns a cottage in the north of Finland that’s next to a big lake and we could have taken a trip there and gone sailing and fishing.

She offered to drive me to the airport for my flight to Marbella the next day, but not before stopping by a mini-golf course to kick my ass. I played terrible….

…. but maybe I was doing it wrong?

Elina said that we still had plenty of time so we visited a nice restaurant for lunch before driving to the airport. On the journey to the airport it looked like we were cutting it fine, with just 15 minutes before check in was due to close for my flight. “Don’t worry” she said, “we’re just a few minutes away”.

I started to relax and continued the conversation. She was telling me that she didn’t know of any Scottish singers so I explained to her who the Proclaimers were and started singing their version of “King of the Road”. I thought I sounded absolutely fantastic but she burst out into a fit of laughter.

“Stop it”, I said, “it’s not supposed to be funny! :(“. She was laughing so hard that she slowed down and stopped the car right in the middle of the motorway, laughing her ass off, her sides splitting. “What the hell are you doing?” I gasped. “I’m going to miss my flight.”

That was when learned the real reason why she was laughing. “I’ve run out of petrol” she said. “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT????? You’re just pulling my leg right? move!!!!” I asked. She kept laughing, but got her breath and told me that she really had run out of petrol. So there we were, stuck on the motorway, agonisingly close to the airport where check-in for the only flight to Malaga (for Marbella) was about to close.

We were still too far away for me to run with my heavy bags, so that wasn’t an option. Elina said there was a petrol station further up the road so she started running. I stayed by her car which was blocking one of two lanes on the motorway, taking the death stare from drivers who were forced to slow down as they passed.

The pink dot in the background is Elina running. She was soon out of sight and time started ticking away. When there were less than 5 minutes before check-in was due to close I had given up hope. I couldn’t see her running back, and even if see did appear in the distance there wouldn’t be enough time for her to get back to the car, fill up the tank and drive to the airport.

I was already thinking about how much hassle and money this was going to cost me. I had a hotel and private shuttle service waiting for me in Spain that I’d paid for in advance, I’d have to spend an extra night in Helsinki and get another flight to Malaga the next day, if there was one – which was no guarantee, otherwise it was going to be difficult for me to get there in time to play the poker tournament.

As I was looking in the distance for Elina a taxi pulled up behind the car. “Brilliant”, I thought, “here’s a helpful taxi stopping to ask if need his help to get to the airport, when my suitcase is locked inside the boot of the car.” But to my surprise Elina jumped out of the taxi with a can of petrol. Wow.

“No time to explain, let’s just get this into the tank.” she said. She proceeded to try to pour the petrol in without the funnel and it was leaking everywhere. I got her to attach the funnel and I held it in place as she was all panicked and shaking. The petrol still spilled all over my hands and splashed all over my jeans and hoodie. “That’s enough”, I said, “that’ll do for now”.

We got back in the car and started driving. Elina franticly told me what had happened at the petrol station. She got there and realised that she didn’t have a container for the petrol, and the shop didn’t sell any. Two men seen how distressed she was and helped her out. One found her a can for the petrol and the other was a taxi driver who offered to abort his break early to drive her back.

Elina dropped me off right at the front door to airport departures and I ran with my suitcase to the check-in desk. There were less than two minutes to go and I was absolutely stinking of petrol. Fortunately I found the desk quickly and there was no queue.  The girl at the desk proceeded to check me in while I stood well back so that she wouldn’t smell me. I obviously had a great excuse for turning up to an airport covered in a highly flammable liquid but there was simply no time for any questioning.

I received my boarding pass 28 seconds before check-in closed and turned around to see Elina who gave me a massive hug. She was apologising profusely but I asked her “Why are you sorry? You got me here on time, just like you said you would.” 🙂

Looking back on it, after the way things turned out in Marbella, I wish I had missed the flight. So close!

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Hong Kong – Trip Report

After a week of fun in Korea I flew back to Thailand, but not before stopping by Hong Kong on the way. My plan was to spend 3 days there hiking in the rural areas. Yes, apparently Hong Kong has rural areas!

I’d visited Hong Kong before and didn’t think much of the place. My experience was one of being surrounded by massive buildings and millions of people. Hong Kong is incredibly overpopulated and it seemed like no area of land was undeveloped.

It was only after reading the blogs of my fellow travellers that I learned there’s a lot more to Hong Kong than I’d previously experienced. I learned about the many isolated beaches, incredible forests and mountains with breathtaking views that Hong Kong has to offer. So I returned with the intention of exploring these areas and experiencing a totally different side to Hong Kong.

What I hadn’t planned for was terrible weather. There was a massive storm for the entire length of my visit, which unfortunately meant it wouldn’t be safe or comfortable to do the hikes that I’d planned.

I had to quickly come up with a ‘plan b’, which I did easily enough. I decided to spend a few days eating the local food – always a must when travelling, and visiting amusement parks – always fun for a big kid like me. Now a tropical storm may not seem like amusement park weather to most people, but that’s exactly the reason I wanted to visit them. Wet weather absolutely guarantees a low turnout at amusement parks, which means no queues for any of the rides.

Crabs

It was my first night in Hong Kong and I’d already gotten crabs. The good kind at least.

To get the meat out of the crab’s claws you have to smash through them with a cracker tool. It was so tasty that I didn’t want to leave anything behind and was picking every last piece of juicy meat out of the claws.

I got in some mess eating that lot with my bare hands, food all over my t-shirt like a child. Fortunately I was eating at a shabby-looking street restaurant with plastic tables and chairs so I wasn’t too concerned about my shabby dining etiquette. I could see the women who work there looking at me and laughing with each other though, bastards.

Disneyland

Hong Kong has the smallest Disneyland in the world. With that in mind, and the fact there would be no queues because of the weather, I was confident about turning up mid-afternoon and still getting a go on every ride.

My first ride was the ride to actually get there. Disneyland has it’s own line on the Hong Kong metro. Convenient and also fun – the train windows are Mickey Mouse shaped.

The first people, or rather mice, to greet me at Disneyland were my old pals Mickey and Minnie. It’s been a couple of years since I last hung out with them, at Disney Sea in Tokyo, so it was good to catch up. Although they are always very quiet, never have much to say.

As much as I love Mickey and Minnie, the Disney princesses were a lot more fun to hang out and chat with. Don’t they look happy to have found a handsome Scottish prince? 🙂

When it came to the rides there was literally zero queues to get on any of them, even the best ones. It may be the smallest Disneyland in the world but a Disneyland where you don’t have to queue for any of the rides is the best Disneyland in the world as far as I’m concerned.

Within a couple of hours I’d been on every ride that was worth going on, many of them multiple times. I rode Space Mountain about 5 times so knew when the camera flash was coming……..

Like every Disneyland there’s a big parade in the middle of the day. That’s where I finally saw my chipmunk namesake, Dale, who I’d been looking for all day.

Towards the end of the day the rain started lashing down. It was right at the time the Lion King show was starting so almost everyone in the entire park rushed into the theatre to watch it.

There was lots of dancing and all the awesome songs from the movie. That music could put anyone in a good mood. Hakuna matata!

I’d experienced most of what Hong Kong Disneyland had to offer and it wasn’t even dark yet. There were fireworks scheduled before closing time but I just decided to GTFO. But not before devouring a delicious hot Mickey Mouse waffle with cream, maple syrup and strawberries. Yum!

Pineapple Fried Rice

I went out wandering the streets after getting back from Disneyland, looking for some good food. I found a little place that served pineapple special friend rice, served inside a hollow pineapple. I was impressed by this. The hollow pineapple adds a lot to the presentation and also the taste as you scrape the inside while spooning out the rice.

Not a bad meal for a few quid!

Egg Tarts

Asian portion sizes do leave me wanting more. Fortunately in Hong Kong you can find the tasty Portuguese Egg Tarts everywhere, hot and fresh. They are basically just egg custard and pastry, simple but delicious.

Ocean Park

The other of Hong Kong’s two largest amusement parks that I visited was Ocean Park. It’s much bigger than Disneyland and it’s much more than just an amusement park, it’s also a oceanarium and zoo.

Ocean Park doesn’t have Mickey Mouse or his Disney friends but they do have something even cuter, Pandas! Five of them!

It also features some stunning views, both from the restaurant……….

….. and from a 360 spinning tower in the middle of the park.

Even on a cloudy, stormy day the views were beautiful. Even more beautiful – the lack of people in the park, meaning a day of unlimited rides with zero queues.

The best ride by far is Hair Raiser – a twisting, high-speed rollercoaster built on the side of a mountain.

I was talking to a girl who said she queued for two hours to ride it last summer, and that was a fairly normal wait time. Well I queued for zero hours and zero minutes, each of the eight time that I rode it. Hooray for stormy days.

When it really, really started pissing it down I took shelter at a dolphin show.

It was very impressive. Dolphins are incredibly intelligent creatures. Which makes me consider the morals of keeping them in captivity. I wish it was possible to talk to them and find out how happy they are with their lives.

Ichiran

Hong Kong has a branch of the famous Japanese ramen restaurant Ichiran. It was recommended to me by a bloke on twitter. You can do a lot of research online about what to see and where to eat when you travel but you can’t beat a personal recommendation from someone.

Ichiran is in the Casueway Bay area of Hong Kong, where I went to visit a famous video game arcade. It turns out the arcade was shut down last year so Ichiran saved me a wasted trip.

It’s the perfect restaurant for people eating on their own as you are given your own little booth so slurp up your noodles in private. It is actually their policy to minimise the interaction with staff and customers as much as possible. The idea is that after spending the day surrounded by people in the city that you’d rather just relax and enjoy your ramen in peace. Well, suits me.

You’re given a sheet of paper with tick-boxes to order the ramen to your personal taste. After filling it out you press a button and a hand comes and takes the paper from you through the window. The owner of the hand says nothing.

Five minutes later a hand passes through a steaming hot bowl of ramen through the window and the same hand closes the window blind.

Slurp, slurp, omnomnomnom, yum yum. One of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had, and I didn’t have to look at or talk to another human. 🙂

Spicy Noodles

I met a girl on my last night in Hong Kong and suggested that we go somewhere that local people eat. She brought up a website on her phone called Open Rice that is a user-generated content review site for local food restaurants. For any restaurant in Hong Kong you can see loads of food pics, reviews and overall ratings.

We chose a place nearby that looked good. Trying to find it was tough, we walked past it a couple of times not even noticing it. And no wonder,  the place was tiny. It literally had just one big table and a wall shelf.

I ordered extra spicy noodles with chive pork dumplings and fried tofu. It was pretty cheap (about 3 or 4 quid British) so I wasn’t expecting much, but when it arrived I could just tell from the presentation that my bowl of noodles was made with love. In most of the cheap restaurants in Asia they couldn’t care less about presentation, and just slap the meal into the bowl like it’s a dog’s dinner.

Not only was it well presented but it tasted incredible. Incredibly spicy but that’s what I asked for, and very meaty dumplings full of flavour.

The chef, who was the same guy that took our order, and seemed to be the only person working there, was very interested in my opinion of the meal. He asked me, through my friend who acted as an interpreter, lots of questions about the spiciness of the soup, texture of the dumplings, thickness of the noodles. It was obvious that he was really passionate about his food and he looked genuinely happy and proud when I told him it was perfect.

The restaurant is called 有緣小敍, which I guess won’t be useful to most of my readers, but it has no signs or anything in English. Its Open Rice page is here: http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=47432.

Cathay Pacific Lounge

On my way back to Bangkok I used flagship Cathay Pacific lounge ‘The Wing’ at Hong Kong airport. I’ve had gold status with Cathay since the start of the year which has the benefit of being able to use any Cathay Pacific or OneWorld Alliance (British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Malaysian, etc. etc.) airport lounge, even when flying on a dirt cheap economy ticket.

One huge section of the lounge is a noodle bar where you can order (for free of course) from around 8 different types of noodles, made fresh to order. As if I hadn’t already ate enough noodles on my trip to Hong Kong, but what the hell…. 🙂

The best part of the lounge for me was the ‘Solus’ chairs. Specially designed seating areas for people travelling alone that give a lot of privacy.

I flew back to Bangkok feeling great. I hadn’t done any of the hiking that I had originally planned to do on my Hong Kong trip, but the shitty weather didn’t stop me from enjoying myself there and I still have a reason to visit again soon.

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Living in Thailand

Living in Thailand

In March I moved back to Bangkok – the city that I previously called home.

I had originally settled in Thailand in early 2011 but by the end of 2012 I had to make a tough decision between staying in Thailand but losing my PokerStars contract or moving back to the UK immediately and keeping it.

PokerStars had decided that they needed their Team Online representative from the UK to actually live in the UK and physically be there for most of the year, which although I wasn’t happy about it, was a reasonable enough request. It was a tough ultimatum for me though as I was very well settled and happy in Thailand, but I also very much enjoyed being part of the PokerStars team.

I decided that it was worth making sacrifices to remain in the team, so two weeks into the new year of 2013 I cancelled the lease on my Bangkok condo and flew 6,000 miles to Edinburgh on a one-way ticket with all my belongings.

It was kind of sad that I’d been away for two years and there was nobody to greet me at the airport, but that’s what happens when you don’t keep in touch with anyone. Instead I was greeted by a blizzard and a ride in a taxi that was 10x the price of the same length of journey in Thailand. Welcome home Dale.

I had been back in Scotland for less than half an hour and was already experiencing a massive culture shock, as if I was a foreigner visiting for the first time. I love my country but the term ‘rip-off Britain’ didn’t come from nowhere and it’s just not a place to be when the weather is awful. Problem is that the weather is awful most of the time.

The great comedian Billy Connolly once said that there are two seasons in Scotland – winter and July. The big yin also said that there’s no such thing as “bad” weather, there’s only the wrong clothes. And there I was, in the middle of a Scottish winter with a suitcase full of shorts, T-shirts and not much else.

I never did go shopping for the right clothes. I just ended up basically hibernating for a few months. After living in Thailand for two years I found it just too difficult to adjust to being back home in Scotland. I went from being happy, social and healthy to the polar opposite. In Thailand I was outside jogging almost every day – followed by a massage, eating healthy delicious food, and dating very attractive girls. Back in Scotland it was too cold for jogging, healthy eating was more of a struggle and even unattractive girls looked at me like I was dirt.

I could have made a better effort of dealing with the situation like actually going out and buying winter clothes, trying to get in touch with old friends, making new friends and joining a gym but the misery I felt was so overwhelmingly crippling that all I could do was sleep all day and stay up all night eating junk food and playing online poker.

After those first few months of hibernation things did get a bit easier. About the same time that the weather got milder I re-discovered my favourite place in Edinburgh – Arthur’s Seat. A dormant volcano that is a great place to exercise and get a healthy dose of fresh air and beautiful scenery. I had gained a whopping 10Kg in weight and barely seen daylight since the start of the year so it was about time for me to get outdoors and work up a sweat.

I had also decided to make the most of being so close to European countries that I hadn’t had a chance to visit yet. I made my first ever trips to Croatia, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria.

It was a fun summer, but it went by so fast. Winter came back around and again I became miserable and introverted. It’s amazing how a change in season can have such a massive affect on your mood and your life.

Thankfully the location requirement was taking out of my 2014 agreement with PokerStars and instead I agreed to play in 5 UKIPT events during the year as an alternative location restriction.

This gave me the opportunity to move back to Thailand and make long haul commutes to the UKIPT events. Even though flights, hotels etc. would cost me more than the value of the tournament buyin and I’d lose at least another 2 full days from long haul flying each time, it was worth it for me to actually live where I wanted to live.

I didn’t waste much time before packing up my stuff and flying to Bangkok, where I settled back in really quickly. I moved into a hotel with a room overlooking the BEC Tero football stadium and re-arranged the furniture so that I had a nice view while I played online poker.

I stayed in that place for a couple of weeks while I casually looked around for a place that was away from the main tourist and expat areas. I think those areas are good if you are visiting Bangkok as a tourist or just for a few months but I wanted to live somewhere that was a bit quieter, much more real and way less expensive.

Anywhere that there’s a lot of tourists the price of accommodation and food is high (by Thai standards) and there’s a lot of crap to put up with like taxi drivers who won’t turn on the meters or not being able to walk down the street because 90% of it’s been taken over by shitty market stalls selling shitty tat to shitty people walking at a snails pace in their flip-flops and Singha vests. /rant

I know enough about Bangkok and speak enough Thai language that I can get around easily and do stuff like explain to a taxi driver how to go to some place that he doesn’t know or eat at restaurants where the staff don’t speak English.

I ended up finding a small hotel in an area that has a population of 98% Thai people but is still really close to a massive modern mall and a subway station, so great amenities and transport. Every mall has about two floors of restaurants and as long as you live close to a BTS (sky train) or MRT (subway) station you can get around Bangkok quickly, cheaply and easily.

It might sound crazy to some people to live long term in a hotel but living on my own all I really need is one big room and in Thailand long term hotel stays can certainly be affordable. For my room I’m paying 9,700 Baht (£176 GBP / 223 EUR / $302 USD) per month, excluding utilities. I could also find an apartment nearby for the same price but the hotel has the advantage that I can check out whenever I want, rather than sign a 1 year lease.

The hotel looks like nothing special. The furnishings are outdated and a bit worn but everything is very comfortable, super clean (never seen a single insect) and the location is simply perfect for me. Best of all is that the hotel has a restaurant open from 6:30am – 2am and sells Thai meals for 40 – 80 Baht (£0.73 – £1.45 GBP / €0.92 – €1.84 EUR / $1.25 – $2.50 USD). They even bring it to your room with zero service charge and no tip expected.

That was one of the main things I missed when I was back in the UK, real authentic Thai food that costs pennies. I actually went to Thai restaurants in Edinburgh a couple of times, but it just wasn’t the same. It was probably paying 20x the price that I’m used to that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Fortunately I returned to Bangkok just in time for Songkran, the Thai new year. Songkran is celebrated with a water festival lasting 3 days. Basically the entire city turns into one massive water fight during those three days. It’s an awesome event. I believe the tradition started off many years ago with people splashing water over each other to wish them good luck or clear their badness for the new year, or some superstitious nonsense like that. Now it’s just escalated into total water fight degeneracy.

During the Songkran festival you can’t simply live your life as you normally would and not participate. If you try to walk down any street someone will pour a pale of water over you or give you a good hosing down. You either need to embrace it and give as good as you get, or stay indoors for three days. No surprises what I did.

I hired a tuk-tuk for a day to drive me and two girls that I’m friends with around Bangkok so we could do drive-by shootings with our water guns. It was crazy, we’d have people on the backs of motorbikes shooting at us and every time we got stuck in traffic there would be kids with buckets of water running into the road to drench us.

And it’s not just kids that take part in this. It’s everyone. There’s grown adults everywhere with buckets of water and water pistols splashing around having a whale of time.

Songkran was a great welcome back to Thailand. I’m now well settled here again, but I still love to travel and Bangkok having a massive international airport is a great base to do that from. Since coming back to Thailand I’ve made trips to Seoul, Hong Kong, Helsinki, Marbella (wish I skipped that one tbh), Chiang Mai and tomorrow I will go to Penang Island in Malaysia for the first time.

I plan to stay in Thailand for quite some time but doing it on back-to-back tourist visas will no longer be an option as new immigration policies are being introduced. My plan is to join a Thai language school full time (4 hours a week, lol) in order to get an education visa. That way I’ll be living in Thailand more legitimately and also improving my language skills. Taking Thai classes was something I planned to do anyway. I think that if you plan to live in any country for a significant period of time it’s just downright rude not to learn the language properly.

So here’s to eating more hot food……

…. dating pretty girls …..

…. and having fun experiences in Thailand.

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Eureka Vienna Trip Report

Recently I had the pleasure of playing poker in an imperial palace. It was quite a a step up from the wobbly kitchen table in a sketchy North London council flat where I played my first poker tournament.

The Hofburg Palace in Vienna is home to the current Austrian president Heinz Fischer and the bloke was nice enough to let a bunch of us poker players take over a wing of his gaff for a couple of weeks.


As far as home games go it was pretty decent and there were certainly no wobbly tables, makeshift chairs or having to keep the noise down because the host’s kids were sleeping upstairs.

Land of Inconvenience

I flew into Vienna and checked into my hotel just after 9pm in the evening then went out looking for a supermarket to stock up on water, juice and snacks to get me through the week (screw the rip-off mini-bar). As I was staying in the absolute centre of the city that task should have been quick and easy, right? Nope, not in Austria, the land of inconvenience.

Every metro supermarket I found using Google Maps had closed at 8pm and all the little convenience stores were closed too. So they aren’t actually little convenience stores, they’re just little stores, which are closed at the kind of times one would expect and need them to be open. “In-convenience stores” then.

After walking around hopelessly for over half an hour I asked a group of local people where I could go to buy some drinks and snacks at this time of night and they just laughed at me and said “everything is closed, it’s late of course”. They seem to take real pleasure in inconvenience in Vienna.

I’ve spent most of the last few years living in Bangkok, a city where you’re never less than a minute away from a supermarket or convenience store that’s open 24 hours a day, selling drinks and snacks for pennies. So the realisation that I’d have to wait 9 hours in Vienna to be able to hand over €2 to buy a soft drink didn’t go down too well with me. As usual, life is better in the so called “third world”.

I walked back to my hotel sulking, thinking to myself “Why is everything closed? Do people not get thirsty, hungry, or need anything at all after 8pm? Why doesn’t someone just open a 24 hour store and get all the monies? Is there a law forcing shops to close or something?”. Whatever the reason, it made for an annoying start to my trip.

Delicacies

Everyone I knew was playing Day 1a of the Eureka main event, so the sociable thing to do would be for me to play that day too, then have people to hang out with the next day. I usually do the opposite of what I’m supposed to though so on Day 1a I slept until the afternoon then went out in Vienna by myself to learn more about Austrian culture.

By Austrian culture I mean their food.

I paid a visit to Hotel Sacher, famous for its Sachertorte – a delicious cake that was invented a couple of centuries ago by a bloke called Sacher for some Austrian prince and has become a very popular delicacy in Vienna.

As tempting as it was to go straight to dessert I looked for something more savoury to start off with. The most obvious dish to try was Wiener Schnitzel – breaded and deep-fried veal, served with boiled potatoes and half a lemon. Yum!

Very tender and tasty. After the two minutes that it took me to devour that I got what I actually came for, the Sachertorte – a rich slab of chocolate cake with apricot filling.

It was so ridiculously delicious but also so ridiculously expensive, which is a good thing. If it had been cheap I’d be eating it every day, and that would be so ridiculously bad for my health.

Eureka Main Event

My runbad with table draws in live events continued on day 1b of the Eureka Vienna main event when I sat down at a table full of young wizards and wannabe wizards. I didn’t know who any of them were but before we even started playing they were all chatting to each other stuff like “sick score last Sunday man” and “you busted me in the Super Tuesday again this week you bastard”.

Looking away from my table of poker pros, the view was a bit easier on the eyes.

I had a tough time in the first few levels and couldn’t get anything going. I remembered that famous phrase from the movie Rounders. “Listen, here’s the thing.  If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”

Well that was definitely the thing.

It took me 8 levels to get above the starting stack and then things were starting to go well for me until one hand near the end of the day. I 4-bet shoved with AQs from the button vs a little wizard in the SB who had 3-bet me 3 out of 4 times that I opened from the button. Obviously he had two aces and I was drawing dead by the flop.

Huge sighs, I put my jacket on, walked out of the room and down the grand staircase. I was almost out the door when I heard someone shouting at me from the top of the stairs. It was a bloke from my table, “dude, come back, you still have chips, come back!”

I was stunned. I was pretty sure that my opponent had me covered, but seemingly he didn’t. I walked all the way back up the stairs thinking to myself “I bet I have like 1 ante chip or something, this is going to be so tilting.”

I got back to the table to discover that I actually had 5 big blinds left, and was still in late position. So much better than having 1 ante chip and infinitely better than having no chips at all.

It was a pretty stupid mistake by me. Not the first mistake I’ve ever made when playing poker but hopefully one that I won’t make again. Busting a poker tournament is never fun and I always just want to GTFO as quickly as possible, but not making sure that I’d actually busted before G-ing TFO was really dumb.

As for the guy who came running to get me, it turned out that was EPT London winner Robin Ylitalo. What a hero. I don’t think many poker players would bother running after one of their opponents in that situation. However I reckon I would be a hero if that ever happened at my table so I’m glad that someone was a hero for me.

I shoved Q5s on the next hand and was called by A8o and won, meaning I had 12BB and a real chance to get back in the game. I started to daydream about winning the tournament from there and how great a story it would be. Those dreams were short lived though as I shoved with 44 and got called by 66. More huge sighs, I put my jacket on again and left the palace again, but not before making damn sure that my opponent had me covered.

Amusement

When I bust a main event I rarely have the motivation to jump right back into action by playing side events or live cash like most of my fellow poker players do. Instead I look for fun, non-poker related things to do in the city that I’ve travelled to. My friend TonnaMunz also busted the main event so I suggested that we hang out at the Prater amusement park the next day.

I’d been there before on a Vienna day trip last year so I knew which rides were awesome, my favourite being the Black Mamba.

Riding the massive Black Mamba was so intense that I could barely walk afterwards. “That’s what she said!”

So Sick

The next day I went sightseeing with Neil Raine and Joe Hindry and his missus. The first place we visited was St. Stephen’s Cathedral but we didn’t stay there very long long. I voiced an opinion about catholic girls which was overheard by the people around us and suddenly we felt less than welcome there.

We then went to visit the Natural History Museum. I’d been to the one in Dublin, Ireland a couple of weeks earlier and enjoyed it so suggested we go to the Austrian one, which is absolutely enormous.

I thought it would be a fun thing if we posed for a photo with an elephant that died 200 years ago so we did that, only for an Austrian bloke in a uniform to charge over, shouting at us in German.

My ability to understand the Deutsch is a bit limited but I believe he said something along the lines of “NEIN! You are not allowed beyond ze barriers und why are you mocking ze disabled people??? NEIN, NEIN, NEIN!!!”

Needless to say that I wasn’t able to get the photo that I really wanted, of me riding a dead giraffe. 🙁

We spent the rest of the day at a delicacy market called Naschmarkt. It was a fun place to walk around, trying different kinds of delicious but overpriced food.

My favourites were the Florentine biscuits made from chopped almonds, dried orange, caramel and white chocolate. Mmmm mmm mmmm.

Very nice, but paying €3.70 for one did leave a very bitter taste in my mouth. These biscuits will never do well in Scotland.

Neil then had the bright idea that we’d eat raw French oysters. What could possibly go wrong there?

They were very nice, and I held that opinion up until late the next evening when I suddenly started spewing my guts out uncontrollably. I wasn’t 100% sure it was the oysters to blame as I’d also eaten shrimp from McDonalds a couple of hours earlier. Yeah, shrimp, in a McDonalds, maybe an even worse idea than raw oysters.

I had a 15 hour journey to Thailand at the crack of dawn the next day so went to bed early, hoping like hell that I’d feel better in the morning. Well I woke up the next morning to find myself lying in a pool of sweat, covers absolutely drenched, then rolled out of bed and promptly spewed my guts into the bin.

What am I supposed to do in that situation? Re-arrange my flights at a heavy penalty, pay full price for an extra night or two in the hotel (that I’d been staying in at a 70% discount) and forfeit the advance-paid, non-refundable hotel at my destination? Or go ahead and travel?

