Reflections on the #GalfondChallenge

6 max PLO player. Final tabled the Sunday Million in... 2009. Lover of Psychology (MSc in Psychology) and the mental game.
I'm a 25 year old professional poker player and commentator. I've been covering the highest stakes games and some of the most prestigious events around the globe for the last 2 years with companies such as WSOP, WPT, PartyPoker, Unibet and RunItOncePoker whilst playing mid-stakes Pot Limit Omaha as a pro.

I'm also a huge fan of the crossover between poker and psychology, reading into the body language of opponents and using Nuero-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to create an edge.
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Joshua Summers
18:56, 28 May 20 (edit: 19:07, 28 May 20)
So you just finished commentating on two Galfond Challenges.
One a massive battle with a €900k swing, and the other a seemingly comfortable victory against supposedly the toughest heads up PLO player out there.
In your words, or rather in your feelings, what have you just watched?
Henry Kilbane
19:50, 28 May 20
I did indeed, what an emotional roller-coaster the last 5 months has been. Can you imagine being in Phil's shoes and the mental capacity required to handle not only the swings involved in HUPLO but the attention (positive and negative) he's received. Phil has clearly put in a ton of mental game work over the years and to someone like myself (relatively new to the industry/game), it's inspiring and something to push towards in the future!
Henry Kilbane
19:51, 28 May 20
That's a really great question, I don't think anyone has actually asked me "in your feelings, what have you just watched". It's mainly been "oh we just watched Phil win against two tough opponents" but in my opinion, it's definitely more than that. 
Henry Kilbane
19:51, 28 May 20
For me personally, I've just watched Phil showcase his mental agility, mental capacity and insane work ethic to the world. Results aside, to publicly announce a challenge such as the #GalfondChallenge and take on 2 of the worlds best high-stakes PLO players, requires a gorilla mindset. 
Henry Kilbane
19:52, 28 May 20
He gave us some brief glimpses on Twitter into how his mind works and it's evident how emotionally aware he is. A lot of people don't look into how emotionally aware you need to be in poker, but one example Phil gave was by stepping away from the tables during the match vs VeniVidi to recoup, rest and study his opponent, well aware of the backlash and retaliation he would face on social media from the poker fans. 
Henry Kilbane
19:52, 28 May 20
"Veni is clearly 15 solvers and 5 years more advanced than Phil". Even comments like that got to me, and I wasn't the one down €900,000 at the time with a €200,000 in side bet on the line. To block out all the unnecessary noise around you and to stay focused on the task at hand isn't something everyone can do, especially in a high-stress environment, such as the poker table.
Henry Kilbane
19:52, 28 May 20
So to summarize my answer to your question, I just watched a mindset masterclass (as well as some very advanced PLO being played between two very competent players)
Joshua Summers
22:14, 28 May 20
I think you have watched the Galfond Challenge with more detail than probably anyone in the world, so I think how this challenge has impacted you personally will be very interesting.
Now that you have a pause from commentating and can focus on your own game, what are you feeling the most inspired to do differently/do for the first time?
Henry Kilbane
02:40, 29 May 20
Haha I beg to differ, that title goes to Farah Galfond. She was actively involved in the chat day in day out, interacting with the fans and just rooting for her man Phil. It was lovely to see how invested she was on watching and being an active member of the poker community too.
Commentating on this challenge made me realize I'm going to need to improve my lexicon drastically and more importantly, improve the way I breakdown complex terms. 
Listening back to streams, it was clear to me at least, that I struggled simplifying Game Theory and PLO concepts to the recreational viewer (which the majority of viewers are and that's what my role should cover)
To a certain extent, you can almost get away with it. There are a lot of elite commentators that through use of a charismatic delivery technique or deflection can avoid answering complex questions (and that's completely fine, they're there to entertain), but that's just not what I want to be labelled as. 
I think that's what this challenge has inspired me to do differently/for the first time, really try and step up my commentary game. I've enrolled in a couple of courses, I'm reading a ton of books at the moment and highlighting words that I don't understand etc to prepare myself for future gigs.
I don't want people to leave a stream and ask themselves "wow, does this kid really play poker for a living?". I want people to tune in and leave with the impression that they've learnt something new thanks to my competent way of explaining ideas and theories. I'm also aware that even if I do improve on those things, there are still going to be people that don't enjoy my commentary. But if there's one thing Phil has taught me is - you've just got to learn how to silence out all the background noise and focus on the task at hand.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to sell myself short here, I understand my value as a commentator. I gel well with different personality types in the booth, I stay active with the viewers and ask a bunch of questions to make them feel a part of each stream. But, this challenge has inspired me to try and expand beyond that. There are 100's of people that can do what I do, but there's only one Nick Schulman! 
