Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Welcome, to the Dojo, of The Real...

My intention for this blog was to write a simple review of my first BJJ lesson, but I've found myself reflecting on some deeper issues since taking the class.

I got into MMA a couple of years ago and wasn't too keen on the ground fighting aspect; it seemed like a way of stalling to me. It wasn't until I watched UFC 1 that, like many, I really appreciated how powerful ground fighting and more specifically BJJ could be.

About a year ago I finally started training in martial arts, a lifelong ambition, joining The Martial Arts School SW, a local MMA school. I was excited about this school as I noticed they did grappling (no-gi), something I was keen to try, but a little apprehensive due to it looking very physically demanding.

I did kickboxing only for about 6 months and it became apparent to the instructor that I was a huge MMA fan and he started encouraging me to grapple. I was so excited to do it, but kept putting it off. Finally when I felt my fitness had reached an acceptable level I hit the mats, learnt a couple of submissions and rolling for the first time. I was instantly hooked.

I said to myself I'd never train gi BJJ but found myself watching an increasing amount of instructional videos and getting sucked into the culture more and more. Finally, after shopping around for a gi which there was no real reason for me to buy, I admitted to myself that BJJ was actually something I really wanted to do.

However, finding a school wasn't easy. Being just down the road from London and having a football team in the Premiership, you'd assume that there would be at least one BJJ class here. But no! The closest I could find were Carlson Gracie Academy, Ze Marcello and Andy Roberts, all about 25 miles away.

After chatting to each one about their pricing (each were super helpful) and juggling their timetable with my current kickboxing and no-gi classes, I decided on the Carlson Gracie Academy.

My gi arrived (a Tatami Nova Basic, highly recommended across the internets) and after a couple of weeks off with a bad knee from a failed standing sweep during kickboxing sparring, I set my first date, this past Monday.

Before I go into the class, a little bit more info about myself; I'm a big guy. 6"6 tall, 18st. Being 'big' has many advantages, but it can be frustrating at times, as people can fail to see beyond it.

The last sport I put a lot of effort into was golf; I played seriously for about 12 years, but quit with very little to show. I never made it to a single figure handicap and only once broke 80. Basically, I was shit, yet was well respected for the fact I could melt a ball onto the green of a 400+ yard par 4, or hit driver-wedge to a par 5 like it was easy. No one cared it would often take me 3 or 4 puts to finish the hole, I was still an urban legend on the course.

Fast forward to joining an MMA school, straight away my size is the topic of discussion. After a few months training I developed decent kicking and punching power, which I put manly down to working hard on technique, but everyone credits it to my attributes. When grappling, as the average size of my partners is fairly small, I'm often able to use my power to gain an advantage. It's frustrating and I feel like I'm cheating, but it's hard not to do it when technically outclassed.

However, when stepping onto the mats at the Carlson Gracie Academy, the first thing I notice is several guys my size or bigger. Finally, my size means nothing!

Onto the lesson. We started with a decent warmup that really got my heart going, which quickly blended into the techniques for the day, Omaplata and variations. Straight away the gi confused me, using grips seemed really weird. I struggled with the harder variation, but felt I got most of the basics down.

We then lined up in grade order and the coach selected pairs to roll. He asked if it was my first lesson, I could have said no as I've got quite a few hours experience rolling, but seeing as I was already tired and wanted to make it through the whole session, I answered yes and he let me sit out the first roll.

On the second roll he paired me with a white belt with 2 or 3 stripes. We started and the first thing he did was grab my gi! Wtf! It still felt so bizzarre. He pulled guard and did an excellent job of just neutralising me. I asked for some advice on how to break the sleeve grips, and armed with this I made a few attempts at passing his guard, almost getting there a couple of times but he always grabbed me and pulled me back.

For the third roll I was then approached by a Blue Belt with 2 or 3 stripes (I should take more notice) and knew I was in trouble. Instant grips and butterfly guard, which resulted in him lifting me in the air a few times. If you noted my size earlier, then you'd realise I wasn't used to this treatment; this guy was very strong. Breaking his grips was nigh-on impossible, but he did give me a few openings to pass, each time though he would crush me with some sort of choke or lock.

The final roll I was all but spent, so quickly ran to another non-striped white belt who looked as tired as me. I went back to what I know, aggressive no-gi style, and was able to tap him a few times, but really  I should have been more open to giving him opportunities and experimenting with the gi, but my ego was hurt.