As absolutely god awful as I felt, getting screwed out of many hundreds of Euros just to postpone my travel by a day or two would have left me feeling even more sick, so I manned up and went to the airport.

At Vienna airport all I wanted to do was get through check-in and security as quickly as possible, buy some medicine from a pharmacy and relax in the Oneworld lounge with a cold bottle of water before my flight.

I walked all the way to the gate without being able to find pharmacy or a lounge. “Where’s the Oneworld lounge?”, I asked the Finnair steward. “Oh, it’s actually before security, sorry sir.”, I was told. Before…. BEFORE security. What? What good is that to anyone? That’s no good to man nor beast.

I did almost forget that I was still in Austria, the land of inconvenience, where they take pleasure in making your life as difficult as possible. “Do you know where the pharmacy is?” I asked. “Oh sorry sir, that’s before security too.”

As I stood there, feeling like death, sweat pissing from every pore in my body, I still managed to laugh at how ridiculous that was before slowly walking to a vending machine, paying some stupid price for a bottle of water and sitting in an uncomfortable chair for 45 minutes until it was time to board.

As I sat there I had a browse through Facebook on my phone and I seen an update from Neil Raine.

Definitely those damn oysters then. 15 hours of travel brutality lay ahead of me but at least I had a flight connection in Helsinki, an airport where they actually have a pharmacy and lounge in the departure area. You know, the kind of conveniences that you come to expect in any major airport in any country that isn’t Austria. Goodnight Vienna!

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Sleepless in Dublin – UKIPT Trip Report

Main Event Day 1

Whenever I have a live poker tournament coming up I always seem to be on some crazy nocturnal sleep pattern, never managing to adjust in time. It’s difficult to suddenly switch from going to bed at noon every day to waking up early enough to play a tourney that starts at noon.

My first ever trip to Dublin, to play in the UK and Ireland Poker Tour, was no exception. I travelled there a day early but still couldn’t adjust my sleep pattern, so by the time cards were in the air for Day 1b of the main event I’d already been awake for 12 hours. My poker day was just beginning but my body clock day was coming to an end.

I was fortunate enough to have a starting table with a good bunch of lads that I was able to have a lot of banter with, so that kept me awake. Ireland is one of my favourite places to play poker mainly because of the banter you get from the locals. Even the players who are professionals or are taking the game very seriously still like to have a laugh. It’s in stark contrast to games in other parts of the world where it’s normal for 9 or 10 people to sit round a table for hours not saying a word to each other.

I wasn’t doing too bad, considering the sleep deprivation, but then we had a dinner break. A slap up meal was definitely ill advised but feck it, I went ahead and lined my stomach anyway. When I returned to the table I was basically dead. The lad next to me kept having to nudge me when it was my turn to act. Fortunately I had a < 20bb stack and I can play that in my sleep. Which was great, because that’s what I had to do.

During the the last level of the day I shipped it in over a raise with AK, flipped like a pro and got the double up I needed. I ended the day with 26,800 in chips, slept for 12 hours and woke up at a reasonable time before the start of Day 2. So a very decent result, all things considered.

Players Bag

At every PokerStars event there’s a bag of goodies given out to PokerStars qualifiers, which represents some nice added value. The Dublin bag was one of my favourites because they went for quality over quantity.

Included was a T-shirt, a very high quality soft hoodie, official UKIPT playing cards made by Copag and PokerStars headphones. Decent swag! I tweeted out that photo at the time and had a few dozen people begging me for the headphones. Apparently there’s no way to buy them, even in the VIP Store, so if you want some you’re going to have to come play a UKIPT.

Main Event Day 2

With a good night’s sleep behind me (I always sleep better when I’ve paid less than half price for my hotel room), I continued my excellent preparation for Day 2 by eating a full Irish breakfast from the hotel buffet.

It was savage.

My table draw for Day 2 saw me sandwiched between two old friends from STTF (the sit-n-go forum on TwoPlusTwo). One of them was Entim, which meant that I’d have to play well, and the other was Josem (now the head of PR for PokerStars), which meant that I’d have to behave well. It was going to be an extremely challenging day for Daleroxxu.

The day didn’t last long though. In the first level Entim open-raised from button and I shoved 24bb from the small blind with 97s. He called with 88 and I didn’t get there, so gg me. I remember tweeting my bustout hand and getting a lot of stick from random people but I’m happy with my play. I’ve studied that exact situation with an ICM push-fold calculator many times, so I was confident that it was a good move. It would be really hard to put a good opponent on open-raising and calling ranges that make it a -ev shove.

Viking Tour

So suddenly I had a lot of free time on my hands. Free time to do stupid stuff like the Viking Splash Tour.

The tour involves getting driven around Dublin and floating around the canal docks in a DUKW. A type of vehicle that was built during World War II as amphibious trucks to carry soldiers and equipment to aid the war effort. They now carry a bunch of eejit tourists wearing daft Viking helmets.

Unsurprisingly I couldn’t get any other poker players to join me but I’ve never let that stop me from having fun when I travel.

The tour was a good laugh with the driver / tour guide giving us a humorous commentary of Dublin’s sights and landmarks in a thick Irish accent. We were also strongly encouraged to scare pedestrians with loud Viking roars as we passed them. Way more fun than you’re average city tour.

Players Party

With every PokerStars tour event there’s a players party, representing more extra value since the drinks are free. On the down side it’s always a complete sausagefest. There are some girls there, usually just other poker player’s girlfriends or staff, but they are worth finding so that you don’t have to stand listening to some hairy bloke’s drunken bad stories.

Found these two hotties hiding in the far corner.

The Dublin party was held at Cafe en Seine, right across the street from the poker venue. It’s a trendy place with a 3-storey atrium, art nouveau decor, glass panel ceilings, 40 ft trees and a whole bunch of other fancy stuff. Very nice, but if the free bar was in a disused warehouse 10 miles away I’m sure 90% of the degenerates who attended would still have turned up to get hammered on the PokerStars tab.

As for myself, well I’m still on the wagon. The parties are still fun, at least until the point where everyone is so drunk that they become obnoxious. So it was an 11pm early night for me.

New Friends

One of the best things about being a sober Scotsman is waking up at 7am the morning after a party and feeling fantastic.

One of the best thing about travelling is making new and awesome friends.

Early in the morning after the players party I made a new, awesome and extremely cute Korean friend who I asked to join me for some Irish breakfast. We both have a great interest in travel and food so we had a lot to talk about as we stuffed our faces with our deliciously greasy food.

And again the next day, as we stuffed our faces with delicious Japanese food. A cute Korean girl and a Scottish fat bastard eating Japanese food in an Irish city, now that’s multiculturalism.

Side Events.

I usually don’t play the side events, preferring to play only the main event and use any remaining time to do some sightseeing or fun activities in the city that I’ve travelled to. However the weather was Irish and my new friend was working so I jumped into the PLO event. The O standing for the number of hands that I won in the tourney. I had to GTF-O pretty quickly.

The silver lining was that I had busted it early enough that I was able to buy into the final event, the EPT Structure Deep Stack Hyper Turbo. A €165 event where the buyin is low but the stacks are deep, at least for a couple of hours before the madness begins.

€165 = 30,000 chips. Decent exchange rate.

I played pretty loose, 3-betting every hand that I wanted to play when I had position on the open-raiser. And I wanted to play a lot of hands. What happens in the early levels isn’t that meaningful though because soon we all have push/fold stacks.

A bloke minraised from the cutoff and I shoved 11bb with pocket 5s from the small blind. He snapped me off with A7o and I lost the flip. #coolstorybro. Whatevs. Another tourney bricked. Add it to the list.

In almost all my tourney bustout hands where I lost a flip, I’ve been the one doing the shoving, not the calling. I think that’s important, or at least it would be if anyone ever folded to me, which they don’t, so it’s not that important after all.

Museums

More early tourney bustouts means more time to do stuff. The weather was still dreich* but museums are indoors and, in Ireland, completely free. I’m hella happy, that’s a bargain bitch!

* Dreich (Old Scots origin) – A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich. (From UrbanDictionary.com)

My favourite one was the Natural History Museum, which I knew about from passing it on the Viking Tour. The bloke referred to it as “The Dead Zoo”, and that’s exactly what it is, a huge area filled with dead animals that have been stuffed and preserved. Their collection of animals and how they are displayed has barely changed in the last 100 years. Fun place to check out on a dreich day and free is my favourite price.

Final Table Day

I usually book my flight home for the day of the main event final table. That’s because there’s never any other tournaments scheduled for that day, and in the extremely unlikely event that I do manage to luckbox my way to the final table it won’t be too big a deal having to pay for another flight the next day.

I must have been feeling really confident, or more likely made a mistake, way back when I booked my Dublin flights. My flight home wasn’t until after the final table.

Max Silver, who had won UKIPT Dublin once before, made the final table with a massive chiplead so I went to rail him, all the way until he was heads-up.

At that point I received a message on my phone from my cute Korean friend, inviting me to come to the buffet restaurant where she works for some free cake. “Free cake you say? Well fuck railing this donkament, I’m off……”

I ended my first ever trip to Dublin on a sugary high and I still don’t know who ended up winning that tourney.

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Malta Trip Report

After my trip to the Bahamas in January I was back in Scotland for all of two weeks before I had enough of that crap and decided to GTFO. The very best thing that you can do during the winter in Scotland is hibernate, and that gets boring pretty fast.

Malta is somewhere that I’d been planning to visit for over a year but I just never got round to it. During the winter it’s one of the warmest countries in Europe and Ryanair have started doing direct 4-hour flights from Edinburgh. So I just booked a cheap flight for the next morning and off I went.


Seatmate From Hell

When you fly somewhere alone it’s always a bit of a lottery as to who gets sat next to you on the aeroplane. I’ve ran pretty good in recent times, having whole rows to myself on quiet flights. The next best thing to an empty seat next to you is some skinny girl and that’s exactly what I got. It was the best I could have hoped for since it was a full flight.

Unfortunately the skinny girl was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A real mouthy cow, ranting loudly in Italian with her boyfriend who had the window seat. No problem I thought, Bose Quiet Comfort headphones on, music up loud and everything will be fine. Or so I thought. She was unable to talk without using her hands. Every time her mouth opened she would wave her arms around, nudging me with her pointy elbow.

 

After maybe the fourth or fifth nudge I turned round and stared at her. It took her way longer than it should have to realise that I was looking for an apology. “Sorry”, she muttered unconvincingly, and then continued to do the exact same thing, blabbing away and throwing her bony arms around.

I started nudging her back even harder every time she nudged me. An eye for an eye and all that. That just made matters worse though. Her hairy boyfriend wasn’t impressed. So I asked the steward if I could be moved to another seat before this confrontation escalated into nuclear warfare. “Sorry mate the flight is full.”. Only on Ryanair are you a “mate” rather than a”sir”.

So it was a miserable 4 hour flight. I tried to lose myself in the awesome new Zelda game on Nintendo 3DS but even then, her nudging lost me my life in dungeon boss battle which was extremely tilting as you lose all the items that you rent when you die. So I got through the flight listening to loud music and fantasising about how much I’d love to drag the girl down the aisle and into the toilet. She’d think she was about to join the Mile High Club but no, I’d flush her skinny ass down the bog and tell her to GTFO. Mile Low Club, ciao bella.

Sunny Malta

I arrived in Malta after midnight and checked into a nice hotel in St Julian’s bay, which was less than half the price it would be during the summer. Malta is pretty much dead in the winter with a lot of businesses closed and hotels half empty. The weather forecast hadn’t looked great but I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to an awesome view and beautiful sunshine.

The first thing I did (after a massive buffet breakfast of course) was to walk around the coast. I just kept walking and walking for hours. I walked all the way from St Julian’s to Valetta, and back. A fair trek, it took most of the day!

It was nice to actually enjoy being outdoors again, with warm weather, fresh air, exercise, beautiful scenery and smiling people.

I almost even got a tan, almost……….

Popeye Village

The most fun I had on the trip was a visit to Sweethaven which is a little village built as the filmset for the 1980 movie Popeye which was Robin Williams film debut. The village has been kept as a tourist attraction where you can enter all the buildings and interact with character actors playing Popeye, Olive and Bluto. With it being off-season in Malta the place was almost deserted, with less than 20 visitors the whole day, but that’s a good thing for me.

I spent a couple of hours there making a Popeye home movie with a few of the other visitors which was a ton of fun.

The big bloke that I was fighting with at the start of the movie was a fella from Aberdeen. In the scene where he falls to the ground he smashed the screen of his iPhone that was in his pocket and was absolutely gutted about it. It turned out it was only and iPhone 4 so I told him “it’s not such a big deal then, in fact it’s a good excuse for you to upgrade.”. His reaction had me looking for the nearest can of spinach, for fear of getting my ass kicked.

But hey, if I can beat up Bluto I can beat up anyone.

Epic Sushi

My night time activities in Malta were basically eating, and eating. I had some great restaurant recommendations from people on Twitter so I planned to try a different one each night.

Three different people recommended a Japanese restaurant called Zest. It was right beside my hotel so that was the first one I checked out. I have to say that I had the very best sushi of my life in Zest. Better than the sushi I ate in Tokyo, better than the sushi at Nobu, better than anything. Simply incredible, it blew my socks off.

It was so good that I changed my mind about trying a different restaurant each night and ended up in Zest 3 nights out of 7.

Rainy Day

There was one rainy day during my stay. I was absolutely miserable, confined to my hotel room for hours. There wasn’t much I could do. Anything outdoors would be awful and I’d already been to all the museums and suchlike.

I was lying on my bed wishing I was in Thailand instead of Malta. Then I remembered what I do in Thailand when it’s raining. I ship a massage.

So I found a Thai massage place using Google Maps. Two minutes walk in the rain for a two hour oil massage, that’s worth it!

I followed that up with a visit to the best Thai restaurant in Malta, Blue Elephant at the Hilton.

I had a starter platter and a main course platter with loads of different hot and delicious stuff and I went to bed full and happy that night. Thai day in rainy Malta.

Museums and Temples and all that sorta stuff

I didn’t make any friends while I was in Malta. Like I mentioned, it was super off-season so the place was dead and the people that were there were all geriatric.

The first 4 or 5 days were fine, walking around and using the buses on a €1.50 day-ticket to visit loads of interesting museums and old temple ruins.

Old money at the War Museum.

Ħaġar Qim – megalithic temple complex from 3600-3200 BC.
Breaking the rules by jumping the barrier. Gotta have fun some how.

Over those 4 of 5 days I’d seen everywhere and done everything that I wanted to see and do in Malta so my last couple of days of the week-long trip were really boring.

I had a decent time in Malta overall but I probably won’t be back any time soon. There are more exciting places in the world to visit. Still, it was 100x better than another week of miserable winter time in Scotland.

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Prague Trip Report

Over the first three weeks of December there were two major poker festivals in Prague, Czech Republic. It’s an inexpensive place for flights and accommodation so I settled down there for a few weeks with the intention of playing loads of side-events to gain some more live / MTT experience.

I had visited Prague before. When I started travelling 3 years ago it was my first stop, to celebrate the new year in style. Check out my trip report here. Back then I was a less experienced traveller and I took taxis everywhere, stayed in 5 star hotels and just generally pissed money away. What a noob!

Doing It Right

On this trip I learned how to use the awesome public transport system of buses, trams and metro that can get you anywhere quickly and easily. At the airport there’s a Public Transport kiosk. The girl there sold me a 90 minute ticket for 32 Crowns (€1.16 EUR / £0.97 GBP / $1.60 USD), told me which bus and metro train I needed to take, gave me a map and circled where to get on and off. It was all very simple and took me 50 minutes to get to my apartment. A taxi ride would have taken almost as long and cost me €40, or more if I had a scumbag rip-off-merchant POS airport taxi driver, which I probably would have as most airport taxi drivers around the world are POS rip-off-merchant scumbags.

Rather than piss money away by staying in a 5 star hotel again I chose to rent an apartment through airbnb. That’s always my preference for a long stay. For up to 5 night stays I still regularly book into hotels, but anything longer than that I want a place with more space, a kitchen where I can make myself omelettes or cereal at 4am and washing machine where I can clean my underwear for cheaper than it costs to buy new ones.

(Thrifty Scotsman Tip)

I found an apartment that was absolutely perfect and had dozens of positive reviews on airbnb. It was in the city centre right next to a tram stop, but on quiet street, about five times bigger than a hotel room, with a big office desk and nice leather office chair. There was even a high quality elliptical trainer machine in the living room, which was unusual but a very welcome addition, and a Playstation 3.

The total price for the apartment for 19 nights was to be €1,186 EUR (£990 GBP / $1,630 USD). That includes the 20% fee that airbnb takes from the guest (they also take another few percent from the host). However I noticed that the host had some personal details on his airbnb profile, so I did a bit of Google detective work and figured out his full name. I then went through loads of facebook profiles and eventually found the one that I was sure belonged to him. I sent him a facebook message, paying 18 British pennies to have it delivered to his inbox rather than “other”, asking him if we could cut out the middle man and do a deal privately, and also for a discount for a long stay. After some negotiation we settled on a price of €700 EUR (£584 GBP / $961 USD) for the entire stay, which I was pretty happy about. On my last trip to Prague I spent more than that to stay in a hotel room 1/5th the size for 1/4 the length of time.

One of the most important things I did the first day I got there was to buy a local SIM card. That meant I could have data on my phone, which meant that I could use Google Maps at any time, which meant that it was impossible to ever get lost. Google Maps is so awesome that it even tells you which tram to get on and when it leaves when you search for directions to a certain place.

A Czech SIM card also meant being able buy tram tickets on my phone, so no hunting for change and queuing at ticket machines.

Bargain accommodation, transport and finding my way around easily – a completely different experience to my previous visit to Prague.

Prague Championship II – Day 1

I wasted my first four days in Prague by sleeping 12 hours a day, eating junk food and playing video games. That’s one big disadvantage of staying somewhere for as long as 3 weeks, it’s just too easy to waste days when you’re feeling lazy. Whenever I go somewhere for five days or less I try to cram as much into those days as I can and rarely waste time.

Once I had found my energy I signed up for a tournament called Prague Championship II at the “other” Prague poker festival, i.e. not the PokerStars Eureka / EPT one. With it not being a PokerStars event that meant buying in with cash or bank transfer and getting screwed on the exchange rate rather than what I’m used to which is buying in through the PokerStars client with a few clicks, being able to have winnings credited straight to my account and getting the exact interbank exchange rates.

Prague is an especially annoying place to have to buy in with cash because the poker tournament buyins are in EUR and you can only withdraw money from ATMs in Czech Crowns. So you’d end up paying an exchange rate vig twice if you tried to make withdrawals from ATMs in order to buy in to tournaments.

(Thrifty Scotsman Tip)

Being a thrifty Scotsman, I did figure out a way to make a bank transfer from my GBP account to the organiser’s EUR bank account without getting screwed. If I tried to make the transfer with my bank I would be paying about 6% more than spot rate due to mark-up and transfer fees. Fortunately I found a service called TransferWise which is a bank transfer service that is kind of peer-to-peer behind the scenes. You make the transfer as normal through their site, say from GBP to EUR, and they wait (not very long at all) until other users make transfers in the opposite direction, from EUR to GBP, and they give each side spot rate on the transfers with only a tiny service fee that I think is just 0.5%, so 12 times cheaper than using my bank.

If you use my referral link for TransferWise you’ll get your first transfer up to £3,000 for free, so you will get spot interbank rates with zero mark-up at all. The TransferWise service should be especially useful for European poker players going to Vegas this summer who want to transfer large amounts to the Rio, or really any time you go to play poker somewhere in a foreign country that has a different currency to your bank accounts.

edit: I was informed by pro poker player ‘skolsuper’ that the Rio don’t accept 3rd party bank transfers, however it may be worth trying another casino like Wynn or Bellagio to get money across. He also confirmed that the Crown in Melbourne DO accept the transfers.

Prague Championship II started off well for me. The first big pot I played was when I flatted a late position raise with 74s on the button and the flop came J56. The original raiser bet and I called. It’s a great spot because not only can I make a straight on the turn but most of the time when he doesn’t have a pair he’ll check the turn and I can bet and take down the pot.

The turn was an A and he bet again for 1/3 of the pot. It’s a good card for him to barrel with his air but in this tournament of mainly inexperienced players, and him playing pretty tight so far, it’s more likely that he hit the A. It’s still a good spot to call because I’m getting very close to correct pot odds to call and the implied odds are huge. So I made the easy call and rivered a 3 like a pro to make the nuts. Such an easy game.

The bloke instantly lead out for half pot and I stared him down. He looked pretty comfortable so I made my raise size huge, way more than the pot, to make it look bluffy knowing that he had a hand he could find a call with. He took a quick glance at the board again, shrugged his shoulders and flicked it in while turning over AA for top set. When I showed him the nuts he looked at me like he just caught me in bed with his missus, oh dear!

I was in a good mood and feeling chatty as usual but nobody wanted to talk to me. My table was full of what I presume were mostly amateur players yet everyone was very quiet and looking absolutely miserable. I thought poker was supposed to be fun. Fortunately most of the dealers in the tournaments were hot chicks so I just sat there enjoying their prettiness.

This little red haired cutiepie was my favourite one.

Hot dealer. Cold players.

Midway into the day I was doing great with about 45 big blinds, which was waaaaay above average with it unofficially being a turbo structure. I was much more active than usual because my opponents were all very weak and letting me get away with stealing pot after pot. One player mentioned that he was “going to get me, eventually” or something but obviously that was nothing more than an idle threat.

After open raising and taking the blinds three times in row it was a real good spot for me to pick up AA under the gun. I raised then a bloke in middle position (the big fella in the photo above) shipped his stack in for 29BB and I was loving life. He showed ATo and life got even better as I was expecting him to have a pair with 20% equity. ATo is only like 9% against AA. The flop came down a rainbow 992 and his equity reduced to 0.3%. Never have I loved my life more. The bloke let out a huge sigh and started to get up from his seat but when the turn came T he showed a bit more interest. Obviously that was followed by another T on the river for a really nasty beat. F*** my life!

I just burst out laughing though. Bad beats like that never really hurt me, at least compared to when I donk my stack off making an outrageous bluff. I can’t control how the board runs out, so why stress over that. The fella said genuinely “Very, very sorry” to me and I told him “Don’t be! Feel very, very happy, you won!”

My stack was down to 5K in chips from the 10K starting stack and I started doing a lot of open-shoving and then shoving over raises, never getting called. One 30-minute level later I had spun it up to 30K without being all in and called. Amazing. Another level and I was up to 48K, just running over a table full of very weak players. Easy game.

In the latter half of the day I was dealt a card with a thumb nail mark in it. Every time I’ve seen this in live poker the marked card has been an ace. So I looked at the card, it was an ace, held it up and said “so which one of you is the scumbag marking the cards?”. Not a word from anyone but I narrowed it down to between two guys based on their reactions. Anyway, the floor changed the deck and I didn’t notice any marked cards after that, but just another reason why online poker >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> live poker.

On the very last hand of the day I picked up A4o in the HJ and raised. The BB (bloke with his hand over his mouth in the photo above) peeled and the flop came down 852. He checked, I bet and he called. The turn was a sexy 3 giving me a straight. He checked, I bet about 2/3 pot which was enough to leave me with a pot size bet for the river. I think that most hands he called the flop with he’s calling with on the turn also because it looks like a brick.

The river was a 7. He checked and I shoved for the size of the pot. He tanked for a very long time. In fact players at other tables had already bagged up their chips and left. I sat there holding my breath trying not to move, to look nervous. The last time someone called me because they said they had a live tell on me was Jack Salter in a UKIPT who said it was because I was too still. So I tried to emulate that. Eventually he called it off and was pretty tilted when he saw my straight. I had him just covered – happy days.

The day ended at around 6:30pm which was really early. It could easily have been a 1-day event, but the site that organised the event were taking their satellite qualifiers on some night out, so it was more like a 2 half-day event than a 2 day event. Pretty annoying but that site did bring a bunch of terrible players for me to play against so I guess they can run the event however they want.

I bagged up 111,700 chips which made me the clear chip leader. The guy second in chips had about 88K. 38 players remained from the starting field of 135 and 18 were getting paid. Average stack was 35k, which was 22BBs as we were going into level BB1,600 the next day.

Prague Championship II – Day 2

If day 2 went even just 25% as well as day 1 went for me I fancied my chances of finishing the tournament in one of the top spots. Unfortunately it went 0% as well, I won a total of 0 hands and I cashed for €0.

I lost about 30BBs by raising and getting shoved on, 3-betting other deep (relatively) stacked players and getting shoved on, betting flops that I missed and getting shoved on. Very annoying. Players were busting the tournament left, right and centre and there were soon only 22 players left, 4 from the bubble and there were 5-10BB stacks everywhere. That is when I speeeeeeeewed it off in outrageous fashion.

I had about 80K at BB2,000 and raised from MP with AJ of spades. The young lad to my immediate left who started the hand with about 90K called my raise and we saw a Ten high rainbow flop. I bet 7K into a pot of 12K and he called pretty quickly. The turn came the Queen of spades putting two spades on the board, giving me a flush draw and gutter. My standard line here would be to continue betting but I decided that if I checked he would bet most of the time with any pocket pair, ten that he flopped or whatever air he floated me with. So I thought check-shoving would be a good plan, getting him to fold most of the pocket pairs and Tx hands that are beating me, getting him to put more chips in with his floats and still having some decent equity when he snaps me off with something like a flopped set.

He ended up just betting 8.5K which was only 1/3 of the 26K pot. I was hoping he would go for more like 15K. At that point shoving 70K felt really spewy and I thought about just calling because I was getting good odds to try to hit my draw. But I couldn’t help myself. I counted his stack and then told him I was all in, pushing my stack of chips into the middle.

There were loud gasps from the whole table, half of whom were sitting with less than a quarter of the chips in the pot in front of them. The lad tanked for quite a while. If I was him I’d guess my value range in that spot to be mostly very strong hands like overpairs and better, and my bluffing range to be exactly what it is, mostly combo draws. When he calls with whatever hand he’s having to tank with and is wrong he’s crushed and when he calls and is right he’s still only like 2:1 to win. It’s a tough call to make near the bubble, given the stack size distributions, even if suspects I’m more weighted to a bluff in that spot.

I feel like most opponents when faced with someone taking an unconventional line that they’re not used to dealing with tend to air on the side of caution and take the lowest variance option, which is to fold. The longer he tanked the better I felt about it. Then he sighed and flicked it in.

He turned over AQo for top pair, top kicker and I was in trouble. The river was a blank and I was gone. From hero to zero. Chip leader to chip bleeder.

To say that I felt bad would be a massive understatement. I was so angry at myself. Even though it was a small tournament and the money was hardly life-changing, I had played so well to put myself in an incredible position, only to self destruct in one stupid hand, and for some reason I wasn’t able to just shrug it off like usual.

For the next two days I did what I normally do when I’m feeling miserable which is to binge eat. Since my apartment was only a one minute walk away from Hooters I was in there for every meal killing myself with fatty junk food. It’s was a decision that was about on par with punting off my chips in the tournament. Compounding one self-destructive mistake with lots more self-destructive, yet delicious mistakes.

Binge eating is a terrible habit. Still, looking on the bright side, it’s better than being a raging alcoholic or drug addict.

Eureka Prague

Two days after my horrible bustout in Prague Championship II I had to pick myself up in order to go to work on a cold Monday morning.

