End of the WSOP – Picking Myself Up Off the Floor

By Jason Lee
Published on July 17, 2017
wsop-2017

The World Series of Poker is an incredibly exciting time for professional and recreational poker players. It’s the time of the year where you get the chance to “prove your worth” in the poker industry. All the media and spotlights are pointed to Vegas. The prize pools are humungous and the potential to walk away a millionaire is there.

But, there is always a second side to every story. As a professional player myself, I’ve been going to Vegas for about nine years now for the WSOP every summer. Some years I played a ton of tournaments and some I played what I would call a “medium” amount of tournaments. Basically, I was playing at least 15+ tournaments every summer, but usually closer to 25-30.

Here’s what they don’t tell you. Most professionals are going to have cruddy summers and lose money. The buy-ins are bigger than a lot of normal year-round tournaments, so the swings are going to be bigger as well. There are a lot of tournaments, but it’s still a relatively small sample size which means variance can rear its nasty head. It’s not uncommon for a great player to come in and brick-out (lose) every tournament they play in the summer.

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t make a ton of money at the WSOP. I personally have had some nicely profitable years and have friends that have become millionaires over the course of the summer in Vegas. The point is that there are so many good players and the summer only accommodates a small sample size. Because of these two things, the variance will be through the roof, and most good players are going to have down summers.

My 2017 at the WSOP

How do I put this gently? This year succcccccccccccckkkkkkkkeeddddddd for me. That is about as gentle as I could put it. Now, for those of you that think this may be because I’m no good at poker…Poker has been my sole source of income for the past 12+ years. I’ve made millions from playing and have always been considered to be a good player. I don’t say any of that to toot my own horn, but I want you to understand that a terrible year is easily possible for a player who has succeeded in the industry.

I played well and kept a level head all summer, but the cards just did not want to cooperate. I will spare you the bad beat stories, but I was dubbed the master of getting slapped with the two outers by a few of my friends. For those that don’t play a lot, a 2 outer is when you get your money in, and there are only two cards in the entire deck that can help your opponent. Basically, you should win those hands most of the time, but severe unluckiness sometimes has a different plan as it did for me this summer.

The Emotional Toll

Playing poker for a living is hard, especially as a tournament player. A good tournament player cashes in about 20% of the tournaments they play. That means that 80% of the tournaments they go play, they will get $0 for and lose their buy-in. That means that if you play five days a week, four out of those five days you will get kicked in the teeth and on the fifth day (if variance holds), you will at least make the money.

This doesn’t mean you’ll be profitable for the week, though. The percentage of time that you finish higher than just cashing is even lower.  And this is all saying that variance follows a perfect plan which it does not. You can go weeks and months without having a good score in a tournament even if you’re doing everything right.

As you can imagine, the emotional toll of this is high. This year seemed to weigh on me a lot more than past years. The reason is that I came into this WSOP much more prepared than usual. I was healthy, in shape, eating well, resting well, and my game was sharp and up to par. As we talked about earlier, I had done everything right.

In past years where I had bad summers but screwed around before the series, I wasn’t as upset because I could blame myself. This year, though, it felt like I almost deserved to have a big win or at least a solid summer. The cards and the “poker gods” are in control, though, and sometimes have different plans.

The Last Hand of the Summer

I told you that I wasn’t going to hit you with any bad beat stories, but this one is necessary just to lead into my thoughts and emotions following the last hand. And in reality, it’s not really a bad beat but just a painful runout. The hand was in the $1k No Limit Hold Em event just before the $10k Main Event that I planned on playing.

I had lost a big hand with Kings vs. Kings vs. AQ and was crippled early on. I managed to miraculously rebuild my short stack up to around 20x the big blind and felt like things were back on course! Our table broke, and I was quickly moved to a new table and was dealt AA the first hand. A guy opened, and I shoved, and he tanked and folded. I was pretty excited to start seeing some cards and again felt like things were turning around!