A really fun experience, but also MASSIVELY humbling. I'm no longer the big guy, only decent technique can carry me from here. I can't wait for my next lesson.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Wedding Bells and Heel Hooks

Almost 6 months since my last proper blog and lots has happened.

So, the big news first. I got married!

Yes, it was only the last blog I was talkin about our engagement, but it made sense and we didn't want to wait. We had a lovely small ceremony with just family, with the reception at the same hotel we spent our first night in, and got engaged, so it meant a lot. Honestly I couldn't be happier (drama king alert), I never thought I'd meet someone like Anna and I'm excited to spend my life with her.

Work wise, I talked about a project manager type role but that didn't materialise. I was pretty angry at the time as this company seems to have no problem hiring copious amounts of sexy birds to work in marketing positions, but when someone rocks up with actual experience and virtually guarantees to double the size of their new area of business, he's shot down. Idiots.

The work offers were pretty constant though, with a few small companies wanting me on board, but to be honest knowing I was getting married and being sick of the lack of job security a small company offers, I wanted something big.

I was offered a contract role at one of the UK's largest gaming companies and decided to take the risk, hoping that if I worked my buns off they'd not want to let me go. Well I'm on my third temp contract with them and I feel really confident I've made a huge impact and they'd be crazy to let me go. Hopefully early next year the role will be made permanent and I can actually talk about who it is!

Martial arts wise, I received my next rank in kickboxing and started grappling. I didn't think I'd like grappling that much, but after the first lesson and sparring straight away, I was hooked. It is much, much, much harder than it looks, but the satisfaction of pulling off a well executed technique is immense.

In fact, it's brought out my competitive side again, I can actually see myself competing in grappling tournaments and have decided to take that side of things more serious. In the next couple of weeks, I'm going to start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; there are a couple of awesome schools/coaches near me and I'm excited to start this prestigious martial art. I will continue to train with my old school in Reading, but will probably just to kickboxing and move my grappling to one of the BJJ schools.

I'm also starting to focus on strength in a big way, investing in weights and spending a lot of time on S+C forums working on a program. I'm mostly following the 'Starting Strength' system, but have modified it slightly until I get more equipment at home. Next stage is working on flexibility.

So, expect this blog in the future to have a lot more martial arts content, as I love talking about things I compete in and with the lack of poker playing these days martial arts will fill that void. Am going to start doing some networking in the BJJ/MMA blogger community, so hi to any guys reading this post.

TV wise I was a little let down with the first half of Breaking Bad S5, I felt it was really slow and it was only the last episode that really got my interest. The same can't be said for Homeland S2, wow, the first few episodes were intense to the point where I can't see how the series can carry on for another season? Excited for tonights episode.

Not seen too many movies, but Expendables 2 was great fun. Everything you'd want from the movie, having Arnie, Willis and Stallone stood in a line firing guns doesn't get much better,

Musically I've not been really inspired by too much recently - listening to a lot of ambient, dubstep and black metal as usual. Nachmystium's newest album has a couple of killer tracks, and I've just received a copy of Wintersun's newest opus Time. Their last album was one of my favourites, but honestly, I can't see how this can be so much better seeing how long it's taken to come out.

Stars of the Lid are coming to the UK again after 5 years and I am PUMPED to see them. I've talked about how good the last show was before, so I'm expecting more of the same this time. If you're looking for some amazing music for playing poker or simply relaxing to, you won't find much better:

So that's a quick recap of the last few months. I am going to start doing at least bi-weekly blogs now I've got more to focus on.

Cheers for reading!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Sam Trickett Circa 2009

Before any Titans, Farms, Matchbooks or OneDrop Millions Sam Trickett was just a young lad wondering if poker could become his full time job. I was lucky enough to be part of his journey and with his recent success it's only fitting to tell the story.

Back in 2009 I was getting my break in to the industry by working a commission only role for PokerIcons, a media and PR agency mainly for professional poker players. I didn't make much money, but it gave me a great introduction to the gaming industry and helped me meet lots of decent contacts. More importantly though, it was bloody fun.

At the time our biggest client was Jamie Gold and we spent lots of time trying (unsuccessfully) to get him a sponsorship deal. Poker sites were weary of sponsoring players in 2009 and Jamie was asking for a shed full. We did some interesting things with him though - trying to gate crash Paris Hilton's boat party in Cannes being one of them - but I'll save that for another blog.

