A new column bringing you the habits and routines from the lucky few that call this game of poker a career, starting with the Unibet Ambassador Dave Lappin.
Dave Lappin is professional poker player hailing from Ireland. He has earned over $600,000 profit playing online MTTs & SNGs, and over $400,000 won playing live.
Lappin represents Unibet Poker in an ambassadorial role, is the co-host of the Chip Race podcast, and recently became a dad for the first time.
How does he manage to play poker for a living, and be a great father and partner?
What is your morning routine?
“I like to skip the morning altogether. When I do finally rise at midday or 1 pm, I like to drink coffee before getting down to some serious afternoon coffee drinking.”
What time of the day do you find it easier to play poker and why?
“Pre-Black Friday, I did the late shift, starting at 10 pm and playing till 8 am. These days I play 5 pm- 3 am.”
Do you have defined goals for how many hands/sessions you play in a week: both live and online?
“No. The whole point of being a pro poker player for me is the freedom it allows me. I’m a hard-working person, so I don’t feel the need to set goals or targets. The exception would be if I accidentally end up in contention for an online or live leaderboard. That happened a bit with Sharkscope SNG Leaderboards when I started out in 2007. It also happened with the UKIPT Season 5 when Dara O’Kearney, Daragh Davey and I targeted top 3 finishes in the online and live leaderboards. Dara won the online, Daragh ended up winning the live, and I got 3rd and 4th online and live.”
Where do you play online, what types of games, and stakes?
“I have always been a mid-stakes ($20-$200) MTT and SNG grinder, primarily NLHE but I also play PLO and dabble with a bit of Razz. I used to be very Pokerstars/FullTilt-centric, but with all the changes Pokerstars made post the Amaya-takeover, I found it increasingly difficult to remain loyal. For at least 18 months, I blogged, emailed support and lobbied the staff I knew to roll back on the changes while continuing to play on the site. I know there were individuals within the company who tried to speak up on behalf of the players but ultimately these efforts fell on deaf ears. So, in 2017, I thought it hypocritical to keep supporting a brand that I genuinely believed was hurting poker, both with their actions and their dishonesty as they attempted to spin-doctor every ‘change’. This year, I have started playing a schedule that incorporates pretty much all the other sites, with particular emphasis on Unibet who took me on as a brand ambassador. I was flattered to be approached by a number of sites to perform in this role but in the end was drawn to the vision of Unibet who are oriented towards a positive player experience and have invested heavily in their software to the point that they now have the second best user-interface on the net.”
Same question for live?
“I play approximately 80 live tournaments each year, almost all of which are on the European circuit, 15-20 of which are in Malta where I live plus travelling to 12-15 festivals where the main event is either a €1k or €500. Once I bust the main, I’m a bit of a grinder, playing any and all side-events (€2k Highrollers all the way down to the €150 turbos). I’m conservative with shot-taking, but I do play 2-3 €3k-€5ks each year, usually selling 50-60% of my action when I do so.”
What tools do you use when playing poker?
“I don’t use online software or tools while playing poker. I don’t use a HUD. In fact, Unibet bans the use of tools of any sort while playing in an attempt to make the environment less attractive to the mass-multi-tabling online grinder and more attractive to the recreational who is worried about being exploited by players who are getting artificial assistance.”
Do you listen to music?
“I do listen to music while I grind. I generally play my favourites – Pixies, Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Radiohead, Velvet Underground, New Order… I also like to listen to opera – anything by Wagner, Mozart, Puccini or Verdi.”
What system do you use for taking notes on your opponents?
“Colour codes for player strength, shades of those colours for looseness/tightness. Shorthand for specific reads.”
Do you have a specific routine that you go through before you begin an online poker session?
“I don’t have a specific routine as such but I like to eat before I start playing and I generally like to get out of the apartment, maybe for a walk or better yet a swim (I live 60 seconds from the ocean), just to stave off cabin fever.”
Same question for a live session?
“I will almost always walk to the venue. I believe that with live poker, in particular, you have to mentally prepare yourself for a long day of folding, punctuated by moments of action. I have played cricket since I was 10 and I think that fielding for hours on end has trained my brain for the type of concentration required. You watch the batsman, analyse his strengths, switch your brain on and off, focus, relax for a moment, then focus again, then the ball comes to you, and you have to react or it’s your turn to bowl and you apply what you have learned by observing.”
Do you have a specific warm down routine after you have finished a session?
“It’s impossible to switch your brain off immediately after playing, especially online as multi-tabling is also like spinning plates. A glass of wine and/or an hour of TV usually does the trick.”
What do you do on the hour every hour when playing online?
“I make tea or coffee every odd break and pee at every even one. I usually graze on snacks throughout the session but on Sundays (my longest day), I will have food prepared that needs a 3 minute nuking so doing that will occupy one of the breaks. I try to do a few stretches too.”
What do you do during the break of a live event?
“I will usually discuss a hand history or two that just occurred with a friend also at the event.”
What do you eat and drink when you play?
“I will graze on fruit, snacks, maybe drink a smoothie. I’d usually have a few coffees early in the session and tea towards the end.”
Do you have a space where you play online poker, what does it look like? What is the set up like? What does it say on your Post-It Notes?
