Preparing for the World Series of Poker – NEVER PUBLISHED

Tips for getting ready for the ‘big one’

It is that time of year again, as the World Series of Poker is here. I am spending the entire six weeks in Vegas this year, and am excited that I will be able to play more events this year than in the past two years combined. Yes, I’ll be working a little on my books, I still have to write my Card Player column, and I’ll keep up with all of the projects going on at my website, but for the most part, the WSOP represents that one time of year when I can truly focus most of my energies on playing poker. My goals this year are simple: win a bracelet, improve on my three cashes from last year, and hopefully make the money in the main event for the third year in a row.

This year’s WSOP looks to be bigger than ever. Most of the online poker sites ran more satellites this year. With all of these satellites, there will be more WSOP rookies than ever. I am asked quite a lot, "How should I prepare?" Nothing can quite prepare you for your first WSOP, but there are things you can do that will give you a better chance of making a good showing.

Let’s start out with the obvious – read some good poker books. The Harrington on Hold’em volumes are must reading for every serious tournament player. If you haven’t read the first two volumes, be sure to get them and start looking for the third volume, which should be released by now. My second book, Texas Hold’em Odds and Probabilities, has also just been released, and it focuses on how to apply odds to make better decisions at the poker table. If you have been neglecting your poker reading, now is a good time to get caught up.

When talking about preparing for the WSOP, we have to look first at the biggest challenge online players face when making the adjustment from online play to live play. Besides the obvious, not giving off tells, most online players fail to adjust to the deep stacks, which leads to many major mistakes. You will start out with $10,000 in chips in the WSOP main event, compared to the $1,500-$2,500 that is typical for most online tournaments.

Top pair with top kicker is not a monster hand in a deep-stack tournament. Let’s look at a typical scenario in an online tournament in which you start with $1,500 in chips. Let’s say the blinds have increased to $25-$50. A player raises to $150 and you reraise to $400 with A-K. Your opponent calls, and the flop comes A-10-8 rainbow. Your opponent checks, you bet $500, and your opponent goes all in. In this online tournament, you have an easy call. You have only $600 left, and you could easily be up against A-Q, A-J, or possibly a bluff.

Now let’s compare this scenario to the WSOP, where you both have $10,000 in chips; $25-$50 blinds is the first level. Again, the same scenario occurs, but this time your opponent check-raises the flop to $1,500 rather than moving all in. You suddenly have a very difficult decision to make. If you call, what are you going to do on the turn and river when you both have $8,000 in chips remaining? You have to be very concerned that your opponent is sitting on a hand like A-10, 10-10, or 8-8. This is by no means an automatic call like it would be online.

In a deep-stack event, top pair with top kicker is a sucker hand. You should never lose a lot of chips with just a pair when the blinds are low compared to your stack size. In fact, in a deep-stack tournament, there are situations in which you might fold two pair, a set, a straight, or even a medium-high flush. There are more bets and raises on each hand, which gives you more information to decipher what your opponent is holding. Although uncommon, you might conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that your opponent is holding a higher set than yours. This type of analysis rarely occurs in an online tournament.

Fortunately, there are some ways to practice deep-stack tournaments. PokerStars runs daily deep-stack tournaments in which you start with $5,000 in chips and the blinds start at $10-$20. The great thing is that the blinds increase only every 30 minutes, and reach only $25-$50 after the first hour. I highly recommend trying to fit some of these tournaments into your practice schedule. Most of them have buy-ins of between $10 and $30.

When playing these tournaments, try to identify the players you can push around and those you can’t. Some players won’t risk a lot of chips unless they have two pair or better. You can attack these players, trying to pick up small pots. Some players will play as if they are in a tournament with $1,500 in chips. You should try to trap these players with a monster hand, and don’t attempt to bluff them too much. This is exactly the same kind of strategy you should follow in the early levels of the WSOP main event.

These deep-stack tournaments will help you become more comfortable with a stack and blind structure similar to where you will start at the WSOP. It is much better to make mistakes in a $10 tournament than in a $10,000 tournament!

Many online players have a lot of multitable experience. Although the money is great in these tournaments, it is quite difficult to reach the final table, given the huge fields that most tournaments have. If you are one of those players who plays a lot of these tournaments, you may actually have very little final-table experience. Just as an example, if you are playing in tournaments with 500 players, you should expect to make the final table only about once every 50 attempts. Although I’m sure that no one will complain if they make the final table at the WSOP, if you get there, you want to be prepared to have a chance at making history. The final table is where most of the prize money is won, but many players simply do not have the experience of playing shorthanded once they get there.

Again, online play is an excellent place to practice. Regular online players should play at least one sit-and-go tournament every day. Although the blinds move up quickly, they are great practice for getting a feel for how a final table will work. You’ll get a feel for playing shorthanded and will develop an understanding of how to make adjustments as opponents are eliminated.

If you want to play a lot of multitable tournaments, play some of the smaller ones in terms of number of entrants. The idea is to gain practice in trying to make the final table, and then actually playing at a final table. You’ll acquire a lot more of this type of experience by playing in tournaments with 100-300 entrants than you would in tournaments with 1,000-plus entrants.

PokerStars also runs 180-player sit-and-go tournaments, which is perfect for this type of practice.

Another way to learn is to watch the pros. Last year I wrote down every key hand I played on my way to finishing 332nd out of 5,600 entrants. You can replay these 96 hands in an online setting by using The Poker Tutor that’s available at my website. With
The Poker Tutor, the hand will be paused at each key decision point, and you’ll be able to think of what you would do, and then see how I actually played and my thoughts behind the action.

They say that practice makes perfect. No one can prepare himself completely for what he will face at the WSOP, but you can be better prepared than you otherwise might be.