Another player on our list was 'one of the UK's brightest up and coming stars', a young lad by the name of Sam Trickett.  We did our homework and knew Sam was going to made it big, so we spent a decent amount of time pushing him to potential sponsors. Unfortunately he just hadn't had a big enough score to give him mass market appeal. (check his hendon mob pre 2010, and then post 2010 and shed a tear for me)

In September 2009 was the biggest event on our calendar, the WSOPE. For a couple of weeks, all the big names would be in town, and it was a huge money making opportunity for us. Me and my two colleagues squeezed into a room at the Metropole and we hadn't been there long before I got a call from Sam saying 'someone just gave me a patch deal'.

We raced over to the Empire as any patch deals had to be done through us, Sam was our client, so we negotiated the terms. When we got there I was quickly pounced upon by an agent from another company introducing himself and saying he'd scored Sam a patch deal with Full Tilt. After a few choice words, we agreed that we'd split the commission for that day, but we'd handle all his deals from that day on. (we spent 2 days negotiating with Ray Bitar, remember the days when we all thought FTP was prestigious and legit?)

Sam next to Negreanu on the feature table wearing his FTP patch

My camera phone picture from the rail (we had sick seats)

Sam didn't do too well in the event, but of course he was to go on and do amazing things. A top bloke who I'll always feel proud of as, in some micropercentage shape of form, I feel I helped him get to where he is.

It's hard to think that just 3 years ago I was on Skype with him ghost writing his profile. So here it is, Sam Trickett's media profile, Circa 2009:

'Sam Trickett was introduced to the game of poker in 2005 when he was invited to a regular game held at a friends bar. After enjoying the first night he went on to win the tournament regularly, including a three week winning stretch. Upon realising he could make more in one night at the poker tables than he could working for a whole week, he went on the search for more serious games. He took his first shot at a big tournament in Sheffield’s biggest casino and finished on the bubble, an experience he credits as starting his obsession with the game...'

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

New Blog: Getting Serious

Another month, another job gone!

I do feel a bit stupid, but as most have realised by now, I lasted just a couple of weeks at Genting. Firstly, thanks to everyone who wished me well when I announced I'd gotten the job,  I was really overwhelmed by it. So why did I quit?

The job title was 'Sales Manager'. Sales is a tricky one with me as I can do it well, but the idea of a pure sales job has never really interested me. However, things had gotten slow on the job front and the thought of working close to home was appealing, so when a recruitment agent called about the role I thought an application couldn't hurt.

Straight away they wanted to see me, great I thought, so I dusted off the suit and made my way to Richfield Avenue. It's funny as the Genting Casino in Reading (formally Maxims, Stanley, Tower etc...) was my first experience of proper gambling venue and I instantly fell in love. The place will always hold a soft spot for me.

I first met with the Casino Manager Jimmy Howard and their national recruitment manager. This preliminary interview was just to find out about me and see what I was like as a person. Talk about myself enthusiastically for 30 mins? No problem. I got a call back later the day for a second interview.

The second interview was trickier. Not only did I have Jimmy again scrutinising me but the regional marketing manager asking some very tricky questions. However, remember I said earlier I can do sales well? I smashed this interview into pieces, couldn't of done any better. It did leave me with some doubts thought if I was suitable for the role as I wasn't sure just how much sales was needed, as they hammed up my marketing experience and how useful it would be.

My mind was soon put to rest as I got the call that they wanted me for the role! I was overjoyed as this was my first traditionally secured job - what I mean by that is recruitment agent, interview, second interview, offer etc...

I went in for the first week and Jimmy told me he still wasn't quite convinced about me, but it was by far the best applicant they had and after next week I just had to prove myself.

So for the first week it was excellent. Swaggering around the Casino being introduced to all the staff and high rollers as a new manager, chatting to people with a sense of authority I've never had before, free meals and promises of other luxury, and all round fun experience.

Then the second week came, and the pressure started. Why wasn't I on the phone every day calling businesses to get them in? Why hasn't I made loads of sales already? Such and such who was in the office noticed you weren't on the phone etc... etc...

This was pressure like I'd never felt it. I mean I've been under a serious work load before, but this was corporate pressure, and I hated it.

Just before starting the job I'd received a call from another company (that will remain anonymous for now) offering me a project manager style role in poker, something I'd be much more suited too. They said if the job at Genting went wrong, to give them a call.

So with the pressure mounting, plus knowing a job I'd be much better at was out there but wouldn't be around for ever, I quit.

It was a surreal experience all around, but believe it or not, I did take several things away from the two weeks I was there.

1. A smart appearance goes a long way. So whatever job I land from now on, always expect a shirt and tie.
2. Straight talking gets the job done. I've always been one for babbling, but spending time with Jimmy the manager taught me just how a proper businessman works.
3. Good things can come from working with recruitment agencies.

