Playing in Your First Big Poker Tournament: A Survival Guide
Whether you want to play in any large event or even the Main Event, you will face a massive field of talented players. It can be intimidating to even seasoned online players. If you survive a significant amount of time, you will likely play against some of your idols that you see playing at the final table every week at World Poker Tour (WPT) events. While the experience can be one of joy and awe, it's important to know how to deal with the challenges of a large live tournament if you want to have a good chance of making it into the money.
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Plan Ahead and Come Early
When you play a tournament online, you can login to the site a minute before it starts and sign up to the tournament with one click in the lobby. Live poker has a whole different procedure. Even if you are bought-in to a tournament, you still need to register at the tournament site and get your chips and seating assignment.
If you come late you will feel rushed and may even miss a few potentially crucial hands. Often, late players feel forced to make moves to make up for missed time, but forced decisions are often bad decisions. Get to the casino with time to spare so you can relax and check-in. It will also give you time to address any nerves and settle in for a long day.
Play Your Own Game
When players try to move up stakes, whether online or live, they often feel that they must step up their game all at once to be successful. The fundamentals of winning poker do not change at any level. If you start making fancy plays for the sake of trying to play at a level you are not comfortable with, you will likely make a big mistake and find yourself watching the rest of the tournament on the sidelines. This isn't to say that an unusual or unexpected play here and there is a bad idea, but make sure it makes sense based on your past experience and success.
It's easy to get caught up in the spectacle of hundreds or thousands of players trying to compete for a massive prize. Even if you just take an occasional glance around the room, you're missing out on valuable information at the table. To play your best game you need to gather all the information you can and keep your mind clear of distractions. If you need help doing this, bring along a hoodie or noise cancelling headphones so your attention is all on the table.
Similarly, you likely paid a substantial buy-in fee to get in the tournament, don't waste it by going on tilt; there will be setbacks, expect them. You may get unlucky, or you may get outplayed in a hand or two. Toss aside your ego and just do your best. Even if you aren't the top player in the tournament or at your table, your primary goal should be survive. Only one person wins, but many get into the money.
Make the Tough Decisions and Survive
Big tournaments take days to play. The Main Event lasts over seven days, although the first few days are split up into groups. Don't feel the need to constantly win big pots and top the leaderboards, instead try to survive. The toughest competitors are the ones who play a disciplined game whether they amass a giant stack or are clinging to their tournament lives. Make the best decisions you can and always remember that surviving has an important value attached to it.
Rest is Important
The best players have incredible stamina that allows them to focus on the game for the full length of a tournament. If you are going to succeed with a deep run into one of your first big tournaments, you need to make smart decisions off the poker table as well. One of the most crucial elements of focus is rest and relaxation.
Some players decide to go party and drink all night after the tournament breaks for the day, but the professionals have a nice meal before heading back to their hotel to relax. Get a solid sleep every night so that you can wake up ready to go while other players are nursing a hangover; they won't last long, but you might.
Playing in a big tournament is a peak experience for most poker players. You may not have many more chances to meet and play with some of the best players in the country or world. Enjoy the challenge while you are playing and get to know the other players and staff that make poker tournaments the great experience that they are. Even if you don't win, you will have a lasting experience that you will think about for years to come.
Relax, focus, enjoy and give your first big poker tournament your best shot. While everyone has a small chance of winning, keep a positive attitude because you never know what could happen.