Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Cracking Under Pressure

I recently played in the $10,000 buy-in main event at the World Series of Poker, and the key reason that I was eliminated was because I did something that I haven't done in a poker tournament in a very long time: I cracked under the pressure.


What led to my demise was not just the final hand, but also, and more importantly, the previous hands that caused me to lose my cool. You see, a few hours prior to elimination I was doing exceptionally well and among the leaders in the tournament. 

Later, though, it felt like I got kicked in the head, followed by a heavyweight punch to the stomach. First, my pocket aces were cracked. Then I lost as a substantial favorite with A-K versus Q-J. Those losses coupled with being forced to lay down some very strong hands wore me down like a punch-drunk boxer.
On my very last hand, I raised to 6,000 from late position with 10-8 offsuit. It was an attempt to steal the blinds. The player on the button called my raise and we took the flop heads-up. By the way, this same guy had been killing me on my downward spiral. He wasn’t bluffing me; he just seemed to hit the flop every time we were in a hand together.
The flop came 6h-7s-8h, which looked good for my hand. Wanting to send a message, I bet 12,000, leaving me with only 40,000. My opponent thought for quite a while before moving me all-in.
Normally I would consider this an easy lay down, but I was getting sick and tired of always folding.
I took a long time before making my decision. I thought about his possible holdings and figured out my pot odds  I was getting approximately 2:1 odds to make the call, but I was pretty certain that he had a better hand than I did. The question was, how much better? 

My brain was foggy and I was tired. I just couldn't put it all together. I called. My opponent turned over 8-8 for three of a kind. The only way I could win the pot was with a miracle nine. No nine hit, and my World Series was over in 2007.
I was disappointed in myself for cracking like I did. Normally that's something I'm able to fight through. I see others around me crack all the time, but I'm usually good about leaving past hands in the past and focusing on the present.

I guess everyone has his threshold, and I'd unfortunately reached mine.

There’s so much to think about at the poker table that has nothing to do with the actual cards. The psychological aspects of poker are as important — if not more important — than learning how to play the game fundamentally well.
Dealing with bad luck, and not allowing it to send you on tilt is a real skill. Being able to focus on each hand without allowing past beats to creep into your decision-making process is a must. 

Talent, a full understanding of game fundamentals and math abilities will only take you so far as a poker player. If your head isn’t in the right place and you’re unable to stay disciplined, you’re doomed.
I've been playing this game for 15 years and figured I was past all that, but I cracked at the worst imaginable time. I'm a big boy and will get over it.

Learn from my experience.

If you want to succeed in this game, learn to deal with the stresses and find a way to stay cool under pressure.

Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.


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