How to Measure Success in Poker

How to Measure Success in Poker

TVI had a crazy, epic Day 3 of the European Poker Tour in Malta,
but unfortunately ended up busting in 65th place.

It’s moments like these that one wonders why they bother with tournaments. Winning seems so impossible, so out of your control.

Even when hit with a lightening bolt of good fortune as I was – shoving with J8ss on a bluff into KK, and getting there – I still came up short.

In fact, at the time I busted, despite outlasting over 90% of the field, my mathematical chances of winning were a daunting 1%.

Here’s another way of looking at it.

If 895 people enter a European Poker Tour in Malta, math simulations prove that one can be the best player in the world and go several lifetimes without winning a major live event. (In the simulation I ran, one can have a 50% ROI, play 1,000 tournaments and barely be above 50/50 to win a single one).

Cash vs Tournaments

The Wynn, Macau
The Wynn, Macau

It’s why I’ve personally chosen to play cash games. If I make a mistake or get unlucky, I simply rebuy.

I stay in Macau as long as I need because I know I’ll win.

And that frustration of losing, of not being rewarded for what I’ve spent my life pursuing only lasts as long as my worst run.

Positive reinforcement is huge.

Studies show that job satisfaction comes more from appreciation of colleagues than by the money you make.

In tournaments, appreciation truly only comes by winning (who got second in the Main Event in 2010?) Sports are harsh that way. There’s still money to be made on the circuit (although that’s arguable given the expenses required in traveling), but still, that the money doesn’t do anything to compensate one mentally nor give them any reasonable amount of satisfaction.

That may seem unreasonable, even arrogant to a non-professional. But it’s true. One spends years of their life to achieve a goal and anything short can seem like a failure.

There is a lot of confusion that surrounds how the poker industry works, but perhaps no place is this truer than in tournaments. Since there is so much variance the result is that most of what people judge is based on results, which is based on luck, not rooted in math.

Separating the facts from the noise

J8I made a move early on Day 3 with J8ss against an opponent who ended up having KK, and got extremely lucky to win the pot. I took some heat for it, and surely the player will remember the sting for a while, cursing his misfortune. He may forget though, that two orbits earlier, it was him who made a desperate call out of position with T8s, only to flop top pair, get it all in vs. AA, and get there. The exact same fortune that I had vs. him.

We never remember the times we got lucky, do we? In our mind it was justified, we had a plan, we deserved it. I’m guilty as ever; even though I got caught with my bluff, I felt like I had plenty of good reasons for making it.

It’s hard, even for seasoned professionals not to fall victim. Yet it doesn’t make it any less imperative, because separating the facts from the noise is one of the most important things that allow one to improve at poker. It’s easy to label a play based on the results.

Shades of grey

Had he folded a bluff when I shoved with J8s, would I have been a hero? If so, then couldn’t my play still be correct in spite of him having KK? To say no would implicate that he would be bluffing 100% of the time, which is never the case in any situation in poker.

Things are never black and white, but shades of grey.

In the last hand of the day, I called a river check-raise with AK on a K65 9 2 board and got showed a set of 5’s. Like my J8s hand I may have been wrong, but I’m happy with my play. I thought it over, ran the math, and given the choice, I’d play it the same.

I know myself and anything less than first is would be a disappointment. I don’t play tournaments for money which means I’m only playing for one spot. And that means I need to swing for the fences. So if there is any relief I found from finishing 65th, aside from the €12,800 I received in prize money, it’s that I went down swinging, and swinging hard.

That’s really I can do… until I get to swing again.

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