I was registered to play Day 1b of the Eureka Prague main event at the PokerStars Prague Festival at the Hilton.

(Thrifty Scotsman Tip)

For this event I was able to buy in with FPPs, an option available to all Platinum Star and above VIPs on PokerStars. If you value an FPP based on the best rate of cash bonus available then I was getting the €1,100 buyin for €1,052 worth of FPPs. Value. The cheaper price is probably due to exchange rate fluctuations as the FPP price is usually set way before the tournament date. It’s always worth checking if buying in with FPPs is good value if you have spare FPPs in your account and are about to buy in with cash.

The field was massive for a €1,100 event, with 1,315 players over the two Day 1’s and  €226,400 EUR for 1st.

I had a starting table right next to an empty table surrounded by dozens of expensive-looking cameras. I found out that it was going to host a special charity tournament that Rafa Nadal and Ronaldo would be playing and the cameras were there to produce some Matrix-like ‘bullet time’ effects for a documentary that was being filmed about Nadal learning poker.

Bullet time.

I didn’t recognise anyone at my starting table but quickly found out the guy on my right was ‘uWannaLoan?’ on PokerStars. He looked tired but happy and the reason for that quickly became clear. He told me that he was woken up by a telephone call from a guy that he stakes in online MTTs early that morning to say he was at the final table of the PokerStars Sunday Million $5,000,000 special – and he went on to win it. Must be nice, to wake up one morning and find out that you’re rich. He was a good lad with some decent chat which is more than could be said for the rest of the table who sat there silent for the entire day.

I started off well, increasing my stack from 20K to 30K by the first break thanks to winning a big pot with AA.

By the second break I was up to 40K thanks to check-calling 3 streets with 4s3s on a 2d4d5d-8h-2h board against a cocky guy in sunglasses who 3-bet me pre. Sunglasses dudes are like guys with beards – something to hide, always bluffing.

On the dinner break I went to a Czech restaurant called Gate near the Hilton which David Vamplew had recommended to me. A restaurant recommendation from a food connoisseur and thrifty Scotsman, I knew there was going to be a lot of value in this place. However I thought he may have been trolling me when he specifically recommended that I order the Cabbage Soup. The best thing on the menu apparently.

I was starving and Cabbage Soup still sounded really unappealing but I decided to have faith in my fellow Scotsman and ordered it. Thankfully I wasn’t getting trolled and my faith was rewarded with a lovely bowl of hot delicious soup. It was cheap as chips as well, just 51 Czech Crowns (€1.85 EUR, £1.52 GBP, $2.50 USD). So much value.

The main ingredients other than the cabbage were sausage, potatoes and sour cream as well as onion, garlic, paprika and sauerkraut. Full of flavour. Now, I’m no marketing expert but I think they should probably start calling it ‘Cream of Spicy Sausage and Potato Soup’ or something instead of ‘Cabbage Soup’, but I’m sure there’s a cool Czech name for it.

Unfortunately after returning to the tournament the deck was nowhere near as hot as cabbage soup and I started bleeding chips. On the last level of the day I had 14BBs at the 1,200 level. The UTG player limped and I shoved from the button with 33. He snap called with 66. Damn, he trapped me, well done!!!! And that was me gone and off to Hooters to drown my sorrows in a basket of chicken wings.

World SNG Masters

An interesting looking tournament at “the other” Prague poker festival was a SNG championship. The format was that you play 4 SNGs for points and the 18 players with the highest scores all cash and then play out a 2-table SNG for the rest of the money. Seemed like fun.

The payout structure of each SNG was very, very flat.

1st 12 points
2nd 10 points
3rd 8 points
4th 6 points
5th 5 points
6th 4 points
7th 3 points
8th 2 points
9th 1 point
No-show 0 points

So your equity at the start of each SNG is 5.66 points (average of all payout spots). The most points that you can finish with is only 12, effectively double the points that you started with, and you can only achieve that by winning it. You can’t lose all your equity as even finishing 9th gives you 17.65% of your starting EV.

Basically it’s the flattest payout structure of a SNG ever invented and doesn’t resemble any kind of SNG that’s available online. That’s fine though as whenever there’s a weird structure like this I feel like I’ll adapt to it better than my opponents.

The best way to adapt to this particular structure is to nit it up similar to a Double or Nothing, another type of flat payout structure SNG. The ICM tax on playing hands is huge.

For those who don’t know ICM what I’m saying is that if your starting equity is 5.66 points and you double up in the first hand then your equity is nowhere near 11.32 points. This should be easy to accept, as there’s 8 players remaining and you have to win the SNG to cash for 12 points.

Therefore the chips that you win are worth much, much less than the chips that you lose and you need to play accordingly. There’s little advantage in playing pots with weak hands. When you fold and other players are splashing around in pots and knocking each other out you are gaining equity by doing nothing.

An ICM comparison with different formats of SNGS. Starting with equity of 5.66 points and doubling up / knocking someone out in the first hand. :

Winner Take all – 11.32 Points (+ 100%)
Standard SNG (50/30/20 % payout) – 10.34 Points (+ 82.5%)
Double or Nothing – 8.5 Points (+ 50.2%)
World SNG Masters – 7.89 Points (+ 39.4%)

As you can see, doubling your stack in the first hand of the WSM structure only results in only a 40% increase in equity (from 5.66 to 7,89). When you lose, you lose 82.35% of your points equity (from 5.66 to 1).

I used that information to run the maths (using SNGWiz v2) on common SNG situations in preparation for the event.

As an example, if you are in the BB and the SB shoves with 11% of hands (that’s 55+, A8s+, A9+), you can only call with 1.4% (that’s QQ+). Even then, QQ is about break even and KK / AA are not profitable by much.

If they shove 100% of hands, you can only call with 3.5% (88+ and AKs), and again most of that is break-even and the big pairs aren’t hugely profitable calls.

So it doesn’t take a genius to work out that you just need to nit it up in the early levels, then when the blinds get bigger start stealing blinds from tight players who have an idea about ICM, or shoving over their raises.

SNG 1 – During the first SNG the organisers changed the payout structure so that only 9 players would get paid instead of 18. This was because of the low turnout of only 58 players. But 10 minutes later we were told that 18 players would still qualify for the final day two-table SNG, meaning it should be super easy to qualify for that by just running a bit above average in the SNGs. One old man who had bought in direct wasn’t happy that only 9 were getting paid, so even though he had already been playing and was stuck they allowed him to withdraw from the tournament with his buyin back.

The first SNG went well as I sat back and gained equity from other players busting each other. Two of the players were friends and I could hear them talking about how a certain hand was a “bad ICM call” so they were basically telling me that I could exploit the crap out of them from that point on by attacking their blinds and 3-betting them wide.

I ended up having a nice chiplead 4-handed but lost 4 hands where I shoved and was called by worse or a flip to finish 4th. Pretty frustrating.

SNG 2 – 8-handed I picked up KJs in the CO. UTG, a massive fish who had just doubled up by calling off his stack on the flop with a 9-high flush draw, limped and I raised to 4BBs. A short stack on the button called for 1/3 of his stack and UTG called.

The flop came down J84r, UTG checked and I checked believing the BTN would shove for his < 2/3 pot-sized stack when checked to, then I may get extra chips out of the fishy UTG player if he calls.

So I checked and BTN shoved, but then UTG re-shoved, having me well covered. I figured my hand to be very strong against a nutter’s range in that spot so I called. Unfortunately he had 84s for bottom two pair, Q turn, 8 river, so the short stack won the main pot with his Q8o and I busted in 8th for 2 points. Booooo.

It was probably a bad idea to play a pot with KJs against a lunatic given the ICM implications but I figured his limp-calling range would be super weak and I had post-flop positional advantage. Just didn’t work out though.

SNG 3 – I turned up on time to play my third SNG but just before cards were about to be dealt it was announced there would be a 2 hour delay because the board at the casino had the wrong times so there were a few players who didn’t show up. Bit of a farce, anyway I used the spare couple of hours productively by taking a trip to the Christmas market to binge on Trdelník, which is a kind of sweet pastry.

When we finally got the third SNG started I asked everyone at the table how many points they had so far. I figured that I’d be able to put more pressure on the players with good scores and that the players with few points would be playing to win.

After my poor result in the last SNG I figured that I would likely need a 1st and a 2nd in the remaining SNGs to secure a top 18 finish in the standings, so I pretty much ignored ICM and played to take it down.

After bossing the table I got heads-up with a tough opponent and ended up making things even tougher for myself by raking one of my big chips. I threw it into the pot and it bounced and fell into the tiny slot of the dealer’s rake box on the table. Nobody had the key for it so there was no way of me getting it back. Where’s WhoJedi when you need him?

Eventually they brought me a new chip and I went on to win the heads-up battle.

SNG 4 – After looking at the standings it looked like I would need a 2nd or possibly a 3rd to qualify. There were a bunch of players who had no chance to qualify but turned up to play because there was a small cash prize on the 4th SNG. Not enough to make them play good though so again I sat back and let everyone bust each other then started playing looser 4-handed.

I ended up winning this SNG too and finished 4th on the overall leaderboard.

Final 18

I started the final 18 fourth in chips as starting stacks were determined by leaderboard standings. I ran pretty bad but made the final table (and the money) joint 9th in chips.

Before the final table began we were given an hour for a dinner break. I was on my way out the door when I was stopped by a Microgaming employee who said that I’d have to take off my PokerStars patches for the final table as it was a Microgaming supported event and the final table would be streamed live on their website.

I told them no, that it wasn’t any concern of mine which site is supporting the event, I bought in with cash and didn’t sign any terms and conditions so I’ll wear what I want. That’s when she told me that if I didn’t take off or cover up the patches I wouldn’t be allowed to play.

As if that wasn’t enough, the lady pulled out a list of Microgaming skins and asked me to choose one that they could say that I qualified for the event on. “On the live stream we want to have the logo of each player’s site next to their name on the graphics, so we can say ‘this is Dale from….. whatever site your choose'”.

I laughed that off and told her that I have an exclusivity contract with PokerStars, I only play on PokerStars and even if I didn’t she still wouldn’t have my permission to associate my name with any of those Microgaming skins.

I wasn’t even worried about them linking me to one of their skins because it would have been so profitable to sue them if they did. What I was more concerned about was them telling me, not asking me, to remove my PokerStars patches and threatening to not let me play if I didn’t comply – because I certainly wasn’t going to comply.

After the dinner break the same lady asked me what I was going to do and I told her that I won’t take my patches of and I plan on playing my stack in this poker tournament that I bought in with cash through the casino and didn’t agree to any terms and conditions to play. So there was a long, long delay while all the organisers huddled together to figure out what to do.

After 20 minutes I was approached by a different man who said “sorry mate but I’m going to have to cover up your PokerStars patches” to which I replied “no you’re not!”. He said we wouldn’t be able to start the final table until my patches were covered, because of the live stream, and I just told him “no, I don’t believe you, stop trying to bully me.”.

Eventually they decided that since I was the joint shortest stack they would start the final table but only switch on the live stream after I busted out.

The table they used was awful and we were sitting in these high-chairs that meant you couldn’t tuck your legs under the table. Really uncomfortable. The table surface was solid, not felt, so it was really difficult to peel the hole cards.

All my opponents had been messaging their friends and family during the dinner break telling them that they were going to be on the live stream and I was preventing that from happening so I became a massive target. Everyone wanted to bust me. Every time I got all in it was a coin flip and I could feel every player and especially the organisers routing against me. Unfortunately for all of them all I did was win, win, win no matter what.

Meanwhile on the event blog……….

I’ve been called a lot of things before but never a “technical issue”.

We got down to 4-handed and were all almost even in chips.

It was a shallow blind structure and there were some big jumps in the payouts so when we went on break I suggested to everyone “why don’t we just chop it up evenly and walk away? We’d all get 2nd place money.”.

Everyone snap-called. I told the organisers and they said it was fine. They checked their rules and there was nothing to say we had to leave any money on the table to play for. Unfortunately they decided that they wouldn’t officially help us with the deal and that we’d have to play it out, get our prizes and then sort the money out between ourselves.

My read was that these guys could be trusted but when we resumed play I decided to just fold my way to heads up so that I’d at least be getting 2nd place payout and nobody could screw me over. It also meant that they wouldn’t be able to turn on their live steam at all.

In the first few hands chips went flying into the pot and I was heads up with a 3-1 chip disadvantage. It would have been nice to win the trophy but I lost my first coinflip of the final table and busted. Ahhh, at least I waited until there was no money on the line to lose a flip.

4-way chop.

The organiser lady was quite nice to me after the tournament was over. No hard feelings. I got a nice payout and cool story for my blog so I was happy. 🙂

EPT Prague Live Stream

I was asked to be a guest commentator for the live stream of the EPT Prague final table. I was quite nervous about doing it because it’s a situation I’ve never been in before.

I come in at the 2h43m mark. Watching it back it was like listening to someone else speak. I just wasn’t myself and any time they asked me a technical question I was scared to say much for fear of embarrassing myself in front of the bazillions of viewers. Hopefully I’ll do better if I get another chance to do commentary.

Tourist

I had a few days left in Prague and hadn’t done any sightseeing at all. I hadn’t played much poker either, only three tournaments, but decided to get outdoors and do stuff with my remaining time.

I spent a day at Prague Castle. There’s loads of stuff to see there including a massive cathedral with incredible stained glass windows, a museum, art gallery and a lane of old houses that have been preserved.

I visited the Museum of Communism that has a bunch of cool old s***.

I also spent an afternoon buzzing around Prague on a Segway for three hours which was awesome fun, although they forced me to wear a helmet.

I made some new friends that day, Tati and Leo from Miami. That’s the best thing about travelling, getting to meet new and awesome people. We spent the next couple of days hanging out in Prague and going for meals in local restaurants that sold traditional Czech food.

Despite not doing as much or playing as much poker as I planned to I’d still rate my trip to Prague as a success. I got to spend three weeks living in another country, seen some cool stuff, made a bit of money, got more live poker experience, made new friends, hung out with old friends and had a lot of fun.

Prague photo gallery:

I flew back to Edinburgh a couple of days before Christmas. The first time I’ve been home for Christmas since 2010. Who would believe that Edinburgh was even colder than Prague? I went straight into hibernation mode until it was time to go to Bahamas for the PCA!

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UKIPT Nottingham 6-Max Trip Report

Just a few weeks after returning from the Isle of Man I was packing my bags for yet another poker trip. I made my first ever visit to Nottingham to play the final UKIPT event of 2013.

Considering that Notts is the home of the largest card room in Europe, Dusk Till Dawn, it’s crazy that I hadn’t been there until now. I’d heard nothing but good things about the club from fellow poker players so my expectations were high.


Hooters

Before I travelled there I asked my Twitter followers to suggest some popular non-poker related things to do in Nottingham. The most popular suggestion was Grand Theft Auto. No, not the video game! Second was Hooters, the only branch in the UK of an American restaurant where young, hot girls with large breasts and revealing outfits serve you delicious junk food. I am rather partial to boobs and binge eating so it sounded like a winner.

I had barely unpacked my suitcase before I headed over there with the three skinniest guys that I could find – Neil Raine, Tim Davie and David Docherty. A plan that worked out well as I was able to consume way more than my fair share of chips with cheese and gravy and the onion rings that we ordered to share.

I was quick to suggest that we played credit card roulette for the bill. I can’t remember losing one of these in years so I’m always up for it, knowing that even if I lose this one I’ll still be so ridiculously ahead lifetime that it doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, DD wanted to buy out, stating “Sorry to be such a nit guys but I’ve lost the last 5 out of 6 and I just know I’m going to lose!”, but we were somehow able to convince him to join in.

I got heads up with DD so given our records it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Neil had our cards in each hand under the table. DD got to choose left of right. “LEFT”. I got to choose pays or doesn’t pay. “ehhhhhh……………….. PAYS”. Neil whips out a blue card that doesn’t belong to me and DD shouts “6 out of f****** 7, this is a bloody joke!”

I reminded him though that he got to make 3 of his friends very happy and if you look at it that way you’re never a loser when you play CCR. Cheers for the dinner David. 🙂

Main Event

For the first time ever the main event of a UKIPT stop was played 6-handed. A £500,000 guarantee was placed on this tournament and for the third time in the last four UKIPT main events there was an overlay. This time they were 42 players short so that’s £42,000 in extra value for the players who did attend.

I guess the lower than expected turnout was partly due to it being so soon (only a few weeks) after UKIPT Isle of Man, so there was less time for people to satellite in and maybe people didn’t fancy another poker trip so soon. The fact that it was 6-handed rather than full ring could possibly have put off some of the more casual players from coming, but I’m not sure how big a factor that was.

As a player the extra value is always nice and the event organisers, while I’m sure they would like to hit the guarantees, don’t seem worried about paying out the overlays so I don’t think it’s going to affect the sustainability of the tour or future guarantees.

I was very impressed with the Dusk Till Dawn club. They’ve got a lot of things right such as poker tables with no “legs”, just the middle base, comfortable chairs, hooters-style girls serving drinks and plasma screens everywhere showing sports games. The piss basins in the toilets are plentiful so no queuing to take a leak on breaks and they provide free deodorant and mouth wash so that smelly poker players don’t need to stink up the table with their smelliness.

At my starting table I had 5 opponents that I didn’t recognise and a whole lot of legroom. I was feeling pretty good about my chances but as we started playing it was clear that there were some good players at the table. I didn’t find out who they were until later.

The guy on my left was Jermone Bradpiece who’s been a tourney grinder for years. To his left was EPT and Sunday Warm-Up winner Zimnan “Zimmy86” Ziyard and the pretty little Asian girl who played like a beast was CaiCai Huang who is well known and respected in the local poker scene. I’d say there was only one player at our table that I’d regard as “not very good”. Not exactly a great spot when playing a UKIPT.

I didn’t get off to a great start. I got coolered pretty hard in a few spots and lost a lot of chips to Zimmy by 3-barrel bluffing with the bare Ace of Hearts as a nut flush blocker. That move never works in PLO so I have no idea why I thought it would work here. Turns out he check-called me down with an open-ender and hit top pair on the river. So that didn’t work out well for me.

At the BB300 level I had just 8,300 chips remaining from the 20,000 starting stack. I was sitting in the BB with 77 when a man who had sat down a couple of orbits ago raised UTG to 700. The HJ folded and the CO, BTN and SB all called the raise pretty quickly. When they called so fast and didn’t even consider 3-betting I immediately discount premium hands from their range. They’re never trapping.

With a pot of 10bbs, I felt like shoving 28bb there with sevens was a +ev move. Although I did consider taking the lower variance route of flatting to set-mine.

I chose to make the shove and the man called very quickly for 2/3 of his stack. I knew right then what he had. If he had AK he would likely have re-shoved for his full stack. It’s a tell I see online all the time. Not that I can do anything about it when I’m the one with my chips already in the pot. Everyone else mucked real fast and he flipped over AA and held. GG.

After the tourney I ran the hand through a push/fold calculator (icmizer) to calculate the net expected value of shoving 77 in that spot. It’s a good idea to review these kind of situations regularly, as they regularly occur when you play tournaments.

(I’m not saying these are the ranges that these players should have in this spot, only that these are the ranges that I believe they do have in this spot.)

I put UTG on an opening range of 13% (22+,ATs+,AJo+,KTs+,KQo,QJs,JTs,T9s) and calling it off with 3% (JJ+,AK). I think TT would be a tough decision for him. Online I wouldn’t expect him to fold TT or 99 but live is a bit different, the average bloke travelling to an event is going to call it off a bit tighter.

For the other players who called the UTG raise I put them on a range that I thought each of them would flat based on how they were playing. There wasn’t any chance in my mind that any of these players hadn’t 3-bet AK and AA-QQ so I removed those hands. There were two hands that went to showdown where the pre-flop 3-bettor had TT and 99 so I’m not even sure about JJ-99 being in their calling ranges, but it’s possible given that the raise was from UTG and he was new to the table.

I put the CO on 11% (JJ-22,AQs-ATs,AQo,AJo,KTs+,KJo+,QTs+,JTs). Calling my shove with 1% (JJ, TT)

BTN on 15% (TT-22,AQs-ATs,AQo,AJo,KTs+,KQo,Q9s+,QJo,J8s+,JTo,T8s+,97s+,86s+,75s+,65s). Calling the shove with just the TT, 0,5%.

SB on 18% (TT-22,AQs-A2s,AQo,AJo,K9s+,KQo,Q8s+,J8s+,T7s+,97s+,86s+,75s+,64s+,53s+,42s+,32s). Calling with 1.2% (TT,99,AQs).

If I’ve put my opponents on accurate ranges then shoving any two cards is +ev, although just by 0.5 – 1bb / +1.5% – 3.5% of my stack, for the bottom 30% or so of hands. This is based on chip ev, not $ ev based on ICM. In any non-‘winner take all’ payout structure the chips that you lose are worth more than the chips that you win. The impact of ICM isn’t so important this early in the tournament but it’s enough that I wouldn’t make any shoves that would only be +3% chip ev.

As for 77, a shove earns me an expected value of +986.6 chips (over 3BBs and a 12% increase on my stack) compared to folding. Clearly a profitable move.

Of course I’m never folding so what really matters is if shoving is more or less profitable than calling preflop to set-mine. I’m not sure about that as it’s hard to calculate what the ev of calling is with so many different things that can happen in a five-way post-flop hand.

When I shove I will either win the pot and increase my stack by 40%, which will happen most of the time, or lose all my chips most of the time that I’m called, making it a high variance play. If I’m still playing after this hand (won preflop or got called and won) then I have a bigger stack that I can use better to accumulate more chips. We were soon to move to BB400 so increasing my stack to 11,250 (28bb) when I take it down pre or 19,200 (48bb) gives me a stack I can open a lot of hands with compared to a < 20bb stack.

When I set mine I only hit my set 12% of the time (maybe a bit more since there’s not that many 7s in the range of the eight cards that my opponents hold), but when I do hit I will likely win more chips than are in the middle, and when I don’t hit I only lose the extra 300 chips I put in preflop. It’s the low variance play, but 88% of the time I’m going to be left with just 7,675 chips, which after moving into the BB400 level will only be 19bbs. I’d end up having to ship my stack in pre-flop with a fairly wide range at some point after that, only with a wider range and less fold equity given my shallower stack. I may as well make the shove here and now with 77.

As soon as the man turned over AA I said to myself “damn, I knew I should have flatted” and was beating myself up for a few hours afterwards for not doing that. But it’s easy to be results oriented in these situations. Having taking the time to think analyse the hand rationally I think shoving is clearly the best play.

Nottingham Castle

Since there was no Day 2 of the main event for me I decided to spend the afternoon visiting Nottingham Castle, which isn’t actually a castle but a 17th century ducal mansion that’s built on the rock where the medieval castle used to stand. The mansion is now a massive museum and art gallery with some cool stuff, it’s well worth a look around.

More impressive than the mansion for me were the labyrinth of medieval man-made caves and tunnels that run beneath the castle. I was given a tour of them by a bloke who had loads of cool stories to tell about their history.

Players Party

On the Saturday night there was a big party for all the players with an open bar and big tent set up next to the bar in Dusk Till Dawn. It was decent…… until Devilfish took over the mic and started singing. GTFO Devilfish.

Daleroxxu, xxCelticFCxx, J-Rod Fett. – Photo © Danny Maxwell

After the party a gang of us went to what is apparently the best night club in Nottingham. I felt like the chances of a group of 20 lads getting into such a place at about 1:30am on a Saturday night were pretty slim. Most of us were wearing trainers. One of the Scottish lads was even wearing tracksuit bottoms and another Scot, the degenerate Kyle Maguire was literally rocking out with his cock out in the Dusk Till Dawn parking lot as we waited for taxis. You can take the lads out of  Scotland but…….

However Rob Yong, the owner of DTD, said to us “Don’t worry lads, just tell them you’re from Dusk Till Dawn, it’ll be no bother”. And right enough, we all got there, spilling out of taxis and the bouncers were like “no chance lads” then we told them we were from Dusk Till Dawn and we all got in and didn’t even have to pay the cover charge. Result.

Inside was an absolute riot. Every inch of the ground was slippery and wet with spilled drinks. There was nowhere to move. We asked for a table / bottle service and they gave us two tables that were under the stairs, so if you stood up you’d hit your head. People kept trying to cut through our table area as a short cut and I had drinks spilled on me five times. People were getting thrown out of the club left, right and centre (none from our group, somehow). Then I was standing having a conversation with Jake Cody when right beside us this huge big heffer of a girl just punched and knocked down a pretty blonde girl and it took three big bouncers to get her fat ass up the stairs and out the club.

Galleries of Justice

I intended to play the PLO event the day after the party but woke up late and spent what was left of the afternoon visiting the Galleries of Justice. It’s a museum at Nottingham Shire Hall which had been a courtroom, jail and place of executions since the 14th century.

There are character actors at several points in the museum, starting with a Sheriff of Nottingham who takes you into the old courtroom (that was still used until fairly recently) for a mock trial. It sounds like it would be quite cheesy but the actors are incredibly talented and charismatic so it was really entertaining. The cells in dungeons are laid out how they would have been back when they held prisoners waiting to be tried, tortured or executed.

One of the actors decided to shut the door behind me and lock me inside in the pitch dark. Fun..

Side Event

I played the last side event of UKIPT Nottingham at the same time as the final table of the main event was being played. We only got 45 runners and it was very, very soft. I had a few people completely punt their stacks off to me, then I got moved to a table with Simon Deadman and Jamie Sykes who are far too good to be playing in a small buyin side event. They had stuck around an extra night before driving back to Leeds so decided to jump in the game before going home together.

Jamie and I busted around 17th place and food is always my first thought after busting a tournament, so that’s what we did. I found a nice family run French restaurant that was doing Christmas dinners even though it was only December 2nd. I hadn’t had a Christmas dinner since 2010 as I was living in Thailand since then and didn’t do anything for Christmas at all.

It was a nice way to end my trip to Nottingham, a lovely candlelit dinner with a handsome gentleman. We had turkey with all the trimmings which was very delicious, and slightly healthier than Hooters food.

The next UKIPT is in Edinburgh from January 16th. This is the one that I want to win the most as it’s my home event and it’s on my birthday. See you there.

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UKIPT Isle of Man – Trip Report


PokerStars recently hosted their first official home game on the small Island in the Irish Sea that they call home – the Isle of Man. The week long festival was the newest addition to the UK and Ireland Poker Tour.

There was a lot of excitement in the run up to UKIPT IOM. I’d heard from the people I know at PokerStars that they were pulling out all the stops to make it a very special event. For the first time ever PokerStars staff had been given permission to play in a PokerStars tour main event and Team PokerStars players from all over the world were flying in to attend.

I believe that I had the longest journey out of everyone. I wanted to be there so much that in one day I travelled for 22 hours over 3 flights all the way from Thailand.

When my plane touched down on the Isle late at night the only thing on my mind was sleep. I was completely exhausted. Thankfully on the Isle of Man, population 84,000, things run extremely smoothly. My suitcase was on the baggage carousel a few minutes after I disembarked the plane and less than a minute later I was in a car being driven to my hotel, the Sefton, by a friendly local Manx bloke.

I had one of the longest sleeps of my life and woke up to a beautiful view of the Douglas beach-front and promenade from the large bay windows in my room.

