Despite consistent earnings at the online felt, brick and mortar had been far from amiable for Brown Belt Jerome until the second half of 2011 when he enjoyed his most profitable year in five years and seemed to cash in everything he played. Results included final tables at the DTD Monte Carlo, the Master Classics, GSOP, the European Championships and a near-bracelet win at WSOPE.
Why the sudden turn in form?
I think it's mostly variance. I might be playing better because I'm on a good run and not making silly mistakes, but I like to think that my bad couple of years were just a case of running bad in the flips that mattered and now I'm seeing the other side of the coin.
I don't think my game's come on that much, to be honest. There's always room for improvement and a lot of the time I play a pretty solid ABC game where I'm not making mistakes but not pushing the envelope, but I don't think I've been pushing the envelope with the recent run. I think it's more just running a bit better, and that's really a lot of what tournament's are about to a certain extent. There's definitely something there, confidence wise, there has to be; obviously there's not supposed to be scientifically, but poker's such a game of instinct and psychology as well as the rest of it that the confident players are more likely to pick up the pots when nobody's got anything.
This is my best year for the last five, so it would be a bit churlish not to be happy. At the same time, there's definitely a feeling of frustration, like maybe playing a hand badly in Cannes and missing out on the bracelet. There have been a couple of other final tables, like Dusk Till Dawn the other week. I've played that tournament twice now and have come tenth and eighth, when all it takes is one double-up. I don't look to ladder and have no problem playing for the win, so I'm happy with my endgame. It's just about having enough chances to get there. If you were the devil and could somehow guarantee me fourth in every comp I ever played, then obviously I'd be a mug to turn it down, but at the same time, how frustrating would it be to never win if you made the final. Part of it is the thrill of the victory, and there's always a feeling of regret, even if you come second.
I know that Zen mentality is supposed to be the ideal, but even if I'm playing a £100 comp at the Gutshot, if I go out, I'll usually be pretty pissed off for a little while, and I guess the bigger the comp, or the more stupid my decision-making in the exit-hand, the longer that feeling will last. I'm normally fine later that day and I don't really tilt so much, but I do get into a bit of a funk about it.
What's the current routine?
It goes through phases. I've got a lot better at waking up early. When I first started playing poker, I was very nocturnal, playing from seven in the evening until the early hours, then rinse and repeat, sometimes without the rinse. Playing more cash now allows me to be more flexible with my time, so generally I try and wake up before midday and play a couple of sessions broken up by some Xbox, and then hopefully have the evening free, unless I go play live.
I'm still playing mostly six-handed mid-stakes Omaha, anywhere from six to twelve tables usually, averaging about eight. An hour is the ideal length for a set, but if I'm in the mood, I can sit there for six hours and just grind it out. Over the course of a day I probably won't play more than about twelve hours; two or three thousands hands is about as much I do in a day. Omaha is still my bread and butter.
I've been playing quite a few tournaments online like the Sunday grind, but I find often that I play them because it's Sunday, and that's what you're supposed to do even though my mindset isn't particularly good, so I'm going to try and work on that and play less often, but play more effectively when I do. Over the last couple of months, with Christmas and less pressure from having a few results, I've been a bit lazy and haven't been playing as much. I'm going to step that up.
How have your online results been?
I've won pretty decent, so I can't complain. My graph is never a straight line, but it does go from bottom left to top right at least. When I look at my EV, I seem to have been playing pretty shit at the start of the year, although you can't trust that line too much. It's a nice way to add an extra layer to your tilt-moaning when you feel you should be winning loads, but it kind of breaks down when you examine it more clearly.
I got into a real groove before Vegas where I was making five-hundred to a thousand a day, just playing sessions and booking profit, but like always with cash, when I think I've got it solved and it's a license to print money, I come back the next day and can't seem to win a hand. I do think the games have got tougher, and the players are better, so maybe I didn't do a good enough job adapting to the regs post-Vegas, and need to do more Omaha Manager work targeting these guys and working out what my leaks are against them.
I'm not worried about the standard getting too high or anything. Poker's too complex a game and has too many variables to be solved, and you can't really eradicate the human element. If the games get even tougher, then maybe people will get bored of Hold'em and other games will come to prominence. I feel like I'm reasonably well-rounded; I can play most of the games, online or live, so I figure that, for the foreseeable future at least, I'll be able to find beatable games. I'm not really too worried about it.
Are you playing much live cash?
I've been playing some, like the dealer's choice game at the International which includes Paduki, Super Stud and Triple Flop Omaha, the usual games; we call them the Old Street Three. They're a lot of fun and it makes for a nice change, but I'm still a fish at some of the games.
I've been playing some Big Two there too - we had a one-pound-per-point game recently, which of course I was winning until the last three hands when I tripled three times and ended up doing like 200 quid. That was pretty horrible, but also fun, so I'll look to be doing more of that. Hopefully online we can get some games going too. I'm eagerly waiting for that day to arrive.
