“Sorry, but congratulations.” I must have heard some combination of the words “sorry” and “congratulations” 100 times in the two days after I was knocked out of the World Series of Poker Main Event last month. Thank you, but hold the “sorry.”
I had a great run this year, finishing 140th out of nearly 6,700 entrants. I played my heart out. No “sorry” necessary for being the best player I could be for five grueling days. That’s how it goes.
With a relatively beatable table and a four-day run of quality decision-making, my plan late in Day 5 was to either grind or wait for the perfect opportunity. I wasn’t going to risk all my chips on a bluff.
I had reraised from my big blind on each of the two previous orbits, once with a real hand, once without, getting the raiser to fold each time in response. When my big blind came around again, I knew I’d better have the goods if I was going to make this play again. With blinds at 10,000-20,000, the player on the button raised to more than 50,000.
Sitting on a stack of about 600,000, I looked down at Q-Q. Perfect. I reraised 100,000 more. That gave my opponent, Nathan Fletcher, the opportunity to think that I was full of it, along with the opportunity to act upon that feeling with the mathematical excuse/reasoning that there would be fold equity if he shoved in his stack of more than 800,000. In other words, Fletcher had to think there was a mathematical AND pattern likelihood that I would fold my hand if he shoved all of his chips in the middle, which is what he did.
I called and was way ahead, though he had a far more formidable hand than I expected: pocket jacks. I had the double-up opportunity that I’d waited for. There was an 80 percent chance of winning the hand – can’t ask for much better.
The excitement over my scenario was short-lived. A jack hit on the flop, and my Main Event run was over. Five days of scrapping and thousands upon thousands of decisions ... done. It takes the rest of the day to cycle through the range of feelings and analysis when life-changing money is snatched from your fingertips. But then it’s over. New hole. New tee. New ball. New game.
As professionals, we learn to deal with the highs and lows of the poker life. One week you’re crushing a multiday tournament, the next you’re taking three bad beats on the first level of blinds. The difference between a pro and the average Joe is in dealing with the emotions that go with the roller coaster. Those three bad beats on Level 1? Happened to me this year in the Main Event. Nobody remembered it on Day 5. I didn’t remember it on Day 2.
Two days after my bust-out, I was back playing poker, making a run to the final table at the PPC Poker Tour’s North American Championship. The secret? Being able to put my Main Event beat behind me.
Yes, coming that close to a $10 million payday and falling short is brutal, but my decisions were correct. How we handle results determines how well we make subsequent poker decisions.
If you remain stronger than the mathematical anomaly that defeats you, you’ll find it hard not to be successful.
Alex Outhred has been a professional poker player and coach since 2006. Follow him on Twitter: @alexpokerguy.