How to Deal with Setbacks in Tournaments

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?

No one! 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 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.

On Day 5 of the 2012 WSOP Main Event, Greg Merson was 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 likely suffer setbacks. You may 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.