On Saturday I headed down to Brighton to play the first leg of the 2017 Unibet UK Tour. It was my first event of the year, and in fact, my first major live tournament for over 12 months.
Having concentrated on my previous career for two years, I was limited in my opportunities to play. But after last week's practice tournament, and the last eight months of full-time online poker experience behind me, I felt confident entering.
The price of the event was £220, which is great value for a tournament of its structure. My online buy-in range is usually up to $30, so I decided to get a stake from a family member. I could have pushed the boat out and paid for it myself, but that would have gone against my strict bankroll management.
Sitting down for Day 1B, I knew 1A ended with 137 registrations and 31 players making it through to Day 2, which meant only 63 entries were needed on Saturday to hit the £40,000 guarantee. The target was sure to be exceeded with such a large attendance on the first day and it was! With 261 total entries, the prize pool of £52,200 was set and announced as a record for the Unibet UK Tour.
The Rendezvous is my favourite local casino to play in, so I was very happy they were hosting. As you would expect, the casino was decked out in Unibet logos, and all the tables had the Unibet felt, which made for an authentic feel to the event.
Before the action got underway, the tournament director welcomed us all and said he would like the event to be a "fun environment with positive etiquette," which I feel they achieved brilliantly throughout.
I had eight hours of play to ensure I had a solid stack for Day 2.
He joked about the media reporters and photographers being around the tables and for us to give them a "small nudge" out of the way if we needed too. He explained that all the Unibet ambassadors carried a bounty on their heads, so knocking them out would win you a €100 satellite ticket to a future UK leg.
I sat down excitedly with my 25K stack (500 big blinds) on a 25/50 blind level and a 40-minute clock. I was very aware of the blind structure and decided to play Day 1 quite conservative. I would be looking to play in position and utilise implied odds rather than get into big pots with immediate odds. I had eight hours of play to ensure I had a solid stack for Day 2.
The first level was about getting to know the table. It was likely I would be playing with these people for a good few hours at least, so I introduced myself and asked some useful questions.
The diversity of the event was clear to see: to my left sat a young guy who had won his seat from initially playing a €4.40 satellite and grinding up to win the €500 package and on my right was a German man who had also won his seat via the Unibet qualifiers.
The first table turned out to be a very chatty and a fun environment, with most people talking during hands. Quite early on we were ten-handed, due to a small dealer issue, this meant adapting my early position range knowing my raises had an extra person to get through.
The first hand of note I played came on level two. I looked down to see under the gun, so I made a 3x raise to 300. By this point, the table had made a note of my tight image and joked they would fold if I entered the pot, but I still got three callers...
The flop came down , I c-bet half pot and I got two calls.
After a on the turn, I continued for half pot once again and this time got just the one call.
The river was an insignificant ; no draws completed, so I bet 3,200 for value and got a quick fold.
Level 3 brought about my first real thinking spot. A loose player, who had lost a significant percentage of his stack already, limped UTG for 150 and got raised to 450 by a very tight player who had seen the flop just once before.
With in the big blind I called the raise, expecting the limper to call and see the flop, but instead, he shoved all in for around 5K.
His tight image made it a lot easier to fold my hand.
The limp and reraise looked very strong to me, either that or he was happy to gamble. The raiser called, and I folded. His tight image made it a lot easier to fold my hand, and my decision was justified when he showed and the limper showed .
So, at the end of the third level, and on the first break, I was sitting with 30K.
Unibet currently has several sponsored pros and ambassadors on their books. All these players are very active in promoting the brand on Twitter, Twitch and in the live arena. It was good to see them present and actively chatting with the players, as it made their ethos of "By Players, For Players" even more genuine.
At the start of level four, newly signed pro Daiva Barauskaite joined my table. The other players joked about her bounty now being in play, and that added to the atmosphere. But with the stacks still 150 big blinds deep I wasn't focused on that just yet.
A couple of hands into the level I got dealt in middle position. A loose aggressive player, who had limped and raised on occasions, made a 3x raise which I called. Both the button and small blind also called.
The flop was . The small blind checked, and the original raiser bets half-pot 1,200.
With second pair and a very strong draw, I had to decide whether it was best to call or raise. With two players behind me to act and my stack-to-pot ratio being very high, I decided to call and see the turn. Surprisingly, both the button and small blind called as well.
The turn was the . Any in this multi-way pot was the nuts, and it was very likely someone had it.
The action checked to the original raiser, and he made an overbet of 10K into the 7.2K pot.
I had a 25K (125 big blinds) stack at this point, facing a considerable bet, so I decided to fold. The hand had a lot of potential on the flop, but I wasn't prepared to go with it that early in the tournament.
By the end of level four, I had chipped up to 40K. My won at showdown on an board versus the same loose aggressive player after I called flop and turn bets to win the pot at showdown.
Interestingly, we were three-handed on the turn, but the player on my right folded. After the hand, he told me he folded . It was good information to know that my tight image had made him make that mistake.
It was good information to know that my tight image had made him make that mistake.
Five levels later and one table change, I was six hours into the day and sat with 45K. I had been patiently waiting for hands and spots to increase my stack, but they were few and far between.
Three levels were remaining; I needed to pick up the pace soon to have a healthy stack for the start of Day 2.
With 90 minutes left on the day, my chance came. With just over a 20 big blind stack, I was dealt in the cutoff. Unibet Pro Espen Uhlen Jørstad shoved his last 13 big blinds, allowing me to go all in.
