The Dragonmaster's Lair - The Will To Win
For those of you who have been living under a rock recently – or I suppose just don’t happen to keep up with poker – this past weekend David Williams won the World Poker Tour Championship event at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas. For his victory in this $25000 buy-in event Dave took home just over $1.5 million dollars. I was in Vegas the week leading up to the event and when I left I told Dave I’d drive back to watch him win if he made the final table. I made good on my end of the bargain and so did he.
Other than congratulating a good friend of mine on an amazing accomplishment why do I bring this up here? Because Dave’s win – and what led up to it – can teach us a lot about how we can be successful at Magic.
Let’s back up for a second. A few months ago I was in Vegas hanging out with Dave (yeah I’m there a lot…) and he was talking about how disillusioned he was with poker. He was frustrated with the game and rarely felt like playing. He hadn’t had any great results recently and mostly played in events due to his obligations to his sponsor. We talked a lot about possible business ventures outside of poker since he was considering trying to pursue something else with his time.
That David Williams was not the same one that showed up to play in the WPT Championships.
The David Williams who showed up for the WPT at Bellagio was full of confidence energy and enthusiasm. Listen to the interviews he gave at the event both during the course of play and after he won. Throughout the tournament Dave felt like he was going to win. At the victory dinner on Saturday night his mother even read a text message he’d sent her out to the table which said something to the effect of “If you want to come you should come. Don’t feel like you’ll bring me bad luck because I’m going to win anyway.”
He sent that message during only the second day of the six-day tournament.
Now I’m not advocating some kind of folksy nonsense that somehow simply willing for something to happen will make it so. But I do believe that your attitude and state of mind can have a subtle but very real impact on your results.
Magic and poker are games that share a great deal in common. One of those similarities is that they are games that require intense mental focus for a long period of time. Over the course of a long tournament there are any number of opportunities for that focus to slip and at any one of those moments you can make a mistake that can cost you.
Maintaining the proper frame of mind goes a long way toward preventing such lapses in concentration. Back in my earliest tournament days I had a terrible tendency to choke in the later stages of tournaments. I became so preoccupied with my record and my standing in the event that my mind would drift during my matches. “If I win I just need to 3-1 to make Top 8!” With my brain busy with such things instead of actually focusing on my match it’s no wonder that I’d lose lose again when I got frustrated with myself for losing the last match and so on.
Yet another example of this can be seen with players who set a goal for themselves for a particular tournament and upon reaching that goal no longer seem to have the will to win anymore. These people go into a PTQ hoping to make Top 8 a Pro Tour hoping to make Day 2 or a Grand Prix just hoping to make money and once they achieve that it’s like everything that got them to that point up and disappeared. They’re just happy to be there and that leads them to keep terrible hands that they should have mulliganed miss on board tricks or whatever else it might be that makes them lose the game because their heart is no longer in it.
The impact of the proper mindset reaches far beyond the table itself. At Pro Tour: Honolulu I was thrilled to make the Top 8 at my first Pro Tour back in four years. I was in fact pretty much just happy to be there. The night before the Top 8 I decided to party with my fellow beach house denizens to celebrate. I partied a bit too hard and a bit too late and when the time came to play I wasn’t on top of my game. I’d let myself get content with the level of success I’d achieved and as a result I succeeded no further.
Compare this to Pro Tour: Austin the very next major event where I approached the tournament with a completely different attitude. I came into the tournament confident and after ending Day 1 undefeated felt convinced that it was my Pro Tour to win. Even after I went 0-3 in the first draft of Day 2 dropping me from first in the standings to the middle of the pack I didn’t let it get to me. I knew that I had the best deck in the tournament and I knew that I could win out and make the Top 8.
I didn’t quite win out but I still made it and rather than spend the night celebrating what I accomplished I set out to prepare for what I still had left to do. While the rest of the crew staying with us at our rented house in Austin went out on the town drinking and singing karaoke Ben Rubin and I buckled down to figure out my sideboard plans for my potential Top 8 matchups.
After a long session against Hypergenesis and a few games against Dredge I decided I’d had enough and I was going to sleep. Had we tested and tested to the point that we’d figured out an unbeatable plan? Not in the least. I was running 40-60 or 50-50 at best in each of the matchups but decided I’d rather get some sleep and calm my nerves than dispirit myself by continuing to play and lose over and over. What I said to Ben word for word after I decided to stop playing – “I don’t care. I’m going to win anyway.”
And I did.
I’m not going to tell you that believing in yourself will make up for a lack of playtesting a poor deck choice or anything of the sort. True confidence can only come from the knowledge that you are prepared to win not from some misplaced notion that you deserve to win. This is a huge difference I see between PT Champions and many PTQ players. The former radiate confidence – the latter reek of hubris. A true professional takes his losses with humility and grace and learns from them while a wannabe blames everyone but himself and rages at the injustice of it all.
If you want to win you have to believe you can win. If you want to make it to the Pro Tour don’t be happy that you added yet another Top 8 pin to your collection. If you want to win the Pro Tour don’t start celebrating until the trophy is already in your hands.
I’m going to leave you with a pair of stories:
After Pro Tour: San Diego I had a conversation with LSV over a cube draft match about his results that weekend. He had gone 16-0 set a Pro Tour record that is unlikely to ever be matched and finished 3rd in the tournament taking home $15000. And he wasn’t happy about it.
“I can’t say that to most people because I know they won’t get it” he said to me “But I know you know what I mean. They just see that I did really well and made a bunch of money. But all I think about is how I got so close and didn’t win.”
At his victory party at XS Nightclub (which involved the most awesome entrance I have ever been a part of by the way including Dave flanked by girls with sparklers and the DJ playing “The Champ is here!” as he walked in) I congratulated Dave on his win and told him I knew how much it meant to him. I related my conversation with LSV and how I knew Dave was someone who felt the same way. His response was “After all these years I don’t think how awesome it is that got second and won $3.5 million dollars. All I can think about is that I didn’t win.”
That is what it takes to be a champion.
See you next week…