Chip and a chair

Here’s what to do when your Tournament goes awry

There’s nothing like the buzz of scoring a big cash after being down to a solitary chip

Repeat after me: ‘I will not give up in a tournament, ever.’ Now say it again. And again, until your body accepts it as an imperative that you can’t deviate from, no matter how hard you try.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve sat in tournaments, live or online, and seen people blow up when a hand doesn’t go their way, leaving them short-stacked, despondent and beaten. The very next hand, they chuck their chip(s) in without a thought and head for the door. I’ve even seen a couple of players storm out when desperately short-stacked saying something like, ‘And you can have those as well…’

Now, putting aside the fact that you can’t actually give someone extra chips even if you want to, there are a couple of more pertinent points here. The first is that you look like an idiot. No one likes getting busted out of a tournament, but it’s even worse when you can hear the barely repressed chuckles from the rest of the table as you make the walk of shame.

But more importantly, you’ve given up before you’ve lost, and winners don’t do that. I’m not going to turn this into a homage to those inspirational posters (‘If the sky’s the limit, why are there footprints on the moon?’), but quitting a game because you’re losing is just plain wrong.

Poker might be an emotional game, but it doesn’t excuse throwing your toys out of the pram AND wheeling yourself away – especially when you’ve still got a chance of winning.

I’m talking from experience here. My first ‘Treetop’ moment (Google Jack Straus if you’re not sure what that is) happened a couple of years ago at an MTT at the Grosvenor Brighton. Down to 40 players from the starting 75, I’d been decimated to a single chip (not even a big one), but had the button and could pick my spot. I doubled-up, doubled-up, doubled-up again and, before I knew it, I was back in the game. After cracking someone’s Kings with A-Q and generally playing flawless (i.e. lucky) poker, I came third, chalking up my best live win at the time.

Chip and a chair

It happened again at the recent Virgin Poker Festival in Brum. After losing a race I was left with 350 chips, with the big blind of 400 a few spots away. Again, I got lucky, doubled up a few times and within 30 minutes I’d built my stack back up to a giddy 16,000, whereupon I found Aces, got it all-in and lost to a flopped two-pair.

And yes, I know you’re going to say that in both instances I got lucky. And I did. If you’re severely shortstacked you need to pick up a hand that will hold up before you’re back in the blinds. But after that, you can play a short-stack game skilfully and get a stack back. With a bit of a rush you can go from almost nothing to an average stack in the space of a single level. It won’t happen all the time.

It won’t even happen most of the time, but I guarantee that if you ‘do the right things’ all the time, it will happen to you, probably very soon. And there’s nothing like the buzz of scoring a big cash after you’ve been down to a solitary chip.

Just remember that you’re not invincible. I’d like to think that there was no way I could have gotten away from the flopped two-pair in my second story, but in truth I’d got carried away. My stack had been so small and then suddenly I was in with a shot at joining the chip leaders, 30 minutes after flat-lining.

It was glorious. I was a supreme being… And I’d actually stopped thinking. If you find yourself in the same position, give yourself an extra 10 seconds to think about your moves once you’re back in the hunt. Take a walk if you have to, and remind yourself that you’ve got the chips to play poker again. It’s really hard to switch from shove/fold poker to a medium stack game, but if you don’t make the adjustment you’re going to find yourself on the felt again.

The good news – as I found out in Birmingham – is that even if you don’t end up winning, you’ll be a hero on the table for as long as you last. You will find that everyone starts rooting for you, no one really wants to knock you out, and the more superstitious types are actually scared of you. It might be poker at the thin end, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.

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