Los Angeles Times
Luck will always play a role
There’s a mythos that the best player should always win a poker tournament, but that’s rarely the case. Skill prevails over the long run, but in any given tournament, luck can play a big role. As accomplished professional Phil Hellmuth famously said, “If there weren’t luck involved, I would win every time.”
It never ceases to amaze me how some players either shake their head when others get lucky or, even worse, use it as an excuse to belittle that player’s game. I guess it’s easy to dismiss a player, especially one who’s just busted you, by attributing it all to luck. In reality, players win poker tournaments by exhibiting skill throughout and getting lucky when it counts. Obviously, you can control only the former.
Case in point: Joe McKeehen, who topped a field of 6,420 players to win the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event for $7.68 million. McKeehen, who is now Pennsylvania’s all-time poker money leader, played brilliantly at November’s final table. In fact, no one even came close to stopping him on his way to victory. It was impressive, but did you know that even the World Champ had to get lucky to finish as the last man standing?
On Day 6 of the tournament, with dozens of players still remaining, McKeehen got his stack of 1.86 million all in preflop holding A♥ Q♥, only to find himself up against the ace-king of Josh Beckley. McKeehen’s tournament life was on the line, and he had just a 28.06% chance of surviving.
A flop of K♦ J♥ 4♦ made things even worse by pairing Beckley, and McKeehen’s chances dropped to 18.98% — the chances of hitting either a 10 for a straight or running hearts for a flush.
The 6♣ turn took away the latter option, so the only card that would save McKeehen on the river was a 10, which would appear 9.095% of the time. There was better than a 9 in 10 chance McKeehen would be eliminated.
Amazingly the 10♦ spiked to save McKeehen. Instead of making his way to the payout desk to collect a low six-figure prize, he stayed alive and went on to win the tournament days later.
Beckley, who lost the hand, would go on to finish as runner-up, winning $4.47 million.
Luck comes in many forms, whether it’s coming from behind like McKeehen, winning numerous coin flips, or simply waking up with a big hand at the right time. Sometimes you’re the beneficiary, and other times you’re the victim.
As someone who has made his living reporting on tournaments for PokerNews.com — and who won a coveted WSOP gold bracelet in 2013 — trust me when I say that everyone who has ever won an event, no matter how big or how small, got lucky along the line. Don’t feel guilty about it, and by all means, count both your blessings and your winnings.