It took exactly 20 minutes to realize I’d made a mistake.
I had bought into the Double Stack tournament, one of dozens of events going on at the 2018 World Series Of Poker. I hadn’t played many tournaments in the last few years, cashing in exactly zero of them, but thought I should give at least one of them a shot while I was there. So I paid my $1,000 entry fee and took my place in the Brasilia room of the convention center at the Rio, which each summer is home to a huge gathering of poker players. Some of them are in it for the bracelets and the riches that can come with winning a WSOP event. Others are there for smaller events, like the daily deep-stacks, or the single table sit-n-go’s. I go because of the cash games, which are plentiful not only at the Rio but at pretty much every other casino that has a poker room in Vegas.
There I was in Event 34, folding hand after hand of bad cards, when it hit me: I really do not enjoy this. In a cash game, I can play short sessions of three, four, five hours, get up, cash in my chips, go do something else, then come back later to play whatever game I want at another table. In a tournament, you’re bound to your seat until you either win everyone’s chips (in this case 5,700 entrants) or lose all of yours. When I was younger, I was patient enough and had the stamina to play for the ten or eleven hours a tournament requires, then come back the next day to continue playing (assuming I’d made it that far). In that era, I cashed several times and even won a couple, though never for a bracelet.
Now, I can’t stand it. The fact of the matter is that poker can be excruciatingly boring, especially if you’re card-dead, meaning you don’t get a lot of good starting hands. In that case, you’re folding, folding, folding — and it gets old pretty quickly. It’s a very different style of play from a cash game, where if you lose some chips, you can always buy more and add them to your stack. In a tournament, your chip count is finite; when they’re gone, so are you.
My pattern in the last few tournaments I’ve played (maybe four in the last five years) has been to win just enough hands to keep me equal to the average chip stack, but never amass a huge amount. Eventually, as the blinds and ante increase, they dwindle until I’m forced to stick them all in the middle with a decent-but-no-great hand, which doesn’t hold up, and I’m done. At that point, long before any payouts have begun, I’ve wasted eight, nine, ten hours without making a buck. In doing so, I have tied with the player who got knocked out on the tournament’s first hand — although he or she didn’t waste the day like I did.
This time, I was miserable from the 20-minute mark on. There was no banter at the table, and very little action to keep me focused and interested. My mind began to wander. I plugged in my earbuds and listened to some podcasts, but wasn’t really paying attention. I was in a state of suspended animation, interrupted every so often by entering a pot with a pocket pair that never turned into a set or anything more.
When I was finally eliminated after four hours (no bad beat story: I had sevens, he had aces), I felt a wave of relief. I practically ran out of the room as if a giant burden had been lifted from my shoulders. The next day, I ran into a friend who had also played in that tournament and lasted until just after the dinner break. He wanted to compare notes, but I told him I didn’t remember any of it, because it just didn’t matter.
Besides, at the time, I was concentrating on the really good cash game I’d sat down in, so I excused myself from my friend and went back to playing. Meanwhile, he was off to sign up for another tournament.
What a masochist.