The Winning Mindset: Starting Strong, Coping with Losses, and Beating the Bubble

Tyree Tinsley

9/10/2015 11:02:00 AM

Hello duelists! My name's Tyree Tinsley and I've just started writing here at TCGplayer.

For those who don't know me, I've been playing competitively for years, making the Top Cut at five YCS events and winning two of them: YCS Providence in 2011 and YCS Meadowlands in 2013. I've also topped about thirty Regional Qualifiers. Though I have a decent number of accomplishments I still have lots to learn, just like everybody else playing this game. I want to share the knowledge I've accumulated through years of competition, so let's get into it!

Today I want to discuss broad aspects of the competitive environment: how to make important evaluations round by round, how to take wins and losses in stride in a big tournament setting, and some tricks to get the best results when the pressure's really on.

Most of you reading this article have probably attended at least one major event, whether it be a Regional Qualifier, a YCS, or WCQ, so you've probably felt competitive pressure at one point or another. Even if you haven't, don't worry because you can still take away valuable information from this article.

Championships Are Won One Game At A Time
There are many thoughts that probably run through your mind over the course of a tournament: stuff like “What am I going to face next round,” “What if I lose,” and “I really want to top this time.” I see lots of competitors asking macro-level questions about stuff like the number of rounds left in Day 1, or how many wins they need to make a top cut; if you start thinking in that big of a spectrum, it's easy to lose focus and start fixating on the notion that you only have to win X number of rounds to make Day 2. And while your count there may be correct, approaching your tournament experience from that sort of results-oriented perspective won't actually do you any favors. You should take it one match and one game at a time if you want to play to the best of your ability. Trust me, it helps.

Taking everything one step at a time and focusing on the immediate challenges in front of you also helps you dodge a common pitfall that used to be a problem for me: getting too content when you start off strong, winning your early rounds. It's hard not to feel at least a little happy when you're 3-0 or 4-0 at a YCS, but you have to remember there are going to be ten or eleven rounds total; you're not even halfway done yet.

When you get ahead of yourself like that, it's easy to think things like “I might actually go undefeated this time,” or “I only have to win X more rounds to make Day 2.” Those kinds of thoughts put a lot of pressure on you and distract you from winning games. You're better off just taking it one game at a time so you don't get yourself overexcited.

Making Day 2 at a YCS or WCQ is a good start, but you have to remember you'll usually still have two more rounds to play the next day; your job's not done when Day 1's over, and all it takes is one loss when you're X-2 to knock you out of contention. It's hard not to brag that you're X-0 late in the day, or that you've only lost X number of games, but this is Yu-Gi-Oh! we're talking about. There's so much variance in this game that anything can happen. Even if you start off, let's say 7-0… That's a great feat, but two bad rounds can stick you at 7-2 going into Day 2, and suddenly you're on the bubble just like your friend who started off 2-2. That actually happened to me at the 150th YCS: I started off 7-0 as a bounty player and lost the last 2 rounds of Day 1.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well Saturday night.

Playing Through Your Losses
Coping with a loss is hard to do no matter what round you're in, but it can be especially tough if you're dropping a game early in the day. Nobody wants to start off losing the first round of a tournament; most of us have wound up in that position at least once, and I myself have lost Round 1 at quite a few tournaments. That's hard to deal with: most of your friends are talking about how they won their round, how easy it was, and some might even have free wins off no-shows! Wishing that you got an easy win or a no-show bye in Round 1 won't make the loss go away. The best thing you can do is get your mind ready to win the next round.

Losing when you're X-1 and putting yourself at an X-2 record can be just as devastating, especially if you lost two rounds in a row after building an undefeated streak. It's really easy for pressuring thoughts like “One more loss and I'm out” to creep into your head. It's hard not to enter the next round with a pessimistic mindset, but you have to keep yourself positive. Just take it one step at a time. Remember that even the best players in this game have been X-2 before, and lots of them have topped even when they lost early on.

My friend Ben Burns is a good example: he started off 0-2 at the 150th YCS and won nine rounds straight to make Top 32, landing in 31st place. That's a pretty impressive feat if you ask me, since picking yourself back up after losing the first two rounds of a tournament is extremely hard to do! Even if you're pushed into the X-2 bracket, just keep your head up and tell yourself you can do it and move forward. I'm sure most of us have friends that will tell you the same to keep you up, so rely on them if you've got that kind of support.

Day 2 and Beating the Bubble
Once you've got some distance from your losses, waking up for Day 2 with an X-2 record can make many people nervous too. You only have to win two rounds on the second day at most events, so it's hard to keep your nerves calm when you're so close. When I walk into Day 2 I'm usually listening to music and have a bottle of orange juice in my hand to get me ready.

Some of my friends like to view Day 2 as a new tournament entirely, envisioning the whole thing as a local and telling themselves they only have to start off 1-0 or 2-0 to make top cut. That's a cool way to look at it! Playing on the bubble can be really stressful, but sometimes the best way to win is to just be less nervous than your opponent. You can usually tell if someone's stressed out just by looking at them, so try and make sure you're not giving off glaring signs of anxiousness yourself.

 Elemental Hero Bubbleman (UTR)
Elemental Hero Bubbleman (UTR)58716
Set Cybernetic Revolution
Number CRV-EN014
Level 3
Type Effect Monster
Monster Warrior
Attribute WATER 
A / D 800 / 1200
Rarity Ultimate Rare
Card Text

If this is the only card in your hand, you can Special Summon this card from your hand. When this card is Normal Summoned, Flip Summoned or Special Summoned successfully, if there are no other cards on your side of the field or in your hand, you can draw 2 cards from your Deck.

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Briefly pretending that you're in an early round, or a round where you had a better record, can put you into a better mindset. If you weren't nervous back in Round 6 when you were X-2, why should you be nervous now? Nothing's changed except for the round number. Just relax, concentrate, and play some Yu-Gi-Oh!

Many of us have different things we do during events to stay focused after a loss: you can listen to music, take a walk around the convention center, or just sit by yourself and think. Personally, I like talking with friends just to be in a relaxed atmosphere until the next round starts. By all means, whatever helps you get into your zone, go for it!

I struggled with losing for a long time – longer than a lot of people – and even now I still find it tough sometimes, especially after a really bad loss. Nobody's perfect. Even if you do take your third loss and get knocked out of the tournament, don't get too depressed and don't dwell on it too much; Nobody's going to top every major event they go to. Just enjoy the rest of your weekend doing what you like to do, whether that's playing in side events, cheering on friends in the top cut, or even exploring the city you're in.

Hopefully you got something out of reading this. Everybody loses some times, but if you can cope with your losses better than your opponent it can be the difference between making top cut and watching from the sidelines.

Next week I'll discuss tournament review: how you can look back on the games you played and your tournament performance as a whole, and what you can take away from that process to better yourself, whether you won or lost. If you want to ask me anything, you can easily contact me on Facebook, post in the comments section here, or just come up and talk to me if you see me at any events. I don't mind talking to people and I'll gladly help if I can.

Until next time!
-Tyree Tinsley

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