How to…

Play in a major tournament for the first time

I could never see the attraction of Caribbean poker tournaments. However, five minutes is all it took for me to change my mind as I sat in the 80-degree evening heat drinking a cold beer. I was in the Caribbean to play in the Ultimatebet Aruba Poker Classic, and, the poker was actually a welcome relief from the daytime heat. Walking down into the cool air-conditioned basement to play a few hands before heading out onto the beach for a swim and a cocktail was not the worst way to spend my time.

Did I win? No. In fact I crashed out shortly after the dinner break on the first day about eight hours into play. I played OK, but didn’t win any races. But, the whole experience was awesome and I learned a lot about playing in big tournaments.

1. You have nothing to fear

At $5,000, this was easily my biggest tournament buy-in. But as I sat down at the table, I soon realised there were a lot of nervous faces around me. You should use an opportunity like this to spark up a conversation with the people sitting near you. It’s much harder to be intimidated by Chuck from Minneapolis than a nameless guy in sunglasses glaring at you.

2. Stick to your guns

The day before the Aruba tournament I sat down with two Ultimatebet sponsored players, Johan Strakers and Devin Porter, to get some tips. Johan was insistent the only way to start off was by playing tight ABC poker. He was talking my language. Then I talked to Devin. He told me how important it was to play a wide range of hands early on. I started to think I could afford to waste a few chips with the implied odds I would be getting; that’s precisely what I did. I hit zero flops, and got chased off every pot. It didn’t mean Devin’s theory was wrong; just that I wasn’t the right player to play it. The golden rule here is: don’t try to play outside your comfort zone at such a big stage.

3. Know your weaknesses

There will be many better live tournament players than you, so don’t try to outplay them early on. If you feel you can be outplayed postfl op, don’t treat it as a test of your masculinity and pride to go to war. Try to find the players you can outplay. On such a big stage, there will be plenty in the early rounds who are too nervous to play optimally.

4. Look for weakness

A lot of internet-only players really are big ‘tell boxes’. One young guy at my table tended to bet a lot of flops, and on the occasions where he went on to a re-raise, he would shrink in his chair. That’s easy money right there.

5. Don’t get run over

This doesn’t mean idiotically defending your big blind each time. But, you will have to make a stand every now and again. One player raised my big blind four times in a row and the fourth time I flat-called. I decided I was going to bet out on any board without an Ace. So when the flop arrived K:-9…-5…, I put out a pot-sized bet. He folded and I showed 10-J. This was hardly a world-class move, but enough for the table to sit up and take notice. It was also enough to send the guy into super tilt.

6. Smell the roses

Take time to enjoy yourself. The memories of Aruba I will have in ten years’ time will be drinking beer on the beach – not playing poker.

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