Fear is Your Friend

“I believe a man is a professional when he can do what needs to be done no matter how he feels within. An amateur is an amateur in his attitude emotionally. A professional is a professional in the way he thinks and feels and in his ability to execute under the most trying conditions.”

“[Think of] the deer crossing an open field and upon approaching the clearing…suddenly instinct tells him danger is there, and nature begins the survival process, which involves the body releasing adrenalin into the bloodstream, causing the heart to beat faster and enabling the deer to perform extraordinary feats of agility and strength…It enables the deer to get out of range of the danger, helps him escape to the safety of the forest across the clearing…”

“You must understand fear so you can manipulate it. Fear is like fire. You can make it work for you: It can warm you in winter, cook your food when you’re hungry, give you light when you are in the dark, and produce energy. Let it go out of control and it can hurt you, even kill you…Fear is a friend of exceptional people”.

“I tell my kids, what is the difference between a hero and a coward? What is the difference between being yellow and being brave? No difference. Only what you do. They both feel the same. They both fear dying and getting hurt. The man who is yellow refuses to face up to what he’s got to face. The hero is more disciplined and he fights those feelings off and he does what he has to do. But they both feel the same, the hero and the coward. People who watch you judge you on what you do, not how you feel.” – Cus D’amato, legendary boxing trainer

Every time you play tournament poker, you can expect to get hit in the face.

No-Limit Hold’em is the fist fight of poker variants. Tournament No-Limit Hold’em is the heavyweight version. One all-in, one-shot, can change the course of an entire event. There’s nowhere to hide with 40-50 big blind stacks.

You need to expect it. Before you start a day three or day four live, say to yourself in the mirror, “at some point today I am going to lose 50-75% of my chips. My response to that event is going to determine how I do in this tournament.”

I have watched more tournament poker than anyone I know. It is extremely rare to watch a tournament win where the player didn’t lose most of his chips at some point.

There’s even a word for it. That’s how rare perfect tournaments are. If a guy doesn’t lose a huge pot at some point in the tournament, the announcers will say, “he’s going wire-to-wire.”

It’s just like boxing. If you watch any championship event, you’ll see the champ eat a horrible shot at some point. It’s his reaction to the event that makes us love him. That’s what makes grown men stand in their seats and clap till their hands bleed.

Poker is your chance to find that strength within yourself.

Of course, poker isn’t nearly as manly as a boxing or MMA match is. But for us mere mortals, a day four of a tournament can be pretty painful. You’re almost always delirious at that point. Your head is buzzing from being drowned in casino noise for four days while you try to decipher every little bet, move, and tell. It’s like taking a standardized test for eight to ten hours a day while sitting next to slot machines and hundreds of people shuffling chips. You’re not feeling so hot after a little while.

And it’s at this point you’re likely going to lose most of your chips. Because the good players tend to make it deep in tournaments, and good players are aggressive. Aggressive players create big pots. Those are big opportunities to lose most of your chips.

This is when the real test begins.

Your fear will drive you. When you’re losing your mind after the lost pot, start fearing the regret you’ll have if you play terrible. Think about you going to sleep that night regretting the chance you pissed away. Imagine you looking into the mirror asking yourself, “what was the point? Why did I show up for that tournament, pay the entry fee, and play all those days if I was just going to give up like that? Who am I? Is that all I am?”

Picture that moment in your mind. Fear it. Feel it for ten seconds. Then get back to the game.

Don’t rush anything. You’ll get your moment. But do not back down when the moment comes. You don’t want to regret retreating into your shell and quitting at the table either.

Give yourself the best shot and put the chips down when you know its time. If you think through things and make a mistake, that is fine, but do not leave that table knowing you gave up. If you stop playing or start shoving your chips in without thinking, you are giving up. You don’t deserve to win the tournament at that point.