I play here and there, but I don't have a regular cash game like I used to, so I'm looking for a good one. The Palm Beach has got a reputation as a place where the cash game sharks love to play, so I guess it's got some whales, but I prefer it when everyone's a fish rather than five sharks and two whales. I'll just settle for swimming in the pond with the most fish for the time being.
How was Vegas?
In terms of the poker, it wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't great and I only cashed once in the Series. You have to stay luckier for longer in thousand-plus fields. Flipping a coin and getting heads four times in a row is pretty hard; six is actually a bunch harder; but nine is like what the fuck. The last three years in Vegas have been like that, so I'm pretty used to it unfortunately. Thankfully, I did pretty well in the cash games. Considering we were livin' it up in Vegas for six weeks, it wasn't too bad. It was a good trip.
I had a lot of fun in the Black Belt Poker house and its obviously nice to be away from the Strip, relax and not have to gamble all of the time just because you're stuck in the casino, but there are good and bad elements. The first year I was in Vegas I stayed in the Bellagio for most of it, and that was really nice: berry parfait for breakfast, and the triple meat from the rip-off room service when you're feeling peckish. It's also really nice to be able to roll out of bed whenever you want and just go downstairs into a cash game. I like both really. I think the idea would be to get a house or apartment closer to the Strip and maybe enjoy the best of both worlds.
I still enjoy the Vegas experience, and I like going to some of the nice restaurants out there, although not the ridiculously-priced ones. I'm not really into the club scene, and don't want to pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of vodka every time I go out - it seems stupid. We're more grafters than ballers in the Black Belt Poker house and I've got enough vices that I don't need to look for more to add. You can't be in Vegas for six weeks and expect to go crazy all the time. I'm not rolled for it. Maybe others are, but good luck to them.
There's definitely a sense of obligation, and I'd hate to miss it even though some years I've gone out under-rolled and had to rely on Uncle Neil to get me out of it, but there's such value there and it's so much fun. The weather's a bit too hot, but I wouldn't want to miss the carnival, and I know I'm due a massive year there where I get the absolute cake. I want to give myself as many shots at that as possible.
What are your feelings now on your trip to Cannes?
[Jerome finished fifth for €57,912 in the €5,000 Omaha, and also cashed in the €1,000 event.]
Cannes is really nice. Obviously I'm influenced by what happened but I enjoyed it: it's by the beach and the weather's really good for October. It made a refreshing change from London and the cramped, wet and cold Empire. They ran it pretty well too and there were lots of French guys, which is always nice. I only played three tournaments and I cashed in two of them. The one I didn't cash in was the six-max PLO, and that was probably the fishiest thing I'd ever seen. That would be an amazing tournament to play every week.
I was obviously happy to make the final in the €5K Omaha. It was a pretty strong lineup. [Sam] Trickett plays more Omaha than people give him credit for. He's considered a Hold'em specialist, but I think he's played quite a lot of Omaha online and he's obviously a great tournament player. Ramzi Jelassi is maybe a touch overaggressive but he was probably the other best Omaha player on the table, and was setting the pace for a lot of it. I didn't think Steve Billirakis was such a great Omaha player, but I doubled him up when I didn't really need to and it came back to bite me because he knocked me out. But again, he's a great tournament player, and at that stage when the blinds are big, tournament skills outweigh a particular skill for the game. Decent tournament play will be enough a lot of the time.
My final hand was fine. I got it in pretty good and he got there with his double-suited trash, so nothing I could have really done there. In the big hand, I called Billirakis' three-bet with 6-6-2-2 double-suited and made a stop-and-go on the flop with a flush draw. That was a pretty clear mistake looking back and a gamble I didn't need to take. I'm going to be committing myself to hopefully be flipping a lot of the time when I can also be dominated pretty badly. Although he might chicken out on some boards, with one pot-sized bet left and what is going to be aces most of the time, I don't have much fold equity, which makes the play even worse.
Usually in Omaha tournaments you're getting in lots of positions where you have aces or you're trying to crack them because people play them face-up. This one I hadn't encountered that scenario for the whole time, and having seen other people crack aces, I thought this was a good spot to do the same. Normally, I might just fold and outplay them, but with these guys you're not going to outplay them that much, which at the time made me think it was worth taking the shot; it's a chance to knock out a strong opponent and take the chip lead, but still have chips left if I lose. Maybe my view has been influenced by the fact that I lost the hand, but I still think that ICM wise it should be a fold. That's a lesson I've learned for next time.
Was it wise to beat your girlfriend at the Fox?
[Jerome pipped girlfriend Sarah Berry to win the £200 six-max event at the London Calling mini-festival at the Fox Poker Club; he also won the £100 event just two days earlier.]
We chopped the money in that tournament, but decided to play on, which was a mistake. I think I should have just let her win as she was pretty pissed that I managed to get lucky against her ace-high, but what can you do?
I had no real desire to knock her out - and part of me thinks it's not worth the argument afterwards - but you've just got to play your cards, especially in tournaments, and in one hand she doubled me up when I had queens and she set me in with eights.
