In the sales world, the phrase “Always Be Closing” (ABC) has become a staple of how to deal with potential customers. In other words, do what you have to do to win over the potential buyer, but always keep that ultimate goal in mind. ABC means that every course you take in your interaction with the customer needs to, in some way, be working toward that final victory: the making of the sale.
In baseball, the closer is the relief pitcher that a team saves for the end of close games, to seal the deal. Often times, the closer is the pitcher on the team with the best stuff; Mariano Rivera’s devastating “cutter,” Trevor Hoffman’s vicious changeup, and Jonathan Papelbon’s 98 mph heater.
These men are saved for the end of games because of the baseball adage that the game’s final three outs are the hardest to come by. In other words, these men are successful not only because of what they can do with a baseball, but because they have the mentality to come into the game in only the highest-pressure situations, day in and day out, comfortable with the world resting on their shoulders. Sometimes, they’ll be taking the mound the day after blowing a crucial 9th-inning lead and watching the highlights all over SportsCenter. The best closers become the best by being able to put these failures behind them not eventually, but immediately, and keeping complete faith in their ability. The average individual is incapable of dealing with the sort of pressure and emotional fatigue that this entails, but that’s what makes a closer a closer.
In tournament poker, a “closer” is that player that really turns their game on when the pressure is greatest and the money jumps are biggest. There is no way to understate the importance of closing tournaments; it is often said that the best players make their money not from cashes, but from top 3’s, big wins, the times when they really had that Eric Gagne mentality and just shut out the competition. There are few events in poker more satisfying than putting the hammer down at the end of a large-field tournament. However, while World Series bracelets and large chunks of cash can definitely make someone a poker celebrity, it is not how one deals with winning that brought them to that success.
In a game where one card can so easily be the difference between wild success and total failure, it can be easy to wonder, to dream about, or worst of all to dwell upon “what might have been.” The ranks of failed poker players–and those ranks are numerous–are filled with those who couldn’t handle this, and instead of “manning up” and returning to play their A-game in the next tournament, either made negative changes to their game–changes based on previous results instead of optimal play–to try and avoid this heartbreak, or quit altogether.
There is no true sports analogy or comparison for the luck element and certain uncontrollable situations that can arise in poker. You’re going to run KK into AA, you’re going to take a river two-outer for the chiplead, you’re going to get hero-called by bottom pair when you bluff a man you read as weak; that stuff is going to happen. There are almost infinite ways to bust out of a tournament, and only some of them involve playing badly. The best players realize this and don’t let specific situations or lost pots automatically change the way they think, or more importantly, the way they play. They won’t start looking to fold kings, they won’t spend the night crying over a bad beat, and they won’t stop making the same aggressive plays that got them where they are.
This does not mean that when a great player does make a mistakel, as they all do, that they don’t try to learn from it. Much like Mets closer Billy Wagner might review the game tape to see what part of his mechanics made him hang that curveball, a poker player needs to be able to analyze key hands where they may have played less than optimally, and then figure out the best way to adapt should a similar situation arise again.
The interesting caveat when it comes to poker is that it is often much more difficult to recognize the difference between a mistake and a good play with a bad result. A bluff that doesn’t work, a resteal that gets caught, a call that turns out to be incorrect; these are not necessarily mistakes. Just because Wagner gets an inside fastball knocked out of the park to lose a game doesn’t mean he won’t be back out on that mound throwing that exact same pitch with a one-run lead the next day. And, you can bet he didn’t spend the 24 hours in between bemoaning his fate, questioning his ability, or drawing up plans to change the delivery that made him into one of the game’s elite. Instead, he spent that time deciding what he may have done wrong (if anything), figuring out how to fix it (if need be), and putting any doubts or disappointment behind him the next day.
This is the mentality of a closer.