Risk Losing

To Win You Must Risk Loss

Killy"To win, you have to risk loss" -- Jean-Claude Killy

In a short period of time, Kris Kristofferson wrote "Me and Bobby McGee", "Loving Her Was Easier Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again", "Stranger", "Come Sundown", "Sunday Morning Coming Down", "For the Good Times", "From the Bottle to the Bottom" and "Help Me Make it Through the Night."

Aside from being great songs, these songs have a common theme: pathos. Kristofferson wrote these songs while close to the end of his rope. Drugs and booze ruled his life. He thought of himself as a failure, and by any measure of a Rhodes Scholar, he was -- except as a songwriter. But nobody knew that yet.

Kristofferson used his misery well. He was brilliant in his pathos. His adversity made him one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. While he has certainly written some good songs since then, just as certainly the best of his material since he became a success can't stand with the best of his material when he was a failure.

Adversity builds quality, or simply destroys the untalented. In poker, adversity comes in many forms. We all are faced with run of the mill problems like missing our flush draws and wondering if we should bluff, or wondering if we should call with a pair of twos because we think our opponent could possibly be bluffing. But the more complicated difficult situations, ones where we get difficulty upon difficulty heaped upon us, these are what separate the "players" from the "played".

A major difference between tournament poker and ring game poker is that ring games seldom have an adversity element. Exceptions sometimes come in No Limit or Pot Limit games where a player is playing over his head -- playing with the rent money. (In the latter case, adversity usually destroys.) But on the other hand, tournament poker is the land of extreme adversity.

For starters, everybody but one person always goes broke! But beyond that, if you play tournaments regularly you have to be in the habit of regularly having moments of brilliance when in dire circumstances. Many ring game players simply can not adapt to this culture of near-perpetual danger. Sure, sometimes we get a big stack of chips and we are not in danger for long stretches of time. But with only one in a million exceptions, in every tournament every player has to face the abyss.

And a lot of people don't face it very well. How often do you see a player toss in his last chips foolishly, usually muttering about "full value" or "what am I going to do with two chips"? How often do you see players hit "the wall" and suddenly fall apart, making a foolish play or tilting after losing a single hand?

This is just a matter of not rising to the challenge that adversity presents. A big "secret" of tournament poker is that much of the skill in tournament play is to be there for just these moments, both your own, and those of other players. If somebody is giving away their money, you want to notice and get some of it!

Instead of folding up and being destroyed by these "adversity moments", the road to success in tournament poker is to seize these moments, rise to the occasion, act boldly in a deliberate effort to be brilliant. True, you will still usually end up singing "busted flat in Baton Rouge" simply because you must lose the vast majority of the time you play tournaments. You can only come in first, or even in the money, a smallish percentage of the time.

Still, the reason you are in a tournament is for the achievement of brilliance in those moments, and to aspire to be brilliant in those moments of adversity. To win a poker tournament you must risk losing. You must look death (of your chips) square in the eye and perform.

The reverse of this is also why some successful tournament players do poorly in ring games. The tedium of repeated mundane decisions is not something they can handle. They can't play against opponents who have no fear of (chip) death. Opponents who simply reach into their pockets to get more money are drastically different than opponents who must get up and leave the table if they lose a hand, and their last chip.

You must risk death to have life in tournaments, and, you must understand you have to do this time and again because most of the time you will die. Daring and brilliance are a part of tournament poker, and so is sacrifice.

See also The 'Wall' in Tournament Poker, the Trinity of Poker and Losing Poker