Tournament joy

June 7, 2009

I want to talk about how great it feels to complete a poker tournament as the winner. It happened to me recently, and in all honesty, isn’t something that happens too often. So when I had the opportunity over the last few days to reflect on it, I came to the conclusion that it’s something special. And I’m not just talking about making a profit. That part, of course, is nice. The true feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, for me, came from seeing the journey all the way through.

Yeah, that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. Like any journey in life, a poker tournament for any one individual will have its ups and downs. How will you handle being dealt a crushing defeat? How do you react when you mathematically should’ve easily won a hand, only to see it slip away to a lucky draw on the river for your opponent? Likewise, if those strikes of fortune happened to you, do you keep your cool and maintain a calm pace focused on the long haul, or do you allow yourself to get high, only to inevitably plunge back to reality just a few short hands later.

Personally, I can’t see how professionals ride the emotional roller coaster of highs and lows without keeping level-headed throughout most of the action. Otherwise, you’ll be so exhausted after a few hours, you’ll become your own worst enemy. Fatigue is not something to discount as a non-factor during a tournament. So to avoid that, I work a steady diet of soda products and keeping an even keel during big victories and defeats. They’re great times for a bathroom break. Not showing too much emotion, also, will earn you some respect from your opponents (see Daniel Negreanu).

The satisfaction, I think really comes from knowing you put everything together. All those tricks, traits, practice, learning and mastering blend to work in unison toward the end result of a tournament win. I’m talking about patience, cunning, will power, smart calcuation, betting prowess, trusting your instinct and making bold moves when it makes sense. And, obviously, a little bit of luck. Managing the ride and staying sharp are the greatest challenges, and if you can look back on your session, even if you don’t emerge the victor, and can say you didn’t make a single stupid mistake, that’s something to be proud of.

Winning, however, is a great accomplishment. And the tournament doesn’t have to be the World Series of Poker or another of similar stature. You can be playing a small community tournament with a $1,000 grand prize. Like I said in the beginning of the article, I’m not talking about the financial gains associated with being the winner. And I think if you do ask any of the winners of the World Series of Poker, they’ll tell you without hesitation just having that bracelet is as sweet as the millions that come along with it.

Finally, I’ve come to understand that going through a difficult tournament that tests your resolve is nothing short of a character builder. You learn something about yourself as a person and as a poker player. Being able to see something like that through, and be the ultimate champion, is icing on the cake.

So my recommendation is find a tournament to play. Even if it’s a poker run to benefit some charitable organization, it’ll offer you an opportunity to go through the ultimate poker test and truly see what you’re made of.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get some kind of plaque, certificate or other form of recognition that you’re a winner.  I’d frame that baby in gold and put it up there right next to the deck of cards that provided me my first royal flush in a cash game.  Those are the memories worth saving.  The money comes and goes, but the stories are what define us as players.