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‘Congratudolences’ A combination of “congratulations” and “condolences”

by Matt Matros |  Published: Jul 13, 2011


Matt Matros

Whether I bust out immediately, or in the middle of the pack, or shortly before making the money, or shortly after making the money, or at a final table in a high-paying position, it never feels good to lose all of my tournament chips. In the heat of the moment, it’s almost impossible to think about how much money has been won, even when it’s a healthy sum. There’s only one happy player at the end of a poker tournament — quite a dispiriting thought, but unfortunately that’s the nature of the game. Psychologically, it’s bad enough to come close to a big score without hitting, but too many near misses can also pose practical financial difficulties. I’ll try to explain why, and what we can do about it to ease the pain.

I recently finished 11th in the $1,500 limit hold’em event at the World Series of Poker (the same event that I won last year, incidentally). This is the perfect example of a result that’s gratifying in some ways but devastating in others. Some tournament players tell each other, “Congratudolences” — a combination of “congratulations” and “condolences” — after making a good run but not winning. I received several congratudolences after my bust-out. Congratulations were in order because 11th place out of 675 entrants is far better than I possibly could have expected on a regular basis. I outperformed my typical rate of return by many buy-ins. On the other hand, I was three spots away from earning almost twice as much money as I did, seven spots away from winning an additional 30 buy-ins, and 10 spots away from repeating as a WSOP bracelet winner. Such an opportunity doesn’t come along very often, and it’s undeniably sad to miss out on it when it does. So, condolences.
Leaving sadness aside, however, there are legitimate reasons to view a deep run without a big score as something of a failure. True, a player who finished 11th in every tournament he played would be the best player of all time, but that’s a ridiculous hypothetical. In the real world, even the strongest players fail to cash at least 80 percent of the time, and usually more. That means that on those rare occasions when you do cash, you have to make it count. You need to earn an average of four buy-ins profit per cash just to break even, and more if you want to be a winning player. For my 11th-place finish, I earned a profit of about 6.5 buy-ins. That’s not bad, but if that’s my average “good result,” I won’t be much better than break-even overall. Indeed, since that limit hold’em tournament, I’ve failed to cash in my next three events as of this writing, and am well on my way to being without profit for this year’s WSOP. (Editor’s note: Matt cashed again in the next event that he played.) My friend Bill Chen says that if you would’ve accepted your result before the tournament started, you have to be happy with the result after the tournament is over. His point is well-taken, but the fact remains that if your good results are only small cashes, you won’t be a winner.

The question, then, is, how can tournament players keep their sanity? If it’s rare to cash in a tournament, and if it’s important that cashes at least sometimes be big ones, how do we deal with a seemingly endless string of events without a big score? Well, I think we don’t always keep our sanity, but the secret is that it’s OK. Poker players aren’t expected to be automatons, mindlessly recording their cashes and moving on from one tournament to the next as if nothing happened. Near misses, bubbles, and long droughts are inevitable. The key to handling them, for me, is knowing that they’re inevitable, and making sure that I appropriately vent my frustrations; I play golf, go to the movies, eat an overpriced meal, or just spend a few hours complaining to my buddies. When I eventually return to the tables, I’m ready to play my best game. For me, this stress release is vital to my tournament-playing lifestyle.

The great thing about poker is that every once in a while, it goes well. Don’t forget to celebrate your successes. I’m not just talking about a bunch of drinks at a club the night of the score. Remembering your successes through all of the downswings can be a great way to maintain a level head. When I’m having a bad day, I look at the bracelet that I won last year, and it usually makes me feel better. There’s a reason that we all play this game, and if your primary motive is financial, it makes sense that you should derive joy from the times that you win. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I often write about the mathematics of poker, and I promise to get back to strategy, game theory, and numbers-based advice in future columns. But without the emotional wherewithal to handle the grind of bad result after bad result, all of the math in the world won’t help you. So please, offer me congratudolences on my recent 11th-place finish. In the meantime, I’m going to recount every bad beat to my friend “Action Bob” while eating a large popcorn and watching X-Men: First Class. ♠

Matt Matros is the author of The Making of a Poker Player. He is also a featured coach for