Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Unreasonable Expectations

I enjoyed this documentary which someone linked to in a thread on 2+2. It's one of those "pick 4 people and follow them through the WSOP" jobs, in this case Isabelle Mercier, Fabrice Soulier, Luca Pagano and (somewhat incongruously) Joe Hachem. This takes place in 2006 when Hachem was the "defending champ".


If you're interested, watch it before reading the rest of this post where I spoil it. Anyway, what I find interesting is the emotional reaction of the players to their results, as follows.

- Pagano whiffs everything. He's obviously quite down about it but drives off into the sunset saying he's going to get back to work online and on the Euro circuit.

- Soulier doesn't even make a Day 2 until the very last event, which was one of the bracelet events they tacked on in 2006 after the ME had started. He finishes 4th for $50K to get out of it (it's the one that Praz won). That's pretty much what I did in 2007, so I know how relieved you feel to get out of it like that. Soulier looks relieved as well and comes across fairly positive on his way out.

- Mercier makes a final table quite early and finishes 5th for $175K. But she's gutted that she didn't win. She whiffs everything else and ends up storming out of the ME saying stuff like "six months preparation for the worst day of my life" and "I was sure I was going to win". This is where pumping yourself up too much for the WSOP can get you, and it's not a good place. Cashing for (presumably) $100K+ profit is something a good player will manage only one year in 3 or 4. If you're still not happy when you do it, you're setting yourself up to be depressed every year. To what extent Isabelle believes what she says about always being so sure she's going to do well is unclear. It might just be a form of positive thinking to get into a confident mindset. That's all very well until you start believing it, which is a major problem going into something like the WSOP where the variance is so high and so few people walk away with a bracelet, if that's your only goal.

- Hachem ... well we know what Joe's like by now. Despite making two finals and a good profit, we get shots of moody Joe staring into the sunset and playing online alone in a darkened room. Tough life. The thing is, in a way I feel sorry for him. I don't think this guy is ever going to be happy until he gets some professional mental help. Whatever he wins will never be enough to "prove himself" to his (perceived) critics and enemies.

Getting your head right going into the WSOP is a very difficult balancing act. You have to accept that you're probably not going to make what you could have made in your regular game at home in the same time ; probably not even going to make a profit ; and, on a day-by-day basis, probably not going to cash the next tournament. It's the one year in 4 or 5 where you do really well that makes it worth while. At the same time, you have to be positive and confident enough to play your best. Pumping yourself up with "I'm the best, I'm going to win one this year" is just setting yourself up for a fall, mentally, when it doesn't happen.

What works for me is to remember that they're just another bunch of donkaments no different from any other. Which, when you strip away all the hype, is exactly what they are. But in Vegas, the city of hype, and in the Rio, with pictures of winners flaunting the bling everywhere you look, that can be very hard to do. In the end, if you're a professional player, you have to ask yourself whether it's worth taking 6 weeks off your regular game (and maybe another month afterwards due to the comedown) to put yourself through this, in tournaments that are less and less value with each passing year. I'm glad I didn't this year, although I would be, seeing as I had my best month ever online. Whichever way you do it, you can't escape the variance :-)

Your link is broken!
Fixed now, thanks.

You've hit the nail on the head with the title 'Unreasonable expectations'. It might seem a bit weird to point this out, but the three guys in the film are better looking than average and Isabelle's a young woman in a man's world. They might be suffering the 'pretty girl syndrome' that Pete Birks often talks about - that being attractive sets you up for disappointment later in life, as you spend much of your early years thinking that life is easy, because people are nicer to you than they are to the rest of us. See the way that people like Britney Spears blow up when things don't go their way.

Separately, could you explain a little about why you hate ten-handed tables in tournaments?
Ten handed live tournaments are very very boring as you get to play so few hands. It's not such a problem online as you can obviously play lots of them at once, but even then most of them are nine handed.
Interesting ... I would think this comes more into play with the female players. As you say, it is a man's world and the syndrome definitely exists. Some people (of both sexes) are in for a shock when they find that smiling and looking pretty doesn't actually lead to success at the table ! That's what I love about poker .. in the end (variance aside) it is the strictest of meritocracies.

And yes, 10 handed live play = super boring.

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