“I usually grind on the couch, 24-tabling on a 17-inch laptop with a trackpad. The games are minimised, and there is overlap but not with the cards. I used to play 30+ tables like this. If I’m Twitching (which I do for Unibet), I play at my desk and only play 10-12 tables. No post-it notes.”
When you first sit down to play poker how do you begin?
“I scan the lobbies for good games to late reg from the previous hour. I’m generally happy to buy 30bbs in anything.”
What is your process of review?
“I conduct regular HH reviews – a bit like study sessions – with my closest poker pals. I’m also on numerous HH discussion chat groups on Whatsapp and Messenger. When I staked players (which I did for five years up until recently), there would be weekly coaching sessions with them. I still do some coaching but very little these days compared to years gone by. Even though my own game is not the focus of those, I think that giving any HH analysis helps to crystalise concepts and improve my own thought process.”
How do you improve?
“You have to be open-minded. You have to be humble. It also probably helps to be a little paranoid. This is my twelfth year as a professional poker player, and in that time the game has gone through many paradigms. Surviving through these has meant adapting, studying and acknowledging that what works today probably won’t work in six months time. The game has moved from anecdotal learning to book/video learning and is well on the way to super-computer-assisted game theoretical learning. PIO and the like are the future of poker and the best players of tomorrow will undoubtedly be the ones who work well with these solvers. In fact, for most of the best players today, this is already the case.”
How much of your time is spent playing versus learning?
“3:1 in favour of playing but that probably needs to be 3:2 going forward.”
How do you know when to stop a session?
“I will very occasionally stop a session early if I’m feeling unwell, tired or unfocused but I generally play the games I planned on playing regardless of how well the session is going. I used to do huge volume, so I’m programmed to think about the long term and not focus too much on one session, one week or even one month.”
Are you consciously trying to emulate the style of a particular player? Do you have people you look to as models for your game?
“When I started out, I wanted to be a rock. I looked up to players like Dan Harrington and learned a lot from his books. As my game developed, I got looser and more small-bally. These days my game is most influenced by my circle of friends – Dara O’Kearney, Daragh Davey, Dan Wilson, Jason Tompkins, Nick Newport, James Noonan, Sameer Singh with whom I talk the most poker. I guess we are all influenced by the movement towards having stronger GTO fundamentals in our arsenals.”
Is poker easy? Does it come naturally to you?
“Poker didn’t come naturally to me, but learning has always been somewhat easy for me so once I discovered the framework through which to improve, learning poker was easy. That said, it’s getting harder every day, the margins are getting smaller, and those frameworks are changing.”
When did your aspirations to become a poker player begin?
“I watched Late Night Poker as a teenager and ever since then I loved playing poker recreationally. In 2006, I lost my job writing a TV show and was at a loose end while I searched for my next project. I played poker for forty hours a week for a couple of months and just about kept the wolf from the door. That snowballed into the career in which I still find myself. The first year, I got by. The second, I built up a decent roll. During the third, I had a big live score and with that money, has the buffer required to play without fear of going broke.”
What is your favourite moment in poker?
“I’m not big on moments when it comes to poker. I’m too long in the tooth to put any emphasis on one result or one hand. I guess the thing of which I am proudest is that I’m still here. Signing with Unibet was great, but again, I am sceptical of moments. I feel like the satisfaction from that will come afterwards, looking back on what I hope will be a mutually beneficial partnership. I genuinely believe that they are making good decisions and building a brand that can, over time, challenge for substantial market share. I sincerely hope that I can contribute towards that.”
What books have helped improve your game?
“The ‘Harrington on Hold’em’ series and ‘Full Tilt Strategy Guide’ were my first poker books – they are probably beginner’s books now, but they both helped me turn pro.
“The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff – This is Taoism taught through the lens of Winnie The Pooh, and it espoused an instinctive, uncomplicated problem-solving methodology
“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn gave me an understanding of paradigm shifts, an excellent analogy for the way poker has evolved.”
Do your surroundings affect your work, how?
“I don’t think my surroundings affect my work. I’m good at tunnel vision when it comes to matters at hand so long as my head is in the right place. Emotional distractions are the most affecting and can definitely disturb my ability to concentrate.”
You are a new Dad, what’s poker been like since caring for a child?
“Being a Dad is so rewarding, and it’s great that poker has given me the flexibility to maximise my time with my son. I barely played for the first 2-3 weeks. Since then, I’ve been playing four sessions per week so still not back to full time. As I said before, I do a twitch stream for Unibet (3 times per week), and I make a poker podcast with Dara O’Kearney called ‘The Chip Race’ so those endeavours are quite time-consuming. My girlfriend and son recently came with me to the Unibet Open Copenhagen and the Unibet UK Tour Glasgow. That was the poker road trip since he was born and the good news is he seems to be a good traveller.”
Was there ever a time when you didn’t want to play poker? How did you get out of the funk?
“Just once. In 2011, I moved back to Ireland having lived in Connecticut with my ex. I immediately started down-swinging. Initially, I wasn’t playing badly – it was just variance – but there was definitely a point at which I started to play recklessly. My head wasn’t in the game at all so after a couple of months; I decided to take a break and go back to writing. I collaborated with a friend, and we wrote a TV show, but after six months of development, it wasn’t picked up. Even though that was disappointing, I returned to poker somewhat refreshed, no longer carrying the baggage of the downswing I had been on and in 2012 and 2013, I booked two of my biggest years.”