VIP Club Live

It was the first day of the UKIPT Isle of Man festival but I decided not to play the opening tournament, instead choosing to attend the VIP Club Live party that evening. VIP Club Live are events held all over the world exclusively for PokerStars VIPs who can purchase a ticket with FPPs. Supernova and Supernova Elite players attend for free.

PokerStars hired out the very upmarket Salt Bar & Kitchen for the evening, with all the food and drink completely free until midnight. I quit drinking alcohol a few months ago so it pained me to pass up on the value of free drinks. However, if I’m honest, I probably ate enough food to make up for it. 🙂

I attended the event with my Team Online colleagues Andre ‘acoimbra’ Coimbra, Mickey ‘mement_mori’ Petersen, Alex ‘Kanu7’ Millar and Felix ‘xflixx’ Schneiders.

Team PokerStars Online –  © René Velli

There I am with my glass of Diet Coke while the rest of the guys hold their champagne glasses. I’m still the coolest though.

The party had a fun and friendly atmosphere and was a great opportunity to meet dozens of people who are behind the screen names that I compete against online, as well as senior PokerStars staff and one really cool magician.

The magician walked around the bar performing some neat tricks in front of groups of people. I was amazed at how good his slight-of-hand was. Pretty scary actually. I made sure to take a good mental photograph of his face, just in case he ever sits down in a poker game with me, then I will know that it’s time to leave.

Ramsey

The next day I had a spare afternoon so took a ride on the old electric train with my Team Online friend acoimbra’s girlfriend Karterina while acoimbra himself was busy donking off all his chips on Day 1a of the UKIPT main event. 😉

I enjoyed the 1 hour and 15 minute ride up to Ramsey in the rickety old wooden train carriage and it was a nice way to see some more of the Isle of Man while sitting on my arse. The train line runs all the way up the coast so there was some great scenery.

The Laxey Wheel

Ramsey is a nice little town but we only had enough time to wander around a bit and grab some food for the journey back to Douglas.

I can’t say I enjoyed the trip back as much as I did the trip there. It was much colder and darker by then and I’d already seen all the scenery. As I sat shivering I could see cars pass us at about 3x the speed we were trundling along at. Really should have taken a taxi back, but you live and learn.

Back in Douglas, there was just enough daylight left to enjoy some time at the beach.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Poker School

That evening I attended a special event that PokerStars were hosting for their business partners on the island. They invited staff from many of the companies that they work with to come to the UKIPT venue to learn about poker and have a friendly game with myself, Barry Greenstein, Felix Schneiders, Fatima De Melo and Lee Jones coaching them.

Yet again there was free drink at this event, so yet more value that I missed out on due to being on the wagon. You all know how much a Scotsman loves his drink and never passes up on value.

I asked for an orange juice and the barlady looked at me and sternly asked “Are you part of this event?”. I told her that I was and she looked me up and down and asked me if I was sure. LOL. This was most probably due to the fact that all the attendees of the event were dressed in smart suits and I was dressed in jeans and a Buggs Bunny t-shirt, so she thought I was just some random poker player trying to blag a free drink.

After she handed me the juice I trolled her by saying “only kidding, I just wanted some free juice”, which earned me a look of death and made it really difficult for my Team Online buddy Felix, who was next in line, to get a bottle of water, which were free in the tournament area anyway. He got the same grilling “are you sure you’re part of this event?” “THIS event, are you sure?”. Funny stuff.

15 minutes later after clearly standing mingling with the businessmen and women I had finished my orange juice and went back to the bar to ask for a bottle of water. The same barlady said to the barman next to her “A bottle of water for the lad, and it’s on the event tab”, to which he asked “what, for HIM?”. I guess some people might get offended at something like that but I just burst out laughing.

Kind of ridiculous to get judged on how you look. I could be some Mark Zuckerberg type multi billionaire business man for all they know. Thankfully it seemed to be just me and Felix that got that treatment, the other attendees all looked the part so they were safe.

After the drinks reception there was a poker introduction seminar from Lee Jones then we alI sat down to play poker for a couple of hours, with a pro at each table. I sat at a table with 8 staff from a bank that work with PokerStars. Only one of them had ever played poker before but within half an hour everyone knew what they were doing and were having fun.

Barry Greenstein giving lessons. © René Velli

It was a pleasure to be able to introduce new people to the game that I love and it was great to see how enthusiastic they were about poker. They were asking me loads of questions and telling me how interesting and impressive it was that I play poker for a living. These are people who are dealing with billions of dollars of real money each day, fascinated by my tales of 20-tabling $100 SNGs. I asked them why and a lady said “That’s your own money you’re risking. We’re dealing with other people’s money”. So that makes sense I guess. 🙂

After the event Felix and I spent the rest of the evening at Team Online manager Chris’s apartment for a little Team Online get-together. That’s where we met Ike Haxton, his wife Zoe and VIP Events manager Dylan for the first time. All fantastic people and we had some great chats and delicious pizza.

It was the first time I was around a large bunch of poker players who didn’t spend the whole time talking about poker. Everyone there had very strong personalities and many interests outside of poker so they were great people to spend an evening with.

Main Event Day 1b

On my third day on the island I finally got the chance to play some real poker, in the £1,100 main event. The event was held at the Villa Marina in the massive theatre, with the stalls replaced with poker tables and the main stage set up for the feature table. It was a really nice set up.

There were free bottles of water at this event which is a big plus for me. I drink close to a bottle per hour when I’m at the table. It may seem like a small thing but the difference between paying £1.50 per bottle of water and getting it free at a poker event is the difference for me between feeling “looked after” or not.

Talking about being looked after, the extra £121,000 overlay on the main event was pretty sweet. They needed 500 players to meet the £500,000 guarantee but only got 379 runners. I asked the people who were running the event whether they really expected 500 players to show up, or if it was an ambitious target. I was told that the event wasn’t about meeting guarantees or making money, it was all about showing off their product to the Isle of Man and giving the players a well run and great value tournament to participate in. Judging it by that criteria it was a huge success.

As I sat down at my starting table I recognised a few familiar faces. Never a good thing. On my direct right was fellow Scotsman Alan Gold, who I’d played with at the feature table at UKIPT Galway, which he went on to win, as well as tourney regs Simon Deadman and Charles Chattha. It was a friendly table with some good chat, which is what you need when you’re sat there for 8 hours.

I got off to a solid start, grinding my stack up to 30K from the 20K starting stack. My first big pot came in the fifth level when I turned a set with 99 on a K86-9 board. It looked like a great card for me, but not so much when all the chips went in the middle and a gentleman turned over T7o. I had him covered though so I was still left with 15K. With the blinds at BB400 it was nothing to panic about.

My next big pot came an hour later when I got AK all in against Charles Chattha’s A4s preflop for a 25K pot. King on the flop, but he went runner-runner flush and I was crippled, down to 7K. To make things worse we soon went into the next level with the blinds up to BB800.

I managed to spin it back up to 25K only to get it in with AQs against Simon Deadman’s 88. He flips better than me so I was crippled yet again. Down to only 5K this time. I tried to make another comeback but they just wouldn’t double me up and I ended the day with a bowl stack of 7,700 chips to go into Day 2, starting at BB1,000.

Halloween Party

Straight after the last level of the day the players party began at nearby Tahiko nightclub. Again it was an open-bar with free drinks, including cocktails. So much value lost as I sipped on water and soft drinks all night, but hey, I felt great the next morning.

The party had a Halloween theme with a full UKIPT Nottingham package to be won for whoever Jake Cody decided was best dressed. Jake himself came as Batman, but since the mask was too tight for his big noggin he didn’t wear it. Therefore he just looked like he was a really ripped dude wearing a tight t-shirt.

Most people, my self included, didn’t dress up. Poker players can be really lazy and useless when it comes to making an effort for anything that isn’t playing poker. That just meant that there was more value in the competition for those who did make the effort. Acoimbra came dressed in a suit though so either he did make the effort and came in a businessman costume or he may have confused “fancy dress” with “dress fancy”. 🙂

The winner of the Notts package was Calum Morrissey, a footballer in the Isle of Man national team. His latex zip-face and playing card stab wounds were very impressive.

It was a fun party and another great chance to hang out with my Team Online buddies, Team Pro, PokerStars staff and all the players from the UKIPT.

After the party, I was back in the hotel and fast asleep for 4 hours when the absolute loudest fire alarm in the world went off. Since the whole of the Sefton hotel had been booked out for PokerStars pros and media it was hilarious seeing all these familiar faces walking outside at “stupid o’clock” in the morning to stand in the freezing cold street.

PokerStars Blog writer Brad Willis blogged about it, saying how surprising it was that everyone was fully dressed and smiling. What Brad may not have considered is that everyone was still up and drunk from the night before. 🙂

Main Event Day 2

I entered Day 2 with a 7,700 chip stack at the BB1,000 level, looking for a spin up. I was sat at a tough table that consisted almost entirely of pro players including Max Silver and Simon Deadman (again). I wasn’t worried about getting outplayed though at that point because having played a gazillion SNGs I’m pretty good at knowing when to shove my short stack in. Lots!

Things started very well. I shoved 22 from middle position and Simon Deadman made an effortless call in the small blind. I sighed and said “turn over Ace Jack” to which he looked shocked, laughed and then turned over Ace Jack. If I’m lucky enough to guess his hand then I’m lucky enough to win the flip, and that I did.

I shoved my stack around a bit, accumulating some more chips, then picked up KK, shoved over an open, and was called by 55. I held and I was up to 36.5K in less than an hour. What a great start to the day.

Unfortunately I didn’t win another pot after that. I raise-folded a couple of times, then with 30K at the BB1,200 level (25 big blinds) I made the mistake of trying to make a move on Max Silver. It was folded to me on the cutoff with KTo and I minraised Max’s big blind. He asked me how much I had then 3-bet me.

I’d played with Max for a full day in Galway. He 3-bet the life out of me that day and I didn’t play back at him as much as I should have. I thought he was raising me in that spot with a range weighted to hands that he was 3-bet-folding as a bluff, so I shoved the KTo only to be snap-called by his AKo and it was game over for me.

I asked some tourney regulars who I respect what they thought of the hand and the general conscientious was that it’s fine / OK. But when I asked Max himself later he thought it was atrocious. “I’m just never light 3-betting from the big blind as most people are, I call the minraise there with a lot of the hands that people are 3-betting.”. He does call a lot from the big blind, but I’m not sure that I believe that he’s never 3-bet bluffing in that spot, but regardless, he’s probably not 3-bet folding there enough for my shove to be profitable so I accept that I made a bad play.

I spent the rest of the day in my hotel room playing video games and eating cookies. That’s what I like to do after a bustout. In the evening I met up with Team Online buddies for a wee night out at a bar for some food and cocktails. Some people would find it weird being the only sober person in a situation like that but to be honest my “normal” is like most people’s drunk so it works out quite fine.

5K Run

I woke up the next morning feeling great and started the day off with a 5K run that Lee Jones had organised. This is the kind of thing I would miss out on if I was out drinking the night before. Heck, if I’d been drunk the night before I’d likely have spent the whole of the following day in bed, never mind get outdoors and run.

The weather we had was fantastic (by November in Isle of Man standards) and many of my favourite PokerStars staff and Team Pros had turned out to get their share of fresh air and exercise. It was good to see so many poker players do something positive for their health and all support each other while doing it.

Lee Jones wrote an excellent blog about the 5K run where he mentioned how much better poker players are at looking after their health now compared to back when he first started in poker.

I ran the course beside Aeden Jenkins, who works for Full Tilt, and Liv Boeree. I thought thought that I was going to slow those guys down as Aeden had told me that he’d just run a double marathon a couple of weeks ago and Liv looks very much in shape. However the three of us stuck together for the duration of the run, all the way along the Douglas Promenade, up a steep hill to PokerStars HQ, and all the way back again.

Standing on the promenade, cheering us on was PokerStars CEO Mark Scheinberg and many of the locals gave us smiles and waves as we ran by.

After we’d completed the 5K I’d barely gotten my breath back when I looked up and noticed that Aeden had sprinted off with Leo Margets to run the course all over again. I knew he was holding back the whole time.

There was a wide variation in the fitness levels of all who attended but nobody treated it like a race and everyone supported each other. It was nice to see and another reminder that PokerStars chooses truly awesome people as staff and sponsored pros. It feels just like a family and one that I’m extremely proud to consider myself a part of.

Pot Limit Omaha

After the run I felt fantastic. I had a quick shower then late-registered for the PLO side event. Omaha is so much more fun to play than Hold’em and this was a really enjoyable tournament with loose action.

With less than half of the players remaining I was moved to a new table with my nemesis Max Silver sitting directly to my left. He had me well out-chipped, so had an opportunity to bust me from 2 tournaments in 2 days. And that’s what nearly happened.

I was in the small blind with KQJTss and practically the whole table limped. I potted it for a third of my stack and then Max re-potted it from the big blind. Looking back, in that spot it would have been better if I had raised to 1/4 of my stack preflop instead of potting it for 1/3 of my stack.

Max has told me several times about how much of a live fish I am when it comes to things like stacking chips, protecting my hand, acting out of turn etc. but this was his turn to make a noob mistake. After he jammed, everyone folded to me and before I even did anything he turned over his hand, showing AAA4ss. What a noob.

I’m pretty good with Omaha preflop equities so I knew I had about 40% against his hand and it was an easy call. Even if I didn’t see his hand, I’d have called because I imagine that I have about 35% equity against his range there. Although I guess if you factor in ICM it would be close. The tournament had 22 players left with 8 paid. I don’t think you can make calculations based purely on chipEV at that stage, you need a little bit more equity to call it off than you do in a cash game, and the closer you get to the bubble the more extra equity you need.

The only way I would have folded is if I’d seen his cards and they were something like AAQJds that had me suit dominated, then I’d be around 25% against that hand and could make a correct laydown.

So I called it off and made a straight. Easy game.

From there I coasted into the money and with 7 players remaining Max and I got all in again. We got all the money in on a turn card that gave me the nut broadway straight and him the nut flush draw. It was another chance for him to bust me from two tourneys in two days, but this time, with the stacks being equal it was also a chance for me to get revenge on him and even the scores. Thankfully my hand held. He seemed pretty pleased overall though because that 7th place finish took him to the top of this season’s UKIPT Leaderboard.

I ended up coming 4th when I bluffed my chips off to a man. With a 15BB stack I raised from the CO with QTT9ss and was called by the BB. The flop came QQ5 with two clubs and I checked it back feeling that I was unlikely to get worse hands to call and it also disguises the strength of my hand so I can get value from it on later streets. The turn was a 6 of clubs, making a flush possible, and again, either I’m way ahead or way behind with my trip queens with ten kicker. I checked back.

The river was a J, making the board QQ5-6-J with three clubs. My opponent lead out for 3/4 pot. The way I’ve played my hand it looks like something with showdown value that isn’t that strong. If I had no hand on the flop I’d likely have c-bet. I felt it was more likely that this player was value betting something like a flush rather than trying to bluff me off an overpair, and I have a Q blocker so I chose to raise it and represent a full house rather than call or fold. I moved all in. I think it’s tough for him to call without the nuts there, especially as I had a very tight image up until then, always showing down very strong hands.

Anyway he snap called and showed QJ65. He flopped the nuts, turned bigger nuts and rivered even bigger nuts. Must be nice. It felt pretty bad to play for 9 hours only to give someone my chips so easily but I don’t have any regrets. I think you need to be making strong plays like that to be a good Omaha player.

After the PLO tourney I took my laptop to the media room where PokerStars pros were given exclusive access. The internet in our hotel was a bit sketchy and it was the Red Spade open that night so it was important that we all turned out to play.

While I was playing my tourneys I was rubbing my shoulder as it felt a bit strained, having sat at a poker table for 9 hours straight. Lee Jones walked in and asked me what was wrong then stood behind me massaging my neck and shoulders for 10 minutes while I played on PokerStars. What a good guy. I remember years ago reading a cool story about Lee sending pizzas to player’s houses but never could I have imagined that one day I’d have Lee himself massage me while I played on PokerStars on a Sunday night.

Final Day

On the final day I was given a private tour of the PokerStars HQ by Christin who runs PokerSchoolOnline. I’d been there before a few years ago but it was another good chance to talk to all the staff and ask them about their role at PokerStars and what they were working on.

It’s quite a laid back atmosphere there with a smart-casual dress code. The finance types are more towards the “smart” end of that spectrum whereas the techies are more casual. Especially the product development team who even have a massive Grand Theft Auto V poster on the wall of their room. That’s the team who have been working for the last couple of years on PokerStars 7, the new version of the PokerStars client that’s due for release next year.

There was a huge buzz in the office as the final table of the UKIPT main event had just started and was being streamed live on big screens and people’s monitors. Team Online manager Chris had made the final table so everyone was rooting for their colleague.

I got to walk around the office asking people about their roles at PokerStars. The most fun sounding jobs were the security guys as it sounds like exciting detective work. There are even resources dedicated to stopping people from multi-accounting play money accounts to dump chips and sell them. They are on top of it all. Basically if you’re ever thinking of doing something shady related to an online poker site I would say that PokerStars would be the absolute nut worst site that you could possibly try to do it on.

Some of the cool perks that staff get are unlimited free cans of juice and chocolate bars, so I couldn’t help but indulge in that.

Steve Day, who those of you who listen to the TwoPlusTwo PokerCast will be familiar with, was off sick so I made myself comfortable at his desk with some Sprite and Twixes.

SteveD’s desk.

There’s also cafeteria in the office that’s open all day and serves healthy hot food. It looked like a full large meal was around £4 and Christin said that staff are given a £3 per day allowance towards anything they buy there.

After meeting the staff at the HQ I felt even better about PokerStars than I did before I walked through the door. There’s a lot of very smart people working there who are focused on making it an even more fun and safe site to play on than it already is.

After the tour I went back to the Villa Marina to rail the final table which had Team Online manager Chris and Team PokerStars SportStar Fatima de Melo competing for glory.

As we railed it was announced that there was free pizza and beer for everyone. There must have been no fewer than 30 boxes with delicious pizzas of various toppings stacked on a table. What a result. Again, the people running the event going out of their way to look after everyone.

Chris and Fatima both played excellent poker and it was a great atmosphere in the room with all the PokerStars staff and pros cheering them on. It’s a shame neither of them took it down. Chris finishing 4th and Fatima was the runner-up after losing a coinflip. I’m sure both of them will happy about the big payday nonetheless.

My week on the Isle of Man is one I’ll never forget. I had a blast, met so many great people and was made to feel so incredibly welcome by everyone there. Everyone I spoke to is wishing that this becomes a regularly yearly fixture on the UKIPT and I give my “+1” to that.

The next tournament for me is UKIPT Nottingham 6-Max in a few weeks. Hope to see you there.

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Happy Days

As August came to an end it started to get very cold and miserable again in Scotland. That’ll be the winter setting in, obv. So I did the sensible thing by stuffing a suitcase full of clothes and Irn Bru and flying back to Thailand at the start of September.

I found myself a sick condo in Bangkok to rent short term with nice facilities such as gym and swimming pool. For the past 6 weeks I’ve been happily living there, wearing shorts and t-shirt every day and consuming a copious amount of coconut water.

Thankfully I have a very stable internet connection and have had only one power cut so far so it’s been easy to continue the online poker grind. That’s if you can call it a grind. I’m just opening up my laptop and blasting out a few hundred hands of Zoom PLO at several times throughout the day when I’m not out doing stuff.

The only negative thing about the trip is that I missed out on playing UKIPT London recently but that’s OK because I’m going to make up for it by winning the next one, in Isle of Man.


Dubai

To break up the long Journey from Scotland to Thailand I had a 5 day stopover in Dubai. It’s exactly half way between the two countries, there’s loads of fun stuff to do there, and when flying Emirates it doesn’t cost any more to do a stopover there rather than just connecting flights.

I got a great deal on the 4 star Ramada Deira hotel that’s right next to a metro station (less walking around in absurd > 40 C heat) for £45 per night. When I arrived at 1am they told me that all their standard rooms were full so they were upgrading me to a suite free of charge. Score!

The weather was far too scorching hot to go to the beach or really do anything outdoors, especially for a Scottish lad, so the first fun activity I did was visit Ski Dubai. It’s a massive indoor ski resort with a 22,500 square meter area of snow and the whole resort kept at between -1 and -6 degrees C. I’d sure like to see their monthly electricity bill for that!

I had heard that it would be busy but when I was there (a Friday evening) it was extremely quiet. There weren’t any queues for chairlifts and there was loads of space on the slopes so I had a great time.

The tallest building in the world, the Burj Kalifa, is in Dubai. The first time I seen it I was absolutely astonished. There are some massive skyscrapers all over Dubai but this thing just completely dwarfs all of them.

There’s a large observation area ‘At The Top”, which isn’t actually at the top, but is most of the way there. I went up there at 5pm on a clear day, the perfect time to experience the view before, during and after sunset. Thankfully the elevator was working as taking the stairs didn’t look like much fun.

I did a fair amount of shopping while I was in Dubai. There’s no sales tax, unlike in the UK where you have to pay 20% more than everything is worth only for the government to piss it up the wall. The largest mall in the world, the Dubai Mall, is there, with over 1200 different shops, a Sega World, Olympic size ice rink, aquarium, Bellagio-like fountains, and 22 screen cinema. A decent place to spend a day or two!

I needed a new pair of Bermuda shorts so I was in a sports shop looking for some when one of those annoying bastard shop assistants kept following me everywhere I went like a bloody stalker. Who is training these clowns to do this? If I need help with something I will ask, I’m a big boy. Otherwise leave me the feck alone son.

I found the Bermuda shorts area and stopped to have a look. The wee man stopped beside me asked me what I was looking for and I told him, “Bermuda shorts”. He was trying to be helpful by pointing at different shorts and stuff but I told him that I didn’t need any help thanks. I’m pretty sure that I know what I want better than he knows what I want, ffs.

Wee man then stood aside instead of walking away. I could see him out of the corner of my eye watching me the whole time I was looking at the shorts. Really annoying! I was in half a mind to walk out the shop and half a mind to turn around and throttle him. However I happened find a pair of shorts that looked awesome. The XL size looked like they would fit me so I asked where the fitting room was. The bloke insisted that I try on the size L, “fit you more better”. I was extremely sceptical, but tried them anyway. I got them up about as far as a few inches above my knees. Ridiculous.

I got out of the fitting room and literally threw the shorts at the guy, “give me the XL back please”. I tried on the XL and astonishingly couldn’t get them up over my massive thighs. For the first time in my life I had to buy an XXL size. Embarrassing! I think the sizes are just smaller made in that part of the world….. well that’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking with it.

On my last day I finally was brave enough to go outdoors, because I heard that the Wild Wadi water park wasn’t to be missed and I had a sexy new pair of XXL Bermuda shorts to show off.

So I slapped on the SPF 50+ and spent a day there going on awesome water rides. Again, no queues. When I read about this place on trip advisor people were complaining about spending loads of money to go there only to spend the whole day waiting in queues but it was really quiet when I was there.

So if you go to Dubai in early September the weather will be unbearable but the upside to that is less tourists, less queues!

I’d definitely return to Dubai the next time I’m flying between Scotland and Asia. There looks like there’s loads more fun stuff to do there and two 6-7 hour flights 5-days apart is much better than a 1 hour flight to London followed by a wait then 12-13 hour flight to Asia.

UKIPT Isle of Man

On Tuesday I will be leaving Thailand and taking a 22-hour, 3-flight journey from Bangkok to Isle of Man, where PokerStars has their headquarters. Unfortunately I don’t have time for another Dubai stopover on this trip so I will just have to deal with an absolutely brutally long journey.

VIP Club Live will take place in Isle of Man on Wednesday. I’ve never been to one of these before but I hear it’s like a big party exclusively for PokerStars VIPs, no guests allowed. If you’re wondering how to attend, you can buy in with FPPs through the VIP store, with ticket prices being cheaper the higher your status is, and absolutely free for Supernova+.

There will be non-stop food and an open bar, which is reason enough to go in itself if you ask me, but it’s also a good opportunity to hang out with other poker players, PokerStars pros and PokerStars staff. Sounds like a lot of fun so hopefully I’m not too jet-lagged and tired to enjoy it.

The day after the VIP Club event will mark the start of the first ever UKIPT event to be held in the Isle of Man. There’s around 15 PokerStars pros confirmed to attend the event, including big names such as Negreanu, Mercier and Daleroxxu 😉 PokerStars are also allowing their staff to play in the £500,000 GTD main event, so it’s going to be like one big home game that they’re hosting.

Team Online Week

Up until now I’ve always kept 100% of my action in UKIPT events but as part of Team Online Weeknbsp;I’m giving 10% away.

The person who will get 10% of whatever I cash for at the UKIPT Isle of Man main event will be whoever wins the TwoPlusTwo PokerCast invitational tournament, which is tonight, so be quick! It’s only $1 to enter, has an extra $500 added to the prize pool, and usually has around 150 runners, so great value. You need to listen to the latest show to get the password to play. Good luck.

There’s a lot going on during Team Online Week including the signing of two new members, Alex ‘Kanu7’ Millar from the UK and Marc-Andre ‘FrenchDawg’ Ladouceur from the French part of Canada. But that’s not all. Everyone who is a Supernova VIP was emailed an application form to apply to join the team, with a guarantee that at least one of the applicants will be accepted.

There will be four new Team Online short film documentaries released, which are always very popular. In addition, there’s a chance for you to win a full package to the PCA.by making a video about your own poker story. My Team Online colleagues and I will vote and chose the best one. (Hint: you’re way more likely to win my vote if you take a comically approach or if there’s really hot chicks in the video.)

There’s even more to the promo including a chance to play Zoom against Team Online members were you’ll win 10 times anything that you profit against Team Online members during the session, free coaching from us and a big freeroll.

Interview

I recently did an interview with PokerListings that I feel is the best interview I’ve done to date. That is thanks to Matthew Showell who is a very talented writer and journalist. He asked me questions than were interesting, relevant and non-generic and it was clear that he’d done a lot of research about me before contacting me.

Rather than just publish the interview as a Question – Answer, Question – Answer, he actually wrote it as an interesting article with quotes from the interview. I was really impressed with how it turned out.

You can check it out here – Dale Philip Enjoying “Five Glorious Years of Complete Freedom”.

British Poker Awards

I’ve been nominated again at the British Poker Awards. This time in the Best Blogger category, along with David Nicholson, Rupert Elder, Neil Channing and Kara Scott who all write superb blogs. It’s some tough competition and I feel like I’m one of the least well known out of that lot so I’m less than optimistic about my chances of winning.

Still, if everyone who reads this votes for me I’d have a good chance of taking it down, so do me a favour and head over to http://www.thebritishpokerawards.com/ to give me your support. 🙂

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10 Tips: Crushing Multi-Table SNGs

WPT Magazine asked me to write an article with 10 tips for playing MTT SNGs. It was published in this month’s magazine (September 2013).

For those who wanted to read it but were unable to get a copy of the magazine I’m publishing it here on my blog too. The article is aimed at advanced-beginner to intermediate players, so it may not be for everyone, but I hope you find some information that’s helpful to your game.


10 Tips: Crushing Multi-Table SNGs

Multi-table sit and gos traditionally have 45, 90 or 180 players and mix the best bits of one-table sit and go and tournament strategy. You can play plenty of them at once – potentially winning a tidy sum of money in the process – and they won’t take all day to play, so what’s not to like? PokerStars Team Online’s Dale Philip has played thousands of them in his time as a poker pro and this month he shares his ten top tips for crushing multi-table sit and gos with WPT Poker.

