High Stakes Online: The One That Got Away

High Stakes Online: The One That Got Away

Alright Twitter, you wanted more poker hand breakdowns and stories, so here you go.

Brace yourselves, because this might just be the most ridiculous story of them all.

It’s 2007, and I’m traveling through Asia with Mark Vos, a Full Tilt ‘red pro’, and another pro who was my roommate back in Melbourne, where we were based at the time.

I’m on the biggest heater of my poker career, winning the FTOPS Main Event (the largest tournament in online poker history) and raking in over $1M in cash games in 2007, so naturally, I’m playing the nosebleeds.

My friends invite me to the club, but here I am, once again turning down social encounters to indulge in what I love most: play high stakes poker.

I sit in the lobby of the Shangri-La, order a green tea and fire up 3 tables of $200/$400 No Limit. Three hours later, I’m crushing it, sitting comfortably with over $250,000 in front of me.

Suddenly, nature calls, and I have to make a quick trip to the bathroom. I sit out, and run off, not wanting to lose my precious seat.

When I return, I’m still frazzled, and accidentally post in the cutoff. I get dealt Qd9d.

The action folds to me, so I raise it up to $1,200. Both the small and big blind call, and we’re off to the flop.

JcTd8c. I flop the nuts! They check to me, and of course, I bet.

$3,000. I’m not messing around with so many draws out there.

The small blind check-raises to $10,000. I’ve observed this guy for hours and I know he’s solid. Given the texture of the board, I’m confident he has something good.

We’re both sitting on stacks of $80,000 or more, so there’s no need for me to slow play here.

I carefully type into the bottom right corner, $30,000. I press ‘enter’, as a surge of adrenaline rushes through me.

The small blind goes into the tank. As his timer is counting down, I find myself whispering under my breath, ‘C’mon, do it! Do it! Do it!  And then it happens – he shoves all-in!

My heart races as I hover my mouse over the call button, ready to snap call and scoop a massive pot.

But in that critical moment, the computer freezes.

The button refuses to click. I pound the mousepad no avail. “What the fuck!” I scream. “It froze!”

Heads turn from around the lobby. The waitress rushes over to me. ‘Sir, can I help you sir?’

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.

This story sticks with me, not solely due to the ‘bad beat’, but because of the unwavering expectation from those around me. “Move on. Next hand.”

Looking back, this mental model is one of the aspects of poker I cherish the most. True professionals don’t waste their precious energy on things that don’t impact the ultimate outcome. It’s not that they lack empathy, but rather the refuse to embrace victimhood, because it hinders personal growth by absolving oneself of responsibility.

If I had instead shared a few intriguing hands with them, asking about alternative betting lines, they would have eagerly spent hours dissecting them with me.

The truth is, it was my fault I lost. Yes, I may have been unlucky, but I still had a chance to book a win. I could have responded differently by quitting right then and there, coming back fresh the next day.

Poker is essentially a series of expensive lessons that one pays for with real money. As countless players will attest, losing focus or succumbing on tilt is arguably the most expensive lesson of them all.

Our lives are not so much defined by what happens to us, but the meaning we attribute to those experiences. Over the years, as I’ve matured and gained more experience, my approach to the game evolved, as have my feelings about these so-called ‘bad beats.’ While the internet disconnecting that day may have been painful, it was necessary for personal growth.

The universe often has a way of giving us what we truly need, rather than simply what we want.

Today, when people ask approach me about a challenging situation, I’m often like my friends were that day, ruthlessly focused on practical solutions, perhaps even to a fault. Through millions of hands of practice in poker, and countless mistakes, I’ve trained myself to redirect my attention to what I can control, and let go of the rest.

Occasionally, I still catch myself slipping into the victim mentality. I’m only human. But now, it’s shorter lived and less frequent. I strive to remain vigilant, because it’s easy to slip back into a negative mental feedback loop that robs one of their power.

I’m grateful for the expensive lesson in Manila, the disconnection that taught me a priceless life experience: I always have a choice in how I respond to life’s challenges. And it’s in that very framework that true victory lies.

Over the years poker, with all its ups and downs, has become a metaphor for life itself. It has taught me resilience, adaptability, and the importance of maintaining a strong mental game. Each hand dealt is an opportunity to learn and grow, even when circumstances seem unfair. It’s not about dwelling on what went wrong but about extracting lessons and moving forward with purpose.

Poker is a microcosm of the human experience, a constant reminder that while we can’t control every aspect of our lives, we can always control how we respond to it.

Alec Torelli
Welcome! I'm Alec Torelli, founder of Conscious Poker, a training site dedicated to transforming good players into great ones by providing the best poker strategy and mindset content. I've been a professional poker player for 15 years and have over $1,500,000 in tournament winnings and millions more in both live and online cash games. On this site, I share the lessons I learned during my poker career to help you crush the games, optimize your bankroll, make winning decisions and achieve your poker goals.

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