A disappointing tournament
The 2008 World Series of Poker was extremely disappointing for me. I played 15 events and was able to manage only one small cash. This is particularly disappointing because I prepared harder this year than I ever have. There is no question in my mind that I was ready to take my game to another level. In most endeavors in life, if you work hard, you generally start to see good results. But in poker, you can work harder than you have on anything ever before, but there is no guarantee that you'll see great results, at least in the short term.
So, how do I evaluate my performance? Did I play well or not? Did I prepare correctly - mentally, emotionally, and physically? What can I do to try to achieve better results next year?
I think the first place to start is to realize that tournament variance is brutal. I have played a total of 74 events since 2004 and have cashed in 10 of them. In terms of cash rate, one in every 7.4 events is about what I would realistically expect to achieve. The "average" player should cash once in about 10 events, so a professional player, obviously, should do better than that. On a positive note, three of those 10 cashes were in the main event, which is really where I want to shine.
In terms of profitability, I have a 13 percent return on my investment. This is disappointing, but it really is difficult to conclude very much based on ROI. I would consider six of my 10 cashes to be relatively deep runs in which I was close to having a big payday. Unfortunately, I fell just short in all six of them. I have four top-20 finishes with one final table. In the main event, I finished 33rd and 221st, and I was one hand away from significantly increasing my overall ROI. Even over a span of 74 tournaments, one or two hands can have a significant impact on your ROI.
So, this year I played 15 events, practically all of which had more than 1,000 entrants and many had more than 2,000 entrants. I had a bad year in terms of results, but how did I play?
I think I played at a different level than I ever had before during the first couple of weeks. In fact, the irony is that I don't think I played my best poker in the one event that I cashed. In that event, I won a couple of pots in which I had the worst of it, so I was lucky to make it as deep as I did. During those first few weeks, I was making great reads, I seemed to have great timing on all of my bluffs, and I was almost always getting my money in with the best of it. I was reading physical tells better than I ever had before. I had several chances to build big stacks early on, but always seemed to lose key pots at critical times due to bad beats. I would rate my play during the first 10 tournaments or so as a B+ or A-.
In the last five tournaments I played, including the main event, I can't say I was playing at that same level. My timing seemed to be off quite frequently on my bluffs and reads. In the main event, although I was at a weak table, I needed to hit hands in order to capitalize. It was very difficult to steal the blinds at this table, to try resteals, or to bluff after the flop. Our table saw more flops than I have ever seen in the main event. My opponents were ready to gamble! Unfortunately, I ran quite card-dead, winning only six hands in the first six hours.
Having said that, I definitely could have played better to give myself a fighting chance. I made an ill-advised bluff during the first 20 minutes of the tournament, costing me one-third of my stack. I made a couple of calls on the river when I should have had better reads on my opponents. If I had not made those mistakes, I probably would have survived longer to hopefully start getting some cards. My table was very loose, so my best tactic should have been to survive as long as possible, to give myself as many opportunities as possible to hit some big hands, as my opponents would have paid me off. It was a day in which I would have struggled no matter what, based on the table dynamics and my cards, but I still didn't play my best poker.
So, what now? I prepared this year mainly by playing a lot of Sunday online tournaments, and I can be happy that at least my preparation was quite profitable, as I made the final table of two Sunday majors, winning one of them. I expect to continue to play them in order to work on my game even more for next year. I also want to work on my energy level for next year, and try to get into better shape. These are long events and long summers, and I'm not getting any younger! Being in good physical shape can only help me better my results. It's possible that fatigue is one reason why my level of play appeared to diminsh as I played more events. Finally, I'm primarily an online player, so I need to work on my physical tells. I live in Atlanta, so even playing in some more home games ought to help me with this aspect of my game. Playing in home games also should help me react to unorthodox play that sometimes confuses me so much that I freeze and am not sure how to react.
The objective of this column was to try to communicate two key points to help you in evaluating your own results. First, tournament variance is an ugly beast. You must recognize this or you will drive yourself crazy trying to achieve unrealistic goals. For example, if you expect to cash five times every year at the WSOP and win a bracelet, you are destined for a lot of heartache. Setting realistic expectations is important for your sanity, and you need to understand that in a short-term event like the WSOP, you will often fall short of your expectations.
Second, although variance is an ugly monster, there are always aspects of your game that you can improve on that will hopefully improve your results in the future. In my case, while I will continue to work on the technical aspects of the game, I also want to focus on my energy levels and physical tells, to help me take my game to the next level.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.