So yes, expect another 'I got the job!' tweet coming soon, but expect this one to stick. Exciting times ahead!

Although this is the news most of you will find interesting, it certainly isn't the biggest news in my life recently. Last Saturday me and Anna got engaged! It seems like only yesterday we first met, but it was over 2 years ago now, and the time is definitely right for us to get married. I'm starting to feel 'wise' (old) and the need to build a home is really setting in.

So how did I propose?

Me and Anna have gotten into a bit of birdwatching recently due to seeing lots of different species in my families large garden. We took my Nan to a local bird sanctuary which was fun, so I announced I wanted to go to one in Canterbury, where Anna's family are. She said OK and we went stayed a night with her Aunt before setting off the next day for the bird sanctuary, but this just a ruse.

I'd actually booked the biggest suite of the first hotel we ever stayed in almost 2 years ago and she was so shocked as to why we were even there! I left her in the car while I picked up the keys and we drove the room. We walked in and she was gobsmacked by the size of the place, and when she turned around there I was on one knee.

We had a lovely night there and now have a wedding to plan. Gosh!

Anna looking beautiful with the ring and the roses from the room.

Speaking of weddings, my first close friend is getting married this weekend, by best mate Marc whose name you would of read in this blog over the years. It was a scary concept when he talked about the idea a couple of years ago, but now it's all starting to feel right. The wedding is at the Forest Of Arden hotel and golf course in Birmingham which is awesome. We checked it out last week and it was SO NICE being back on a golf course, I miss it so much.

The stag party was a couple of weeks ago in Cardiff, my first one ever! Really enjoyed it. First night was at a comedy club which was a big surprise, day 2 was paintballing which is always fun and go karting which I sucked at but enjoyed. 

Have continued kickboxing at The Martial Arts School SW and am still loving it, now having gained my Yellow Belt after my first grading!

It was hard work but the grading system is excellent as it pushes you to work hard for the next belt. Am already well on my way to the next grade which is Yellow Belt Black Stripe. 

My fitness level has also gone right up and I'm now ready to start grappling! I've been keen on learning Wrestling and BJJ for a couple of years now (ever since watching UFC) and TMAS's grappling system combines the two which is exciting. Bought a pair of MMA gloves and being the geek I am I had to find out who made gloves for the big organisations:

My newly purchased gloves.

Ouano have made gloves for UFC, WEC, Elite XC and many others fo the years, and also looking a bit like Pride gloves, I just had to have them. I've also bought all my protective gear so I can start sparring which is a little scary but something I have to do for my next belt. 

Since my last blog there was a TV void left waiting for new seasons of Homeland, Breaking Bad and Walking Dead, so I finally took the plunge and started watching Lost. I'm half way through Season 5 and fans of the show will know how much my head is hurting right now. Fun though.

Me and Anna area also really into Storage Wars and American Pickers, so much so that we're going to try doing some gold digging ourselves, although I doubt it will pay off!

That's it for now. Thanks to everyone for your support, it does mean a lot. and I promise I'll soon be in an interesting position again!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

New Blog: Working in Poker

Now I'm back to being an independent entity for the time being I feel it's only right I crack my knuckles and give my honest opinion of mine and the UK Poker scenes current situation. I'm going to cover two main points in this blog.

1. My departure from BBP.

2. The UK Poker Scene - radical ideas.

Leaving BBP

It wasn't long after my last blog that I was given the unfortunate news that my time at Black Belt Poker had come to an end. It came as a bit of a shock although working for a small company you accept that it's always a possibility.

I really enjoyed my time at BBP. Having worked for a Scandinavian brand before, I was eager to join a UK focused company as that's where my passion, contacts and marketing network had always lied.

I was part of some great promotions and two popular live events and met lots of excellent poker players. We parted ways on good terms, I certainly wasn't fired, nor was I replaced.

I have to congratulate Neil and all the BBP staff for what they have achieved. Neil especially is one of the hardest working guys I've ever met. BBP was basically an idea of his that he worked relentlessly to make a reality.

I really do think BBP could became a large success IF some major changes are made. I won't go into detail, but members of the site will know what parts of the site do and don't work both technically and theoretically. They've always had large ideas, but you have to get the basics right first, otherwise expansion is impossible.

I wish them all the success in the world and will always have my eye on them.

