The ugly truth about poker tournaments


Michael Laake poker strategy

Chad Batista was a young Internet grinder and an up-and-coming star in the poker world. He was cocky, bold and fearless. I first met him in late 2000s in Las Vegas and he was everything I expected. 

Eventually, the fields started understanding his aggressive tendencies and willingness to overbluff. He, like many others, started taking poker less seriously and tried to cope with the struggles in many ways.

Unfortunately, in August 2015, at the age of 34, he died. 

I remember taking this news profoundly at the time because in some aspects, he lived the full life that I was chasing, but maybe he also wasn’t prepared for how difficult some of the long stretches can be. 

Being unprepared for turbulence can be mentally challenging to many.

So what can be learned here? Tournaments have a degree of variance that we absolutely cannot explain. There will be highs, lows and everything in between. 

If you’ve ever seen a roulette wheel land on red or black seven or eight consecutive times, then you should take the time to consider how many times in a row a result in the 85 percentile rather than the 50 percentile could happen in a row. 

I remember many online stretches of no cashes across 30-40 events.

How far back do you have to go for your past 35 live tournaments? That’s more than a year for me in current terms, but even if you play one tournament per week that’s a stretch of a little more than eight months of nothing but bricks. 

We could make the argument that you could expect as a decent player to have a better return on your investment in live than online, but we would be splitting hairs.

Even the strongest pros you’ve met, if they play a large tournament volume, they will tell you they’ve had some really difficult stretches. 

I’ve noticed a large shift in competitive empathy, which I hope is a trend that continues into the future. Let’s try to be less sarcastic when we get beat; let’s try to be more understanding of the complexities of the game, and let’s support our allies as much as we can in this treacherous warfare we’ve opted to enter.

If you’re struggling for any reason, please find someone to talk to about it. Poker isn’t for everybody, but if you’ve made it this far, I want you to be as prepared as possible. Keep your heads held high and may the flop be with you.

— Michael Laake is a Florida dealer and tournament grinder since 2005. Email him at

Chris Cosenza

Chris Cosenza