1. Play Tight and Aggressive Early On.

In the early levels, only play very good starting hands and play them aggressively. There is no point trying to steal the blinds at the 10/20 level with weak hands when those 30 chips would only represent a 2% increase to your 1,500 starting stack. By the very nature of non-‘winner take all’ SNGs and tournaments, the chips you lose have a higher value than the chips you win, so you must avoid marginal situations when the blinds are meaningless.

Bad players will play too loose early on and either knock each other out – which increases your equity in the tournament – or you will pick up a strong hand and get your chips in the middle as a favourite against them. Don’t worry about having a tight image and not getting paid off. Even if you haven’t played a single hand yet, it’s extremely common for someone to stack off to you with a hand that is much weaker than the bottom of your range in any given spot.

2. Loosen Up in the Middle Stages.

As the blinds get larger, they become increasingly worth fighting for and you must open up your pre-flop game. This is especially true in the turbo games as the average stack size is usually in the 10-25 big blinds range. Just stealing the blinds and antes can increase your stack size by a large percentage.

3. Play Loose and Aggressive Late in the Tournament.

When the blinds get very large and stack sizes at your table are in the 5-15 big blinds range, it becomes necessary to play extremely loose and aggressive and steal blinds by shoving in your whole stack to maximise fold equity.

For example, at level 300/600 with an ante of 50, if you have a stack size of 5,400 (9BB) and you shove all-in, you will increase your stack by 1,350 when the remaining players fold – that’s a 25% increase! You can therefore shove all-in with a range of hands that is going to be behind your opponent’s calling range so long as you think that you can get them to fold enough to make it a profitable play in the long run.

4. Select the Most Profitable Times To Steal.

The most profitable times to be stealing blinds with weak hands will be on or near the bubble, when the average player tightens up their calling range. Be aware of the stack sizes of your opponents and what stage of the tournament it is and look for situations you can exploit.

When you are on the bubble – or in the money and there is a pay-jump – it’s way more profitable to steal from big or average stacks that you have covered than it is to attack the shortest stacks. Short stacks may feel desperate for a double-up to avoid being blinded out, whereas medium and big-stacked players may not want to call off their entire stack pre-flop when it’s likely that a very short stack is going to bust in the next few hands.

5. Always Know Your Structures.

45-man, 90-man and 180-man SNGs all play the same in the early levels, where most of your hands will be played. However, they differ in the late game, where most of your equity will be won or lost. It’s important to get familiar with the payout structure of each format so you can play well in the late game.

For instance, a 45-man SNG pays seven players, so there’s a bubble situation once the nine-handed final table begins. A 180-man pays 27 players, so when there are 28 players left you’ll be on one of four seven-handed tables.

Once in the money in a 45-man SNG, there are significant pay jumps immediately, whereas in a 180-man SNG the payouts are very flat from 27th-10th place, meaning players have less incentive to fold to your raises and shoves during this period.

6. Tag the Players You Regularly Play Against.

You should be tagging players that you know are regs with colour-coded notes. It’s especially important to know who the regs are as you will play more hands with each of these players than any casual player passing through.

When I know that a player is a regular I can make certain accurate assumptions about their hand range in many common scenarios. Say, for example, that I’m in the big blind and it’s folded around to the small blind who goes all-in for effective stacks of 12BB. In this scenario, I expect a regular’s range to be extremely wide and a random player’s range to be a lot narrower than that. So having information on the type of player I’m up against allows me to adjust my calling range correctly in this scenario.

7. Identify the Fish as Soon as You Possibly Can.

Knowing who the weaker players are is important, especially on the bubble when it’s useful to know if a player is a huge calling station. When you observe players making strange plays in the early levels you should make a colour-coded note on them. If they are playing badly in the early levels, they will also be playing badly in the late game, should they make it that far.

As an example, let’s imagine we are playing a turbo 45-man SNG where we’re eight-handed on the bubble and we have the button. There are two players with tiny stacks of 2BB and 3BB who have folded ahead of us. The players in the blinds have stacks of 15BB and 10BB. If you think that these players are competent and won’t call without a premium hand, you can just shove all-in with any two cards. However, if these players are tagged as fish then you should tighten up your shoving range, as they will be calling much wider
than they should be.

8. Make Detailed Notes On Your Opponents.

Simply tagging players as “regs” or “fish” is important, but making more detailed notes will increase your edge even further. At first this can be distracting – especially if you are playing lots of tables – but note-taking is a skill and the more that you practice it, the quicker and better you will get at it. Practice short-hand writing. For example, I often make a note that simply says “CSB”, which is much quicker for me to write than “calling station on the bubble”.

Observe the regulars in your game very closely as these are the players that you will be playing with a lot. You want to know how tight or loose they are in certain common spots compared to an average regular. For the players that you play against the most, look back through hand histories of games that you’ve played with them and you are bound to find things that you missed while playing, especially if you are playing a lot of tables at once.

9. Always Protect Your Bankroll.

The bankroll that you need to play MTT SNGs depends on many variables related to the individual player. If you are someone that plays just one table at a time and can easily reload more money into your poker account, then clearly a ‘bankroll’ of just one buy-in is enough to get you started.

If you are someone who is grinding for a living, playing 20 tables at a time and you can’t afford to reload if you bust your account, then you ought to be thinking about a far more conservative range of perhaps 200 buy-ins or higher.

Meanwhile, for players who can’t easily reload but want to take an aggressive approach, they could play with, say, a 100 buy-in bankroll and simply move down a buy-in level if their balance was reduced to less than 50 buy-ins for their current stakes, thus allowing them to maintain their style without compromising their bankroll.

The best players can play with fewer buy-ins because their edge or expected ROI% means that they will have smaller downswings than a marginally winning player. Remember, no amount of buy-ins is enough to stop you going bust in the long run if you’re not a winning player, so make sure you’re honest with yourself before you begin.

10. If You Want to Make a Serious Profit, Volume is Key.

If you are playing poker for fun and a little bit of profit then it’s fine to single-table an MTT SNG now and then. For those with a grinder mentality looking to earn large sums of money from these games, volume is the key. Nobody ever got rich by winning a single $15 180-man SNG, but plenty of people have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars by mass grinding SNGs at these buy-in levels, including myself.

Turbos are the best games for grinders. For most good players, ROI % will be lower compared to regular-speed games, but with shorter games, their hourly earnings rate will be higher overall. However, you must be able to multi-table well. Since MTT SNGs are mostly a pre-flop game in the later levels (when you’ll be most active), they are very easy to multi-table. As you play more tables your edge per game will be
lower, but, again, your hourly earnings should increase.

There’s a point for every player where adding any more tables will reduce their edge to a level where their hourly earnings decrease. This varies from player to player, so start by playing the number of tables
you are comfortable with, then try adding one or two at a time while keeping track of your results.

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UKIPT Galway Trip Report

After my summer trip around Europe I had a few days rest back home in Scotland before I found myself on yet another aeroplane. I was headed to Galway, Ireland to play the UK and Ireland Poker Tour.

It used to be so easy to travel to Galway. It was less than an hour direct flight and then 5 minutes by taxi into the city centre. That was before some eejits made the eejit decision of closing down the airport a couple of years ago. The best alternative was to fly to Knock airport then wait around, then take a 90 minute bus. Pretty much trebling the usual journey time.


I travelled with Scottish poker lass Kellyann Heffernan, who thought it would be a good idea to get into an extremely heated debate with me about religion, on a bus packed with people, in Ireland, a really religious country. She believes in god (I didn’t ask which one), souls, ghosts, astrology, fate and all that utter nonsense, while I’m a “big bad atheist”.

I tried to end the argument/debate before it even got started. Even respectfully agreeing to disagree but she just wouldn’t let it go so what was I supposed to do? As I gave completely rational reasons as to why everything she believes is absurdly ridiculous I could hear people gasping. Old couples were looking at me and shaking their heads and parents were covering their children’s ears. I haven’t felt that unpopular since I dropped someone’s baby at a family gathering. Another situation that I didn’t even want to be in in the first place!

The UKIPT in Galway was quite a bit different from previous UKIPT events. It was a 17 day festival rather than the usual 5 days and Full Tilt rather than PokerStars was the title sponsor of the event. They built a massive marquee tent to host it that they called “The Full Tilt Poker Village“.

The village was pretty cool, one of the big tents was a bar and chillout room with sofas, bean bags, pool tables and free to play arcade machines (Bomb Jack was my game of choice). The other, bigger tent held something like 60 poker tables for the tournaments and cash games. Very impressive.

Main Event Day 1a

There were 60 events taking place throughout the festival but I just came to play the main event, flying in the day before day 1b. There was a €1,000,000 guarantee on the main event and thankfully only 860 players registered meaning a nice €140,000 overlay. That’s some great value for everyone who did play. Everyone who cashed got over 16% extra euros than they would have if there was no guarantee.

Just like the last tournament I played in I got a terrible table draw. Only this time it wasn’t that I was playing against 9 other pros, it was because I got the nut low seat location in the whole venue. I was sat at the table and in the seat closest to the entrance door. So I had people brushing past me all day long.

I got off to my usual rubbish start, losing a few ridiculous pots, but my worst bad beat of the afternoon was when someone inconsiderate clown stormed past the table, knocking over my glass of Red Bull, spilling it everywhere. They didn’t even stop to apologise or anything, and were so fast I couldn’t see who it was. Very tilting.

In the middle of the day I busted two of the toughest players at my table with AKo > JJ and KK > QQ and was up to 80k from the 20k starting stack. One of the players was replaced by local legend Liam Flood who has been involved with poker and gambling since forever. He came to the table playing a somewhat unconventional style. His standard open raise size was 3.2BBs and he bet full pot on the flop each time.

The one hand I remember playing with him he 3.2x raised from early position and I flatted JTo on the button. The flop came 9 high with two hearts and he bet full pot. I floated. Turn was A of hearts, he checked pretty quickly and I bet between 1/3 and 1/2 pot. He thought about it for ages and then eventually folded. Later he told me that he should have called me in that hand, so I wonder what he laid down.

For the tenth and last level of the day I got moved to a new table, with Padraig Parkinson on my left and Keith The Camel on my right. It seemed like a fun table but before I could think of a “An Irishman, an Englishman and Scotsman sit down at a poker table….” joke the day had ended, and I bagged up 83k for day 2.

Main Event Day 2

My day 2 table draw included Max Silver, Liam Flood and Raul Paez.

I got off to an absolutely flying start. Everything just seemed to go right. Every time I raised and got called I took down the pot post-flop. Every time I 3-bet or 4-bet bluffed I got them to fold. Then I picked up a real hand, KK and got it in for 5 bets preflop vs AKo for a double up.

One orbit later I picked up the KK again. I minraised from UTG+1 and Liam Flood put in a 3x 3-bet from middle position. I 4-bet him back pretty small for about 1/4 his stack and he shoved quickly. He turned over 55 and I held, putting me up to 300k and the chip leader for tournament, from the 83k I started the day with less than 2 hours earlier. Poker is fun when you’re running hot.

Our table was then moved to become the TV feature table for the rest of the day. That was fun, being able to tweet out a link to the live stream so that my friends could watch me play.

On the break I saw Jake Cody doing an interview with PokerNews and I got him with the best “interview bomb” ever. He was talking about how some guy in a blue t-shirt bluffed him in a massive pot, then I walked past the camera wearing a blue t-shirt and sticking my tongue out.

After the break I had two tough players moved to my direct left, Alan Gold and Jack Salter, who made my life a nightmare. I didn’t get much going at that table and I ended the day on 293,000 to take into day 3, slightly less than I had 6 levels before.

Players Party

Straight after Day 2 ended the players party began. I chose to remain sober, as I have been for the whole of August so far and plan to be for the foreseeable future. This was hard to do when there was a free bar as we all know that a Scotsman doesn’t often pass up on value.

My fellow Scotsmen there were certainly having more than their fair share of the alcohol to compensate. A wasted Kyle Maguire dragged over a woman thrice his age right in front of where I was standing and started dancing with vigorously dry-humping her against one of the sofas. Oh deary me.

This was also the first time that I met Dave ‘The Devilfish’ Ulliott. I was lying on the beanbags drinking Red Bull with Kellyann when he swaggered up to us and asked us to start making out with each other so that he could film it on his camera. What a guy.

The highlight of the party for me was the massive chocolate fondue fountain with all sorts of treats, and fresh popcorn and candyfloss. A sugary treat.

I had an early night, heading at 2am (that’s early right?) due to still being in the main event. I just couldn’t sleep though as I felt really, really rough. That always happens to me when I play live poker, I can’t go more than a couple of days without getting ill. I think I’ll need to start playing in a surgical mask or something to fade all the germs from all the dirty men that play poker.

Main Event Day 3

I went into Day 3 feeling like an absolute wreck but I still hoped that it would be a long day for me. We started the day with only 51 players remaining and I had stack of 29BBs, slightly below the average of 32BBs.

I took a hit in the first orbit when I minraised 22 and the only player that I couldn’t fold to his shove, shoved for 8.5BBs. So I called and he had 88 and that was a 1/3 of my stack gone.

Shortly after, I was in the big blind with a 19BB stack. It was folded to Jack Salter on the button who of course raised, so I shoved all in with T9o figuring it to be a profitable move against his opening and calling ranges. He looked really unhappy about it and was thinking about it for ages so I figured he must have something like a weak ace. Eventually, after quite possibly making a good live read on me, or mistaking me looking ill as looking like I was bluffing, either way, he made a good call with A6s. Two pair for me on the flop though, happy days.

Our table broke after an hour. In the second orbit I was sitting with 40BBs in the BB when a lad open shoved from the button for 15BBs. I looked down at ATs and called. He showed KJo and I was looking good until the dirty jack appeared on the river. So that was the difference between me having 57BBs and having 25BBs.

Nothing much went right after that. Then a level later I was in the BB again, this time with only a 15BB stack when it was folded round to the SB who had a big stack and instantly shoved all in. I looked down at an Ace and knew that I was calling, then I seen a 4, and thought twice, but only for a couple of seconds, although I guess it’s kind of a close spot, but I called. He turned over AA, wow, and I did something I’ve never done before, got up and put my jacket on before the flop was even dealt. The flop came 3 hearts and the turn was a 4th heart making him the nut flush, not even a sweat for me.

I finished in 30th place for €4,850 and was pretty gutted. The €200,000 first prize would have been much nicer. But thankfully two of my fellow Scotsmen and really nice guys, Alan Gold and Paul Febers got heads up and chopped it.

I did a post-bustout interview with the lovely Laura Cornelius from Poker News, that turned out to be pretty funny.

Cliffs of Moher

Since I didn’t make the final table as planned, I had a spare day in Ireland. This was my fourth trip to Ireland and I’d yet to do anything that wasn’t poker related. I woke up, the weather was fantastic, so I decided to do a full day tour with a trip down some old cave, lunch in a small village pub and the highlight being a couple of hours at the Cliffs of Moher.

What an amazing place. The pictures speak for themselves.

It was a fun time in Ireland. I hope the UKIPT Galway as a 17 day festival becomes a yearly thing. I would definitely try to go earlier next time and play in loads of side events. Everyone that I spoke to who had been there for the duration had nothing but good things to say about the event.

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EuroTrip Report part 4/4 – Eureka Poker Tour: Bulgaria

After a couple of weeks pissing around in Europe it was time to get back to work. That is if you can call “travelling to a seaside resort on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria to play in a poker tournament” work.

To get there required us to take a 5am flight, the only direct option from Budapest to Varna. I guess most people would consider that to be absurdly early, but given that we were going to sleep at 6am every “night” we considered it to be absurdly late.

The flight was full of other poker players, as I quickly realised while standing in the check-in line. Less than a minute went by before I heard people talking about hand ranges and suchlike. Hardly the time or place for poker discussions in my opinion but some people just never know when to stop. All I was thinking about at that point was what the food would be like in the departure lounge and if I’d be able to get a wee nap before or during the flight. (Food + sleep) > poker.

If you’ve read my last few blogs you’ll know that I’m really into this Airbnb website where you can rent other people’s homes off them for short stays. Well, the whole of the Golden Sands resort where the Eureka Poker Tour event was held doesn’t really have many homes, it’s all hotels. There were no listings nearby on Airbnb so I had to make do with a 5-star hotel right next to the beach and beside the casino. FML, sigh.

Here’s a photo of the beach in order to show you how lovely and golden the sand is and how the water is so very crystal clear.

When we first went for a wander to check out the resort we felt pretty old. Everyone seemde to be around 18-21 years old in Golden Sands, and there’s loads of drinking and partying going on right from around midday. There’s no Brits in Golden Sands either, it’s all Germans and Eastern Europeans. The British resort is called Sunny Beach and is very far away. So we felt proper out of place.

I’m used to bad experiences in restaurants in Eastern Europe with rude waiters and slow service, but I had my worst dining experience yet while in Golden Sands. We woke up late on the second day and decided to spend what was left of the afternoon at a water park. We started walking there at 2pm and after getting lost and working up and appetite we ended up in a lovely looking fresh seafood restaurant on a cliff overlooking the sea.

We walked in and were completely ignored by the staff so we sat ourselves at a table. Given that there was only one other customer in the whole restaurant you’d think they’d be more happy to see us. It took around 5-10 minutes before we were given a menu, from which we ordered some pan-fried fish. We waited forever, which was really frustrating because we’d already wasted most of the day sleeping. So when the 45 minute mark went by we had enough and decided to walk out without paying.

Just as we were getting up from the table the food arrived, followed by a swarm of wasps. There must have been twenty wasps buzzing around our table and landing on our food. We couldn’t even shake them off with our napkins, they were so attracted to our lunch. We complained to the waiter and were moved to a new table, but the wasps just followed us. The waiter’s solution was to stand next to the table with a towel waving the wasps away while we ate. Proper Fawlty Towers stuff. It didn’t even really help much as they were still landing on the food.

So Bulgarian Basil decided to go for plan B, killing all the wasps one by one with a menu. He must have killed about ten as I stood watching away from the table, but for every one he killed I’m sure another two arrived. Then the waitress arrived with a can of RAID insect spray. She was about 1 second away from spraying it over the table before I stopped her and explained that food and RAID do not go together. I’d rather get stung than poisoned thanks.

We did eventually find our way to the water park after that fiasco, a couple of hours before the closed, but I didn’t think much of the place anyway. There weren’t many rides and the ones that were there were pretty tame. Should have just stayed at the beach.

Later that night I went out for dinner and a bit of partying with Neil Raine and Tim Davie, two of the very, very few Brits that were in Golden Sands. Those guys had been there last year so knew where all the best bars and clubs were.



Eureka Poker Tour – Main Event Day 1

I knew it was going to be a bad day when I sat down at my table, looked around, and quickly realised that I was the tenth youngest player there. I was extremely card dead in the first couple of levels and basically just sat folding while the rest of the table 3, 4, 5 and 6-bet each other every hand, 400 big blinds deep.

Everyone was playing really slow too. Especially the guy on my left, a kid with a big hood over his head, massive headphones and sunglasses. Maybe if he took all that crap off his noggin he’d be able to concentrate better?

While I wasn’t having much fun with my table of youngsters, I heard a lot of noise coming from Neil Raine’s table. I looked over and there were insane players there doing crazy stuff such as regularly rolling dice to decide whether or not they should call a preflop raise. Must be nice. There’s a lot of luck involved in playing poker tournaments and a fair amount of that is your table draw.

By the BB300 level I was down to 6,500 chips from the 20,000 starting stack. I don’t even remember how I lost those chips, but that’s what happens when you write a trip report 3 weeks after the event. A guy minraised from middle position and I shoved over it from the BB with AQo for 21BBs. He called with 99 and fortunately I hit a Q on the river or it would have been an early bath for me.

In the next level I got another double up when a kid raised from middle position to 800 and I 3-bet him from the cutoff with A8s to 1850. The hoodie lagtard on my left took his usual minute before putting in a cold 4-bet to around 3,500. I shipped it in for around 14,000 and hoodie tanked. Minutes went by as I sat there wondering what the hell he 4-bet me with that he has such a tough decision over. I wanted to call the clock on him but I was worried that may make him think I was more likely to be bluffing so I just sat there quietly and patiently. Eventually he called and flipped over AJo. AJo that he cold 4-bet without a plan. Clearly didn’t even know if he was raising as a bluff or to induce me to shove so he could snap me off.

But anyway, good call. I hit the 8 though, so go me! He berated me a little “how can you go all in with ace eight?????”. Well, it’s my favourite hand, obv!

So I went to the dinner break with a healthy stack and a healthy appetite. There was a massive free dinner buffet at the hotel for main event players each and every day, whether you were still in the tournament or not. I love to get some added value when I play in a poker tournament and things like the comped buffet and free bottled water really make me feel like I’m being looked after. It was exactly the same on the last Eureka event I played in Croatia, so the free food and water must be standard on the Eureka Poker Tour.

After the dinner break half of the kids at my table ended up busting the other half of the kids, and were replaced with more friendly players. Unfortunately I still couldn’t get anything going and ended the day on 29K, 29BBs for day 2.

Day 2

There’s not much to say about day 2 really. In the first level I raised with AQ suited, bloke on my left who 3-bet me small in the exact same position last orbit 3-bet me small again, I shoved, he called, he showed AKo, flop was QXX with two spades, turn spade, river Q of spades, giving him a flush. Nice tease, but there’s only so many times you can get it in behind and suck out!

I didn’t play any side events or cash games. I just spent the rest of my trip at the beach during the day and partying at night. It’s not typically how I like to spend my vacations but there’s nothing else to do in Golden Sands.

Sofia

Before flying home to Edinburgh I went to the Bulgarian capital Sofia for a few days by myself.

Since I was only staying for a few nights I splashed out and got the number 1 hotel on TripAdvisor in Sofia, the Grand Hotel. It was usually €200 per night but I got it for about €65 single occupancy and without breakfast through special deal on booking.com. It was really impressive. I’ve lived in smaller houses and apartments than the size of the hotel room they gave me.

I spent two of my three days there relaxing, but in-between those I had a day where I went hiking for 5 hours followed by a city bike ride for 4 hours. I did that with Sofia Green Tours who provide the tours for free. You just need to tip the volunteer tour guide whatever you want afterwards.

The hike was to the Boyana waterfall on the Vitosha mountain. It was great to get some decent exercise and see some nice scener. The other people who were on the hike were really nice and interesting to talk to. Some cool bros and some cute girls, and one guy was a famous Gaida (Balkan bagpipes) player and played for us while we sat around a lake. Awesome day out.

The bike ride took us all around the massive parks that are all over Sofia. It was really impressive to see a city that’s so green and with so many people outdoors, socialising in the parks. I said the same about Budapest, but Sofia is easily a city that I could see myself happily living in.

And that wrapped up my EuroTrip. I ended up playing only one poker tournament and zero cash games the whole trip but spent a lot of time having fun in other ways, while clicking buttons online. 🙂

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EuroTrip Report part 3/4 – Budapest

Before travelling to Bulgaria for the Eureka Poker Tour we stopped off in Budapest for a few days. It was just a few hours train ride from Bratislava and we decided to be “ballas” and travel in the first class cabin…. at a cost of €20. Europe is great for moving between cities and countries quickly and cheaply. There’s no passport and immigration control between the 26 countries in the “Schengen Area” so there’s no hassle.

Again, I found an apartment on Airbnb. This time we rented a newly renovated and cleverly designed place in an old building with 80cm wide brick walls in the city centre. Again, this was so much better than us sharing a hotel room as we had separate rooms and fibre optic internet all to ourselves. My room had a large bathtub in it for relaxing.

Budapest is known as the “City of Spas” and has way over 100 thermal springs. It sounded like the perfect way to spend a lazy few day, so after checking into our apartment the first thing we did was research for a thermal bath place to visit. I read about an old Turkish bath called Rudas that has existed since 1550 and is popular with locals / not so touristy. So we agreed to go there.

About 5 minutes before we were due to go I was doing more research on Rudas. I discovered that on weekdays it’s “gentlemen only”, and most men go fully nude. We were a bit taken aback by that, but what the hell, if that’s what the locals do, “when in Rome….”. But as I read further the article said “On male-only days Rudas is a popular gay cruising location”. As I read it aloud, Amatay shouted “FUCK. THAT.”

Two good looking guys like us would have gotten way too much unwanted attention in there so we decided to make other plans. Instead we went to visit Margaret Island, a 2.5 x 0.5 km island in the middle of the Danube river that is covered with parks and recreational stuff.

We hadn’t worked out the bus / tram system yet so took a taxi. I hate taxis in foreign countries. They always try to scam me so I just avoid using them whenever possible. But with limited time we didn’t have much choice. After we got in the taxi I sat with Google Maps on my phone tracking where we were going. The bastard driver took us on a route double the distance than he should have, to the opposite end of the island. I nearly took his door of the hinges when I slammed it shut after getting out.

At Margaret Island we went straight to the massive outdoor swimming pool / hot springs complex in the middle of the island. The weather was glorious and the complex was really nice, loads of pools with different temperatures, places to sunbathe, eat and drink.

After about a minute in the main (cold) swimming pool we decided “screw that” and went straight to the hottest of the thermal spring pools. It was so relaxing, we floated around there until our fingers were wrinkly. After getting out and on our way to leave when we noticed a whole section that we hadn’t been to yet, with massive wave pools and flume rides. So we ended up staying another hour doing that. Joy.

The next couple of days were spent exploring the massive city. We got tickets for one of those stupid tourist buses again, but this one was much better because it was “hop-on, hop-off” with two bus routes and a boat, so it was perfect for seeing loads of places in a short amount of time.

The best places we visited using the bus were the Buda Castle area on the hill and the massive city park near Heroes Square where there’s a zoo, fairground and a circus, which of course we got there too late to see.

We did actually end up going to the Rudas baths that I mentioned previously. We went at midnight on a Saturday night. At weekends it’s co-ed, mandatory bathing suits and there’s night time bathing til 4am.

There’s one main bath and 4 smaller baths of varying temperature from 16-42C, a sauna, a steam room, an ice pool, a large swimming pool and massage areas. We spent a good couple of hours in there relaxing, it was lovely, although at times a little uncomfortable when there were guys next to us kissing and cuddling their girlfriends in the water.

It was a nice few days in Budapest. Still, there’s tons of stuff we could have done but didn’t get a chance to due to waking up in the afternoon. But that’s fine, it’s nice to have reasons to go back there in the near future.

Final part of my EuroTrip blog coming soon.

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EuroTrip Report part 2/4 – Vienna and Brno.

While staying in Bratislava we went out of town on day-trips twice. One day taking a hydrofoil boat down the Danube river to Vienna in Austria and on another day taking a fast train to Brno in Czech Republic.

In each of those cities we turned up without any plan. Big mistake. Since my travel buddy, Amatay Jones, is good for nothing other than sitting on his lazy arse playing online poker tournaments I had to do 100% of the planning for all our travels. I didn’t plan anything for these day-trips, therefore we had no plan.

Upon arriving in Vienna we minced around the city for half an hour before we noticed one of those open top double decker buses. It’s usually a decent way to check out a city when you have limited time and are with a lazy arsed friend who won’t stop moaning if he has to walk longer than 1 km. So we sat our arses on the bus and that moany English fish finally had a smile on his face.

