Luck in poker is not unitary. When players are running badly in STTs, they tend to look at all-ins. Juk's analyser, a commonly used programme, compares your received value with your EV. I don't know why, but for most regular players, it shows unluckiness. Or perhaps that's just a reporting bias. People who are running hot but still losing don't tell forums about it.
I think that what makes downswings feel unbearable is that we find some forms of luck acceptable and others unacceptable.
STTs have a flow to them. Sometimes it's all upstream. You pick up no cards, and finally you're at push/fold, shove in your stack and are snapped off by a dominating hand or a higher pair. But the thing is, this tourney has been very unlucky for us but we accept it. We know it is the price of our tight-early strategy. We don't mind that a game, a turbo at least, can be fold fold fold fold fold push you're gone. So long as when we push AJ, we are called by AK and don't help, and not by AT and a T comes, we don't feel hard done by.
But we have been. We play 10 percent of our hands, or thereabouts. So we should be picking up a playable hand once every 10 hands. But we often go 30, 40 hands without a spot we can play in. Sometimes we don't even see a hand; sometimes we have to fold AQ to a raise early, or have AJs UTG and prudently fold, or have a small pair in early position and don't want to risk it. Whatever the reason, par is that we should pick something up and be able to accumulate some chips, but sometimes, often, that doesn't happen.
On top of that, if you pick up all your big hands early, and only trash late, the STT's flow is all wrong: you're active early and quiet late. Our game relies on being able to find good spots late in the game. We want ideally to be able to make people fold and give us chips. If we never have the hand in the spot, we cannot even pursue our strategy.
Luck can be subtler. You call a raise with 44, hoping to stack the raiser when you hit your set. The flop comes A43, you get the money in with AK and double up; the flop comes Q43 and you're lucky if he even cbets. Making set value depends on luck: that your villain will hit a hand, or have a hand, he too is willing to stack off with. If that doesn't happen, you do not make your value, and all those limps do not pay off. You are luckier if the raiser is a tighty, because his range will have more big pairs, less lucky if he or she is a fishy who is chancing a raise with AK and won't put a cent in if it misses.
But we accept this. And I think the reason is that it is unlucky but it is the computer's fault. The random number generator picks the cards and if you get lucky, well, it's an outcome of maths.
But if someone calls your AK shove with with A3 and hits their 3, the universe is knocked off its axis. Now a human has messed with you. You were just pursuing your strategy, riding the flow, and some tard broke into the stream and made you unlucky.
How could he make that call? is our cry, even though we want him to make that call. But that 'want' is an ideal. We should want A3 to call us when we shove AK, and we do want it the seven out of 10 times it holds up. But the other three...
And the worst of it, the most painful luck, is this. We'll lose a 70/30 seven out of 10 times. We accept that rationally but try using reason when you lose six in a row. There's nothing hugely statistically improbable about that, but if it's six buyins in a set, it's a cause for misery. Tilt off a couple more (because, believe me, if we didn't tilt, we would soon become poker legends -- tilt is not just steaming when something doesn't go to plan; it's also being too lazy to study, refusing to consider advice, trying to "loosen up" because LAG is sexier, ignoring ICM because you just know he won't call) and boom, you are kicking the dog once more.
But why would any of it hurt us? We understand the maths; we are smart enough to know that the bad is more salient than the good, that we will catch up a few and win a buyin here and there, that the same luck affects all our rivals. We get all that, but still, a downswing is not something we accept as a normal part of our game, something that just represents the flow of the bigger set of games. We are all close to the margin, so we know, or should know, that our ups will have downs. We would know it even if it wasn't something we could figure out, because all our peers talk about them. Yet we struggle with downswings.
It is all justice. The impersonal choosings of the RNG affect everyone equally. Skill cannot protect you against them. But you can choose your spots and when you've chosen carefully and well, when you've displayed the real skill of an STT -- which the fish don't know, believing as they do that the game is about outplaying your opponents in a battle of wits, rather than cold maths and who knows it -- you feel you have earned your reward.
Which is not to look on in horror as the ace comes on the flop, is it?