As a new year comes into view many poker players will be setting exciting resolutions and goals for the year ahead. A common shared goal – especially among new players – is to compete in a major live poker tournament, perhaps for the first time.
Depending on what stakes you play and what ambitions you have, you might have your eyes set on anything from a local small-stakes rebuy to a PokerStars Festival or even a PokerStars Championship Main Event, like the upcoming one in the Bahamas! Whatever your target there are several things you can do in advance of the tournament to give yourself the best possible chance of cashing, or even winning. Here are a few of them…
Stay in playing shape
Just like a soccer player has to be playing regularly to be at their peak match fitness, the same applies to poker players too. When you're playing poker regularly – whether it's online at PokerStars or live – you will be sharper, make better decisions and have more chance of winning. Just as ring rust exists in boxing and MMA, so 'poker rust' exists in No Limit Hold'em. When you're not in the groove it's easy to miss opportunities to get a bluff through, get one extra value bet called or make a big mistake such as calling when it's an obvious fold.
In the days and weeks leading up to the major tournament make sure to take the time to play as much as possible and gain some confidence. Another good idea is to drop down in stakes where, in theory, the competition will be softer so that you increase the chances of arriving at game day on the back of a decent winning streak.
Have a quiet night
When you arrive at an exciting poker festival in a glamorous location – such as the PokerStars Championships Bahamas – it's all too easy to drop your bags, head straight to the bar and have a party that lasts all night. Now, PokerStars School don't want to be spoilsports, but that's not the optimal way to prepare for a major tournament that starts the next day.
Large poker tournaments require a ton of concentration, stamina and focus. If you come into one with a hangover or tired out then you will find it very difficult to play your best game. Mistakes will happen that can cost you chips or see you eliminated early from the tournament. Even if you can avoid a huge error for most of the day, how will you feel by hour eight or nine as the clock ticks away and the blinds get bigger?
Of course, you need to enjoy yourself at huge poker festivals but if you're playing the next day take it easy the night before. If you can, have a good breakfast and do some exercise the morning before you start playing too – this will get the blood flowing and make sure your mind is as clear as possible for when the cards are dealt.
Arrive early and do your research
'The Poker Brat' Phil Hellmuth has garnered a ton of attention in the poker world by turning up late to poker tournaments, often dressed in garish attire to make sure he doesn't go unnoticed. If you're more interested in looking the fool than in winning the tournament then go ahead and copy him. However, if you want to be successful then turn up to your seat well in advance of the first hand being dealt. There are numerous advantages to this. The first is that you will usually be able to see the names of all the opponents at your specific table. With this information make sure to do a quick Google search to find out what you can about their poker careers. Let's say you're sat next to a very successful pro player on one side and someone that has no online search results on the other side. Your strategy should now be very different when playing against each one – aim to avoid pots with the pro and play as many as possible with the recreational player.
Another reason to turn up early is to take advantage of any weaker players at the table. Usually these players will be knocked out in the first few levels and someone at the table will be the recipient of their chips. If you're not even sat down then there is zero chance those chips will go to you! Get there early and give yourself the best chance of getting off to a flying start.