His missed the board, so not only did I win a large pot but I also won his bounty! We took a quick photo together to use on the brand's website before I switched tables for the remainder of the day.
The final level was very kind to me. I won a three-bet pot on the flop with and also knocked out a small stack when my in the big blind hit top pair on the flop, and he was happy to get all his chips in with .
I ended the day with a respectable 119K (50 big blinds) and even more confidence going into Day 2.
Fast forward to 2 p.m. the next day, 67 players returned to play with 30 places paid and £14,000 going to the winner. The tournament was very much anyone's to win at this point. Only four people had a 200K-plus stack, and with the blind increases small, everyone had a lot of room to manoeuvre.
Former Sky player and current BearHugPoker Pro Jamie Burland was a notable name at my table. He was sitting with around 20 big blinds, so although he was a player to be aware of, I was confident I would be able to avoid any real tough spots against him.
An hour into play, with blinds at 1,200/2,400, I faced an early position limper with I decided to call and hopefully see a cheap flop. A young player who had been quite aggressive since the start of the day made a small raise to 6,500. After the limper folded, I decide to call and see the flop.
The rainbow came down giving me an up-and-down straight draw and a backdoor flush draw.
I checked and he c-bet for 12K. I called.
The turn brought a , so I checked again, and he decided to bet slightly larger this time to 26K.
I was in a tough spot out of position, but I didn't want to give up on the hand. I hadn't made any turn raises before this, so I felt confident it was a good spot to check-raise and see how he reacted. I raised to 56K leaving me 100K behind.
He was instantly thrown back and clearly wasn't happy with my raise.
After a couple of minutes of thinking, he decided to let the hand go and announced he folded top pair .
Other players at the table immediately said, "It must be nice to flop the set."
Their thinking was understandable by the way I had previously played and by my table image. It was a big pot to take down early on!
Just a few hands later, I looked down at UTG +1 and made a 2.5x raise.
I was three-bet by a 25-30 big blind stack in middle position. It was an easy four-bet shove for me with his stack size, and he called with .
A jack-high board followed, and in return, gave me the overall tournament chip lead with 45 people remaining.
I honestly felt like I would make the final table with the way I was playing.
I was highlighted on the Unibet social media as the 'chip leader' and was having my photo taken quite a lot while in hands. It was a confidence boost, and I honestly felt like I would make the final table with the way I was playing.
The money bubble burst quickly, and in no time, the field was cut down to 20 players.
Sat at a table with Unibet ambassadors Ian Simpson and David Vanderheyden, they would quickly do battle. Ian shoved in the small blind and was snap-called by David with in the big blind. The board brought Ian no help, and he was eliminated, leaving David as the last remaining pro with a second bounty on his head.
Having won one bounty already, I thought it would be quite funny if I somehow managed to win the double bounty... and I did!
David left the table for a level but returned with under 20 big blinds. He shoved UTG+1 and I reshoved in the cutoff with . He showed and the board came king-high, so I was lucky enough to win three bounties from just two pros! Not a bad return on my investment so far.
The chip leader was now two seats to my left, and in all honesty, was using his position very well. I was not picking up good hands, which caused me to open the action from the cutoff and button with off-suit connectors etc. a lot more. I faced three-bets both pre- and postflop quite often which made it very difficult for me to counter with only a 25 big blind stack.
My chance came when he raised UTG and I reshoved in the big blind with , but he showed the and mucked his hand.
My stack was taking a knock as I patiently waited for the right spots, but I eventually made it to the final table!
As we moved to the elevated table platform, we were asked to take some serious, and not so serious, pictures before sitting down to do battle for the 14K!
Despite the large amount money still to play for, everyone seemed relaxed. I guess in the bigger televised tournaments you might expect a more hostile atmosphere due to the tension and payout jumps, but this felt very friendly and comfortable to me.
Chip-wise I was seventh out of nine but immediately given a chance to triple up! The shortest stack limped in middle position with only 13 big blinds. I was dealt in the big blind and was praying the small blind, who had fewer chips than me, would go all in and luckily he did. I called, and to my surprise, so did the limper and revealed . It was an unfortunate spot for the small blind who turned over .
The flop was safe, but a fell on the turn.
The small blind bust, and luckily I only lost 3 big blinds overall by winning the side pot. I was a bit gutted as I knew winning the whole pot would have knocked both players out and I would have had a very good 35 big blind stack.
But with 11 big blinds behind me now, it was all in or fold.
But with 11 big blinds behind me now, it was all in or fold.
A brutal versus hand saw the table lose another player and I had laddered up to a guaranteed seventh place.
Having used an excellent shoving range tool this year, which I studied in preparation for Day 2, I was confident with the range of hands I should be playing and folding.
My all-in was called by , but luckily this hand ended in a split pot.
With 9 big blinds, I shoved with from middle position and was called by the small blind with .
My flush draw fell on the turn, and I jokingly said, "7 Diamonds" just before the river came down.
But I missed completely and was eliminated in seventh; taking home £1,720.
I was obviously disappointed not to go the whole distance but so happy with the deep run I made, and most importantly, how well I felt I played throughout the tournament, even if I did have more than my fair share of luck in the flips.
Grinding online and falling short can knock your confidence. So to have this live result under my belt will help me and build my determination.
Not only was the money a big boost to my bankroll, but I got to meet a lot of new people in the poker community too!
With the bounty tickets at my disposal, I'm aiming to qualify for another Unibet event soon and make another run for the trophy!
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