Two hands later I was dealt JJ and opened from the button. The BB decided to three-bet, and I made an easy all in shove which was called by AK. Now, before I tell you the runout, yes, I know that this is a coin-flip. I know that I’m only a slight favorite.

The dealer tapped the table, and the flop came out. I could see the door card (the first card you see before they spread all three) and it was a Jack. Jack-Ace-4 rainbow (no possible flushes). I felt REALLY good about by now 98%+ chance of winning the hand. The turn was an ace which drew perked eyebrows, and ooh’s from the table. The river fell another ace, and my opponent made quads which crushed my measly full house. The crazy statistical anomaly had happened.

I kindly said good hand, smiled and made my exit from the table. I’m never sour at the table when I lose and always respectful regardless of the outcome. As I walked away from the table, though, I felt dejected. Yes, the final hand was only a coin flip, and I knew that. But the way it ran out pumped me full of life and excitement only to dash my dreams away in an instant.

Has this happened to me before? Of course, it has. Frankly, it’s often happened, and I usually don’t think twice about it except maybe to post it onto social media for some sympathy likes. The problem this time, though, is it came on the heels of an already abysmal summer. I felt like I was getting kicked in the gut while I was already laying on the ground.

How was I going to turn that frown upside down and get myself ready for the $10m Buy-In Main Event?

The Mistake I Made

The answer to the above question is a mistake that currently upsets me as I write this because the Main Event is currently going on and I am not there. I decided not to play because my head was not in the right place. Now, you could say that this was a wise move by me rather than throwing away money because I thought I was going to play poorly.

But that’s just it. I knew that no matter how upset I am, I would still play my A game. Instead, I let my temper tantrum convince me to skip the best tournament of the year. You see, just because the buy-in is higher does not mean the tournament is tougher. In fact, the Main Event at the WSOP is the highest EV (expected value) tournament of the year.

What does that mean? It means it’s the easiest tournament to make significant money in. There are no other tournaments the entire year where winning seven or eight million dollars is this easy. The WSOP Main Event draws out so many amateurs that it’s a gold mine for professionals and experienced amateurs.

Yet, I let my emotions get the best of me off the felt. They never get to me on the felt, and I always play my A game, but I forgot to protect myself from them off the felt.

Moving Forward

Why do I share this with you? I share it because I want you to realize that you have to keep an eye on your emotions on AND off the table. I want you to realize that no matter how well you play, sometimes you’re going to have bad runs. And most important, I want you to realize that when poker gives you lemons, you should throw those lemons back, pick yourself up and get right back on the felt.

One side note to the above comment…only do so if you know that your negative state of mind is not going to affect the way you play. If it’s going to make you make mistakes or play too aggressively, stay away until it passes. Something I’ve seen people on bad runs do a lot is “prove” to themselves how bad they’re running.

For example, let’s say you’re on a terrible run and you decide to play another tournament. You get dealt AA and see a flop against two other players. The flop is J-10-9 two spades, and your opponents start going nuts and reraising. With a cool head, you would make the fold here. But, with the “prove how bad I’m running” attitude, you might shove all in and then say “Yup! See how unlucky I am?!” when your opponent flips over KQ or a set of jacks or whatever hand they have that obviously beats you.

You then storm away from the table telling your friends you lost aces to KQ, AGAIN. If this is you, take some time off after a bad run and reset your mind.

What am I going to do? I’m going to take this as a learning lesson. I made a mistake after a rough summer and let myself skip an extremely important event that only happens once a year.

This is like skipping your sister’s wedding because you had an argument the week before. It’s stupid, and there are times that you need just to suck it up and make the right move.

I have already scheduled a few more tournaments on my schedule for this month (that I usually take off) to get back into things. Basically, I’m going to make myself work it off by playing during the time frame I usually take as my holiday. As cliché as it is, it’s correct; when you fall off the horse, the best thing you can do is get right back on.

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