There’s a mythos that the best player should always win a poker tournament, but that’s rarely the case. Skill prevails over the long run, but in any given tournament, luck can play a big role. As accomplished professional Phil Hellmuth famously said, “If there weren’t luck involved, I would win every time.”
It never ceases to amaze me how some players either shake their head when others get lucky or, even worse, use it as an excuse to belittle that player’s game. I guess it’s easy to dismiss a player, especially one who’s just busted you, by attributing it all to luck. In reality, players win poker tournaments by exhibiting skill throughout and getting lucky when it counts. Obviously, you can only control the former.
Case in point: Joe McKeehen, who topped a field of 6,420 players to win the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event for $7.68 million. McKeehen, who is now Pennsylvania’s all-time poker money leader, played brilliantly at November’s final table. In fact, no one even came close to stopping him on his way to victory. It was impressive, but did you know that even the World Champ had to get lucky to finish as the last man standing?
On Day 6 of the tournament, with dozens of players still remaining, McKeehen got his stack of 1.86 million all in preflop holding Ah Qh, only to find himself up against the ace-king of Josh Beckley. McKeehen’s tournament life was on the line, and he had just a 28.06 percent chance of surviving.
A flop of Kd Jh 4d made things even worse by pairing Beckley, and McKeehen’s chances dropped to 18.98 percent – the chances of hitting either a ten for a straight or running hearts for a flush.
The 6c turn took away the latter option, meaning the only card that would save McKeehen on the river was a ten, a card that would appear a mere 9.09 percent of the time. There was better than a 9 in 10 chance McKeehen would be eliminated.
Amazingly the 10d spiked to save McKeehen. Instead of making his way to the payout desk to collect a low six-figure prize, he stayed alive and went on to win the tournament days later.
Beckley, who lost the hand, would go on to finish as runner-up, winning $4.47 million.
Luck comes in many forms, whether it’s coming from behind like McKeehen, winning numerous coin flips, or simply waking up with a big hand at the right time. Sometimes you’re the beneficiary, and other times you’re the victim.
As someone who has made his living reporting on tournaments for PokerNews.com -- and who won a coveted WSOP gold bracelet back in 2013 -- trust me when I say that everyone who has ever won an event, no matter how big or how small, got lucky somewhere along the line. There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t feel guilty about it, and by all means, count both your blessings and your winnings.
Chad Holloway is a 2013 World Series of Poker bracelet winner and managing editor for PokerNews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadAHolloway.