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Tournament Poker … You Gotta Love It?

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: May 01, 2007

For years, the top earners in poker used to be cash-game players. In their day-in, day-out routine, they grinded out a living by continuously pushing tiny edges and just playing a little bit better than most of the opponents they faced. This was a relatively easy and secure way to make a living, and even though tournament players could win much more money in a single day, week, or even month, at the end of the year, the best cash gamers would almost always have outperformed the tournament stars.

Of course, this was until a few years ago. The arrival of Internet poker and the poker boom that followed have led to an unparalleled explosion of major tournaments. And the TV exposure and juicy sponsorship deals have led to a situation in which many people, even the former cash-game grinders, now first and foremost focus on performing well in tournaments rather than in cash games.

Even yours truly, a typical example of such a cash-game grinder, has decided to focus a bit more on tournaments. More than the money, the reason for this is probably pride and recognition. Winning an event that is being watched by many, and that everyone is excited about, is simply a lot more fun than making a very steady income from a game that only few people know or care about.

Those who are used to the fact that it usually doesn't take long to find out who is the best will find that tournament poker is a lot different - especially if they are focusing on winning the three- or four-day major tournaments with buy-ins of, say, $3,000 and more. Just look at me. I recently played in a few of those big, prestigious tournaments. First, in the Master Classics main event, I played some absolute kamikaze poker and sent home players who clearly had gotten their money in correctly at absolutely crucial stages in the event. The winners of those pots would have had a clear shot at the €690,000 in prize money and the fame, while for the losers, there would be just a bit of comfort and sympathy, but not a lot of money. Then, in St. Maarten, I got unlucky myself. Just before the bubble, I went for the clear chip lead while holding K-K versus Q-Q, no less than a 4-to-1 favorite in the biggest pot of the event - only to see the inevitable queen flop. Just three hands later, I was down and out with no money. And perhaps even worse, to the outside world, I had accomplished "nothing," and had played just another unsuccessful event. Even more recently, I was eliminated in Goa in its $1 million-guaranteed event, again in a pot for the chip lead, and again just before the bubble. I made a great call on the turn in a massive pot, catching my opponent with a grossly overplayed A-K for just six outs - and you know what happened.

For successful cash gamers, it is not always easy to cope with the fact that one single pot can change everything, and that often, the luckiest player of the day is in the spotlight, and not necessarily the best player. Of course, this "all-or-nothing" aspect of tournament poker is probably the exact reason why so many people are thrilled by it - and just keep coming back for more. spade