"Next time you're in the end zone
act like you've been there before,
and that you're going to be there again."
-- Vince Lombardi
At the 2004 World Series of Poker Championship event, three times the number of players entered compared to 2003. The 2576 players
made it the largest brick and mortar poker tournament ever held, despite the $10,000 entry cost. Close to 1000 of these players won
seats into the event via preliminary tournaments at one of the online poker card rooms. One cardroom,
PokerStars, sent 316 players alone, including the
eventual champion, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer.
An historic tournament just for the turnout alone, I believe this event will be looked back in years to come as a historically
defining moment, similar to how the first World Series in 1970 is thought about now. No Limit Hold'em tournaments changed forever.
Sensible players need to consider how the times have changed, and change with them.
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Before we get to that though, we have to consider how we can NOT adapt. With a field of over 2500 players, the greatest player in the
world, whoever that may be, is very unlikely to win the event in their lifetime, even if they entered fifty times. Poker, including
tournament poker, is all about getting the best of it
over the long run. But now, while we can still get the best of it on our bets, there is no way at all to ensure any sort of payoff on
that within our lifetimes. Long gone are the days when
Johnny Chan could best a couple hundred
players and win back to back titles and then place second the following year. From this point on, you could do everything right, and
never even get close to winning in your lifetime. The long run ain't long enough.
Don't get me wrong. Playing in an event like this can have a significant positive
expectation for top level players, but it is a bit like
being able to get 10,000 to one odds on a $100,000,000 lottery drawing. Great odds, a bet you should definitely make, but still you
are likely to lose -- and there is not much you can do about it. Big deal if you study and practice for the next twelve months, and
are able to play the 100,000,000 lottery with only 9500 to one odds!
To win a No Limit Holdem
event with over 2500 players, you need to have played well and gotten extremely lucky, simply because that is the nature of Holdem,
but also because that is how a whole generation of players are
learning how to play the game -- "I go all-in".
Race after race, virtual coin flip after coin flip... even if you play outstanding poker, and regularly get significant edges over
your opponents, for example every hand you play you are a 2-1 favorite, to continually not lose requires Alaska-sized loads of luck.
This is unavoidable if your opponents force you to commit all your chips or fold. Folding 2-1 edges is not the road to Oz.
And some previously successful players HATE this way to play, this "Internet way" to play.
Phil Hellmuth is notorious for not wanting
to commit all his chips. He wants to see flops, make
reads, and outplay his opponents. That is a great skill he has. But bad news for Phil, lots of the new breed of players don't want
to let him use his skills. They will shove all-in. If they don't get called they win a smallish pot. If they do get called, they will
take their chances with 50/50 or 60/40 or 30/70 races.
Frankly, No Limit Hold'em is just about the worst game to play with huge tournament fields. Skill will contribute to
luck will be the greater influence. Again, this is the way
Holdem is designed. It is a game of small edges. Even "dominating" situations like AcKs versus Ah7d are less than 3-1. Imagine
playing 3-1 situations fifty times for all your chips. Eventually you will lose, unless you get outlandishly lucky. Of course, in the
real world often times in all-in situations you will have more chips than your opponent, and thus won't be eliminated when you lose,
but still it is a humbling reality to understand that even the greatest player will need a huge amount of luck to win a large No Limit
Holdem event. (Luck is not nearly so central to Limit poker, or other games like Draw poker, where dominating situations are 100% to
zero, like a pat full house versus a pat flush.)
Lots of people play poorly, and will gladly shove all their chips in as 1-3 underdogs. Part of their poor play is they have no clue
that they are such dogs!
Major No Limit Holdem tournaments are becoming like $3/6 Holdem games in Los Angeles... a large chunk of the skill required to win is
very basic and simple, but it is absolute, pure skill where you consistently take the best of it into showdown situations and absorb
fluctuations when you have bad luck. Some folks have always claimed they can't beat loose LA $3/6 games, and the reason for that
simply is they don't adapt and don't play well. Some skills that work in tougher games are useless, and the way to win is fairly
mechanical, but over time it is enormously profitable... even if the psychic pain of often losing to
goofball play is hard for almost everyone to stomach.
The game is being revolutionized... good play is being rewarded significantly more than two years ago. But in some cases it is not so
easy to see, and in fact, in some circumstances you may never see actual positive results of your superior play in your lifetime.
$10,000 tournaments don't come along very often, but correct play is still simply to choose the best course of action, with the best expectation.
See also Limit Texas Holdem and
Making Money Playing Tournament Poker, and check out Pokerstars
Online Texas Holdem tournaments