It was funny because when we got to the final table, [Ian] Woodley and I kept having battles, but then this other guy began muttering that I was colluding with Sarah under his breath. I was like, 'If you've got something to say, just say it,' so he explained that he was worried about us cheating. I called the floor, but they just said that we hadn't done anything, and there was nothing they could do. After that, it was pretty sweet when we got to wave him out of the door in third to leave Sarah and me heads-up.
Anything you want to change about your game?
Yeah, definitely. As to what it is, I guess maybe incorporating more of a three-/four-bet game early on in tournaments. I generally use a fairly pot-controlling style which works well for me, but there are probably times to kick in to another gear instead of just plodding along. So, working on coming out of my comfort zone and pushing every edge.
Online, I want to try and iron out some of my mistakes, like playing too long sessions and not taking enough breaks. Quite often when you analyse the session, there will be three or four hands that got away from you because you weren't focused and did something stupid, and impulsive. I also want to play less on autopilot, and think about my plays more, and where I'm taking them, instead of just playing my default game. My default is okay, but I think I could crush the game with a bit more work.
Maybe I need to take more shots at higher stakes as I only to do it very occasionally, which is surprising as the whole thing used to be a shot-take for me. Part of me is happy that I have that grinder gene now, but I definitely think I've been too conservative over the last few years, and I should be taking more controlled shots because it's a pretty good way to boost your bankroll quickly, and you have to give yourself the chance to play the rush.
Obviously I've learned a lot in poker over the years, and probably play a bit tighter than I used to. Maybe with a bit more fear. When I first started, I was winning lots of money, and thought it wouldn't be long before I had my first million - I felt like I couldn't lose, but then I endured a couple of years where it was really hard, and I was having to dip into my overdraft. I don't want to go back there. I try and banish it, but maybe that element of doubt crept into my game, as the money is more real to me now than when it was coming hand over fist and I didn't have to stop to think.
After I won in Walsall, I definitely overextended myself, and just went straight out and bought into the EPT in Monte Carlo. At the time I was making maybe 5K a month, and I thought that would continue for the foreseeable future, but it didn't: I went on a bad run in tournaments and lost some money here and there. I also got burgled; they came in and nicked my TV and laptop, and I also had five thousand dollars sitting around in a drawer like a mug as well. I think they actually left the Xbox which was pretty crazy. They obviously never caught those scumbags.
Are you still enjoying being a professional poker player?
It can already be a bit of a chore with long hours and lots of tables, and it's not that stimulating compared to live where you can chat to people. Like anything, after a while it becomes a job and I maybe don't have that same puppy-like enthusiasm and shiny coat like I did when I first started out, but I look at the opportunities poker has given me and compare it to working in an office or something, and I'm pretty happy and cant see myself giving it up too soon.
I suppose having a work place with colleagues can be a good thing in a way, but I've never really had that to miss. I think I've met enough good people in poker, and made enough friends that the lifestyle isn't a problem. At most of the places I go to, I play people I get on with, so I can't really say it's alienated me. Looking at the screen isn't good for the eyes, though.
I still enjoy the travelling, but it depends where I'm going really. Travelling for travelling's sake, not really, and the Thanets and Blackpools of this world in winter aren't a lot of fun, but I definitely like going to new, exciting places where there's a bit of sun. I'm all for the travel generally.
Do you feel pressure being sponsored?
Not really. I guess it means you don't want to do anything too stupid and have to report back that you six-bet with J-8 because you thought he was weak, but he had kings. That wouldn't read too well. But at the same time, even when I was playing on my own money, the not doing anything stupid comes from the way it makes you feel afterwards rather than what anyone is going to say. There isn't really much difference for me. Once you're in the tournament, you're just trying to beat the players you're playing with.
When I first started, I was getting the cake, and it was all really easy, but fast forward two and a bit years after that, and it wasn't going well. Neil [Channing] started backing me in tournaments before Black Belt Poker came around, and so when Black Belt Poker started I came with him. He's always been good to me, and there have been a few times when he's given me a helping hand. He's definitely one of the good guys, and I've got his back as it were.
Any News Year's Resolutions?
Not really. I think it's just an excuse to break them. I find poker's an industry where output isn't related that much to input, so I don't really want to set targets. I guess, if I had 100K or more in a year's time, then that would be a start, and my one goal. Win a big tournament would obviously be nice too, but beyond that, just play lots, play well, and see where we end up.
Outside of poker, Sarah and I are talking about quitting smoking. We're probably going to buy those electronic cigarettes and give it up pretty soon. I don't think I'll be getting rid of all my vices just yet though. Last vice standing. That sounds like a Bruce Willis film.
Our New Year Reviews will continue throughout January and appear every two days.
Previous New Year Interviews:
#1 - JP Kelly
#2 - Roberto Romanello
#3 - Daniel 'jungleman12' Cates
#4 - James Keys
#5 - Julian Thew