How to win live

We are here to help guide you through the daunting first time you sit down in a live tournament

Playing in major poker tournaments is a daunting experience. If you’re used to playing poker on the internet, the environment may feel somewhat alien. Since the game is slower, you might find yourself being distracted by the other players’ conversations, the lights, the dealer, or the noise. Try to resist the temptation to shut yourself off with sunglasses, iPods and baseball caps. Besides being a cliché, it gets uncomfortable very quickly.

And the most important thing you can do both before and during play is to make yourself feel comfortable at the table. If you’re comfortable, you’ll find that the distractions melt away and you’re better able to focus on playing your best game. Start with how you dress. If you hate looking smart, then don’t do it. Heck, turn up in your pyjamas if you want – at least it’ll give you a fun image that you can use to build a sponsorship deal.

Make yourself at home

In your first major event, you’re better off keeping it simple

Speaking of being comfortable, you should also spend some time at home practising how to handle chips and cards. Nothing will give you away as an amateur more quickly than fumbling your chips. Get some mates around for a home game or venture to a local cardroom for a cheap tournament.

One of the most common beginner’s chip handling mistakes is ‘string betting’. On the internet, it’s impossible to make a string bet, but in live poker doing it could you cost you serious chips. When you make a bet, simply count out the chips in front of your stack, then push them all forward in one motion without saying anything – let the dealer count them, that’s their job.

Do the same when you raise, but remember to announce ‘raise’ before you do so. By doing this, you won’t break any rules, and you won’t give away any information to your opponents. If you’re moving all-in, just say ‘all-in’ loudly and clearly, and push one stack forward (for the security cameras). Also, be aware that if you just throw one chip in without saying ‘raise’, it will probably be ruled as a flat call.

Another key mistake is to play too fancy. No matter how much practice you’ve had, you’re going to be under real pressure in your first major tournament. It may be tempting to bluff a lot, or to play marginal hands extra aggressively in an attempt to impress your friends, the audience, or even your opponents. Don’t fall into that trap.

In your first major event, you’re much better off keeping it simple to begin with – that way you won’t put yourself in any difficult situations in which you could make a mistake. Play strong starting hands and be mindful of your position at the table. Bet aggressively with strong hands to protect them and extract value, and don’t be afraid to fold marginal hands rather than commit a large portion of your stack.

Study the players at your table – learn who is tight, who is loose and who is a weak player. Once you know that information and you’ve built up a bit of confidence, you can start to mix up your game.

Running interference

If you’re used to playing online, you might not be aware of the importance of physical tells in live poker. And your opponents are going to be looking for tells to help make their decisions.

There are two approaches to minimising the information you’re giving away. The first technique is to give away so much information that your opponents can’t tell the signal from the noise – let’s call this the ‘Caro’ approach. You move around so much, make so many funny faces, and say so many things that any information you give away is well concealed.

The second is to hardly move or speak at all – let’s call this the ‘Ferguson’ approach. It’s probably easiest to mimic by simply doing exactly the same thing each time. Force yourself to spend the same amount of time looking at your cards each time and count to three before making any bet.

The last adjustment you may have to make is tactical. Major live tournaments aren’t like internet tournaments – they tend to have longer levels and lots of starting chips. That changes the value of some types of hands – especially those whose main strength is their high cards, like A-K and A-Q.

While in an internet tournament where the stacks are much shorter you would often be right to push all-in pre-flop with these hands, in the early stages of a deep-stacked event this can result in disaster. You’ll almost never be called by a worse hand, so you’ll be risking a huge number of chips to win a small pot.

On the flip side, hands that have the potential to flop monsters go way up in value – hands like 4-4 or 6-7 suited, which are great hands to play if you can get in cheaply. These are hands that you will be glad to invest your whole stack in should you hit the right flop.

Remember, this is a marathon and not a sprint, so take your time, don’t rush and remember to enjoy it. Good luck.

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