Sam Grafton: WCOOP lessons

It all seemed so promising. WCOOP: five letters that, if you were an online grinder, burned brightly in the mind’s eye, rich and seductive. The excitement was palpable. The prize pools were swollen and bloated, pregnant with the possibility of clearing make-up, or of clearing credit card debts. Finally, a stage on which to show the world, or at least our friends, just how far we’d come.

When a big online series takes place everything else is a grey indistinct backdrop and only poker is in technicolour. Wars can be fought, governments toppled, but as long as the online grinder knows what time the $320 Super KO is starting he is unlikely to stir from his swivel chair. If my girlfriend wants to celebrate a birthday or anniversary during a big online series, I simply remind her I’m a poker player, and sadly that won’t be possible.

Similarly, if she asks why I haven’t opened my mail, emptied the bins, or changed my underwear during the WCOOP, I tilt my head sympathetically to one side and reply once more, ‘I’m a poker player.’ I say this to make it clear I’m not an average person with a normal job and the standards of the rest of society simply don’t apply to me. Indeed I inform her I’m a poker player in the way you might inform someone you are a firefighter or a Navy SEAL. During the WCOOP your job is of such importance and consists of such unique responsibilities that exceptions have to be made.

Sad Times

Sadly, the intensity I approached WCOOP with did not find any financial recompense. To play MTT’s for a living is to get to know failure up-close and personal. Never is this truer than during a big online series when downswings can be magnified. Doncaster’s finest Paul Foltyn may have added to his glittering CV with a 5th place finish in the High Roller, but the vast majority of online grinders bricked the series and bricked hard. During SCOOP I had been lucky enough to chop the second event, so the rest of the series was bathed in the euphoric glow emanating from my biggest ever tournament score.

This time round it was a different story. I managed two 14th place finishes. In total I played 865 tournaments in September on PokerStars alone and cashed for $59,271. However, a ROI of minus 21% and a failure to cash the Palm Beach Big Game, Newcastle UKIPT or the English Poker Open meant I booked a heavy loss for the month.

Fail again, fail better

So the WCOOP didn’t boost my morale or bankroll, but instead left me with bloodshot eyes and a feeling of failure. And I’m not alone as the tweets of fellow pros suggests that they too nurture a degree of self-loathing when things aren’t going their way on the felt. 

Indeed such bile and outrage pollutes my Twitter-feed on a Sunday evening that an alien examining it would never believe that poker could be a game played by earthlings voluntarily, let alone for fun. They’d conclude that it must be some form of torture.

The only thing that we can do is accept that failure is a huge part of the poker. It’s built into it’s very fabric. If you play for a living it’s failure that will become your long-term companion, frustration that will be your bed-fellow, while success will remain an aloof acquaintance. In fact, if you’ll excuse the crudity of the image, for me success has mostly been little more than a prick-tease.

Of course, this realisation will do nothing to slow the daily grind. How could it? When just as the WCOOP finally recedes into the background, what’s that we see? Ah yes, an FTOPS is appearing on the horizon. It may feel like you can’t go on, but there isn’t any choice. To quote Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.

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