It’s never the hands you win that stick with you, but the ones you lose that haunt you the longest. Ego blinds us when we’re winning – I won because I deserve to is the underlying belief – and so it is only in losing that we are humbled to ask the questions that are necessary for improvement.
I found myself in such a predicament mid way through Day 1A of the European Poker Tour in Malta.
Make your own opportunity
Close decisions are the very essence of tournaments. The game has evolved over the years (the average player is much better) and it’s harder to easily extract money from your opponents.
Long gone are the days where you can sit back and wait to get handed chips; to win in today’s fields you have to take them. To make your own opportunity.
There’s a fine line that I between patience and aggression, and one must dance like a ballerina around it, careful not to trip. I generally air toward patience, as it’s my experience that opportunity has a way of presenting itself if you’re open to it and hang around long enough.
To win you have to be willing to lose
Unfortunately we don’t always have that luxury. After losing half my stack early in Day 1, I found myself with less than 50 big blinds and less than half of average before the dinner break.
One is extremely limited when on a short stack, especially when surrounded by larger ones. I hated the feeling of being forced out of pots, unable to play the deep stack game where I truly thrive.
Sure I could hang on and wait for a good spot, but that would be relying on the cards to do the work; I wanted to play on my terms. I came here with one goal in mind: to win.
And to win you have to be willing to lose.
There are no ‘signs’ – discipline is what it takes
I thought it was a sign when I was dealt 99 on the button. With the blinds at 150/300 and a 25 ante, a loose player raised to 750 and got two callers. As I was motioning for chips, the player to my right 3-bet to 2,500. Given the action I only had two options: push or fold. Faced with the ultimate dilemma in poker, one will either sink or swim.
Many factors are considered in making such a decision far beyond the obvious expectation: How likely was it I could earn chips if I fold? What position would it put me in if I won the pot? What about if I doubled? How does my hand play when called? What does my gut tell me? And ultimately, do I have the patience left in me to stick it out the rest of the day grinding on a short stack?
In the end I truly wasn’t sure what to do because I didn’t have a good enough read on the reraiser to know how often he was bluffing. I looked elsewhere for an answer and resorted to the fundamental truth about tournaments: it’s better to be alive than it is to have more chips.
Comfort and reward
Regardless of how robotic and stoic poker players aim to be, one always second guesses themselves when they flop quads, and would have tripled up as a result (both players had AK)! I replayed the hand several times in my head, looking for any excuse as to how shoving would have been correct. I couldn’t find one. I was content with folding, and mainly because it didn’t come from a place of fear, but of patience and reason.
There was comfort in knowing I made the right decision.
I may not have dodged a bullet, but I didn’t put myself in an unnecessary position to gamble. I exercised discipline, something I had struggled with in years past. I proved to myself I was willing to play for the long term, that I was in it to win, and that I really wanted the victory.
One isn’t always rewarded for their play, but today I was, ending the day with 133,100, one of the chip leaders. I know that a crucial turning point was that fold. I also know that I’ll be tested many more times before the final table, should I be fortunate enough to make it.
I’m confident, ready and looking forward to the challenge.
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