Like a couple of selfish gits we both took window seats, meaning that the last couple to board the bus had to both take aisle seats. Not that it mattered as the tour, by Red Bus City Tours, was a proper snoozefest. We were driven around to look at old buildings while listening to commentary on the headphones by some English guy with an awful monotone voice. It was like listening to a kid in school who had been instructed to stand up and read from a textbook to the class. ZzZzZzZzZz.

We only stopped at one place, for 20 minutes. Some building with a cool design, but you can’t go inside. One building that you can go inside, however, is a souvenir shop owned by Red Bus City Tours which we parked right outside. What a scam.

After that nonsense, we went for a meal and I checked my Twitter account on my phone. Earlier I had tweeted that I was in Vienna, so I now had loads of replies from followers recommending cool places to visit. One suggestion, from @flooorider, was Prater, a massive amusement park in the middle of an even bigger public park. Sounded like a plan.

So that’s how we spent the rest of our day in Vienna. Being big kids and going on awesome rides (me) and sleeping on the grass in the park (Amatay).

At Prater you can enter the park for free and just pay to get on whichever rides you want. The best one by far was Black Mamba which was a 360 degree swing that had me screaming like a girl. The amusement park alone made the trip to Vienna worthwhile for me.

On our second day-trip, to Brno in the Czech Republic, again we arrived with no plan. Not only that but we didn’t get on the train until after midday so it was 2pm already by the time we got there. The first thing we did was find the tourist information centre using Google Maps on my phone. Apparently there’s some really cool caves about 30 minutes away but we were just too late to be able to visit them that day. They recommended some stuff for us to do though, climb up some really steep tower, and visit an underground labyrinth. Fair enough.

At the old tower it was half price entry for students so I tried to blag that we were students but didn’t have any student ID on us because we’re tourists. The two girls that worked there had a three minute conversation in Czech in which they were looking at us and laughing, and eventually told us that we’d have to pay full price. Amatay was pretty pissed off at me for “embarrassing him”, but asking for a discount is a freeroll in my opinion because if they say yes I get a discount, and if they say no and laugh at us I see no negative value from that because I couldn’t care less what some stupid girl working in a tower thinks about me.

So we paid the €1 entrance fee (lol) and climbed the steep stairs all the way to the top of this old tower. At the top, breathless and pissing with sweat, we opened the door expecting to see marvellous views of the city. But it was crap. All the buildings are so close together due to narrow streets so it was just a bunch of ugly rooftops we were looking down at. Rubbish.

Next we went to visit the ‘Labyrinth under Vegetable Market’. We found the vegetable market easily enough but couldn’t figure out where the entrance to underground labyrinth was. We spent about 20 minutes walking back and forward in the baking sun, getting terrible directions from people, until we found it right where we had started.

Again it was a place that was half price entrance for students. I flirted a little with the cute girl on reception and explained that my pal and I were students but didn’t bring our ID on vacation with us. The little cutey smiled and agreed to give us the discount, saving us about €3 each. Score! You’re not allowed to visit the labyrinths without a guide so we had to join a group in which the guide only spoke Czech. However they gave us some audio devices with English commentary to listen to at each stop.

At each stop, when the English commentary on our audio devices ended, the guide was still talking in Czech language for another 5 minutes. It’s pretty boring to stand and listen to someone speak a language you don’t understand so Amatay and I were pissing about a lot, much to the annoyance of the Czech speaking group, and sneaking away from the guide and wandering off on our own to places we weren’t supposed to be, doing things were weren’t supposed to be doing and touching things we weren’t supposed to touch. Rebels! Kind of reminded me of going on school trips.

The labyrinth was interesting enough. The tunnels and underground rooms were used centuries ago for storing food, brewing beer, maturing wine and keeping mentally insane people locked up.

After walking all over the tiny little town we got bored and decided to call it a day early, and head back to Bratislava at 6pm. I much prefer visiting random towns and cities in Asia than I do in Europe. When we were travelling in Asia we’d always find interesting stuff just by wandering around. In Europe, everything is just a bit too familiar. Maybe I’d go back to Brno some day to visit the caves nearby the city but Brno itself seems really small and uninteresting.

I know that these Eastern Europeans don’t care much for health and safety but we saw something absolutely ridiculous while waiting for our train back to Bratislava. Only minutes before our train was due to arrive a man decided it would be a good idea to play on the rail tracks with his 3 little children. What a donk.

Part 3 of my EuroTrip report coming soon…..

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EuroTrip Report part 1/4 – Bratislava

I recently did a bit of ‘flashpacking’ around Europe, taking in 5 countries over 3 weeks. I’ve split my trip report into 4 parts. If you’re looking for poker content then part 4, about the Eureka Poker Tour in Bulgaria, will be the one you want to read. Otherwise, enjoy reading about what I got up to in Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary.

I did most of the trip with my partner in crime, Simon ‘Amatay’ Jones, who I’d travelled around Asia with two years earlier. Back then we always stayed in nice hotels everywhere we went. That was before I discovered Airbnb.

Airbnb is a very popular website where “hosts” all over the world can list their home (or even just a room in their home) for short term stays. All users have public profiles and guests and hosts leave reviews on each other after the stay. Since you can read user’s feedback and all the payments go through the site, it’s all pretty safe.

We stayed in Bratislava for 6 nights and through Airbnb I chose to rent a whole apartment from a friendly American guy called Jason. It was a brand new and very spacious two bedroom place in a quiet area next to the Danube river. After Airbnb fees it worked out at only £40 GBP (€46 EUR / $61 USD) per night.

Compared to staying in a hotel this had many advantages:

  • The space was around that of 4 standard hotel rooms.
  • Two bedrooms. If we were sharing a hotel room we’d have limited space and be sleeping in two beds right next to each other. In the apartment we each had our own rooms so we could go to sleep at different times.
  • The use of a kitchen to store and prepare our own food.
  • Our own dedicated internet connection. We all know how sketchy hotel internet connections, shared amongst hundreds of guests, can be. As professional online poker players having a fast and stable internet connection is essential.
  • Flexible check in / check out times.
  • A host that was always contactable for advice on things like transport.

Since the apartment was right on the river on a long green belt / cycle track it was great for morning jogs. That was in the first couple of days, when we were waking up in the morning and not the afternoon. It wasn’t that we were going out getting hammered every night, it was more that Amatay was in full on grind mode from the moment I showed him how to connect his laptop to the large high resolution TV. The fish was up all night, every night playing online poker tourneys.

The initially hilarious, but eventually really annoying, thing about being in the same room as Amatay when he plays online poker is that he plays with ALL the sounds on. Yes, he sits there with 12 tables open on 4 different poker sites listening to every single shuffle, chip splash, prompt, check, bet, pot ship and timebank alert. What a mug. I don’t know any other pro poker player that plays with any of the sounds on at all. Amatay is a bit special though. He says that he needs the sounds, if he turns them off he has no idea what’s happening on any of his tables. Riiiight. Well he does do well at the tourneys so if it works for him then fair enough, I guess.

Getting the English fish motivated to go out and do stuff was pretty difficult. I wanted him to cycle out to Devin Castle with me but he would only agree to do it if we got electric bikes. LOL. I phoned around everywhere but all the electric bikes had been hired out that day. So I worked out how to get there by bus instead.

It was a good place to visit for some nice scenery, fresh air and a bit of exercise. When you get to the top of the hill where the castle is there’s a drinking fountain with cold water, which was terrific as I sweated about a litre getting my fat ass up there.

Back in Bratislava, it surprised me how much graffiti there was. It was absolutely everywhere, even in nice parts of town. I don’t mind a bit of graffiti if it’s actually good, something that you could call art, but 99% of it was just awful talentless scribbles. If I had to describe Slovakian graffiti artists in one word, it would be this:

BUSTO

I got the chance to see the best football team in Slovakia play while I was in town. Dag Palovic who is a PokerStars Team Pro member that lives in Bratislava got us VIP tickets to see SK Slovan Bratislava play the Bulgarian champions Ludogorets in a UEFA Champions League qualifying tie.

At the match, sitting in the same VIP area as us was the president of Slovakia. Dag introduced me to him and asked if he’d have his photo taken with me. He said yes but his 6 security guards had other ideas unfortunately.

As for the match, it was a quiet first half but it livened up in the second. With the hosts trailing 0-1 and only 5 minutes to go, the number 9, Juraj Halenár, who had come on as a substitute, scored twice for the win. What a hero.

An interesting fact about Juraj Halenár is that he made his European debut playing for Artmedia Bratislava in 2005 when they played Celtic in the Champions League second qualifying round. Artmedia thumped Celtic 5-0 with Halenár scoring twice. Awesome. I got to meet the man himself after the match as Dag introduced me to him.

Click for Part 2 of my EuroTrip report. Vienna and Brno.

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EuroTrip

Next weekend I’m off on a little Euro trip to check out some cool places that I’ve never been before, have fun and play some poker.

My first stop will be Bratislava in Slovakia where I’ll spend a week.

I’ve booked an apartment on the outside of the city in a green belt zone next to the Danube river and Botanical Gardens. It looks like a nice place to stay and only 10 minutes on the tram to the city centre.

Bratislava is close to the Austrian and Czech borders so I may take day trips to Vienna and Brno while I’m there.

I’ve heard that there’s quite an active poker scene in Bratislava so I will try to get in a nightly tournament or something and check it out.


My next stop is Budapest in Hungary where I have a pretty sick apartment for 3 days in Buda. Budapest is known as the ‘city of spas’, so I’ll probably spend most of my time soaking in thermal springs and getting massages. I haven’t really thought about what else I’ll do other than that.

I will then be heading to the Golden Sands resort near Varna on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. I’ll be spending a whole week winning tournament at the Eureka Poker Tour (or relaxing on the beach if I donk out in the early levels).

Hopefully I run better than I did in the last Eureka event in Croatia last month (trip report here) where I busted the main on the last level of a long day 1 and bubbled both of the side events I played.

After Varna I will spend a few days in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. It looks like a great place to go hiking from so that’s my plan assuming dry weather. At night I will check out some of the casinos to play some poker assuming that my week at Eureka doesn’t leave me tilted.

I’ll then be back in Scotland for just a week before heading off to Ireland for UKIPT Galway. Tough life.

Blogs

Other than this blog I’m also writing on PokerStarsBlog.com. My first blog posts there are advice for poker pros who want to travel and take their work with them. I go into details about choosing suitable accommodation, laptop and backup internet amongst other things.

Digital Nomad – part 1
Digital Nomad – part 2

FPP Millionaire

Here’s an updated spreadsheet of my FPP spending so far this year.

I’ve gotten a lot for 300k as you can see. Of course I will be using FPPs to pay for everything on my upcoming trip too,

Fitness

If you were following my blog late last year you’ll know that I really got into healthy eating and fitness. I managed to lose most of my excess weight, going from 95Kg to 75Kg over the year.

Well moving back to Scotland was somewhat of a culture shock after 2 years in Asia. With the lack of daylight and brutal weather at the start of the year I barely went outside and started eating junk food again.

I weighed myself a couple of months ago and I was back up to 88Kg. It was a bit of a shock, but since then I’ve started running again. It’s now summer in Scotland so the days are long and sometimes it’s warm, or at least mild.

This is where I’ve been running at 4am as soon as it becomes daylight. Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Usually I’m the only person there so it’s like my own private playground to run around in.


Video Games

I blew more than 3 years of dust off my PlayStation 3 recently because ‘Last Of Us‘ was released. It’s an epic zombie apocalypse game, made by the same developers as ‘Uncharted’. It had an incredible amount of hype and I’m happy to say that it lived up to it. Easily one of the best single player games ever created.

I bought someone’s Steam account from them a couple of months ago for £75. He had over 160 games, so that’s value right there! The main games I’ve been playing on my laptop are Sleeping Dogs, an open world GTA type game set in Hong Kong and Back To The Future, a point-and-click adventure game based on the movie by the same developers as Walking Dead.

On Xbox 360 I recently played through Far Cry 3, which was thoroughly enjoyable, and have been dipping into Borderlands 2 and BioShock Infinite now and again.

I’m not as in touch with the video game scene as I used to be. For the 2 years that I was in Asia I only had a Nintendo 3DS, while my consoles were back in Scotland. So leave a comment here or on twitter @Daleroxxu if you’ve got any recent game recommendations for me.

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Eureka Croatia – Trip Report

Last week I travelled to Croatia to attended my first Eureka Poker Tour event.

Eureka is a regional tour that takes in some awesome locations across several central and eastern European countries. This event was in Dubrovnik, a beautiful and historic city on the Adriatic Sea coast of Croatia. A location that I’d heard a lot of good things about but had never visited before. As soon as I found out that there was a PokerStars event there I marked those dates on my calendar.

Main Event – Day 1a

I chose to play Day 1a of the main event as this was the final day of the SCOOP online poker series. I expected that most of the better players would be playing that and then participating in Day 1b of Eureka. What I had forgotten though was that people can play on PokerStars using a mobile device these days, so almost every young player in the field was multi-tabling between live and online poker later in the day when the SCOOP Main Event began.

All of the Team PokerStars Pros who were playing this event had chosen to play Day 1b. I said to Nick Wright from the PokerStars Blog that it’s pretty funny how “the Team Online guy is playing live and the Team Pro players are playing tomorrow so they can play SCOOP.” He wrote a nice piece on how my day was going – Eureka3 Croatia: The ups and downs of Team Online’s Dale Philip.

I got off to a bad start in the tourney, losing every pot I played. It wasn’t long before I was down to just half of my 20k starting stack. Fortunately the structure was slow, starting with 400BBs, and my table was very good, so I still felt confident about building a stack. And I did slowly, but surely, regain chips.

There was one player at the table who played every single hand. Literally 100% VPIP. It’s not often you see that these days at any kind of significant stakes. He would put in a raise pre-flop with any decent cards and limp or call a raise with everything else. He would occasionally fold to a 3-bet, but usually not. Post-flop he would call down with any pair. You would think this would be a losing strategy but he just kept gaining chips and putting his opponents on tilt with rivered gutshots and all sorts.

Photo by Ivan Dabac / PokerStars

My biggest pot came when this player was in the BB and I was in middle position with 88. I min-raised and he called. I flopped great on a 852r board. He checked and I bet quite a large amount, close to full pot. I felt that against this particular opponent I could just bet larger amounts with my very strong hands because he would call those bets just as often as he would if they was smaller, and he likely wouldn’t catch on to this ‘bet sizing tell’. I think it’s fine to play in a way that is technically exploitable if your opponent isn’t going to exploit it.

The turn was a 7, he checked and I but large again which he quickly called. The river was an 8 give quads and again I bet huge and he snap called and showed AA. I got almost 3/4 of my stack in but, and maybe I’m being greedy here, I still felt like I got unlucky. If he 3-bets his hand pre-flop like he’s supposed to, then I call and I end up getting my whole stack in post-flop.

At the dinner break I had 40k from the 20k starting stack and was feeling good about things.

To my surprise the casino put on a complimentary hot buffet for the players every day. This was in addition to free bottled water and fruit juice being available throughout the event in two large fridges in tournament room. They really know how to look after the players there.

I gave this feedback in the players survey that asked ‘what was the best thing about the event?’ and ‘what would you like to see incorporated in other PokerStars events?’. I said that would like to see the kind of hospitality shown to us at Eureka with the complimentary food and drink expanded to other PokerStars tours such as UKIPT.

The buffet was really high quality with a selection of hot meat, fish and vegetables, sushi, a variety of breads, fresh fruit and large assortment of desserts. Omnomnomnom.

As I sat in my chair after the break one of my opponents looked at me and said “you ate too much, I can tell by the look on your face.”. And he was right. I need to stay away from buffets as I just don’t know when to stop.

About half an hour after the restart I lost a 30k pot with JJ. I raised UTG and a Polish HUSNG pro in the BB called. I bet 3 streets J96-K-Q and he check-calls me down and showed KT for a straight. This took me down to 23k in chips. Maybe my river value bet seems a bit thin but I felt like he could figure me for barrelling on good turn and river cards and call me with worse.

Shortly after, against the same Polish HUSNG pro, I got a decent amount of those chips back. The aforementioned 100% VPIP player open limped and the Pole raised from the button. I looked down at A5s in the SB and 3-bet. The Pole thought for a long time before putting in a 4-bet that equalled 1/3 of my stack. My instincts were that he was bluffing, that he was smart enough to know that I know he was iso-raising the weak player in position and that I could easily 3-bet bluff him in this spot. After thinking about it for a while I 5-bet shoved and he folded instantly.

Our table broke, much to my disappointment but my new table still wasn’t bad. I had a couple of young players around me but a lot of old men on the other side of the table. I got chatting to the kid on my left who told me he was a Swedish HUSNG pro.

An old man raised and I 3-bet him from the CO with A7s. The Swedish kid on the button then almost min 4-bet and the old man folded. Again, I just felt like this guy was screwing with me, but this time we had no history other than chatting to each other. Again the 4-bet was 1/3 of my stack. I ended up sticking it in and he snap-called with KK. Ooops. I thought he had me covered but he had a few BBs less than me, meaning that with the sizing, he was probably way less likely to be bluffing. Oh dear, pretty big mistake. Needless to say I didn’t suck out, or run up the short stack that I was left with. So with 30 minutes left of the day it was GG for me.

Mount Srd

The day after busting the main event I decided that I needed some fresh air and exercise. I got what I needed by hiking up the mountain that overlooks Dubrovnik, Mount Srd. There’s actually a cable car that can take you to the top and back, so fat and lazy people can also get up the mountain for €11.

The view from the top was incredible. I could see all of the coastal area around Dubrovnik on one side, and the mountains of Bosnia on the other side. There was also a fort on top of the mountain which was important during the war in the early 90’s and is now a memorial museum.

PLO Side Event

After my hike I had just enough time for a shower and a sandwich before rushing to the casino to play the PLO side event. My one live tourney win was PLO and I hoped to make it two. With only 39 players in the field, I fancied my chances.

I coasted to the final table with an average stack but in a field this small a final table does not equal a cash. Only 5 places paid but with 5 short stacks at the table I was in a good spot. Unfortunately every time a short stack got it in they doubled up. I also lost chunks of my stack on three occasions by raising preflop with double-suited slightly gappy rundowns, flatting a pot 3-bet from a weak player who had obvious AAxx, and completely missing the flop.

Then after being completely card dead for an hour the tourney was down to just 6 players, the bubble. I had a short stack of just 8BBs. The next closest in chips had three times as many as me. I got it in preflop with KKxx and unfortunately was up against AAxx. I didn’t even get a proper sweat as the flop and turn gave me just 2 outs and I didn’t hit one of them. So I stone bubbled.

Tired, tilted and hungry, I went to a restaurant close by that was recommended to me. I was the only customer so I though “great, I’ll get served quickly.”. I ordered some grilled chicken speciality and sat there on my own for 25 minutes, even more tired, tilted and hungry than when I walked in. What could be taking the entire staff of this restaurant so long to prepare my food?

I expected they must be working on some kind of elaborate meal, and then this absolute joke was served to me.

Basically just a small pile of grilled chicken in some pesto oil. No sides. I feel like I just got trolled so hard. Running worse at eating out than I do at poker, that takes some doing.

Players Party

The next evening was the players party, held in a nightclub in the 600 year old Revelin Fort on the edge of the old city. With an open bar, just like at the buffet, I never know when to stop. Just as well I am a Scotsman and can handle my drink otherwise I may have made a fool of myself……..

Photos by Ivan Dabac / PokerStars.

The players parties are always a great part of these poker tours. Even if you don’t do well at the poker, you still have at least one good night out during your stay.

Turbo Deepstack

The next day I managed to recover in time to play the evening’s Turbo Deepstack side event. Although I did register at the end of level 3 so it was really more like just a Turbo.

It was a fun tourney and a lot of the players I was playing with I had met at the party the night before so every table I was at was very chatty and sociable, which you don’t get enough of in poker these days.

I was running pretty good and with 16 players left of the 119 starting field and it paying 14 spots I had an above average chip stack of around 16BBs. That was when the button shipped in 7BBs, I was in the small blind with 99 and shoved, and the big blind snap called. I was up against KK and 65s and didn’t get there. So my 2nd live tourney bubble in 3 days. Very annoying. The buyins were pretty small, but after investing so much time and energy it still hurts to bubble. LOL live pokers.

Just like two nights before, I was tired, tilted and hungry. I went to a different restaurant this time and ordered a grilled chicken salad. This time it was served in only a few minutes. It was a plate of chopped lettuce, sliced tomatoes and cold pieces of chicken. Nothing else and no dressing. Just….. URGH!! This is what miserable feels like.

Thankfully I did find a great restaurant the next day and so I ate every meal for the rest of my stay there. With the previous bad experiences it wasn’t worth the risk of trying anywhere new. If you travel to Dubrovnik you’d do well to avoid ordering anything from a menu that says “grilled chicken”.

Game of Thrones Filming Location Tour

The next day, I was done with poker. There was just one last event but I skipped it to get outside and do stuff. I’m a big fan of the TV show Game of Thrones so I jumped at the chance to take a tour around some of the filming locations in Dubrovnik that were used for Kings Landing, the Battle of Blackwater and Qarth.

The tour isn’t available to the public yet so it was just me and a journalist from Ireland. The lady who led the tour was a local with knowledge of when and where all the filming took place last year.

The fort that was used extensively during the Battle of Blackwater scenes was closed to the public but she was able to get the key from the man who looked after it and let us in. In the basement of the same fort was the most recognisable location to me, it was used as the House of the Undying where the warlock held the dragons in chains.

We also took a boat trip to the island of Lokrum which was used as a location for Qarth, and walk around the garden where they had the garden party.

Montenegro

On the final day of my trip I visited the beautiful country of Montenegro. What a great place. The town of Kotor reminded me a lot of Dubrovnik in that it’s set inside a fortification and has a mountain overlooking it.

Of course I hiked right up to the top of that mountain and took in some sick views.

It was a nice end to my trip. I may have had a horrible time at the poker tables but with the great location, party and things to see and do, I still went home feeling like I had a good trip. That’s what these events are all  about.

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Bounty on my Head

I have a bounty on my head, and it’s worth $100. So come get it this Sunday in the Red Spade Open.Where: PokerStars.When: Sunday, April 28, at 15:00 ET (That’s 8pm in the UK).Buy-in: $55Guarantee: $1,000,000First Place: At least $200,000$100 bounty on …

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FPP Millionaire

It seems that I’ve been accumulating FPPs (Frequent Player Points) on PokerStars faster than I can spend them, as I now have over a million in my account. I always knew I’d become a millionaire one day. I mean, I was hoping it would be in pounds sterling, or failing that – US dollars, but being an FPP millionaire is still pretty neat.

Being the thrifty Scotsman that I am, I look to get the best possible value from my points. The most profitable way to spend FPPs is by using the Concierge Service that is available to Supernova+ VIPs.

For the duration of 2013 I plan to pay for all my travel and accommodation with FPPs as well as buy some cool stuff. Here is what I’ve bought already this year:

The next thing that I spend FPPs on will probably be a new laptop or a trip to somewhere warmer than Scotland.

5-Card Omaha and Courchevel

As if 4-card Omaha wasn’t degen enough, PokerStars is now spreading 5-card Omaha and Hi/Lo, as well as Courchevel (the first flop card is shown ‘pre-flop’).

I played a bit of Courchevel but so far I’m not a fan. That may have something to do with my pre-flop sets not holding up though. I was expecting some fast crazy action game but instead I got tables that were filled with the same players who were multi-tabling, nitting it up and playing slow as hell. Maybe the recreational players need some time to find out that these games exist and learn the rules. One would think that it’s a game that would attract action players so I’m keen to see how the games develop in the future.

Omaha Week

Starting today, Monday 25th of March, it is officially Omaha Week on PokerStars.

There are some real nice promotions going on, my favourite being Omaha Happy Hours.

Running for one hour from 04:00, 10:00, 16:00 and 22:00 ET (add 4 hours for UK time) you earn 50% more VPPs and FPPs in Ring Games, Sit & Go’s and MTTs. More FPPs? Sure, can’t get enough!

There’s also taster tourneys with a 5 FPP buyin offering sick value, new Omaha MTTs, deposit bonus and an EPT seat up for grabs.

Facebook and Twitter

When I first got involved in the poker community most of my interaction with other players were through forums such as TwoPlusTwo and Blonde Poker. These days it’s more on social media, especially Twitter.

Since I update Twitter about 100 times more often than I do this blog you may want to follow me there if you don’t already @Daleroxxu.

I’m also on that there Facebook site.

Elysia

My friend Serena is a super talented writer and is currently producing an epic sci-fi graphic novel called Elysia. If you’re into that kind of thing you should definitely check it out and support her KickStarter project.

The room that the video below was filmed is where I was sleeping when I was down in that London for the UKIPT a couple of weeks ago.

Modelling

Someone on Twitter (sorry, I forgot who) was doing their weekly shop at the supermarket a few months ago when he spotted evidence of my childhood career as a model. I had been trying to keep that quiet up until now, but my secret is out.

Here I am doing what I do best, sleeping. Easy game. Ship the royalty cheque DryNites!

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UKIPT London – Trip Report

London was the final stop of the UKIPT season. It was only my third event though and I felt like I’m just getting started. That’s what I get for being AWOL in Asia the last couple of years I guess.

After a disappointing Day 1 bust out in Edinburgh and small cash in Cork, I went to London hoping to improve on those results and take a shot at the £150,000 first place prize.

Main Event Day 1
I only managed to sleep for a few hours the night before so I wasn’t happy to learn that we’d be playing for 11 levels. Including breaks that meant that the day, beginning at midday, would end around 1am. Tough grind.
I missed the first 15 minutes of play because I had to queue up to get the new PS Live card that’s now required for entry into live PokerStars events. They gave me fair warning about this with an email telling me to turn up early. Early isn’t my style though.

My starting table was comprised of 6 young Scandy-looking kids and 2 older blokes. Everyone was pretty competent with no obvious fish. You know what they say? If you can’t spot then sucker at the table then…….. *gulp*…. oh dear!
For the first 4 levels I was ridiculously card dead. I’m learning how not to spew off chips when I have 300BBs and that includes just nitting it up when I’m getting dealt junk hands. I nittied it up so hard that my opponents began to comment on my nittiness. That was a good thing, because as soon as the antes kicked in I used that image to my advantage.
While I was playing I received a tweet from Mat Frankland, who I knew from online but had never met in person before. He was playing in the same room and I tweeted back asking him to come over to my table and say hi. 30 minutes later he walked up to my table and said hi. Then I noticed that he was carrying a rack of chips, which he put on the table then sat himself in the empty seat opposite me. Oh dear.
As if the table wasn’t tough enough. I should be more specific when I make my wishes.
3 guys who didn’t know they were being photographed.
Bear in mind that there were about 50 tables, so pretty much a one-outter.
At the dinner break at the end of level 6 I had a stack of 23k from the 15k starting stack without having invested more than 3k in any single pot. I was still absurdly card dead but with larger blinds and the introduction of an ante I was finding spots to gain chips.
During the previous level I could hear a lot of screaming, laughing and shouting in Scottish accents from the bar about 30 meters away. I was pretty sure I knew who’s loud-mouthed voices those belonged to so as soon as the break began I walked over to the bar to meet the likes of Paul McTaggart, Niall Farrell and Alex Ferguson who had all busted earlier and were now grinding the drinks menu.
Paul said they were going to a great steakhouse about 7 minutes walk away. With 60 minutes for the dinner break it would be cutting it a little fine, but I really wanted a nice sit-down meal rather than some junk food, so I was up for it.
There ended up being about 15 of us in the group, and with a combination of some blatant lies about how far away the restaurant was and drunk people leading the way, it took us over 20 minutes to get there.
The restaurant was packed and there was no way we’d get served quick enough to make it back to the tournament in time. Regardless, I wasn’t about to spend £30 on a steak dinner that I’d have to force down my throat in 5 minutes. So myself, Ross Gaff and Brett Angell who were also still in tourney decided to GTFO and head back the way we came, at this point in the pissing rain.
We ended up at McDonalds. Yes, I went out looking forward to and expecting a delicious steak dinner and what I got was a Mucky D’s. Huge beat.
Shortly after the dinner break, my table was broken. Just what I wanted, as it was a tough table with less than it’s fair share of punters. Unfortunately my new table was just as bad. I looked around and saw a bunch of youngsters, then sat down between Kevin MacPhee and Sebastian Saffari. If that wasn’t bad enough, Mat Frankland had drawn the same table as me and sat down opposite me, again! Mat commented that he wouldn’t be happy with this table in an EPT, never mind a UKIPT.
With a £770 buyin and 1099 runners there must have been some bad players in the tournament, I sure as hell wasn’t getting a chance to play with them though.
By the final level of the day I still hadn’t played a big pot yet but I had over 50k chips in front of me, from a 15k starting stack. Decent grinding. Then, at 1am I decided to undo a good days work by losing half of my stack.

