Small Cards, Major Wagers

“If at first you don’t succeed, try five more times so your failure is statistically significant.”

Tournament poker is the ultimate game of perseverance. Even the best players can expect to cash in fewer than 20% of competitions, so losing streaks can easily run into the hundreds of games.

It takes a certain type of personality to grind tourneys; arguably my previous life as a software developer equipped me well.

In computer programming, patience and perseverance are the name of the game. “Try, try, try again.”

With the omnipresence of the microchip and ubiquity of phones/tablets/laptops, everyone is familiar with computer bugs: faults or quirks of software behaviour, essentially the failure of a program to do what it says on the tin. Nowadays even televisions have bugs.

When you realise how much design and coding goes into even the most mundane software functions, it seems miraculous that software does actually work most of the time; there are just so many potential points of failure.

In the months and years it takes to develop any useful piece of software, the code base is in a perpetual state of brokenness. Figuring out why the program’s not doing what you believe you told it to do isn’t just a part of the job, it basically is the job.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker” – Denis Waitley

Busting a poker tournament is never fun, but it’s not merely a necessary evil: it’s a way of life. I’m sure nobody is immune to that flutter of anticipation when deep in a big game, but losing most of the time is in the job description, and with experience one learns to recalibrate one’s sense of hope and expectation.

Just as a programmer would become sick with stress if he felt continually frustrated by his software failing to perform as expected, the tournament grinder would go stir crazy if he persistently believed each successive competition was going to be the one.

The interminable plodding makes it all the more special when things do finally come together.

We’re halfway through the GUKPT 2017 calendar, and with the above in mind—with fewer than twenty GUKPT comps under my belt—it would be an understatement to say I have had a good run:
GUKPT London—no joy in the Main Event (I exited embarrassingly early) but saved face by winning a side event for £1,900.

GUKPT Manchester—chopped the Main, banking my biggest ever score, and took home one of the most enviable trophies in the business.

GUKPT Edinburgh—the only leg I’ve completely bricked. My online HendonMob profile has accrued “flags” (denoting tournament cashes around the world) in locations such as Sweden, the Czech Republic and even the Caribbean—alas a Scotland flag still eludes me.

GUKPT Walsall—I cashed in the Main Event, and final-tabled a side, in which I also won a last-longer bet with Rick “TheClaimeer” Trigg. I’ll admit that was a bad bet, but poker’s a game where the fish can win!

GUKPT Reading—got burned with aces in the bounty event; managed to get sunburnt on my day off; but there was nothing to be red-faced about in the Main. My friends Al and Lee both finished in the money, and I reached another final table – *boom!*

You’ve Been Mallu’d

You know you’ve made it when your name becomes a verb.

Presumably this makes Ali Mallu only slightly less famous than William Hoover or Barry Google. UK poker would not be the same without the gambling legend, and every regular on the British tournament circuit has heard a story about someone being Mallu’d.

If Ali ever had a rule book he’s long since thrown it out the window, so don’t be surprised if you see him open-raise to nine times the big blind with 10-3 offsuit. He’s renowned for his epic punts, but he’s also no stranger to lifting trophies.

I’ve seen trends come and go in the nine years I’ve played poker in earnest. There’s more than one way to skin a cat: once upon a time “small ball” was a fashionable thing; later everyone wanted to be “hyper-LAG”—and of course there have always been successful players that played against the trends.

However two enduring strategies that have stood the test of time are: (a) raw aggression; (b) getting there when you call an all-in with 6-4 suited.

Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Ali Mallu does not give a monkey’s. He reminds me of a song:

“You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money,
Love like you’ll never get hurt.” (Richard Leigh & Susanna Clark)

This sentiment seems applicable to poker. Perhaps—

You got to play like you don’t need the money,
Shove like your hand’s a dead cert.

The first rule of Mallu Club is: you do NOT care what anybody else thinks.

Ali doesn’t waste energy being self-conscious and that’s something every poker player could learn from. If you never do something that ends up looking slightly daft, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

Ali indisputably makes some wacky plays, but before you dismiss him as a clown, replay the final table and note how many pots he takes down without showdown.

My own Reading Main Event journey had a steady start, and I would bag up a decent though below-average 42k (42 BBs) at the end of day one. I picked up the pace on day two, a fortuitous flop and some pre-flop coolers aiding my ascent to 100 BBs (4th of 47 in chips) by dinner break.

There was a period of treading water, no drama on the money bubble, then on day three a painful and protracted final-table bubble.

With ten players left, I’d have done well to walk away from the table for 90 minutes, but instead I doubled two short stacks, and made an “incorrect” fold with top pair, my stack freefalling from 530k (33 big blinds) to 260k (13 BBs) by the time there were nine.

Final Fight

The final table—my third GUKPT Main Event final, and my second of 2017—was dramatic. I had four run-ins with Ali Mallu, and he got the better of me in the two biggest pots.

When an adversary is willing to play with such zeal you have to be willing to embrace the variance, or else blind away. Hold’em hand values can be close pre-flop and there’s “always a sweat”.

Even when Ali called my 9.5bb hijack-jam with 4-2 off, the confrontation was reduced to a pure coin flip when he flopped a club draw to go with his two live cards!

Staring Down the Barrel

Mercifully the 4-2 was not triumphant, but I couldn’t hold in my most pivotal hand of the tourney, with the most hated hand in hold’em: pocket jacks versus Ali’s nines, for a pot of 1.2 million.

As Phil “The Tower” remarked on the commentary, Ali Mallu was staring down the barrel; I would be 2nd of 6 with 69 BBs (28% of all the chips in play) were my jacks to hold up. The good news is that you can breathe a sigh of relief—this is my one and only bad beat whine.

Ultimately I took 6th place, cashing for £4,820.

Disappointing given I had been 2/8, but a decent “ladder” considering I was 9/9 going into the final.

Finish Him!

The final hand of GUKPT Reading attracted big laughs. For the SECOND time on the final table, Ali called a shove with four-high!

It wasn’t Barry Cobb’s day, a lowly 3 on the flop enough for Mallu to clinch his second GUKPT Main Event title and a cool £35,000. What a guy!

Hat tipped to Barry for playing solid, keeping a comparatively low profile, getting so close to the finishing line, and despite the eventual bad beat locking up a £23,000 payday.

GUKPT London is just around the corner at the Poker Room, and it will be huge—the biggest £550 event of the year. Last year 419 entries generated a first prize of £57,340.

The opening event, the £110 “Mini Main”, kicks off on Sunday 25th June.
Day 1A of the £550 Main Event commences Thursday 29th June.