Matt Hunt: “This is the unspoken reality of the WSOP”

Professional poker player Matt Hunt at the WPT World Championship
Matt Hunt
Posted on: June 5, 2023 24:33 PDT

It’s that time of year again. For the past few months, anyone with even the slightest interest in tournament poker has been planning their trips to Vegas and picking out the events they want to play, either at the WSOP itself, or at one of a number of other venues around the Strip.

Despite all the excitement and optimism, though, the unspoken reality of the WSOP is that the vast majority of the players who show up to play events this summer are going to lose money. This isn’t a reflection on them - it’s just the reality of the game. With each event paying out 10-15% of the field depending on the venue, even the best players in the field might only be cashing 20-25% of the time.

WSOP final tables

Like most other pros, I’ll probably be playing somewhere upwards of 50 tournament entries this summer. An important part of preparing for this reality mentally is to acknowledge that depending on how lucky I get, I’ll most likely cash somewhere between 5 and 15 times, and from those cashes, maybe two or three will turn into deep runs where I’ll have a shot at making a final table.

Not two or three final tables - two or three opportunities to make a final table. Those runs could end with me winning a bracelet, or they could end with me getting 10th place multiple times; there’s a spectrum of possible outcomes, most of which end in disappointment.

Or at least, they would end in disappointment if I let myself get carried away and raised my expectations too much. Instead, I’ve prepared for this WSOP - the 7th of my career - by working hard to keep my feet on the ground. Having made a deep run in the PSPC in the Bahamas several months ago, I’m feeling more confident in my game than I ever have, but allowing that confidence to alter my preparation process or my plans would be a mistake.

Poker player Matt Hunt wears mirrored glasses and a hoodie at the poker table

Make plans, be realistic

I’m in my 12th year as a professional poker player, and I’ve seen so many players get themselves so fired up for a big series - whether it be a summer in Vegas, or an online series like SCOOP or WCOOP - that they rapidly burn out. When the first few events don’t go well, or they don’t immediately go out and win something, their expectations are shattered, and the narrative they’ve built up around how this series was going to go is suddenly rewritten.

This is the poker equivalent of a death sentence for any hopes of actually having a good series. A player’s confidence - often built on a shaky foundation - collapses, and they end up needing to take time off in the middle of the series, just to get themselves back on solid ground before the Main Event arrives.

I’ve been through this process myself; in 2019 I had a rough summer and ended up needing to take a few days away from Vegas altogether to get back into Main Event shape mentally. To be honest, most players should probably take more days off during the series itself - it’s just really hard to actually bring yourself to do this when there are so many great events to play!

Be grateful you play poker

So how does one avoid falling into this trap? Well, it helps to have built up enough poker experience that you start to feel like nothing surprises you anymore. Anyone who’s been around a long time will know that the next ‘biggest downswing of your career’ is always just around the corner. But more than anything else, I’ve found the most important attitude adjustment to be a simple sense of gratitude.

I approach every WSOP feeling excited that I even have the opportunity to do this job - as a kid from a small town in England, the bright lights of Vegas always felt very far away when I started out in poker. If you’d asked me ten years ago where I wanted to be in 2023, I would have said I wanted to be in Vegas, playing the WSOP - I wouldn’t have cared how many flips I was winning, or how many final tables I made.

It tends to be easy for recreational players, who may not get many opportunities to play big poker tournaments, to maintain that sense of gratitude, but I think a lot of professionals let it pass them by. I see so many pros every year who seem like they’re so intent on maximizing their earnings that they forget to enjoy the experience; I’ve always been very keen to make sure that I wasn’t one of them.

Above all, feeling more grateful and positive about the experience is likely to make you play better - in the end, gratitude is +EV.

Matt Hunt is a pro player and Solve For Why instructor, and writes a regular column for PokerOrg on finances and variance in poker.

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