After I made the final table of Event 2 at the World Series Of Poker Circuit Event here in St. Louis ($560 buy-in, 288 players), someone came up and said to me, "I guess this means you'll be in the Main Event, huh?" I asked why he thought that, and he replied, "Because now you have the $5,000 for the entry fee!"
I explained to him that, even though I had won more than that for finishing 5th in my event, I had no plans to buy-in to the big one. I know plenty of players in this WSOPC Main Event who got there via satellites that cost them just a few hundred dollars. For them, playing in the tournament was absolutely the right thing to do. I didn't have time to qualify that way, so it would have meant laying out the five dimes myself.
Truth be told, I had enough for the entry fee before my deep run, but it's a matter of managing both money and risk.
Too often in a casino, you'll see players at table games (blackjack, craps, Caribbean stud, etc.) who decide to keep playing, or to increase the size of their bets, because they're having a good run and are "playing with the house's money," meaning whatever they've won at the table. Nothing could be further from the truth. As soon as the dealer pushes those chips to you, they cease being house money and become your money instead. Now it's up to you to manage a little more money than you had before. If you lose it, you're not giving it back, you're giving it away. That's not to say you shouldn't keep playing until you feel it's time to get up, but you should never pretend that those chips aren't yours.
So, if I could afford to buy into the Main Event regardless, why didn't I? Because I know that the field in a tournament like that is much tougher. More good players, more pros, and fewer fish. I like my game, but I'm realistic about it. I try not to play over my head in cash games where the stakes are too large for my comfort zone, and I apply the same thing to tournaments.
Last year, Dennis Phillips told me about a friend of his who won a satellite tournament and qualified for the $40,000 buy-in no-limit hold-em event at the World Series Of Poker. She asked him whether she should use the winnings to play in that tournament. He told her that the field of players in that event would be among the best in the world and it would be extremely tough to do well. Sure, she could take a shot, or she could use the money to play the $10,000 Main Event and a half-dozen smaller buy-in events -- and still keep half of the $40,000! She thought about it for a few seconds and realized he was right.
Like all gambling, poker is about risk and reward. You get more of the latter if you manage more of the former.