Don’t ever give up in a poker tournament

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“Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!” These are the well-known words of the late Jim Valvano and the motto of his V Foundation for Cancer Research. Whether it’s poker, sports or some other area of life, we often encounter the “you can do it, don’t give up,” statements from our supporters and coaches. These motivational quips are designed to help us stay motivated. “All you need is a chip and a chair.” I think most of us, though, tend to think in response, “Yeah, right, after that beat there’s no way I can come back. I have two big blinds and the chipleader has like 250.

At the 2007 Gulf Coast Poker Championships with 17 players remaining, Bill Edler lost a massive pot and was left with just two 1,000-unit chips with the blinds at 4,000-8,000 and a 1,000 ante. He posted his 1,000 ante and was all-in with the other 1,000 in the big blind. He had several double-ups and quickly found himself back in the thick of the tournament. He didn’t give up and won the event. I bet there was quite a bit of positive energy in the room that day with people thinking, even if just in the back of their minds, it’d be really cool to be part of history and see a stand-up guy make this modern-day Jack Strauss chip-and-a-chair comeback.

Recently I had a similar experience. Playing in the $162 PokerStars Nightly Hundred Grand tournament with 704 of my closest friends and enemies, I found myself sitting with 75 chips at the 50-100 level after my K-K lost a monster pot to 6-6 on a Q-6-6 board. No pot control for me on that one. I really thought he had A-Q. Bad read, but would’ve been nearly impossible to fold based on the situation. On the next hand I folded my under-the-gun trash and took my chances with my inevitable big-blind hand.

All-in for my last 75 chips, I woke up with A-K and more than tripled-up to 275! Seems futile, right. That’s what most people think at this stage because we know we have to get extremely lucky to make a comeback from this point. Well, I’ll spare you the awesome details and let you know I won the tournament for a cool $19,881.

So, while I got lucky to win the hands I played, I also never panicked. I remembered a time at the Caesars Palace Classic in Las Vegas where I finished second in a $2K event. Early on I dropped from the 4,500 starting stack to about 1,700 chips.

My initial thought was “Man, this sucks. I have so much work to do now.” Then I took a step back to think about the situation and realized blinds were still just 25-50. I had more than 30 big blinds. I spend most of the time in a lot of my tournaments with less than that. There was NO reason for me to EVER give up. So I took my time and picked all my spots wisely. I didn’t worry about those that had been chipping up quickly. That didn’t matter to me and it can’t matter to you. What matters is how much ammunition you have to work with and if you use it properly.

Don’t panic, just play your game, pick your spots and play good poker. I took my time in these tournaments and was able to play some quality poker after getting lucky in a few spots, just like Edler in the Gulf Coast Poker Championships. Most important, I never gave up. If you get yourself in this mind-set on the felt this positive way of thinking may carry over into your everyday life.

Decide to Win!

— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Check out his site at www.acumenpoker.net.