Winning Poker: Why You’re Losing at the WSOP

You’re a good player. You have the records and bankroll to prove it. In fact, you used a portion of last year’s poker winnings to fund your trip to this year’s World Series of Poker. You entered a few of the $1,500 and $500 events and, you’ve crashed and burned, failing to even cash in any of the events.

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Some days, playing at the WSOP can make you feel like this. (Image: PokerTube)

How can this be? You’re are a good player and yet, here you are at poker’s biggest event of the year and all you can do is lose. Why?

Take heart, because you’re not alone and your losses don’t mean you should give up your favorite activity, or even change how you play. Don’t let your losses put you on tilt because there are some good reasons for your defeats.

You’re against better opponents

You may be the king shit in your hometown poker room or home game. You may crush the local talent and have a winning record even against the steep rake, but that doesn’t mean you have better-than-average chops in an international tournament. You may. Someone does. But you probably don’t.

The WSOP attracts the best players from all over the world. It attracts players who make their living playing poker along with a bunch of duffers who don’t know what they’re doing. But, from my experience, there’s a much higher density of serious and successful players than in a typical local game. Put another way, in a typical WSOP tournament, you’ll find fewer Keno players, fewer folks wandering over from a bachelor party, fewer gamblers stopping in for a few hours of relaxing fun at poker. This creates a tougher scene than what you’re used to back home.

This is especially true as you make it past the early levels of the tournament. As the field winnows down and people bust out, tables are consolidated, meaning you’re getting an ever-higher concentration of people who know what they’re doing. Cream tends to rise to the top, as they say. As you’re nearing the money bubble, the level of competition is going to get tougher. While you might be 20% better than average against the entry field,  you aren’t likely 20% better than those who are competing against you as you near the money.

You may not be as good as you think at large, multiday tournaments

Poker players tend to overestimate their skills and, they may incorrectly assume that, if they can win in small tournaments and cash games in their home poker room, they are highly skilled. But beating the clowns in your local game doesn’t mean you have what it takes to win in a large, major tournament. Endurance, focus, stamina, and discipline play a larger role in the longer event.

Unless you’re a professional, you’re probably not used to the longer structure and are, thereby, at a strategic disadvantage against those who have played them many times in the past.

You’re probably not at your best

It’s tough for many to practice their best poker when they come to Las Vegas. Intent notwithstanding, the flight, the accommodations, the schedule of play, the party atmosphere, the distractions, and the traveler’s diet all contribute to physical and mental exhaustion, diminishing your ability to do all of the things that make you a good player.

Even if you’re a great poker player under normal circumstances, it’s the rare visitor who can maintain their best game in Las Vegas.

Variance is real

Poker isn’t like chess, golf, bowling, or other activities where the results are based entirely (or nearly entirely) on skill. There’s a lot of luck involved and this is nowhere more true than in a very large tournament.

Consider this: if there are 1,000 punters for a tournament and you’re roughly as good as the other players, you have only a scant 1,000 to 1 chance of winning. Though the payouts have been expanded in the last couple of years, there are still only 150 who will finish in the money.  That means, all things being equal, it’s still 6.66 to 1 against you even cashing.

So, let’s say you’re really good — 20% better than the average player. Even then, you’re not going to finish in the money more than one time in five.  That makes for many disappointing experiences, even for the really good player. Even if you’re substantially better than average, the vast majority of the time, you’ll have nothing to show for your tournament entries.

Conclusion

Playing in a WSOP tournament will give you a shot at poker glory and that is, understandably, part of a poker player’s dream. Win a bracelet there, and you become a poker immortal. But don’t take it too hard if you fail to succeed. Recognize that even if you’re an excellent poker player, when you play in a WSOP event, you start with a few strikes against you.

Written by
Ashley Adams
Venerable grinder, 7-stud enthusiast, host of "House of Cards Radio" and author of Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day (D&B Publishing, 2020).

Comments

John von Eschenbach wrote...

You may want to check the math on probability of cashing. I think you meant 6.66 to 1, not 66.6 to 1. Same goes for the 45 to 1 quote on better than average players.

Ashley Adams wrote...

An astute observation! Thank you for the correction. We have changed the article to make it correct.

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