We were an hour an a half into the tournament. Thanks to the quick blind structure and the aggressiveness of the 60 starting players, we were already down to the final table. I'd been completely card dead for 20 minutes or more, but I'd found a way to steal enough of the blind money to stay afloat. I found myself in a position that I've been in way too many times before - facing the bubble. This particular Vegas casino paid out the top 6 of their daily No Limit HE tournaments, and the 8th place player was saying his goodbyes. I was the next lowest stack and the big blind was barreling down on me like a Mac truck with no brakes. I was forced to go all in with my measly J-8 off suit, and was especially dejected to see the opponent to my right call and flip over Jack-Queen. The poker gods smiled upon me, allowing for a miracle straight to fall on the River to keep me alive. For the entire next round I caught some great cards and increased my chip stack quickly. From the clutches of defeat, I was suddenly sniffing a possible victory. I knocked two guys out in one hand and felt the hope swell within me. Alas, the cards went cold once again and the blinds became unforgiving.
I bowed out in 4th place and sauntered toward the cash out. My wife had been looking on for the last hour or so of the tournament. She darted towards me with an excited look on her face. I did not hold the same excitement that my wife exuded. I had to admit that I was disappointed to come in 4th.
My wife is also my best poker coach at times. She looked confused as she observed my obvious disappointment. "Why aren't you ecstatic? You should've been out in 7th place," she accurately explained. "You almost played all of that time for no money, but you got this!" she exclaimed as she grabbed the cash from my fist. I dragged behind as she dashed toward the blackjack pit with some new money and some new energy.
Her comments and positivism hit me, and I was forced to pause for a moment to think things through. My story is certainly not an exception. Almost all of us can't help but feel some disgust boil in the pit of our stomachs with anything other than the very top spot. This phenomenon exposes the biggest and mostly widely spread myth in all of poker ---- poker is supposedly "all about the money." In fact, poker is actually all about the competition for a vast majority of us.
Whether it is a home game in your buddy's basement or the final table at a WSOP event, most of us are fueled by the desire to be the best more dramatically than any payday. While it was true that I was very, very close to being ousted on the bubble, it still did not provide any relief to my ailing psyche. While I recognized the fact that I had played well (and gotten lucky) to last as long as I possibly could, there was still doubt in my mind and questions that lingered. In short, fourth place was good but not good enough.
While we all attempt to fool ourselves into thinking that securing a cash finish in a large tournament is commendable, the simple truth is that all but one person walks away with regrets and disappointment. As a whole, we poker players are way too competitive to have it any other way.
Now go make it happen.