Losing in a poker tournament is bad enough but how do you walk out gracefully? Poker coach and commentator Nick Wealthall tries his best

On the wrong end of a bad beat deep in a tournament, Nick Wealthall fails to solve the age-old problem of how to leave with grace and dignity

It doesn’t matter how hard you try, there’s no graceful way to leave a live tournament when you’ve been knocked out. In that moment every poker player – from Phil Ivey in the World Series, to a first-timer in his local – is reduced to a tiny insignificant shell. Whether you deserved to go out or were brutally sucked out on, the simple truth remains – you need to leave the table.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to do this with any kind of dignity or status – you’re a loser and everyone knows it. If you complain, no one cares; if you act like it doesn’t matter, everyone knows differently. The problem is that the last hand usually creates a surge of adrenaline through your body, so that when the crash comes you’re a shaking mess and it’s difficult to do anything competently. Players flap like lost chaffinches, dropping personal items, babbling, knocking over drinks and tripping over chairs – classy.

I’ve been given the tip that when in danger of going out you should get everything together so you’re ready to leave before the decisive card falls. Recently I saw a player do this, but he took it one step further by actually putting on his coat, picking up his bag and walking off as the last card fell. It’s not a bad idea – if he loses he can just keep walking, win and he returns to the table a conquering hero.

The point is that leaving a tournament is never anything less than a massive disappointment; leaving it without at least a little humiliation an impossibility.

High hopes

Such negative thoughts were distant ones as I arrived for the second day of a $ 330 Caesars Palace deep-stack event this past summer. Day one had gone pretty well for me, and as we started day two there were only 30 players left (from a field of more than 600) with some big stacks in the hands of poor players. With a big first prize up for grabs it was a great opportunity to pay for the trip and plenty of treats besides.

The early going went pretty abysmally for me and I was quickly reduced to one of the shorter stacks. As a result I started moving in over the top of opening raises, which worked well as I quickly got an image of making big bets with nothing. In the decisive hand the action was passed round to me in the cut-off and I looked down to find two beautiful red Kings.

I decided to move in as an overbet, given that it would look so weak, and with a couple of weaker players with big stacks still to act. All my dreams came true after one of them studied in the small blind and then called showing 3-3. ‘I thought we’d be racing’ he offered in a forlorn attempt to justify giving me his chips.

And then I started to do the thing that if you’ve played poker before you should never ever do… I started counting the money. This pot would put me in a great chip position as there were only 22 players left; I started to think the tourney was basically in the bag!

The dealer – Brad – rolled out a flop of A-2-J, with not even a backdoor flush draw possible. The turn brought a Five. Okay, fine, he’s got an inside straight draw, that’s not a problem – just gives him a bit of fun for his money. Well, if you can’t guess what the river brought you haven’t been playing this brutal game long enough. The inevitable 4… hit the baize, shitting all over my dreams of tournament glory.

I’d like to tell you I found an answer to the ‘How to exit gracefully’ conundrum – that I smiled, shook the guy’s hand and said, ‘Ah well, that’s poker,’ as I headed for the rail.

Sadly, the red mist came down. I jumped up almost before the card hit the baize and knocked my chair flying behind me. Simultaneously I slapped my hand down on the felt in disgust. Some of the players looked more than a little alarmed. For a while I stood staring, lonely, my temple throbbing at the car crash of a hand in front of me.

Am I bovvered?

I apologise for the bad beat story; I’ve taken enough of them that they don’t really affect me any more, but for some reason this one did. Maybe it was because I don’t really play many tournaments, so getting knocked out after going deep in a long event was more disappointing. Maybe it was my dreams of blowing the winnings in two weeks of Vegas debauchery being shattered. Maybe I just had my period… Whatever the reason, I managed to leave in the least graceful way possible – like a spoilt, angry child.

Three laps of the Caesars Palace casino later and I’d calmed down enough to return sheepishly to the scene of my demise and apologise to the player who bust me and to Brad the dealer. ‘Hey dude, I understand, I hate dealing them like that,’ he offered.

So it turns out that with 12 years of poker under my belt I still haven’t learned how to leave a tournament in style or with grace. Next time I’ve decided I’m going to go the other way and not hide a thing. In fact I’ve prepared a song celebrating the fickleness of poker; it has a soft show shuffle, ends with ‘thaaat’ss poookkkeeeerrrr’ and, of course, jazz hands!

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