The UK Poker Scene - Some Radical, but Scaleable Ideas

As my recent departure from BBP proves, times are tough in the poker world. Everyone is playing catch up to Stars, but will one new site or current network ever get close? I think not as there are too many ideas floating around and too many people thinking they can become a success.

Year upon year we see sites come and go, thinking they can take the same old ideas and make them a success. Some try something new, usually with little success. BBP is hanging on in there, but like I said before I don't think they have a chance for large expansion until changes are made. Real Deal Poker had a real shot at being big. They had a product that could attract the fish to online poker, which in turn would attract online players to take them on. Had they of been smart, i.e. not greedy, with their idea, they could of been a big success. Yet they tried taking on the big dogs themselves and failed.

Can anyone do it?

I believe so, and without the need for fancy ideas and crazy business plans. What's needed is co-operation, utilisation of local knowledge, conquering separate markets and then forming a large entity. Let's take the UK for example.

We have several independent online brands in this country all taking 90%+ of their business from UK players. The best examples:

Black Belt Poker

Sky Poker

Dusk Till Dawn

Rags 2 Riches (The Western Club)

One Way Poker

Gutshot (The International Club)

Sure there are the Genting’s and Grosvenor’s, but I'm not worried about them, they pull enough revenue through their casinos to make online nothing more than a fashion requirement as opposed to a real necessity (I'd be interested to see their revenue figures).

Then there are the big brands like 888 and Party with a strong marketing presence in the UK, but they are hardly 'local brands'.

So, let's take the list above. Online the biggest is Sky by far, in fact they've been so successful they are on their own independent network. Add up the rest and you're probably close to doubling the player base Sky has to offer, but not only that, you bring into the mix some serious assets.

DTD is obviously Europe's best poker venue and the Western and International are both solid clubs in the London Area. BBP and One Way both have strong live poker ties with various smaller clubs and groups.

What if each of these companies merged to form one UK super network?


(please don't laugh at my graphical skills, this is just an example!!)

Here are some of the online benefits I feel this mega merger would bring:

1. Great traffic at reasonable times for UK players. Nearly everyone on the network would work, so would be playing mostly in the evening, just like live games.
2. Regular influx of recreational players. Let's not hide the fact, live games are always fishy, and the goal is to bring these players online. Affiliate deals can work, but it takes a lot of effort. If it's all the same brand, then it's much, MUCH more likely these players will play online.
3. Games are ALWAYS good. As I just mentioned, live games are always fishy. Sure there are some good players out there, but they are mostly lost within the wash of recreational player of varying skill. These type of games would be better mimicked online, making it tasty for the good players, but still fun for the recreational players, as they are never really picked on.

Some points about the software:

1. MAKE IT TRANSPARENT. People need to KNOW it’s a fair deal. Get regulated in the UK. SHOW people how it works. There should be no question about it.
2. Integrated HUD/Tracker software. Yes, the argument is that this is open to everyone, but the casual player will never go through the hassle of buying or learning it, or even knowing about it. What if it was all integrated, with options for beginner and advanced users, and of course plenty of info to help one learn. Now the playing field is definitely level, and the site can monitor what information is shared and used within their games.

Some of the live benefits:

1. The first ever CHAIN of UK poker clubs, not connected to a casino. A uniformed standard would be set, so you know whenever you step into one of these venues, you’re in for a great game of poker.
2. An easy route to expansion. With a wider stretch of players, and a wider audience, opening a new venue with an already established name will be much easier than opening a new brand.
3. Influx of online player live. While it’s usually the goal to get live players online, if we have a brand that’s happy with either, we can get nervous online players venturing out more.

Could anyone else join?

Of course. I really like the franchise business model. People pay to represent the brand, then earn income based on their personal performance. Other online sites can come on board and join the network, but instead of multi brand under hand competition, we all represent the same company, and all have the same goals. The same could happen with live venues.

What happens abroad?

Once the UK is conquered, we then launch networks in other countries made up of independent brands, using the exact same model. We succeed as we’re bringing in people with local knowledge, who know their market.

Once several countries are up and running, we have regional tables, and joint tables online. Perhaps you’re content to play against your fellow countrymen, but sometimes you might fancy the challenge of playing other regions. One word is important here, CHOICE.

Think about it.

Wouldn’t it be amazing? We take the best bits about local brands and turn it into a worldwide community. A poker network by poker lovers.

I wish.

Time to reel it back in. Where to next? I’m speaking to a few people with some interesting things on the table. I’m ready to get back in the mix and dedicate myself to a brand once again. I’m looking forward to the future.

Thanks for reading and thanks for all the support over the last couple of years. I will be back!