The comeback trail

Hello internets. It has been a while since last we met. Many, many things have happened in that time. Some are deeply personal and involve both heartbreak and crushing depression. Others are firmly routed in establishing a stable daily life and improving on the old model.
Some, just some feature good ol' game mechanics.


This year's Develop was an interesting one. By that I don't mean the talks - I've never actually been to any of the talks - but the circumstances and awesome old friends that I got to see again. Any experienced developer will tell you that, although you can learn some really cool things in these talks, the real stuff happens in the bars around the venue. This is where you get to meet up with the people and schmooze. Some of these people will be important business contacts. Others will be old buddies you haven't seen in over a decade. Still more will be former-colleagues. All will be drunk.
My highlights included the South West contingent featuring Remode (the lovely Ella and Leanne), Four Door Lemon (the inimitable Simon) and Mutant Labs (the annoyingly named Alex) amongst others. There was also the irrepressible Jo from UKIE, that I have yet to meet whilst sober. I also met a really nice lawyer whose passion for games matches my own and whose skillset is deployed solely so that people like me can get on with the art of creating games without being ruthlessly crushed by big corporations. Then there was the former Kuju contingent featuring such legends as Harry Denholm and JonG. Also, my mentor and all round industry legend, Lionhead's Gary Carr - a man whose efforts to turn me to drink bore vicious fruit mere decades later.


One of the other features of Develop is the charity poker tournament, hosted at the local casino. Here the great and the good of the industry get together for an evening of Texas Hold'em and banter, all in the name of charidee mate.
I'm not a particularly stand-out poker player. I understand the rules and the order of the hands but people largely lose me when they start talking about outs and pot odds - for me, any play is still very much instinctive rather than calculated. But it was all good fun, even though I never looked like threatening the final table.
The problem arose shortly afterwards when, having taken a job in Brighton and temporarily staying at my brother's house during the week, the casino was suggested for an evening out. My brother then introduced me to 3-card poker - a simple game that merely involves checking to see whether or not you have greater than a Queen-6-4 before matching your ante all the while hoping that you hit on the Pair Plus. He, being a most spawny of little shits, hit trips twice on the bounce and cleaned up. We left most definitely up on the evening only to return the following week and repeat the process. Another set meant that the score reads Andrew 2, Casino 0. Now he's swanning around East Asia, hugging monkeys, saving tourists and making guitars. It sounds weird when you read it back...
Were I to choose a single thing, I would say my remit in life is to play games and attempt to entice others to do so as well. As such, a weekly games night was instigated at the Boss Alien offices - alternating between poker and board games. My grand plan was to try and use the office poker as a practice for trying my hand at a proper tournament and get the guys involved. I've played online and never do well at multi-table tournaments, so this is something I've wanted to fix for a while. I've also read Anthony Holden's Big Deal, which was fascinating and dangerously scary all in one. I mean, you could just go and do it, right?
Anyway, with me staying in Brighton before I could move in to my new flat, I found myself dangerously alone and in close proximity to the casino of an evening.


I feel it is important to stress my views and approach to Gambling at this point. This again stems from my Dad who, I'd like to think, taught me the right way of going about it. Simply put, you don't gamble at all - instead you spend a certain amount of money on an evening's entertainment. Once that money has gone, that's it - you're done. Maybe it lasted 15 minutes. Maybe an hour. Maybe, just maybe, it lasted longer than you did and actually managed to increase in value, but that's not important. No, you spend the money and when it's gone, so are you. Hopefully you've had your money's worth.
My particular entertainment of choice is normally Blackjack. The odds are such that it's normally quite a simple thing to make a £20 bankroll last for a good couple of hours. You're never going to hit a big payout like you might on Roulette, but you're also going to make it last. It also has a nice level of interactivity, even if all you should really be doing is following Basic Strategy.