I had KK under the gun and raised. I got FOUR!!!!! callers. The flop came down T32 with two spades and since one of my opponents held 22 I could easily have went broke but an A turn and 3 of spades river gave me enough reason to fold when he put me all in on the river.

75% of the field had busted on Day 1 but I limped through to Day 2 with 25,500 chips going into BB 1,600.

Hyper Deepstack Side Event

During an afternoon of shopping on Oxford street I used the PokerStars Mobile app on my phone to conveniently register and pay for the first side event of UKIPT London later that day.

It was my first visit to the new PokerStars Live card room inside the Hippodrome casino at Leicester Square. (The main event was being held at the Victoria Casino on the other side of town).

The London Hippodrome is an old building with a lot of history. As a theatre, at the beginning of the last century, Charlie Chaplin starred in the first ever show there. It later became a nightclub with live performances by the likes of Diana Ross & The Supremes, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and The Temptations, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, the list goes on and on.

The Hippodrome was converted into a swank new casino last summer and only last week the new 24 hour PokerStars Live lounge was launched.

The card room is up in ‘the gods’, the highest floor in the building, while the old stage area provides expansion for more tournament tables.

Stage area of the Hippodrome. Photo taken by @chuckpoker

I played the first side event of UKIPT London, the £110 Hyper Turbo Deepstack event.

The field was extremely soft. It was about on par with an $11 Sunday Storm online, where if you have more than 2 competent players at your table then you’re running bad. Players were limping garbage, calling raises out of position with junk hands and giving off massive live tells. Fun.

I ended up going pretty deep but when the average stack size got to 8BBs I couldn’t find a hand better than bottom 20% to shove with, or people would shove before me, and I ended up blinding down from 15BBs to 5BBs, only to get it in with T8o vs JTo and lose. A situation that almost never happens to me in turbo tourneys as I will find a spot to get it in rather than blinding off, but not much you can do when you go a couple of rounds without seeing a card higher than a 7.

I finished 12th for £300. The payout process took under a minute. I just handed them my PS Live card and asked for it to be transferred back to my PokerStars account and that was that. It’s really convenient playing PokerStars events in that you never need to handle any cash, buying and cashouts can all be done through your PokerStars account.

Main Event Day 2

With only a 15BB stack I sat down at a table full of pros and was drawn to be the big blind for the first hand. So that was a bad start. No problem though, one double up and I’d have a stack I could work with.

I folded the first 3 hands then open shoved QJo from the CO to take down the blinds and antes. A few hands later I was UTG with pocket 8’s and open shoved. A guy in late position with a slightly bigger stack then me shoved behind me and flipped over KK. K on the flop, not even a sweat. GG.

As I walked away I was called back, as it wasn’t clear that my opponent had me covered. Right after busting all I want to do is get as far away from the poker room as possible, so it was painful to stand there as the dealer counted out the stacks. After counting he said “Yep, he has you covered by 200 chips”. And that was that.

Sightseeing

This is the part of the blog where I would have talked about all the cool sights I seen in London and posted loads of photos……

Unfortunately it was pissing down with rain and 3 degrees so I gave the sightseeing a miss. Despite countless visits to London I’ve still never visited the likes of Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

Instead, I spent my free time at the theatre, because I could sit on my ass and be entertained yet still be doing something that I couldn’t do at home.

Over a few days I saw Rock of Ages, The Lion King, Woman in Black and Let it Be.

As for food, well unfortunately I didn’t make it to any of London’s fancy Michelin star restaurants. I did, however find somewhere with excellent food that was reasonably priced (by London standards) only a short walk from the Hippodrome.

Cafe in the Crypt is a self-service cafe down inside an 18th century crypt. I got a quarter roast chicken with stuffing and vegetables, a plum and berry pudding with custard and a bottle of diet Coke for under £15. It was very, very nice (the venue and the food) and being self service it meant no waiting time, so an ideal place to eat for someone who is on their own and/or in a hurry.

PokerStars Party

This is the part of the blog where I would have talked about how much fun I had at the PokerStars UKIPT / EPT London party at top nightclub DSTRKT. Unfortunately I made the donk move of going for a short nap before the party, only to wake up at 1am. Epic fail.

I’d been planning on meeting lots of different people there, some I’ve never met in person before but have known online for years. And just thinking about the lost value from all the free drinks that I would have consumed during the 8pm-11:30pm open bar period is tilting me extremely hard.

If you snooze, you loose. I snoozed, I lost. 🙁

The next UKIPT season will begin in June with a summer holiday to Marbella in the south of Spain. See you there amigos. Scottish and Irish lads, don’t forget the Factor 50.

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UKIPT Cork – Trip Report

Last week I flew to Cork, Ireland to play the latest stop on the UK and Ireland Poker Tour.

A direct flight from Edinburgh with Aer Lingus meant it was a quick, cheap and easy location to get to.

I chose not to stay in a hotel on this trip. I’m starting to learn how to travel without absolutely haemorrhaging money.

I found a highly rated Bed & Breakfast place called Acorn Lodge on the same road as the UKIPT event, about 10 minutes walk away, for just €40 a night. I booked 4 nights there for a total of €160. Compare that to a 4 star hotel that would have cost me €660. Travel is a skill game and I just shipped a €500 pot.

The B&B was lovely and greatly exceeded my expectations. I had a nice room with cable TV, free WiFi, en-suite with power shower, all the stuff you’d expect from a hotel really. The best part was the full Irish breakfast every morning, top quality, delicious and really set me up for the day.

After hearing from people staying at the Rocheston how their internet was unusable (something that tilts me more than anything) I was especially glad that I chose alternative accommodation.

I’m paying for all my travel and accommodation this year with FPPs (Frequent Player Points) thanks to the PokerStars VIP Club Congierge Service. Basically I send my receipts to vipclub@pokerstars.com and they deduct FPPs at a rate of 0.0161 FPP/$USD and credit my account with the cash.

It cost 19,576 FPPs for the flight and 13,160 FPPs for the B&B. I’ll be keeping track in a spreadsheet and publish the totals in future blogs.

Main Event Day 1

The venue was sound, a massive conference hall with modern décor filled with poker tables. There was no alcohol being served though. Local law states that there’s to be ‘no gambling on licensed premises’. The sober Irishmen probably made the field a bit tougher than it otherwise would. I’d rather that my opponents were drunk and happily splashing their chips around.

There were a total of 387 players entered over the two Day 1’s, which was pretty low and barely scraped over the guarantee. The previous lowest attendance this season in the UKIPT has been 550 in Bristol. The only thing that I can think of for such low numbers is that they scheduled it on Valentines Day, and loads of guys are under the thumb, so…..

There was WiFi available but the signal was so weak that I couldn’t even connect. Neither could anyone else so I quickly gave up on that idea and just used data roaming on my phone to keep the Twitter updates flowing. With Vodafone it only costs a flat £2 for 25MB of data for 24 hours, which is decent.

The table was friendly with a lot of banter, most of it coming from Willie, a fellow Scotsman.

One of the Irish lads asked me “what is it you normally play online? just comps?”. I was like “what are comps? like freerolls?”, thinking comp stands for ‘complementary’.

Nope, apparently that’s what they call tournaments in Cork. ‘Comps’ is short for ‘competitions’.

“What else would you call them?” another local asked me. “Tourneys…” I said, “I came here to win a tourney but I’ll settle for winning a comp!”.

© Mickey May / PokerStars

I’d barely gotten myself comfortable when on my second hand of the tournament I picked up QQ and lost 10% of my stack to KK on a rag board. Another player at the table said he was amazed that I lost so little, but with 300 BB starting stacks I’m hardly going broke with an overpair of queens on my first hand.

There was one player at the table that was clearly very inexperienced. He was playing every pot and at first I thought he might just be a good LAG player but then a hand came up where he rivered the nut full house and check-called, haha, absolutely astonishing.

I played a hand with him where I raised J8o on the button and he flatted me out of the blinds. The flop came 842r, which looked pretty good to me. The bloke lead into me, I called. K pops on the turn, bloke leads for same size he did on flop, I called. 8 river, giving us a board of 842K8, and the bloke lead for a decent amount. So I called and he showed me 84o for the boat. mbn.

Guys at the table were talking about the hand and asking me stuff like “can you believe he’s calling out of the blinds with that rubbish?” but I just sat there quietly, trying to avoid talking about the hand. The bloke was obviously not an experienced poker player and he looked pretty happy about scooping the pot, so you just have to take the small defeat on the chin and let him have fun and play the way he wants.

I was down to 11K chips (from 15K starting stack) after a couple of hours but the structure is slow enough that I still had over 100BBs and plenty of room to make moves. By the end of level 4 I was back up to 15,050 chips. 50 chip profit for 4 hours of play, now that’s grinding!

I didn’t remain in the black for long though because the first hand after the second break I came back and lost a standard preflop flip with AKo vs QQ for a 10k pot.

Not long after that I was sitting with 12K at BB300 and there was an UTG raise to 600, and UTG+1 3-bet to 1500 with 3500 behind. I picked up QQ in middle position and flatted, trying to be tricky with the hope that UTG may isolate-shove with a wide range of hands. Cold 4-betting in that spot looks pretty strong and I think I can get more value out of my hand by flatting.

So I flatted then a tight player in the blinds that I’d played with from the start cold 4-bet shoved his 10K stack into the pot pretty quickly. I hadn’t even witnessed him 3-bet so far so I had to think his range was super tight here, like AA, KK, QQ and AK, and I wasn’t even sure about AK. The 3-bettor called pretty fast, clearly pot-committed.

I was left looking down at QQ with 8500 to call with about 16,000 in the middle. If I called and lost I would have only 2,000 chips remaining. I thought it was just too likely that I was up against KK or AA and folded. Seems like pretty ridiculous nitty fold when it’s only a 33BB shove, but I hate to go against my instincts.

As it turned out, it was the wrong fold, as the 4-bet shover had AK and the short stack had AQ. Big sighs from me, especially when the flop came out all rags. K on the river though. Nothing like making the wrong move and it working out for you.

Soon after that hand the antes kicked in, we lost the looser players, and I started open raising blind whenever it was folded to me and barrelling most boards on most streets. Within two levels I had spun my stack up from 12k to 30k with barely a showdown.

Things got even better when I coolered Matt Heap pretty hard. He minraised UTG and I flatted with 77. He check-called me on a 752 flop and check-shoved the K turn with 55.

I ended the day with over 50K, with the average being 36.5K. Not a bad day’s work.

Main Event Day 2


© Mickey May / PokerStars

After another full Irish breakfast and 10 minutes of fresh air walking from the B&B I flew out of the starting blocks on Day 2.

A lot of players were late so we played 5-handed and my tablemates were all older guys, which was nice. I got to steal a lot of blinds, then stacked a short stack with my top pair weak kicker Vs his nut flush draw all-in on the flop. Taking me up to 70K in chips.

That meant that we needed another player brought to the table. My day had started off so well, but then raise-happy YoYo Julian Thew sat himself down on my direct left with a big pile of chips. I believe my words were “oh dear”.

I guess Yo-Yo-ism is contagious because my stack was up and down and up and down from that point.

I won some small pots to chip up a but before long I lost it all back in a 50K pot with AT vs 77 all in pre. I flopped the T and the bloke was halfway out the door as I watched the runner-runner flush get dealt out.

I then got it all back and more when there was an UTG raise and a player 3-bet shipped it in for 26K. I cold 4-bet shoved with AQ, which held against his A8.

Then I lost another >50K pot in a button vs BB battle. All the chips went in preflop and my 22 was looking good, still ahead against his A7o on the flop. We both then went runner-runner flush, which wasn’t nice for me.

Since Julian is a more experienced live player than me by an enormous margin I asked him what he though of my chip stacking skills. He was less than impressed to say the very least. Admittedly, I was stacking in piles of 10s like a complete mug punter.

I took to Twitter, asking people to give my chip stacking skills a score out of 10. I think I averaged just under 3. 🙁 Chip stacking is a skill game and I’m clearly a fish,

I was studying Julian’s chip stacking technique, trying to learn, but then he made them all disappear. On the bubble no less. He took a brutal 2-outer on the river against Robert Sinclair, who is a good loose-aggressive player from Scotland, then shortly after that he shoved over the same player’s raise with 33 only to get called by 55.

The UKIPT floor staff made the players stand there with their cards face down for aaaaaages before running out the board. That must be awful for the players involved. I think the players told each other what their cards were, but it’s still a massive slowroll waiting so long for the community cards to be run out in such an important hand.

Loads of people gathered round and everyone that was left in the event was routing for Robert to win the hand and burst the bubble, myself included. Stacks were shallow and hand-for-hand was getting painfully boring. As we waited I noticed Robert’s green hat. “Are you a Celtic man?” I asked. “Aye, I am”, he replied. “OK, I hope you bloody loose this hand then!” I laughed.

I looked around expecting some chuckles but all I saw were about 50 Irishmen giving me the death stare. Uhh ohhh….. “I was forgetting where I am, sorry.”

Robert won the hand and with 48 players remaining I got my first UKIPT cash. I think we lost about 10 players in the next 20 minutes after the bubble. The payout structure was pretty flat until the final table and stacks were shallow so everyone was looking to gamble.

I ended the day with 57,500 chips, barely more than I started with, and only 11.5BBs going into the next day at BB5,000.

I was looking for spots to shove in the last couple of orbits but frustratingly they just weren’t there. On my direct left was Alex Rhys-Davies who is a smart online player that was ready to snap me off light when I shoved so I couldn’t shove toooo loose. Regardless, I got no hands that were even marginal. There were spots where I could have opened-shoved like 60% of hands profitably but I kept getting hands like 93o and 42o.

I bagged up the chips and headed to the players party to wind down.

Players Party

At every PokerStars sponsored event there’s a players party held in a nice bar/club. Usually when I go to a club it’s with the intention of shipping a girl, but I know from past experience that these PokerStars players parties are complete sausage-fests. All the females there are poker WAGs.

© Mickey May / PokerStars

But the drinks are free (until the tab runs out) so it’s good to just get merry and have a laugh with a bunch of poker lads.

When I got to East Village I met up with a bunch of the good-guys of British poker including Alex Ferguson, Paul McTaggart, Niall Farrell, Jake Cody and Jamie Sykes who told me that they had just been the victims of a drive-by water-bombing. Apparently a car drove up beside them and smacked them with water-bombs, and then another car drove up and did exactly the same.

So bizarre. I’m pretty sure that when I was old enough to drive I had given up playing with water-bombs. Although just as well this happened in a safe part of the world. There’s a lot of cities where being the victim of a drive-by would result in more than just getting wet!

Usually when I drink I just like to drink straight Scotch the whole night but that wasn’t good enough for these degenerates. Upon finding out that I’d never had a Jagerbomb, one was immediately placed in my hand and I was ordered to gulp it down.

After the PokerStars tab ran out we played rock-paper-scissors to decide who would buy the next round of Jagerbombs or Tequilas. We’d all shoot at the same time and the minority dropped out until two of us were left heads-up, playing straight rock-paper-scissors to decide who get’s them in. I didn’t lose a single game, ship the rungood. Meanwhile, Jake lost about half of them, eight-way.

At 1am we took taxis into the city to go to a nightclub called Havana. When we got there the bouncers basically closed the doors in our faces and said they were closing in 1 hour. It turns out that in Ireland the clubs close at 2am, which is beyond f-in ridiculous. Well, myself and Alex Fergie, being smooth-talking Scotsmen, smooth-talked them into letting us in. After they let us in we tried to tip them €20 but they wouldn’t accept it. Nice. If that was in America they would have snap-called and asked for more!

We had a good laugh there with everyone merry and having a great time. I wasn’t too wasted because I was alternating my drinks between alcohol and water, being responsible since I was playing poker the next day.

I reckon that I could still play an 11BB stack if I was in a coma, but you never know, I might have doubled up a couple of times and actually had to concentrate.

Main Event Day 3

© Mickey May / PokerStars

My table draw sucked. Only one player at the table had over 20BBs and the rest were between 9 and 18BBs. Everyone at the table were experienced pros with Dara O’Kearney on my left and Andrew Grimason and Liv Boeree on my right.

On the first hand I looked down at the A9o in the CO and shipped in the 11.5BB. O’Kearney on my left immediately re-shoved and I knew I was in a spot of bother. He flipped over AJ but the board ran out KT2-K-2 for a chop. Lucky.

A couple of hands later I got 77 in the BB and the CO shoved into me for 7BBs. Easy call, but somehow he managed to be holding QQ. So I lost that and was very much crippled.

In the CO again, I looked down at A9o, again. Liv Boeree min-raised UTG and I shoved for 5.5BBs. Easy call for her and I was up against Q7s. The board ran out blanks and I even had the flush draw by the turn, but the river was a nasty off-suit 7 and my tournament was over.

I finished 32nd for €1,710. Oh well, I’ll save the real deep run for a bigger event.

I got a little bit of cash, got to meet a load of new people or people I previously only interacted with online, got some more live experience and had a lot of fun. So it was a good trip over all. What I didn’t get to do was see any of Cork, other than that one nightclub, or any of the tourist sights nearby. It seems like a lovely place though and I hope to return.

The next UKIPT is in London in a couple of weeks and is the final one of the season. There are three Day 1’s for this one so it looks like there will be a massive field and prizepool.

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Running Cold

I’ve been running extremely cold recently. No, I’m not talking about poker. I’ve literally been running cold….

I’ve been spending most of my days recently thinking to myself:


Why is it so cold?
Why is everyone so fat?
Why is everyone so white?
Why is everyone so miserable?
Why is everything so expensive?

Because I’m back in Scotland, obviously.

This is the first time I’ve been back in the UK since 2010 and the culture shock has hit me hard.

There’s many things I miss about Thailand:

Weather: In Thailand the temperature is usually 30 – 40 C during the day and about 25 C at night. Every day. There’s no cold season. When I stepped out of Edinburgh airport in shorts and T-shirts (my standard dress for the last couple of years) I got the shock of my life when I was hit with < 0 degree temperatures and a snow shower. Welcome home Dale!

Cheapness: In Bangkok a massage costs as low as £3, a meal in a clean food court starts at £0.50, a maid to clean up after me a few quid and trains and metered taxis cost pennies. When I left my condo in Bangkok my taxi to the airport (27km / 32 mins) cost £3.65. When I arrived in Edinburgh my taxi from the airport to Dalkeith (17km / 23 minutes) cost £36. I’d been back in Scotland for half an hour and was already feeling the impact in the difference in temperature and prices.

Massages: Since returning home I’ve been grinding online poker sitting in a crappy wooden chair in my parent’s kitchen. So I could really do with a massage right about now. I found a place close by but their rate was £30 / hour (plus tip expected obv). Even with an aching back I just couldn’t bring myself to pay that ludicrous price.

I guess £30/hr isn’t even that bad, but after having an amazing full body massage almost every day for the last couple of years I’m finding it difficult to accept that I need to pay 10 times as much for something that sure as hell won’t be as good, or just do without massages.

Girls: Being a young white guy in Asia is like being a rock star. Being a young white guy in Scotland is like… well, you’re not getting laid on that basis, that’s for sure. In Asia, yeah, you pretty much are.

Also, Asian girls >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Scottish girls. And it’s not even close.

Food: Thai’s love to eat and so do I. In Thailand there are restaurants everywhere and are great value. It’s actually cheaper to eat in a restaurants than to make the same meal yourself at home. So I used to enjoy eating in restaurants every day. Back here it’s much more expensive to eat out and Scotland isn’t exactly known for it’s great food. Deep fried haggis anyone?

But it’s not all bad news, I guess. Things that I like about being home:

Weather: Ok, so this is in both categories. Bangkok is the hottest city in the world (according to The World Meteorological Organisation). I’m now finding it nice to be able to walk down the street without sweating like a pig. Although it’s ridic cold. I’ve went from one extreme to the other. A happy medium would be nice.

Language: Although most Thais in the city working in service jobs speak English reasonably well, and I did my best to learn basic Thai, there were still plenty of annoying situations where the language barrier got in the way. Not that anyone here in Scotland is able to speak English clearly mind you, but I am fluent in the local lingo so it’s all good.

Road Safety: In Thailand when you cross the road you’re taking you’re putting your life in immediate danger. God forbid you actually try driving on the roads yourself. People drive way too fast, on the wrong side of the road – or even the pavement and red traffic lights are completely ignored. Thankfully I was pretty good at Frogger as a kid so I survived.

Food: This one is in both categories again, only because I missed Greggs and Pret A Manger and there was nothing close to them in Thailand. When I landed at London Heathrow I noticed they had a Pret A Manger there and I almost missed my connection to Edinburgh because I couldn’t resist stuffing my face with several of my favourites that I’d missed so much.

And it didn’t take me long before going to Greggs in my town for a delicious Steak Bake. mmm mmmmm mmmmmmmm.

All things considered I very much miss living in Thailand and so does my pet monkey:

The Pokers

I played UKIPT Edinburgh last month. If you’re interested in how that went then read my UKIPT Edinburgh Trip Report.

I also played TCOOP, the yearly turbo poker series on PokerStars. In the first event I played, the $82 full ring PLO, I finished in 26th place and cashed for $620 + $45 in bounties. That was pretty disappointing because I was just one 55/45 flip away from having a stack to coast into the final table where the money was huge. I played a few more TCOOPs after that but no joy with the flips means no joy in turbos.

Tomorrow I am flying to Cork, Ireland to play the next leg on the UK and Ireland Poker Tour. I plan to play the main event and the PLO event. It would be nice to finally cash in one of these UKIPTs, but if not I’ll still have fun and manage to keep smiling. 🙂

(c) Mickey May / PokerStars

PKRGSSP

My favourite poker blog is back. PKRGSSP (Which is ‘Poker Gossip’ with no vowels…) is a site run by Jeff Walsh that I would best describe as being like daily cliff notes of poker news and gossip.

There’s no bias, no spammy adverts, no crap. Just good, honest and concise poker news updates.

I encourage everyone to bookmark it and visit it daily. http://www.pkrgssp.com/

Acoimbra the Movie

Ok, well not quite a movie. It’s a ‘short film’.

My Team Online colleague Andre ‘Acoimbra’ Coimbra features in the latest documentary from 918 Films.

The Portuguese online wizard is currently doing a challenge to run $100 up into $100k by the end of the year playing MTTs. Follow him through his his blog and twitter for daily updates on his progress.

Blog: http://acoimbra.com/
Twitter: @andrebcoimbra

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UKIPT Edinburgh – Trip Report

Usually when I write a trip report from a poker tournament I talk as much about all the cool stuff I did in that city while I was there as I do poker. Well in Edinburgh I didn’t do any of that touristy stuff like visiting the castle or go on a ‘ghost walk’ because Edinburgh is my home city.

Having been overseas since 2010 it was a bit of a culture shock coming back home, especially in the middle of winter. I flew in overnight from Bangkok, Thailand just a day before the PokerStars UKIPT Edinburgh festival kicked off.


Being the tight-fisted thrifty Scotsman that I am, I decided to pass on a £200/night hotel room at the luxurious Balmoral Hotel where the event was being held and instead chose to commute from my parent’s house in Dalkeith, about 12km away, using public transport.

I hadn’t used the bus in years and badly misjudged how long the journey would take. I ended up getting to my seat in the Main Event about a half hour late. Which was fine, as they give you a full starting stack when you sit down, no blinding off. And with 300 big blind starting stacks I find it hard not to spew off my chips in the early levels anyway.

My starting table was friendly with a good mix of playing styles and abilities. The people sitting around me recognized me when I sat down and told me that they read my blog and follow me on twitter. That was nice but kind of strange at the same time, thinking that these guys must know a lot about me but I didn’t know anything about them.

This was my first time playing a hand of live poker in 15 months. I’d been put off from playing live for a long time due to previous negative experiences. Not just bad results but many incidents where people have slowrolled me, laughed in my face after putting a bad beat on me or been otherwise obnoxious to the point of making the game painful to play in rather than fun.

© Mickey May / PokerStars

Thankfully at this event my tablemates had good etiquette and were happy to chat it up and have some banter. It was a fun game, despite the fact that I was only getting dealt a fraction of the hands per hour compared to playing online.

I tried playing a bit loose to begin with but missed every flop and they kept playing back at me. So I went back into my shell for a bit until I found a real starting hand. I picked up AKs and made my first 4-bet with it out of position. Sadly I had to fold on the turn to aggression when I had only ace high, sigh.

I think the only post-flop pot I won in my first hour of play was when both my Geordie opponent and I had QQ and chopped up the blinds.

Thankfully in the last hand before the first break I got all my chips back in a 3-bet 3-way pot where I flopped a flush draw then turned a straight draw and shoved my stack in over the aggressor’s turn lead. I was getting sick odds to just call his bet but his bet was pretty small in relation to the size of the pot and he seemed genuinely uneasy about his hand, that I thought was likely an overpair, so I just shoved it in. He tanked for 5 minutes into the break before letting it go. Whew.

Since I was running fairly cold at my table I spent the first break sitting in-front of an open fire in the Balmoral lobby, hoping that it would inspire me to run hot.

I was still around starting stack coming up to the second break when I got into yet another hand that lasted several minutes into the break. I had QQ in the SB and open-raised. Flop T98 with two spades, I lead – he calls. Turn 8, I lead – he calls. River 7 of spades. I check – he bets < half pot – I make the easiest fold ever. I thought I’d been rivered but he showed me T8 for a flopped 2-pair and turned boat.

I struggled for a while and was down to less than half my starting stack with 20 BBs. A good player open-raised from the CO and I shoved it in with A7o from the BB. He snapped called with AA, Oh dear. The flop was a whole load of nothing and I was half way out the door when the turn gave me a draw to a gutshot. “You can hit an 8” he said, followed by “and there it is”. A sick runner-runner straight. I just humbly sat down and stacked my chips.

In the next break I met up with Nick Wright who is one of the talented bloggers at PokerStarsBlog.com

I was hoping that doing that interview would bring me more luck. You know how on the TwoPlusTwo Pokercast they have their “Pokercast Karma” where every guest they have on the show ends then goes on a sick winning streak?

