High Stakes Online: The One That Got Away

Conscious Poker by Alec Torelli

I’m panicking. Even with ‘disconnection protection’, which grants a player extra time if they lose internet connectivity, I have at most one minute to get back online.

I franticly click ‘Call’ over and over, pressing so hard I nearly break the trackpad.
Nothing. Desperation sets in, and I attempt to reconnect to the internet, enduring the painfully slow process of reentering my credentials.

Finally, I manage to get back online, but my heart sinks as I discover I am sitting out on all stables. My stack has dwindled too.

“WTF happened?!” I type in chat.
“You disconnected,” my opponent writes back.
“But I had the nuts! How could this happen?”

I’m stunned, but there’s no time to lament. I have three tables going, and the relentless action won’t wait for me.
Nobody cares about my problems. Complaining or losing focus will only give my opponents an edge.

I turn to the waitress, “I’ll take another green tea please, and a cookie.”
That will cheer me up.

I keep battling, playing through the night. It becomes a rollercoaster session, and I end up losing a bunch. In hindsight, I should have quit much earlier, as I simply couldn’t shake off the frustration. I hit the gym to blow off steam. It’s 2:00 am, and nobody is there. With each rep, I grunt and scream like a mad man, pushing myself to the brink.

Losing my connection in Manila that day was the epitome of a bad beat. In poker, there are moments when things simply don’t go your way. But it wasn’t just the disconnection itself; it was the mental that I lacked in that moment, a framework that has eluded me on numerous occasions before and since. I could stomach calling and losing, because at least I had a chance. But folding when I committed half my stack with the nuts? To me, it doesn’t get worse than that.

What I had forgotten was one of poker’s golden rules: that I may not be able to control every circumstance, but I can control how I react to it.
Throughout the session, despite winning another $100,000 after I reconnected, I stayed in a negative mental rut, victimizing myself for how unlucky I was.

Whenever a hand didn’t go my way, I used it as confirmation bias to ‘prove’ I was unlucky.
“Of course, Alec the river comes another spade.”

By focusing on my bad luck instead of the adjustments I needed to make, I played poorly and lost.

My friends come back at 4:00 am.
“That sucks, what a bad beat,” they said nonchalantly. And that was it.

They were pros and that meant random events like this were chalked up to ‘variance’.

No great players focus on outcome. They focus on process. There’s little tolerance in high stakes circles for victimization and complaining, because everyone experiences setbacks in different forms. Toxic energy only hinders progress.

Yet, despite this understanding, I felt a sense of injustice that day. There was no one to vent to, no one to affirm how unfair it all was. I was all alone with my thoughts, wrestling with the shock of it all.

Author: Justin Watson