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Friday, July 02, 2004

The Thing about Tourneys
So last Thursday I played my first tournament in over a month and finished in the money, happily turning my $10+1 into $83. Last night I played in the same tourney, but this time I was reminded of why I had taken a month-long break from tourneys in the first place.

I finished 97th out of 539; top 45 paid. I lost when my AKo paired on the flop; my very big-stacked opponent had pocket 2s and made a full house.

For some reason that beat really, really pissed me off. I paced the house for a good ten minutes, just calming myself down. But what was I so angry at? Not my opponent: He had a huge stack and was muscling well. And in the annals of poker history--even in just my own experience--it was hardly a very bad beat. Was I angry at myself? Maybe--it's possible that I could have played the hand better, raising more preflop.

But pretty much my anger had no real direction. That's called frustration.

And that's the thing about tournaments: More often than not, tournament poker a very frustrating experience. Cause the hard cold truth about a tourney is that unless you win it, you lose it. There's different kinds of losing: Getting blinded down, getting outplayed, suffering a bad beat, making the right play at the wrong time, etc. And there's a happy kind of losing called "finishing in the money." But none of those things come close to truly winning. And since no one can win anywhere close to half of the tourneys they play in, most of the time they end in frustration.

My point is not to knock tournament poker. My point is that I think tournament poker may not really be my thing, simply because I don't like losing that often, even if the occasional money-finish makes up for the repeated strings of losses. (My tournament record so far, including sit-n-gos, is +$80 over a pretty small sample size of only 40 events. Obviously I was only break-even before that $83 win last week.)

Now, I read a lot of poker blogs, and I would approximate that fully two-thirds of the bloggers I read play tourney poker as much as -- and in many cases more than -- they play ring games. However, these poker bloggers seem to be playing mostly sit-n-gos and not multi-table events. I read these bloggers partly because I want to learn from them; if they say sit-n-gos are where the money is at, I can't doubt them.

Rather than give up on tourney poker, I think I will make a renewed effort at sit-n-gos. Part of my frustration in the mult-table event last night was the feeling that I had come so far and outlasted so many players, only to come away with nothing. When I come in 4th in a sit-n-go, I don't feel nearly as frustrated.*

Still, I've read that you're doing well if you win a sit-n-gos a fifth of the time. So losing is still very much a part of single-table tourney poker. I think that, long term, tourney poker may remain something I only dabble in.

*Why Sit-n-Gos Feel Less Frustrating

The feeling that sit-n-goes are less frustrating than multi-table tourneys is an interesting thing (and really I could broaden it to say that tourneys with smaller fields are less frustrating than tourneys with larger fields). Mrs. Cheap Thrills pointed out that I busted out about 1:40 into last night's event -- which is not a whole lot longer than the average sit-n-go on Absolute. So it's not that fewer players make an event go that much quicker.

Rather than the time commitment, I think it has more to do with how your chances of winning often start small and stay small for much longer in larger events. For example, a big thing I don't like about large tourneys is that often you play well, stay ahead of the blinds, and don't get too-short-stacked -- only to find yourself at a table with a couple guys who have enormous stacks and are not going to give much respect to any raise you make (yup, I'm still reliving last night :). This doesn't happen as much at sit-n-gos, and when it does, you have the ability to watch that big-stacked guy for the entire length of the event and figure out ways to outplay him. In a large event the players often come and go so quickly that they are more anonymous.

I took my month-long break from tourneys in part because I had decided I had gone on "tourney tilt." I was playing in Paradise's Big Buck event a lot, and getting sick of spending 2 hours playing only to run into huge stacks late in the event and finish barely in the money (for a win of only a few dollars) or on the bubble. I decided that I needed to be one of those bigger stacks. I tried to play more loosely and aggressively early on, aware that that would mean more early bust-outs but hopefully more big stacks for me. The problem was that I found the early finishes too frustrating, and couldn't really accept the idea that going all-in more often -- risking my tourney survival when I didn't have to -- was OK. Again, I'm having trouble embracing the basic idea that losing a lot is OK as long as you win big now and then.

OK, this is starting to get a little rambly. In summation: tourneys frustrating, me no likey losing, me more good at ring games, but I not totally give up on tourneys yet.

Follow-Up Post: Poker Motivations in Rounders (how I respect Mike McD but am more like Knish)

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