All In

Spending (some would say 'too much') time in the casino eventually led me to the card room and their poker tournaments. One evening, in the name of science, I put down my buy in and off I went. This was it - my first proper tournament.
It turns out, I only thought I knew the rules. There are many more rules, items of etiquette and chaotic pitfalls when it comes to playing poker in the casino. In the absence of dedicated dealers (at least, until the final table), it's up to the people around each table to sort themselves out. This results in one person shuffling the deck, another cutting the deck and a third dealing it and generally being responsible for managing the hand. That's before you get to the betting bit.
There's an old poker saying that goes something along the lines of:
"If you can't tell who the sucker is at the table, it's you"
Well, having already dropped all of the cards on the floor mid-shuffle, I think I pretty much cleared that up for everyone. As tournament faux-pas go, that one has got to be close to the top of the list, possibly only bettered by getting horrifically drunk, insulting your fellow players before dropping your pants and curling one out on top of everyone's chip stacks.
Despite this setback and thanks to some exceptionally tight (read - scared) play on my part, I found myself at the break. Then the final table. Then, ultimately 4th with a nice little deal for the bubble - £36 from £18 (not to mention the £36 from £20 on the 3-card poker during the break) and we can chalk that up to a good night's work.


Here's where the fun starts. The Game (poker) is fun and normally it's only ever about the Score (chips). But it turns out there's a meta-game at work here - a Leaderboard! Points are awarded for entering tournaments, your finishing position as well as special bonuses for things such as making it to consecutive final tables. These points add up and the leaderboard is displayed in the card room.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can't resist a leaderboard or high score table. Seriously.
This discovery led to several weeks of regular tournaments ranging from the rolling boil of carnage that is an unlimited re-buy £5 to a more technical and challenging £30 deep-stack freeze out. All in all, I finished the season up in money thanks to a couple of cash outs and ended up qualifying for the final in 11th position thanks to some decent results during triple and double point nights.
A note on poker and casinos now - whenever you enter a tournament, you pay the buy-in, which goes into the prize pool. You then also have to fork out the rake, which is money that goes directly to the casino to pay for the card room. This is normally a couple of quid, which really doesn't seem like much. But here's the clever bit - by essentially altering your purchase price to be something that's not a simple multiple of paper money, you normally require change. This comes in the form of a handful of chips that will encourage you to play the tables - where the casino makes its actual money. A lot of the principles are very similar to those we find in Freemium games. The casino doesn't really care how much you spent to get there - what they care about is maximising the amount of time you spend in there which, in turn, increases the chance of you dropping hard cash on their tables. It is important to realise that over the long term, the casino will always win. The laws of probability dictate such and every game - even Blackjack - is skewed in the casino's favour. That's why casino's are a great place to go for very cheap drinks - it's all part of the honey trap.

The Final

It did not start well.
My starting stack should have been about 3.5k and the league-leader was sitting a) on about 40k and b) on my table. Compound this with the fact that I didn't know when the tournament started and rocked up about 40 minutes late and you'll see why this whole endeavour was hanging by a thread. In fact, by the time I sat down, my chips had been blinded away to about 2k.
A couple of lucky double ups allied with some super tight play saw me make the break. The 27 finalists were down to about 16 and we only needed to lose 6 more to make the final table. This was achieved with a mere 1.9k remaining but the important thing was that I was still there. As Jack Straus will attest, all you need is a chip and a chair.
At the final table I was obviously the short stack and in need of some luck. Two of us went all-in against the chip leader who was sitting on AA. My KK was looking dodgy and the other guy's 88 was in real trouble. As it stands, I won the hand on a full boat, the 8s hit a flush and the rockets ended up paying us both off. More luck was to follow as I managed to take out the league leader and hot favourite when my 88 hit a set against his 99. The poker gods smiled on me still further when a mistake in basic counting on my part resulted in one of the other guys calling my all in, thinking that he had it covered (based on the count I had given him) only to lose (K5 vs K8) and discover that the call had in fact put him all in. Another lucky river and I found myself in heads up play and a proper chance of glory.
Sadly it wasn't to be as his A7 held up against my A4 and he had me covered by only about 2k. Still, second place from almost nothing on my first foray into the league final was a fantastic experience. I made a bunch of new friends (and one enemy in particular) as well as a couple of hundred quid, which is earmarked for maybe a new sofa.
Or wardrobe.
Or a rack for drying my clothes.
Holy crap - don't tell me I've finally grown up?

Update: I've ordered a PS3 to replace the one I left in Plymouth and the first season of Game Of Thrones on BluRay. My clothes can lie on the floor and we can easily answer the above question.


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