A client, Danny Steinberg, recently finished 6th at the WSOPE main event. The reason I’m writing is not just to celebrate his poker accomplishment, it’s to celebrate the accomplishment he made in how he handled busting out. You can read more on his (and his twin brother’s) blog.
Busting out so close to winning a major title could have caused anguish, tilt, dispair, or a whole range of negative emotions as is common for some many players; but it didn’t. Instead, he was happy. Not happy that he lost – the outcome at that point in the final table was out of his hands – but happy because of how well he’d played. He knew instantly when the river card that busted him came down that he made the best decisions he possibly could have made given his level of preparation and the information he had in each hand. In the next moment, realizing how he was purely focused on how well he’d played an not on busting, came the realization of what he’d accomplished mentally.
Here’s an excerpt from his blog:
After I lost, the experience was a little surreal. I felt like I had played really well so whether I won or lost the all in became totally irrelevant to me. Everyday I use the logic that I can’t control the results so I should just be happy when I play well, but it rarely manifests itself completely. It didn’t in the KK hand. But when I got it all in with AJs, it did, and I think everyone saw that in me. I was happy because I played exceptionally, the result truly didn’t matter. Nicolas Levi, a very good french pro to my right, told me the nicest thing I think anyone has ever said to me. “I told Roland that I knew it would be the best for us if you lost the all in, but I didn’t want you to.” I turned to James Bord, the coolest guy I’ve ever met at a poker table, and shook his hand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that expression he had on his face on anyone ever before. His smile and head nod seemed to say he was honored that he got to play with me at the poker table. After I exited the table the ESPN reporter, who was about to interview me, started tearing. I asked her with a big smile “Why are you crying? Don’t be sad there is no reason to be sad .” She replied. “I don’t know… I mean some people come over here all upset but you seem genuinely happy.” I know this whole paragraph may come off as incredibly self centered but I don’t mean it to be, it’s just honestly what happened.
To be purely focused on how well he’d played and on how well he was reacting after just busting so close to a major title is a remarkable accomplishment. An accomplishment that happened from consistent effort and work on focusing more and more each day on what he ultimately controls in the short-term – how well he plays.
I know it can be hard for some of you to wrap your heads around how you can focus on winning, while at the same time not care when you don’t. It would seem that being happy losing suggests you don’t care about winning – or that he’s basically delusional. Danny does care A LOT, but he cares about how he plays because that’s the only thing he ultimately has the final say in. The cards are going to do what they want, and getting pissed that they didn’t do what you want is one reason why players have so much trouble losing.
His accomplishment proves that the answer to not being results oriented isn’t just forgetting, detaching, or ignoring results, it’s to instead refocus your emotions around your poker skill. It is not nearly as easy to produce as it is to write. That’s why it’s a challenge, and that’s why Danny’s accomplishment is so monumental.
Poker is not like other forms of competition where the outcome is largely a matter of who is better skilled. So while wanting and being driven to win is a critical trait shared by elite poker players, what’s most important in my mind is HOW you go about achieving that end. If you’re focused more on your game, and less what’s out of your hands (the cards, your opponents), you’ll not only be more likely to win over the long-term, you’ll be happier, and be able to enjoy the ride a hell of a lot more.
Through a steady and continual focus, Danny broke barriers in his own mind, and in doing so I hope that he can show you that it’s possible to do the same for yourself. It was an incredibly proud moment to receive the email from him yesterday describing how happy he was. To be honest, I’ve held many theories about what I thought was possible within the frontiers of the mind and have worked hard to prove them. Danny’s reaction gave distinct validation for the work that I’m doing, and it feels great.
The means to get there for each of you is different, and in many cases still not fully known yet. But it is possible if you keep working at it, and know too that I’m working to make it easier for you to make the changes too even if we never actually talk.