Now that the World Series of Poker has ended for the summer, I see a lot of players walking around like zombies with what I call PTD — Post-Tournament Depression. When you talk to those affected by PTD, often they will tell you about how much money they left on the table or how if they hadn’t been unlucky on a certain hand they’d have won so much or had a shot to win an event.
In truth, PTD is a very common ailment. The fact is when a tournament ends or series of tournaments are over, there are very few people walking around with smiles on their faces. Normally at the end of any event, there is one happy person and a thousand unhappy people. Those who want to play a lot of tournaments have to realize this fact that only the winner truly ends up happy. I think you have to mentally prepare for that.
At this year’s WSOP I had three different events in which I was the chip leader once we got into the money. In one of them I had 1.8 million at the final table at a time when there were eight players and the player in second had less than 600,000. So out of about 25 events played I had a few good runs — and in that one where I was the final table chip leader I ended up finishing third — yet I was unhappy after every single event I played.
I think one reason I’m able to cope with PTD better than a lot of other players is having played a lot of sports when I was young. If you do compete in sports you do learn about disappointment. I was a wrestler, and lost a bunch of matches in a row, but I still had to pick myself up and be ready to wrestle the next time. I was a golfer, too, and in golf the course almost always wins. So those experiences prepared me somewhat for the disappointments that come with tournament poker.
I see a lot of younger players who really get beaten down at the WSOP, and many of them have a much harder time dealing with PTD. Some will go out drinking after the first few times of facing disappointment after a tourney, but that doesn’t keep the disappointment from happening again the next time they bust from a tourney. Then by the end of the Series I hear them talking about how tough the long grind is, but I think really it isn’t so much that it’s physically tough as it’s mentally tough. They’re just not prepared for all of the disappointment. It might sound strange, but when it comes to tournament poker, you have to be prepared both to lose your buy-in and to be unhappy when it’s over.
A lot of people will say that the key to success is having a positive outlook. You hear this from coaches and others all the time that it helps to be optimistic and that having that mindset will help you succeed. But in tournament poker I think that sort of thinking can set you up for problems.
The situation reminds me of a corollary to Murphy’s Law, that famous expression of pessimism that states “If anything can go wrong, it will.” The corollary that I apply to tournament poker would be Murphy’s Law of non-reciprocal expectations: “Negative expectations yield negative results; however, positive expectations also yield negative results.”
If you bear that in mind, you’ll probably be less disappointed when you get knocked out of a tournament. You’ll just expect that when you pay your buy-in you’ll eventually be losing that buy-in, and those times when you make the money that will be a positive thing. And when you make the final table or win, that will be even better.
But let’s face it, you’re never going to be really happy at the end of a tournament unless you win it. At the WSOP this summer there were 61 events that completed, and with Tom Schneider winning two bracelets that meant there were 60 players who won tournaments. Add the nine who made the Main Event final table and that means there were only 69 happy people at the WSOP this summer — and when the November Nine finish up eight of those will be unhappy.
There is one way you can take advantage of PTD in other people. In my first 15 years or so that I went to the WSOP, I mainly went there for the cash games. I would sit in them and wait for people to get knocked out of tournaments and come join the games while still on tilt from their disappointment. It was the easiest money I probably ever made.
I generally would play the first Day 1 flight of the Main Event so if I got eliminated I’d be waiting in the cash games for those getting knocked out from Day 1b, Day 1c, and so on. You can make a lot of money at the WSOP just playing against people who aren’t adequately prepared for dealing with PTD.
In fact, if you’re not going to play in the cash games, my advice to those getting knocked out of the Main Event is to get your stuff together and take a cab to the airport. Because it just seems like when you’re in that funk after getting knocked out, you find ways to lose your money, whether at dice, or at the blackjack table, or playing poker. The amount of money lost after people get knocked out of the Main Event is staggering, and a lot of it is directly due to PTD.
My best year adopting that strategy was 2003. That was a good year for Chris Moneymaker, as he earned $2.5 million for winning the Main Event. But I won over $5 million not playing tournaments that year, just in the cash games. I was in such a good mindframe, it carried over to the Main Event where I was the chip leader after Day 1.
But I went home disappointed — like most players — even after winning millions in the cash games. That’s because PTD is an inevitable part of tournament poker, a fact for which those who play tourneys have to be prepared.
Barry Greenstein is a member of Team PokerStars Pro