The great value hunt

The great value hunt

Monday, 12 August 2013

With Jeff Kimber.

I loved reading the cover interview with Victor Blom in May’s edition of Bluff Europe . You have to admire his drive, his gamble, his will to win and determination to beat the best, don’t you? Don’t you? Well, I’m not so sure.

If we were talking about boxing, then yes, you have to take on all-comers, beat the young up-and-comers as well as the wily old veterans, and then, to stay at the top, you’ve got to take on the young guys, the next big thing. Continuing the boxing analogy, though, maybe the smartest boxers don’t actually take on the guys who might knock them out. Plenty of boxers have had good careers and made plenty of money without ever being in danger of finding themselves on the wrong end of a knockout punch.

So while Isildur will sit down and beat almost anyone, he’ll also have days like he had in December 2009, when he lost more than $4million in one session, to Brian Hastings, and sent himself, albeit temporarily, skint.

Those who play within strict bankroll limits, game-select well and hunt out value may never be lauded by their peers as the greatest, but they can still earn an excellent living doing something they love without ever being in danger of going skint. If you ask a boxing fan who his all-time favourite is, it’s likely to come from a list including Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, the Sugar Rays, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran. All of them took on everyone and anyone with no fear, but, importantly, none of them made it through their careers unbeaten.

Ask them about Joe Calzaghe, and there’s respect for the fact he was world champion for so long, and retired undefeated, but also an undercurrent of suspicion he avoided some opponents, especially in their own backyard, which prevents him from ever being held in the same esteem as the guys above. He’ll never be called great. So bringing it back to poker, who would you rather be – the guy who takes on all-comers but risks ending up potless on his backside, or the guy who consistently wins with the minimum of risk?

When I was young and ambitious I wanted to play the biggest games against the best players, but that’s a one way ticket to busto-ville. Now I’ve grown up, I want to earn enough to pay my mortgage and live a comfortable life without ever putting that at risk, and that’s why recognising and pursuing value is one of the most important skills the modern poker player can possess.
Ten or 15 years ago, there were no UK tours for us to play. The EPT hadn’t begun yet either, and while some casinos spread poker and put on the odd tournament, they were sporadic to say the least. Online poker was still in its infancy, and MTTs didn’t really exist online, so the job of a professional poker player was one of long journeys to wherever the next tournament was, centred on Vegas in the summer for the Series.

As the tours launched, first the EPT in Europe and the GUKPT domestically, decent tournaments with big prize pools became attainable, and we all played them. But now, as the poker boom reaches maturity, there is so much choice that the professional thing to do isn’t to turn up where you know all the good players will be, it’s quite the opposite – go where the good players aren’t, to look for the value.

It’s no coincidence that with countless excellently structured MTTs online, as well as plenty of choice live, players have become better at playing them. But for every stellar field in a WSOP $5k, there’s an excellently-structured tournament somewhere with a first prize equivalent to the average annual wage. We don’t just have the EPT in Europe, we have the Eureka Tour, Unibet Open, GSOP, WPT (both full and National) to name but a few. Domestically, the GUKPT has been joined by the UKIPT, DTD’s regular offerings and other regular events.

During this World Series, the Rio ran a smaller festival, the Carnivale of Poker, which offered daily tournaments with buy-ins generally of either $360 or $580. With a first prize of between $25k and $35k and a line-up of recreational players just enjoying Vegas and being (almost) part of the World Series, what’s not to like?
Certainly the shrewder pros could be found sharking around in these waters, with fellow Bluff columnist Neil Channing loving the value in these competitions. For my own part, while the cream of British poker has been in Vegas, the tournaments back at home have been notably juicier.

I travelled to GUKPT Reading and enjoyed a starting table where I only recognised one guy, and even then I didn’t know his name. Contrast that with the GUKPT Grand Final last year, where the players in seats six, seven, eight and nine to my starting seat five were Toby Lewis, James Akenhead, Michael Tureniec and Luke Schwartz, and you can see why investing my hard-earned in Reading is probably a much better idea than it was in London.

I don’t think you have to hold your hands up and say “Okay, I can’t live with these guys” – if memory serves me right, I outlasted all those celebrated tablemates before getting a bad beat just before the money – but there was undoubtedly more value in Reading, where one guy offered to let me pick any two cards against his favourite hand, Q-T, and run the board at £10 a time. I offered to chuck my chips away in the tournament and stay doing that all night, but he didn’t seem too keen, even though he swore Q-T never lost and we should all beware him with it.

Another guy was getting fed up with us moaning at the lack of air con in the card room, telling us how lucky we were we didn’t work in the kitchens with him, where it was proper hot. He then proceeded to play like a chef who’d left the oven on. He four-bet 100bb all-in on a five-way flop with just an up and down, and, having lost that, got the remaining 50bb in with a seven-high flush draw against the table granite a few hands later.

There’s nothing wrong with playing like he did – he’d worked hard all week for the chance to have a good gamble in his local card room, and good luck to him (not really, the first double up he gave was to me). But, as a professional, recognising value has to be a key skill when I form my diary and plan which tournaments to play.

It’s tough not being in Vegas, reading Facebook and Twitter updates, and missing out on pals of mine, Barny Boatman and Matt Perrins, winning bracelets. But while the majority of them are doing their conkers over there, I’m picking up £18,000 for coming second in GUKPT Reading, and I’m just fine with that too.

Tags: Jeff Kimber, strategy