I get a lot of flak about not having a World Series of Poker bracelet. Yes, it bothers me. I've played in approximately 45 WSOP tournaments since 2001 and I've amassed 17 money finishes and five final tables. That's not a bad record. But still, zero bracelets. The best I've been able to manage are a couple of third-place finishes, one in Omaha, the other in no-limit hold 'em.
A month after the WSOP wrapped up this year in Vegas, I've had a chance to look back on my tournament with a critical eye. For the second year in a row, I've failed to make a final table. Let me tell you, that hurts. While guys like Allen Cunningham and Phil Hellmuth win bracelets year after year, I'm stuck in constant hell, with constant reminders about my poor performances at the WSOP. The worst? When people actually confuse me with Phil Hellmuth and congratulate me on my 11th. That stings. And truthfully, it happens more often than you might think.
With that in mind, I went looking for advice from some true champions -- people who have excelled at their chosen endeavors with remarkable results. These are quotes I'll keep in my mind and wallet for the next 11 months until the WSOP starts up again.
"Eighty percent of success is showing up." -- Woody Allen
I need to play more tournaments. You can't win a tournament unless you enter. Sounds simple, right? There were many days during the six-week-long marathon this year in Vegas that I simply decided to do something else. I played golf a few days. I worked on other projects a few days. I left for a week to attend a funeral. But all those distractions led me to play 13 events this year instead of 25 or 30. Chris Ferguson would often play the noon event and the 5 p.m. event -- even if he still was in the noon event. If I want to win a bracelet next year, I need to get myself into a position where nothing gets in my way. I need to enter each and every tournament possible. I need to show some stamina and resiliency. My peers aren't taking many days off -- that's for sure.
"If you train hard, you'll not only be hard, you'll be hard to beat." -- Herschel Walker
It's not enough to be a poker player for the six weeks every WSOP. The practice and experience that bracelet winners get playing the "circuit" serves them well at the final tables of the WSOP. Now obviously, I won't be playing any WPT events anytime soon due to our ongoing dispute with their senior management, but I can and should enter more tournaments. I should play more online. The Internet whiz kids coming to the WSOP have played thousands of more tournaments than I have. They have an edge in experience, and that is a gap I should diligently try to fill. I'm going to play more online, and concentrate when I do so.
"Champions keep playing until they get it right." -- Billie Jean King
I haven't gotten it right yet. At my five final table appearances, I've only gotten my money in with the best hand twice. Those aren't the losses that hurt the most. The ones that really haunt me are the times I've donked off my chips with a chance to win. In 2001, with only four players left in the WSOP championship event, I had a real chance to win and become world champion. I made a classic rookie error worse than most mistakes I saw as a commentator for "Celebrity Poker Showdown" to eliminate myself. That one kills me. The next year, I found myself making the same stupid mistake against Johnny Chan at a pot-limit hold 'em final table. Those are the losses that hurt. Those were in my control. Those are chances and mistakes that shouldn't have happened. Those have to be the ones that I eliminate when I'm given another chance to win some bling.
"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." -- Michael Jordan
Michael has it right: learning from failures and being willing to continue to fail because you know what it takes to succeed is all important. Missing shots -- and failing -- is an integral part of success. When my success comes at the WSOP and I'm putting on the bracelet for the first time, it'll be all the sweeter. Michael wanted the ball at the end of every game -- I just want an average stack at the final table.
"The medals don't mean anything and the glory doesn't last. It's all about your happiness. The rewards are going to come, but my happiness is just loving the sport and having fun performing." -- Jackie Joyner Kersee
If you're not having fun at the table, you have almost no shot of winning. Enjoyment is a key factor in performance. The times I've played my best are the times when I've truly been relaxed and at ease at the table, enjoying the competition and the chance to prove myself. That may be why I seem to perform better with other pros at the table. Surround me with Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Cunningham, and John Juanda and I enjoy the competition and fight for every chip. And the fighting is fun. I'm going to start having more fun at the tables.
So yes, I'm braceletless. Yes, it hurts. Yes, I think about it every day. But I sincerely think I'm taking the right steps to give myself another chance. We'll find out soon: In three weeks, there are three bracelet events in London, in the very first World Series of Poker Europe. Have no fear: I'm all-in. My tickets are booked, and I can't wait to take my chances.