Joshua Summers
13:10, 29 May 20
Ah, I must be out of the scene somewhat - but I don't get the Nick Schulman reference I'm afraid!
That is interesting. What is the concept that you felt the most burning desire to communicate effectively, but felt you didn't do justice to?
Henry Kilbane
09:55, 30 May 20
Nick Schulman is regarded by the majority of pro's and recreational players as the best commentator in the poker world.
He's got the sultry voice, builds a playful rapport with his co-commentators, he masterfully breaks down complex theories on the fly and on top of that, has 3 WSOP bracelets to his name as well as a solid cash game resume.
He's the reason I got into commentary in the first place and he's certainly one of the main reasons I want to improve on the things I listed above! 
As for your follow up question, the answer is - there were a lot of concepts! A bit vague I know but the here are the two main concepts that come to mind:
- The elasticity of a players range
- Range merging
The latter was certainly the most difficult in my opinion. Following on from the VeniVidi match, we saw a lot river range merging from both Phil and ActionFreak that was getting attacked at what felt like almost 100% frequency. 
It was extremely difficult for me to on the fly, firstly pick a hand that say Phil wanted to include in his merged range and then have to almost immediately pick a hand he wanted to bluff catch with vs a raise. 
That's another part of the intricate game tree that I don't think many viewers truly appreciated. To the naked eye, we were just watching some nosebleed stakes being played by Phil Galfond and "some online crusher". 
The fact that it was so difficult in the commentary booth goes to show just how advanced Phil and ActionFreak are. It's truly remarkable how they adapted on the fly and implemented and experimented with new strategies constantly. 
You could argue that their job is easier. What I mean by that is it would have been considerably easier for us in the booth by just knowing 4 of the hole cards, to then help with a certain spots including blockers, range merging etc. The counter argument to that is they were playing for hundreds of thousands of euros whilst trying to play an extremely tough opponent whilst we were just commentating. 
Joshua Summers
14:03, 30 May 20 (edit: 14:55, 30 May 20)
Haha. Right. It sounds like Nick Schulman lives a nice life.
So going back to this:
Following on from the VeniVidi match, we saw a lot river range merging from both Phil and ActionFreak that was getting attacked at what felt like almost 100% frequency.
Now that we have the space to discuss it, what were the nitty-gritty details of this particular dynamic in the match?
Henry Kilbane
00:41, 01 Jun 20
He does indeed, and deservedly so! 
So to break it down for readers that aren't familiar with the term "range merging" - range merging in poker is where we bet with medium-strength hands on the river on board textures where we should only be betting with the nuts or bluffing, thus allowing our medium strength hands to get called by worse "bluff catchers" or potentially get better hands to fold. 
What seemed to be happening a lot during both matches (again to reiterate, I really struggled with this myself) is that where Veni/Freak/Phil seemed to be merge betting in river spots, typically betting a 1/3 sizing, an aggressive counter strategy was being implemented. 
I'm not sure whether it was just a case of "well this sizing is clearly a merge sizing and I have a decent blocker, let's smash the pot button because our opponent is capped with medium strength hands" but in the commentary booth, that's what it looked like! 
We did see some adjustments being made from all 3 players. We saw Phil adapt really well against Veni around 10k hands into the match and there's one hand that sticks out vs ActionFreak where Phil actually induced on the river by using a "mergey sizing" with a hand he should have been using a polarized sizing at a very high frequency and ultimately got Freak to put his money in the middle with a bluff catcher. 
Joshua Summers
15:31, 02 Jun 20
Heads up PLO sounds like quite a delicate game to balance. You obviously want to get the maximum value for your goods... but in PLO it's so easy for someone to have something slightly better.
Going back to you, away from the commentary booth, in terms of your game or how the game fits into your life (eat/sleep/study/etc...), what do you feel most inspired to do now?
Henry Kilbane
03:17, 06 Jun 20
That's a great question. 
At the moment I'm working on a couple of projects (within the poker industry) and I'm slowly getting back into shape after neglecting my diet and workout routines for quite some time. 
I want to continue searching for other income sources and slowly build my portfolio so that I'm not as dependent on Poker/Commentary as main income sources.
Other than that, I'm going through Eliot Roe's A-Game Masterclass course. I want to start taking my game and mental game more seriously for my own sake. I think the A-Game Masterclass is a great course to help build my personal growth also.
I think poker players in general neglect their mental game a lot and it's an area that I've managed to look after pretty well so far during my career, but there are certainly areas I need to improve on. 
Joshua Summers
14:30, 06 Jun 20
Ok, so it sounds like the mental part of the game is the area where you feel you need to focus your energy.
What areas of your mental game do you feel are currently weak? And when do those weak areas 'spring to life' and start impacting your results?
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