The Art of Losing Tournaments
Nov 12, 2005  
© 2005 Jason Kirk  

Poker players were once notorious for not giving up the secrets of how they were able to make so much money. Then Doyle Brunson published Super System and everything changed. Professionals today trip over each other trying to be first to the press with new books these days - and why not? Thanks to the poker boom and the resulting influx of new players there’s a huge market for poker books that just wasn’t there in the past. Well, I’ve decided it's time for me to get in on this action too. Unfortunately I don’t have the cachet those pros have, so I can’t make money by divulging expert-level strategies. But I’ve decided that letting you, in on my secrets is more important than money, dear readers. I’m dedicated to making the world a better place. So, without further ado, here is a primer in the Art of Losing Tournaments.

1. Build an early chip lead.

“What?” you say. “How could I possibly lose a tournament this way?” Slow down, little soldier. Many things in poker are counterintuitive - and this is one of them. Keep in mind that no one has ever won the World Series of Poker Main Event by building an early chip lead. It is, however, crucial for scaring opponents away from confrontations with you - if you don’t go to the trouble of building a chip stack you won’t be prepared for Step #2.

2. Go card dead.

Whatever you do, don’t catch any cards once you’ve built your stack. You’ll be forced to put bets into pots that you might actually win. It may sound simple, but mull this over: how are you going to lose if you win? It is absolutely imperative that you keep your eyes on the prize here. Nobody ever lost by trying to win. Make sure you fold at least five orbits’ worth of horrible cards in a row. If you catch good hands, fold them. Time your steal attempts for junctures where the players on your left have good hands, so you can bleed your chips more efficiently.

3. Catch good cards - but make sure your bets aren't called.

This is probably the most important part of the formula. By raising with your good hands after being card dead and thus getting no callers, you can be assured that you’ll never get maximum value for your monsters. It is of the utmost urgency that your raises be completely transparent. It may be helpful to stand up and yell, "I have a good hand!" Tread carefully with this tactic, though - if your opponents are not very smart, they may think you're bluffing and call with a worse hand. Getting this value will kill your chances of losing. And don’t even think about limping in with the hope of re-raising - if you’ve decided to wimp out by this point, you’re never going to learn to become a master loser.

4. Make a badly-timed steal for all your chips.

It may be necessary to collude on this step to insure your opponent has a real hand. Don’t listen to those people who call collusion "unethical" or "cheating" or "illegal" - a loser does what he has to if he plans on losing with maximum efficiency. Many people find themselves suddenly absent of their will to lose at this point. We call those people quitters.

Step #4 is gut-check time. You have to ask yourself: Do I really have what it takes to lose? Am I truly committed to the long-term path of losing? If the answer is no, by all means join the quitters. Losing isn’t for everyone. I would tell you there is no shame in quitting, but there is. Most people learn to deal with it in time, however, and chances are that if you quit the albatross will only hang around your neck for a short time.

If you find yourself answering “yes” to these questions, it’s time to steal. Try to find a hand like Q-3 or J-5 - something with little chance to win a pot - and make a normal-looking raise with it. Be certain that one of the blinds is holding a real hand (this is where collusion may become necessary). When you're re-raised, simply push all your chips to the middle and watch your opponent call you immediately. You’ll feel a rush in the pit of your stomach when you realize you’re less than 15% to win the hand, a rush that only intensifies as your chances of winning drop closer to (and eventually reach) zero. That’s your body's way of celebrating your acceptance of the Art of Losing Tournaments.

Some experts suggest trying to lose a little bit at a time. Do not follow this advice. The more pots you enter, the greater your chance of winning. Efficiency is the hallmark of a master loser.

5. Pride and the Art of Losing Tournaments

Learn to take pride in the Art of Losing Tournaments. Yours is a thankless path which most others will never have the courage to experience. With some dedication you’ll be able to find ways to master the Art of Losing. Your neighbors will envy you. Other players will be amazed at the attitude you maintain in the face of what they consider disgrace. Women will fawn over you in the frozen foods section of the grocery store.

Don't think there aren't plenty of people who will laugh at you. It is important that you pay these non-believers no mind. They will never understand what losing is really all about - and really, they probably couldn’t if they tried. Jealousy clouds their little minds. Always remember, the best things in life are often the most difficult to obtain. Stick to your guns and you, too, can master the Art of Losing Tournaments.

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