How to Deal with Setbacks in Tournaments

Dave Roemer | 1 month ago in MTT

It’s extremely rare for a tournament winner to run the show wire to wire. The vast majority of the time when playing multi table tournaments, players will experience setbacks and losses, often for significant portions of their stack. This is so common in fact, that as a tournament player you should be prepared for this eventuality. How you respond when adversity strikes, will have a direct impact on your long term results. So what should you be prepared to do when tragedy befalls your stack?

Shake it off.

How did you lose all those chips? Was it a cooler scenario? A bad beat by a weak player? A mistake or bad play? Here is the relevant question: Who cares? Trust me, no one cares. Your poker friends, your significant other, the poker forums you frequent, no one cares, mostly because we’ve all been there. We’ve all been coolered, we’ve all taken bad beats, and we’ve all made mistakes. You shouldn’t care either. At least, not right now. Even if you believe you’ve made a mistake, worry about that later. The tournament isn’t going to wait for you to sift through your self-doubt or calm down your tilt issues. There’s another hand coming right now. Shake it off, and move on to the next hand. You can self analyze later.

Don’t give up.

You see this all the time in tournaments live and online. A player takes a bad beat and is crippled down to a micro-stack, and they simply give up. Often players mentally give up, but sometimes they physically do as well, sticking their chips in the next hand with some garbage, resided to the fact they’ve lost this tournament before they’ve actually been eliminated. There’s a big problem with that mentality however… if you still have chips, it’s not yet fact that you’ve lost the tournament. Of course when you get crippled down to a micro stack, that stinks. It’s a bad feeling and a great reduction in your chances to win the event. But however bad having a few big blinds left is to your chances, it is significantly better than having zero big blinds.

Take it one decision at a time.

Once you’ve shaken it off and resounded to not give up, now the mission is just to focus on one decision at a time. I know things seem dire, how can one maximize the chances of a comeback? This is how, right here. Playing each decision to the best of your ability, is likely to yield better results than tilt calling off with 93o the next hand.

I was thinking about this because it happened to me in a live tournament the other week. It was a $350 buy in with over 1000 runners, and after taking a gross beat, I found myself with 5 big blinds. I won’t share the details of that beat because, who cares. I mentally shook it off, and evaluated my situation. Did I come here to waste a day? No. Do I not care about my buy in? I do care. I came to compete and I want to do so to the best of my ability, despite the cruel turn of events I just suffered. This tournament uses the big blind ante, where the big blind position antes for the entire table, equal to 1 big blind, rather than each player anteing each hand. Blinds were 300/600/600 ante, and I had 3K in chips and 5 hands before I’d be required to post 40% of my stack in the big blind position. Okay, if I don’t pick up a reasonable shove hand, I’ll be forced to likely call the rest off in the big blind once putting in 1200 with only 1800 behind. I’d much rather shove before that happens, as I could still garner some fold equity in this field. But I was confronted with 93o, 73o, T5o, J2o, and finally UTG the amazing 42o. I believe it was the best decision I could make to fold those hands and take my chances in the BB position, with a lot of money in the pot for overlay and presumably a better hand than 4 high which I’d just discarded UTG. After a raise to 3x and call, I looked down at J9s in my BB. I was relieved to actually have a reasonable hand and put the rest in. Both players called. The flop came 772 with my flush draw, and both checked. When both checked again on the off suit jack turn, I felt even better about it having hit top pair. The river bricked off, and I beat my opponents’ ace highs. The very next hand, there was a min-raise and 2 callers, and I look down at AQo in the small blind. I move it all in, and although the raiser folded, one of the callers says “I have to call you” and tables 77. I flopped the Q and more than doubled again. I was by no means an intimidating stack yet, but certainly was back in the game. I went on to make day 2 of this event, and finished 33rd for $1830. Had I given up when I got crippled, it’s unlikely I would have seen such a good result.

If that’s not enough convincing, I’d point you to 2012 WSOP Main Event Champion Greg Merson, who on day 5 was crippled down to less than 2 big blinds. Did he punt those off? Did he mentally give up? It seems not… several days of play and millions of dollars later, he was hoisting that coveted gold bracelet above a huge pile of cash, the new Main Event Champion.

The point of this article is to get you thinking, and mentally ready, before you play your next tournament. You will suffer setbacks. Maybe not, but usually most players do, so be mentally prepared. And when a setback comes, you owe it to yourself to give it your all until the last chip is gone. It may not make a difference today, or tomorrow, but if you approach all your tournaments with this mentality, your results will thank you in the long run.

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