Well apparently the equivalent over at PokerStarsBlog.com is the “Bloggers Curse”. Minutes later I got my stack in with QQ preflop and lots to JJ. GG.

So that was that. I couldn’t feel bad about losing in that manner after sucking out on AA.

Despite playing for a whole day and not making any money I still had fun and left with a smile on my face, which is something I never thought I’d say. All the staff did a great job, with everything going smoothly. All the players I played with were respectful and friendly and PokerStars couldn’t have held the event at a better venue.

I didn’t play any more events. I had intended to play at least the PLO side event but I was struggling with jetlag and the weather was freezing cold so I ended up just playing TCOOP events from home. I did manage to drag myself out of bed and into the freezing cold city to attend the Players Party though!

All main event players (and a guest each) were invited to the Players Party at Opal Lounge, an upmarket nightclub in Edinburgh. It started at 9pm and as I’ve been to plenty of these parties in the past I know that the tab usually runs out after about 2 hours.

Given that this one was in Scotland, where people are known to like a drink, we got there pretty early so as not to miss out on the free drink.

I went to the party with my brother and we planned to meet Grzegorz Mikielewicz aka DaWarsaw from Team Online there. However we were on our 8th drink each by the time he arrived. He made the rookie mistake of turning up fashionably late to a party with a limited free bar tab and only got in one bottle of beer before the tab was closed.

DaWarsaw is a good guy and we had fun chatting with him. A bunch of Polish poker players recognized him and we partied with them in the VIP section.

© Mickey May / PokerStars

The player parties at PokerStars events are always excellent. Everyone gets to eat, drink and socialise in a luxurious setting, so even if, like me, you bust the Main Event out of the money – you still leave with a smile on your face.

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Trading Sun For Snow

I’m about to return to the UK for the first time since way back in 2010. In a few hours I will be on my way to [   ] sunny Edinburgh.

Some people may call me crazy for leaving the beautiful January weather in Thailand to fly long haul to Scotland where my memories of Januaries past include;

7 hours of daylight on a clear day.
Hail stones the size of golf balls.
Hibernation.
Defrosting the morning milk delivery before using it on my cereal.
Many, many, many delayed flights.
Many, many, many, many traffic jams.
Scraping ice from the car wind-shield, only to realise that the engine won’t start.
Absurdly large heating bills.


And just a whole load of temperature-related issues.

So I’d need a pretty good reason to get on that flight. The best reason I can give is that UKIPT Edinburgh begins in a few days, the only PokerStars event held in Scotland. As Scotland’s only Team PokerStars player, I should probably go play it!

The flight costs way more than the main event buyin, but that’s OK. If enough locals play then I will still be massively +EV over all :-). Hopefully the Scottish punters still play the…. unconventional style of poker that I fondly remember.

I paid for the flight with FPPs anyway. British Airways, Premium Economy ticket, Bangkok –> London –> Edinburgh = 84,382 FPPs thanks to the PokerStars VIP Club concierge service.

The event is being held at one of Edinburgh’s best, and therefore most expensive hotels, The Balmoral. However, this thrifty Scotsman won’t be staying at the hotel. Rather than shell out for the lol £200 per night bill I will be commuting from the blow-up bed in my brother’s room of my parent’s house in the second-worst area in Dalkeith via the [   ] luxury of Lothian Buses each day.

Oh the glamour. I await the joy of sitting next to neds (Scots word for chav / obnoxious scumbag youths) and smelly tramps while stopping every 100 meters on the 12km journey.

Paul McTaggart had this to say when I told him about my bus plans:

UKIPT Edinburgh is a cashless event, meaning that you have to sign up through the PokerStars client. No cash buyins are accepted on the day. This does have the advantage of being able to see who is registered for each tournament / day:

Main Event Day 1A notables include Scottish heroes David Vamplew and Paul McTaggart as well as the controversial poker outlaw Nick Rainey.

Day 1B notables include Jake Cody, Marcel Luske, Grzegorz Mikielewicz, Christophe De Meulder, Jon Spinks and Jack Ellwood.

I just hope to outlast DaWarsaw (Grzegorz Mikielewicz), the only other Team Online player in the event. We don’t have a last longer bet or anything (although judging by his past prop betting results we probably should), it’s just that I can’t have this guy travelling from Poland and showing me up on my home turf.

I’m playing Day 1A. It will be my first time playing live poker in 15 months, which is the longest I’ve ever gone without playing live since I played my fist hand of poker. If I enjoy it I will play more in the future, but I’ve become accustomed to multi-tabling Hyper Turbo 6-Max SNGs and Zoom 6-Max PLO online, so there’s more than a slight chance that I’ll find live full ring Hold’em a little boring.

If you’re at my table and are a bit slow then be prepared for me instantly calling the clock on you every hand. Just saying. 🙂

Smash

Whenever I receive coins in my change I just take them out my pocket when I get home. I really don’t like carrying it around with me. So after 2 years in Thailand I had a whole bag full of smash.

In the UK I used to do the same thing and every couple of years I’d just take it to the supermarket where they have a Coinstar machine. With Coinstar you just need to dump that smash into a funnel at the machine and it counts it all for you in a couple of minutes and gives you a receipt that you can trade in for cash or have discounted from your shopping. Easy game. As Coinstar seem to have a monopoly on these machines there is a high rake of 8.9% but it’s still worth paying for the convenience.

Obviously Thailand doesn’t have this technology so I decided to take that bag of smash to the bank.

When I first came to Thailand I would sweat like crazy everywhere I went, but not so much any more. I thought I had just become acclimatised to the insanely hot weather. But when I was walking while carrying that heavy bag of smash I was sweating like a rapist. So I guess the real reason for being less sweaty these days is that I weigh much less than I used to.

At the first bank I went to I dumped the bag of smash on the table and they asked me if I had an account with them. I didn’t, so I was told to GTFO.

The second bank wanted to charge me a 10% fee and they wanted me to separate the coins into different denominations in separate bags. So I told them to GTFO.

The third bank I went to (Kasikorn, the one with the green sign that gives a bank account to anyone with a tourist visa lol) only wanted to charge a 1% fee but still they wanted me to sort the coins into denominations and something else that I couldn’t fully understand, like putting them in bags of 100 each or something like that. They kept trying to explain it to me in broken English and I kept failing to understand, so after some frustration the bank teller talked to someone out of sight and then told me “OK, no problem, she will help you”.

Who will help me? The bloody cleaning lady of course. She didn’t look too happy about it either. She took up practically the whole counter where people fill out deposit slips and stuff to start sorting and counting my smash. Meanwhile, I just stood and watched. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help, I just didn’t know exactly what she was doing and she didn’t speak any English.

The bank started to get really busy and customers were getting really pissed off about me, the cleaning lady and the smash being right in their way. I think back to all those times when I was behind someone in a supermarket queue who wanted to pay for their shopping with a load of coins, and how annoyed that I would get. Well this was the ultimate payback for all those times, and as we know – payback’s a bitch!

I got a lot of angry looks from customers and a lot of curious looks like they must have been thinking to themselves “Why farang have many coin? Beggar? Busker? I confuse” and “Why cleaning lady count coin?”.

The cleaning lady was making tough work out of the coin counting as she had very fat hands. She would try to slide coins across the table into separate piles but her big fingers kept grabbing hold of more than she intended. She would also frequently lose count and have to count whole piles of coins over again. It was tough to watch.

After 30 minutes she seemed to have worked out a method and was getting into a good rhythm when they sent one of the bank tellers to help her, as the bank was about to close in another 15 minutes. There is a well known proverb ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, that if too many people try to take charge at a task, the end product will be ruined. This extra pair of hands buggered up the broth good and proper.

Watching these two women try to count coins together was like watching a Thai version of “The Chuckle Brothers“. Pure slapstick comedy as they got in each other’s way, to me – to you, to me – to you. Coins where falling all over the floor and rolling all over the place and as they got down to pick them up customers were tripping all over them.

The bank ended up closing but we had a lock-in as it took them another 30 minutes to finish the counting and bagging. They seemed less than happy about doing overtime in order to count a farang’s smash.

The final count came to 4,620 Baht (That’s £94.50 GBP / $152.50 USD). The two women looked exhausted after that so when I said “No, this only half, have more coins here in my backpack”, their jaws hit the floor faster than the coins they had been spilling. I was of course only joking, not that they seen the funny side mind you.

I had to pay their one percent commission which was a massive 46 Baht (£0.94 GBP / $1.52 USD), but I still think that I got value to be honest. 😉

As I walked out the manager had a word with me “Mister, next time you count at home yourself, we don’t do this again.” Fair play to them. They went beyond the call of duty to help a customer. Great customer service. Pity I’m not one of their customer though.

Sunday Funday

Last Sunday night with practically all Team PokerStars members ballin’ it up in the Bahamas at the PCA I was left to fly the PokerStars flag online.

I did look into flying to the Bahamas but the best flights from Thailand would cost $4,541, have 3 stops and take 41 hours. Two days of travel torture and an empty wallet didn’t seem worth it for me to leave one sunny paradise for another. (The massages are a hell of a lot better and cheaper here as well).

My first duty of the night was to play in the Team Online Freerolls where the pros have a bounty on their head. As I was the only pro playing I had everyone gunning for me. Not just the players at my table but players on other tables who were railing and sweating that they’d get moved to the same table as me for a chance at the bounty.

Obviously I crashed out of both tourneys being bad beat but all you can do in that scenario is wait for a big hand and get the money in good. The bounty is huge in relation to the prizepool so if they have me covered then getting it in preflop with 20% equity versus me is usually +EV for them.

I also played the previous week’s Tournament Leaderboard champion, ‘132111‘ from Denmark, heads up. Each weekly TLB champ gets the chance to play heads up vs a pro for $1,000. If they lose then the money gets rolled over to the next week.

I was unable to win anything in the match but I was playing for pride. So when I prematurely spunked off my stack in the second minute and fourth hand of the match I wasn’t feeling terribly proud of myself. I flopped the nut flush draw and an ace overcard against his top pair with weak kicker. All the money went in after I 5-bet shoved on the flop and he snap called.

Later on Sunday I was the host of the Sunday Million final table. As I railed the last few tables there was a guy called ‘Smasherxx67‘ playing every hand and running like god. I watched him call from the blinds against Moorman1’s open raise with 95o and the flop came 559. The observer rail chat was going crazy, only to be silenced by the start of the final table where only the players can chat.

The hot streak for Smasherxx67 just didn’t end. He laughed at the suggestion of a deal and went on to clean up the final table in just over 30 minutes. I’m used to Sunday Million final tables taking 2.5 – 3.5 hours. So this early climax was incredible to witness.

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20 Poker Blogs to Follow in 2013

I enjoy reading the blogs of other poker players as much as I do writing my own. I want to share with you my recommendations for the best blogs to follow through 2013.

The 20 bloggers that I’ve listed aren’t just talented poker players but also have many other attributes such as cool interests outside of poker, strong personalities, writing / video talent, sense of humour and charisma that shows in the quality of their blogs. And, importantly, they update regularly!

I’ve chosen a wide array of players. From old school live tournament players, to high stakes cash game players to small stakes SNG players. Some you won’t have heard of, some will play games that you have not much interest in, but all are worth bookmarking or adding to your RSS reader.


In no particular order…..

Rupert ‘ElRupert’ Elder

Rupert is a young UK player that plays as much live as he does online. Well, he’s aiming to play 6,000 online tourneys and 50 live tourneys in 2013 – I reckon that’s pretty even in terms of hours played!

I find the blogs of players such as Rupert who travel the live circuit to be much more interesting than those that solely play online. There’s so many more interesting things to blog about when you actually leave your house!

I hope that in 2013 those interesting things include more of winning EPTs, going to cool places, doing awesome things and eating delicious food, and less broken bones!!!

Blog: http://rupertelder.com/
Twitter: @ruperte


Mikhail ‘Innerpsy’ Shalamov

Innerpsy regularly posts well produced videos of his poker and travel lifestyle on YouTube in a video series that he calls ‘Poker 4 Life‘. He’s already made 14 videos, with the latest one being from Amsterdam.

He’s off to the PCA right now so we can expect another video update soon. I just hope there’s English subtitles on this one. Yeah, Innerpsy is Russian, and so are his videos. 🙂

Subtitles please Innerpsy, and we’ll all follow your adventures in 2013.

Blog: http://www.youtube.com/user/innerpsy87
Twitter: @Innerpsy

James ‘epitomised’ Atkin

The Atkinator is not only a great online SNG and MTT player but also a [X] fantastic blogger and [   ] talented rapper. He juggles all that with regularly getting his wife pregnant and and supporting his family.

It can’t be easy but it certainly makes for an interesting blog.

He’s just put up a review blog for 2012 with loads of graphs and stats so go check that out and follow him through 2013.

Blog: http://www.atkinator.net/
Twitter: @epitomised

Randy ‘Nanonoko’ Lew

Nanonoko won’t need much of an introduction to most of you, but in case you don’t know – he’s the guy that wins all the monies at poker. (If you really do need an introduction to him you could watch the short film documentary about him.)

Randy prefers to blog through the medium of video (we call that ‘vlogging‘). He’s as talented at making funny, interesting and informative videos as he is at playing poker and that is really saying something. Some of his videos include hand reviews and strategy discussion so if you follow his blog you may just learn something.

Blog: http://www.randylew.com
Twitter: @nanonoko

Why Not Grind

The ‘Why Not Grind‘ blog is written by 5 Heads-Up SNG players with the concept of ‘5 poker players, 1 year, $1 Million‘.

These five players, that include ‘Giabest’, ‘Flippetyflop’, ‘Millz_uk’, ‘Mocachoca89’ and ‘Rocmar87′, are planning to win over a million dollars at the tables between them in 2013.

This seems like it’s going to be a fun blog to follow this year.

Blog: http://whynotgrind.com/
Twitter: @WhyNotGrind

Matthew ‘Yorkshire Pudding’ Pitt

Poker player and writer Puds has just re-launched his personal blog for the umpteenth time.

The bloke has a great sense of humour and way of looking at things. He writes quite decently too. Although so he bloody should, it is his job after all! 🙂

Like a lot of overweight poker players he’s started off his 2013 blog with talks of losing weight and getting fit. I’ll be following his blog throughout the year but I’m not convinced I’ll still be reading about jogging and salads come April. Good luck to him though, getting in shape is one hell of a tough grind.

Blog: http://matthewpitt.co.uk/
Twitter: @YorkyPuds

Daniel ‘KidPoker’ Negreanu

KidPoker is one of the few established “old school” poker pros who embraced the internet and social media. He’s been discussing all things poker related on the internet since way before the TwoPlusTwo forums even existed as he was a regular contributor in the rec.gambling.poker Usenet newsgroup.

In more recent times he’s become the most followed poker player on Twitter and he regularly blogs and interacts in the forums at Full Contact Poker.

Daniel is a highly respected figure in the community and a person that always has an opinion on poker related issues. He’s absolutely not afraid to speak his mind either, even if it might upset some people (hi Annie!). This makes for blog updates that are not to be missed.

In the last year or so he’s moved away from written blogs and more towards video blogging, with a regular vlog series that he calls ‘The Weekly Rant‘. The videos, which he makes all by himself, are well produced and very entertaining. I always look forward to the next KidPoker rant.

Written Blog: http://www.fullcontactpoker.com/poker-journal.php
Video Blog: http://fullcontactpoker.com/daniel-negreanu/video-blog.php
Twitter: @RealKidPoker

Simon ‘Amatay’ Jones

Amatay, the English fish, was putting out some great blogs last year when he was in Thailand and travelling around Asia. He then went back to [  ] sunny England and retired from blogging. Booo!

That didn’t last long. He’s back in Thailand and back blogging about his [   ] exciting days lying on different beaches sunbathing and making a living by running absurdly hot at tourneys in the 5 hours per week that he plays online poker.

Commonly known by followers of my blog as the ‘Second Best Blogger in the World‘, Amatay is well worth following in 2013.

Blog: http://amatay.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @Amatay

Neil ‘BadBeat’ Channing

Neil has been a highly respected member of the UK poker community for many years now, decades even. Similar to Negreanu, in that he’s an oldskool player that has embraced social media and blogging, and been very successful at it. I’m sure he shares some of Daniel’s poker skills too.

I enjoy reading about the goings ons at the poker festivals across the UK and Ireland (and beyond) that he travels to frequently. He describes both the good and the bad of these events. If a tournament is well organised he will give it deserved praise but when there are any issues such as bad structures, rude floormen or players with bad etiquette then you’ll be sure to hear about it in Neil’s blog.

When I started to read one of his blog updates last year I knew it was going to be a good one when it started with:

Within 60 seconds of this year’s London EPT I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy myself. I only began to wonder why I paid £100 registration and 3 percent of the prize pool to play the first side event when the floorman told me to get my coffee off the table. My mother would have asked him what the magic word was.”

In his first blog of 2013, entitled ‘Grumpy Old Men‘, he talks about giving a punk kid a dressing down for berating a recreational player. Good stuff!

Blog: http://www.blackbeltpoker.com/blogs/residentblogger/badbeat/
Twitter: @SenseiChanning

Phil ‘OMGClayAiken / mrsweets28’ Galfond

Phil needs no introduction, so I won’t bother giving him one.

Although he hasn’t blogged for five months he did write some of the best written and most discussed blog posts of 2012. Certainly a man that goes for quality over quantity when it comes to blogging.

When Phil writes a blog post it actually becomes ‘news’. Poker media report on it and there’s quickly an NVG discussion thread on TwoPlusTwo.

There’s no doubt that we’ll be reading more high quality updates from Phil in 2013.

Blog: http://www.philgalfond.com/
Twitter: @PhilGalfond

Aaron ‘abarone68’ Barone

One of my favourite and most visited blogs of recent months has been from SNG grinder abarone68.

Aaron is an American refugee, having fled ‘the land of the free’ in order to continue making his living playing online poker from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The updates on his blog that he calls ‘The Rant’ are short, regular, plentiful and include loads of graphs and photos. He’s pushing himself to grind a much higher volume of poker in 2013 but hopefully he’ll still have plenty of time to rant on his blog.

Blog: http://acbarone.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @abarone68

David ‘Lil Dave’ Nicholson

Dave has one of the best poker blogs online right now. He’s an English bloke that plays mid to high stakes cash, both online and live.

His blog presents a nice balance between the poker swings (illustrated by graphs and humorous pics) and his lifestyle, with tales of his trips to Vegas and other cool places.

If Dave’s blog is half as good this year as it was in 2012 it’ll be well worth following.

Blog: http://lildaveslife.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @lildavefish

Alex ‘AWice’ Wice

AWice was the first Supernova on PokerStars this year. It took him only 39 hours. Yeah, seriously!

He’s planning to earn 8,000,000 VPPs this year by playing Hyper Turbo SNGs. That’s Supernova Elite eight times and would earn him over $1,000,000 in VIP Club rewards.

He’s started this year by earning VPPs at an absolutely insane pace but it will be interesting if he can keep up anywhere near that kind of pace for 365 days. Unfortunately he doesn’t post any graphs of his results so we can’t follow the massive swings that he’s likely going through when playing such a high volume of high variance games.

Blog: http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/174/poker-goals-challenges/millionclub-aint-cheese-if-its-less-than-mil-1281937/
Twitter: @AWice

Ryan ‘MouldyOnions’ Bell

MouldyOnions is a Hyper Turbo SNG player who earned 2,000,000 VPPs on PokerStars last year. That is Supernova Elite – twice! This year he is racing to become 2013’s first Supernova Elite and has set himself an insane target of 6,000,000 VPPs for the year.

His blog has a ‘daily graphs’ section and a VPP counter. So you can easily follow his swings and his progress in detail. I’m looking forward to following Ryan’s hyper grind in 2013.

Blog: http://mouldyonions.com/
Twitter: @MouldyOnions

Terrence Chan

Terrence is an accomplished poker player, beating up his opponents at limit holdem with WCOOP and SCOOP titles to prove it. Away from the table he’s still giving people a beating, as he is an MMA fighter, and a pretty damn good one at that.

Having such a cool hobby / second career makes him one of the more interesting poker players to follow. His blog updates detail the insane training and dedication needed to succeed in the world of MMA and there’s the occasional poker content in there too.

Blog: http://www.terrencechanpoker.com/
Twitter: @tchanpoker

Katie ‘hotjenny314’ Dozier

Katie is an online MTT and MTT SNG player, poker writer and the better half of poker coach, staker and  author Collin Moshman.

Another refugee from the ‘Unfree States Of America’, Katie travels from her home in Las Vegas to play online from the freedom of Rosarito, Mexico.

Katie has been blogging and writing about poker for a long time and has become pretty darn good at it. She takes the ‘quality over quantity  approach to blogging, with around one high content, high quality blog update per month. So we can surely expect at least 12 great updates from her in 2013.

Blog: http://katiedozier.com/
Twitter: @Katie_Dozier

Rohit “GodlikeRoy” Bhasin

Aussie Roy grinds PLO on PokerStars and produces well written blog updates that are supplemented by some nice graphs and photos.

Away from poker he has a passion for food, and his blog is filled with food porn. His latest blog is called ‘The biggest and best steak I’ve ever cooked‘.

The poker players with the interesting hobbies, who do cool stuff away from the poker tables, are naturally the ones with the best blogs. Roy’s passion for food makes an already good blog bloody great in my opinion.

Blog: http://www.godlikeroy.com/
Twitter: @RoyBhasin

Adrienne ‘talonchick’ Rowsome

Talonchick is a mid to high stakes Limit Omaha Hi/Lo cash game player. If you need an introduction to her then check out her Team Online Short Film.

Adrienne’s blog updates are always fun to follow and many of her posts are in the form of videos blog.

To all cute, blonde female poker players out there – we really do appreciate it when you make videos, thanks 🙂

Blog: http://talonchick.com/
Twitter: @talonchick

Brendon ‘Sippin_Criss’ Williams

SNG players will know Sippin_Criss well. He’s been around since for forever, seemingly never getting tired of eating up the fish in the small stakes SNGs.

Well in 2013 he’s upping the ante by playing higher stakes and attempting to earn the 1,000,000 VPPs needed to obtain Supernova Elite status. “I won’t million”.

Good luck to Brendon. He’s a very talented poker player with a great sense of humour so his blog (or rather progress thread) will be fun to follow in 2013. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t post any photos of his bare naked arse (again!).

Blog: http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/174/poker-goals-challenges/i-wont-million-vpps-sippin_criss-hyper-sne-chase-1285600/
Twitter: @sippincriss

Life With Face Cards

I’m not exactly sure who runs this blog but it’s bloody hilarious and updated super regularly.

The updates consist of a short one line sentence that represents the experiences of a poker player, along side a hilarious animated gif.

Blog: http://lifewithfacecards.tumblr.com/

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New Year, New Blog Post

Happy new year everyone. May 2013 be filled with rungood in your pokers and your life.

As a member of the class of ’04, 2013 will be my tenth year playing on PokerStars. Lets hope it is my breakthrough year. Better late than never, right?

I say 2013 but actually in Thailand we use the Buddhist calendar, so it’s 2556 here.

If you’re wondering what thing are like over 500 years in the future, well the earth is much hotter but people still drive like idiots and they haven’t figured out how to make the internet totally stable yet!

I don’t have any daft new years resolutions but I do enjoy reading other people’s, knowing that most of them are going to be forgotten about by mid-January 🙂


The Pokers

After taking pretty much the whole of October and November off poker to concentrate on health, fitness and travel I left myself needing to grind hard in December in order to hit my VPP milestone bonus.

If you’re a Supernova level player then the way to get the maximum % value out of the PokerStars VIP club is to end the year exactly on a multiple of 100,000 VPPs, otherwise you are missing out on thousands of dollars of value.

It ended up taking me well into January 1st to finish but thankfully Thailand is 12 hours ahead of USA Eastern Time which is what the PokerStars servers use as their base time.

In 2013 I plan on playing the majority of my poker at SNGs, and some MTTs and Zoom PLO. I feel like my biggest edge is playing SNGs but Zoom PLO offers me a lot of convenience by letting me play lots of short sessions and pause for a break instantly whenever I want. As for MTTs, well it’s about time I gave them a proper go and gave myself a chance at a big score. You gotta be in it to win it!

Something that has always put me off playing MTTs is that I don’t like playing long continuous sessions. Some MTTs can take over 12 hours to win. Well, TCOOP (the T is for turbo) is only a couple of weeks away and ZOOM MTTs have just launched so I’ll be getting some MTT action in this month for sure.

As for live poker, well I haven’t played it at all for 15 months but you may well see me playing live again very, very soon.

Health Grind

In October I blogged about going raw vegan in order to help me feel better and lose weight. I kept that up 100% for more than a month. Since then I’ve aimed to have a diet of 85% raw fruit and vegetables but by now, to be honest, it’s more like 50%. Still, it’s a lot better than the 0% I ate in the past!

I’m also exercising regularly. My routine is usually jogging, resistance weights, swimming, sauna, swimming, sauna. I’m in a very fortunate position where I live in a country with warm weather and near a big park with a running track round it, as well as having a great swimming pool, sauna and gym in my condo building. I’m trying to make the most out of that.

At the start of 2012 I weighed in at 95Kg. On December 31st I stepped on the scales….

A ball hair away from dropping 20Kg over the year. My target was to get down to 70Kg, not by the end of the year, but eventually. I’m pretty happy with what I achieved so far.

A year ago I couldn’t even run 50 meters without stopping. My legs would ache and I would be out of breath. That’s what two years with zero exercise and a compulsive eating habit will do to you.

It became important to me to turn it around and go from busto to robusto. I made getting fit my primary focus in life. I don’t feel like I’m where I want to be just yet, but I’m certainly most of the way there.

When I go out jogging now I feel like I’m floating, or running on clouds. Amazing how much easier it is without carrying 20Kg of excess weight. I think I would like to aim to run my first half-marathon in the near future.

I had to make a lot of sacrifices to get fit. By making health my main focus I left a lot of money on the tables by not playing much poker this year and not working on my game as much as I need to in this era of very tough games.

However, money is no good to you if your’re dead or chronically ill. Poor diet and lack of exercise can cause so many health problems and is direct cause of 25 percent to 30 percent of common cancers according to the NCI. Why gamble with your life?

Team Online

I’m happy to say that Team Online is not such a sausage fest any more.

The latest addition is ‘Mysters_Y‘, a player who has been known to crush high stakes NLHE cash games for years but who’s real life identity was previously…. a mystery.

So who would have guessed that it was a hot Russian chick?

Dobro pozhalovat (that’s Russian for ‘welcome’) to PokerStars Team Online – Tatiana ‘Mysters_Y’ Barausova.

Set Your Goal

A new promotion this year for Supernova players. Those of you with high VPP goals won’t want to miss out on this promo for a bit of extra cash.

Basically you can gamble 5,000 of your FPPs (that’s about $80 worth) and bet that you will be on target for either 100,000 / 200,000 / 300,000 yearly VPPs come April and July. The payouts are $120 / $200 / $300.

You don’t have to place your bet until January 31st. Check out all the details on the PokerStars promo page.

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I Like it Raw

“Oooh baby I like it raw. Yeah baby I like it rawwwww. Oooh baby I like it raw. Yeah baby I like it rawwwwww.”The words of the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard who was no doubt using the medium of rap to tell the world how much he enjoys raw food. Shimmy,…

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