“It goes to show you that no matter how bleak things may seem, no matter how short your stack, there’s always a chance of making a comeback. Stay strong, play your game, and it just might happen to you.”
I wrote those words nearly one year ago to the day in Vol. 6 of Hold’em with Holloway, which told the “chip and a chair” story of Mike Watson at the 2014 World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific. It’s called maximizing your potential, and while it may seem self-evident, you’d be surprised at how often tournament players just flat-out give up when the chips are down (literally).
Usually it happens after they suffer a bad beat and are left with a pittance of what they had just a hand before. I get it. Poker is demoralizing, and in poker tournaments things often seem hopeless. Everyone goes through it, but in my experience it’s those players who are able to drive the negative thoughts from their mind that rebound.
A great example of this recently occurred at the EPT12 Malta festival with Jason Wheeler, a player who epitomizes what it is to be a poker grinder. With approximately 25 players remaining in the €25,750 High Roller and only the top 11 getting paid, Wheeler was down to a stack of 65,000 in Level 13 (8,000/16,000/2,000).
“I folded down from like 240K to 65K, so that was kind of key for me,” Wheeler told me when describing his predicament. “I had hands I could have jammed, but really [they were] kind of... not-so-happy spots that other people might take. I was going to be more patient because I had a really good table and good reads on everybody. I kind of knew what they were doing, so I thought I could get a double easily and get back in it.”
It’s tempting to give up when you’re sitting with a mere few big blinds, or at the very least shove with mediocre hands such as weak aces (something I was discussing here just a week ago in “The Peril of Shoving with Weak Aces”). But Wheeler didn’t give up.
“When you have 4-6 big blinds, you have to put a lot of stuff in, but I was passing those kinds of hands when I had more chips, like weak aces and really crappy pairs,” said Wheeler. “It had more to do with [the fact that] I had a really good feel for the table and the players. I knew their ranges in certain spots, so I thought it was better to take advantage of that information than just use the two cards in front of me.”
Sticking to his game eventually paid off as Wheeler soon found a spot, getting it in with against the of current Global Poker Index rankings leader Byron Kaverman. The board ran out and Wheeler shipped his first double.
“That’s kind of one of those spots where I just knew I was ahead of the guy, so that was the spot I chose,” said Wheeler. “That was kind of the key hand to start the comeback. Other than that I felt I played really good poker. I didn’t make any big mistakes. I didn’t play scared.”
In the very next hand, Adrian Mateos raised to 32,000 from the hijack, Wheeler moved all in for 164,000 from the cutoff, and Mateos called with , which was dominated by the of Wheeler. The board ran out , and Wheeler had doubled again.
“When I had about 20 bigs, things got exciting,” Wheeler went on to say. “[Then] when I got to 30-32 bigs, I was like I can win this thing. I’ve always taken that strategy in tournaments, not to give up. I realize poker is that kind of game. Rain comes sometimes when it’s sunny out, and sometimes there’s no rain forever. I just wanted to make sure I was happy with everything I did. [That’s] not to say you don’t bluff or shove some crappy hands, but I just wanted to be happy and proud of whatever it was I chose to do.”
The €25K High Roller attracted 74 entrants and created a prize pool of €1,813,000, and Wheeler went on to finish fourth in the event for €178,580. His momentum from that strong showing then carried him to a third-place finish just a day later in the €10,200 Single-Day High Roller for a €143,630 score.
I know it sounds clichéd, but not giving up on yourself and maintaining a positive outlook is a key to poker success. Bad things are bound to happen over the course of a poker tournament, but that doesn’t mean things won’t turn around.