Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
— Robert F. Kennedy
He's still thought of highly, but if Robert Kennedy had anyone other than John F. Kennedy as a brother, he'd be much more lionized by the general public for his role in twentieth century politics. He was a man that played geopolitical poker every day. As part of the most powerful political family America had seen, RFK helped usher in the civil rights era, took on organized crime and even helped his elder brother handle the Berlin Crisis of 1961. His life was tragically cut short by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968, but his legacy as a civil rights activist and modern American liberal leader still looms over American politics to this day.
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One thing that marked Kennedy's ascent and subsequent handling of government matters was that he wasn't afraid to think big and take large risks when the benefits were obvious. Now, we can't compare playing the final hands in a poker tournament to facing down crowds of people that literally want you dead, but we can say that poker can involve some hard decisions, and they're not helped by the adrenaline rush that you can get from the game. How do you stay cool when you play poker? How can you make these decisions without losing your nerve?
First of all: don't be afraid to fail. Take the time to relax and remember that it's only money. If you've applied good bankroll management to your game, you're not risking a significant percentage of your investments anyway. If you're playing in a tournament and you've made it to heads-up with another player, you're still going to get paid and earn a large profit on your investment. Knowing that math is on your side can help you get through the more difficult decisions that you'll make at the table.
It's easy to tell poker players to relax; it's harder for them to actually follow through. If you're playing in an online tournament and the stress is starting to wear on you, take a moment to scream (preferably into a pillow or blanket if you don't live a good distance from your neighbor.) This may sound crazy, but this technique is used by MMA fighters to both purge their nervousness and get their head into the right place before they hit the ring. A primal scream releases endorphins and can give you a remarkably long-lasting sense of clarity.
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You also should take the time to reflect on how far you've gotten, especially if this is your first big tournament, which is when panic about failure can strike the hardest. Properly framing a moment in your poker career and placing it against your beginnings can help you feel good about your decisions. After all, if you've gone from playing microstakes games online to getting a shot at $20,000 in a guaranteed event, you're doing pretty well for yourself and that's important to remember.
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