Winning Tournaments

I won a poker tournament the other day. It wasn't much, just a $150 multi-table event in South Florida. Were there a bunch of big-name pros there with their game faces on? No. Were there some decent players there? Yes. I felt I was in the top handful when it came to skill among this group, and that got me to thinking as I drove home in the wee hours with the cash clenched tightly in my sweaty fingers. I felt I played nearly flawlessly, I was more skilled, yet I still had to survive some gut-wrenching "coin-flip" races and even suck out to win it.

This just reinforced the feeling that the decision I made years ago to play cash games for serious money and tournaments strictly for entertainment value was a sound one. I don't think I've ever won a tournament without winning all-in races and sucking out at least once. Has anyone? I doubt it. So, I'd hate to rely on that to make a living. Luck, deviation, randomness, whatever you want to call it, evens out, but it evens out over time, not in a single tournament. It's too easy to play well and still end up a loser in tournament play. While at a traffic light, this thought led me to formulate my first law of tourney play: The best way to win a tournament is to enter a lot of tournaments.

Tournament poker differs from games like golf, tennis, chess, etc., in that amateurs truly can beat the best in the world, maybe not long-term, but definitely in one event. You won't find amateurs or even lower-echelon pros beating top pros in any other sport, unless million-to-one scenarios occur, like someone having a heart attack on the court or getting hit by lightning.

But in poker, hope springs eternal. Hey, Chris Moneymaker and Joe Hachem were online players before they won the Main Event, and Greg Raymer was more an attorney than a player. Robert Varkonyi (2002) was greener than a Granny Smith apple and if memory serves, he won the tournament by continually playing queen-ten offsuit like it was pocket aces, and then sucking out.

May it always be so. That's what brings new competitors to the game and keeps the hordes of players who over rate their skills coming back again and again. You wouldn't play Tiger Woods for money, and if someone's better golfer than you, you're going to ask for strokes to make it a fair bet. But in poker, new players can't wait to get their money in against the best players in the world, at even money, because poker is a game where pipedreams really can come true, at least once.

And you can argue that the luck factor might actually enhance the feat of winning a bracelet, Like somebody told me recently: "If you win the World Series of Poker, you're not a sucker."

And another told me: "You can't ever get to be the best unless you play against the best, against people who make you step your game up." So that makes the achievement of the last four WSOP champs that much more remarkable. They hadn't been playing against world-class competition, far from it. They also were playing against big-name pros who play one or two serious events a week and every WSOP, and who have their buy-in and expenses paid for by sponsors or backers.

So go ahead and go for it. In the Main Event, even the best in the world must defeat thousands of players and long odds, but what dream doesn't? Just go on with your quest and win the Big One.

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