WSOP 2016: In At The Deep End

You’ve made it into the WSOP Main Event with its slow structure and ultra-deep stacks, and now it’s time to head for the money. We reveal the secrets behind cashing in the World’s biggest tournament


The Main Event has one of the most generous structures you’ll find in any tournament anywhere in the world. You get 50,000 starting stacks (up 66% from last year’s 30,000 stacks) with two-hour levels and blinds starting at 75/150. That means you’ve got over 300 big blinds to start with. 333 to be exact! You don’t need to force the action and you don’t have to try to be the Day 1 chip leader. You can’t win a tournament on Day 1 but you can lose it. If you lose a few pots early on, don’t despair. It really doesn’t matter. What counts is the number of big blinds you’ve got left. You can easily sink down to 20k and then finish the day with an above average stack. But you won’t if you try to chase chips.

Running Cold

You can’t do anything about the cards you’re dealt but you can choose to be patient. In fact, unless your name is Jerry Yang you’ll suffer periods during the Main Event when you can’t catch a card. The aim is to be playing for seven full days or approximately 70 hours of poker. During that time you’ll run the gamut of poker’s variance. You’ll flop sets, you’ll whiff and you’ll have to endure hours upon hours of folding. If you’re starting to get low you’ll need to make some moves to keep your head above water, but if you’ve still got a comfortable stack just hang tight and be patient. Lots of people will bust because they get impatient and play a hand they shouldn’t. Make sure you’re not one of them.


There is another sort of running cold that you can deal with – the temperature. Las Vegas is incredibly hot when you’re out there – you’re in the middle of the desert in the summer. By contrast the Rio is notoriously cold, with the air conditioning turned to ‘extreme chill’. Many people have made the mistake of turning up in shorts and a t-shirt before shivering their way through the first level then cracking and high-tailing it back to their hotel room for a pair of long trousers and a hoodie. Take some extra clothes in a backpack and stay warm.

Eat & Drink

This is common sense but it’s amazing how many people you see wolfing down a burger followed by a beer at the tables. One guarantee – you won’t see any of these people posing for the November Nine photos. Yes, you’re in Vegas to have a good time but this is serious business. Stay hydrated – there are water dispensers waiting for your bottle – but don’t drink so much that you’re constantly needing the toilet. Two-hour levels are long and it’s no fun running to the toilet (they can be a long way away) or sitting and thinking about your aching bladder when you should be focusing on the game you’re playing.

Focus On Your Table

If it’s your first time at the WSOP it can all be a bit intimidating. Exciting too, but if you’re looking around the vast Amazon Room at the Rio before you sit down to play it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve got no chance of winning. That’s not a good start. Drink it in but then when you sit down at your table just focus on the players that you’ll be playing with. The chances are you’ll be playing with them for the whole of Day 1 so get acquainted and start tagging. Play a tight aggressive game for the first two levels – ABC poker that won’t get you into trouble. And while you’re playing be as vigilant as possible. Don’t drift off if you’re not in a pot – watch every hand closely and every showdown to see how your opponents are playing. We can’t put too much emphasis on this. Tagging your opponents accurately early on could be the difference between going out of the Main Event on Day 1 or finishing with a decent stack.

Early Doors

Try to avoid playing hands early on that could be easily dominated – A-J, K-Q and K-J – they’ll only get you in trouble. Try and get into pots with pairs that could flop a set and suited connectors that could make the nuts on a really disguised board. There are plenty of people that will be unable to put overpairs or top pair hands down. Similarly, make sure you play hands like big pairs with a certain degree of caution. There will be opponents out there looking to do to you what you’re trying to do to others.

Table Dynamics

If you’re at a really tight table then you should loosen up. What can you get away with? If your preflop raises keep getting through then just keep making them. If you’re on a loose table than you should play a bit tighter. Remember that the most important people are those to your immediate left and right. These are the people that you’ll be having blind/late position battles with so make sure you know them the best. Keep an eye on their stacks too. If you’ ve got an aggressive player on your left with around 20 big blinds, you probably don’t want to be opening a wide range of hands.

Postflop Play

If you’re used to fast tournaments with lots of preflop action/shoves, you’ll need to adapt. The WSOP Main Event is slow, stacks are deep, and there’s lots of postflop action. If you’ve got a really strong hand/the nuts your aim is to build the pot as much as possible with the intention of maximizing value on the river. If you think someone is going to pay you off then overbet the pot. If you’re not sure where you are in a hand then you can try to employ pot control. At the heart of this is position. It’s much easier to make decisions with deep stacks when you’re playing in position. Playing out of position magnifies every decision and deep stacks make for extremely big decisions on the turn and the river. Try to play in position wherever possible.

Be Quick

Slow playing is one of the worst bits of the WSOP and specifically the Main Event. It got so bad last year that pros were calling for the introduction of a shot clock, but the organisers haven’t done this yet. The Main Event will still play to the rule of ‘reasonable time’, which basically means whenever a player decides to call the clock on you. If you’re in a big pot then feel free to take your time and work out your best course of action. Don’t take too long to act though – everyone’s paid $10k to play in this tournament and your actions directly influence them. Nobody wants to look at you tanking for five minutes every hand. The rule should be, play as fast as you can without compromising your game.

Be Happy

Everyone’s playing the Main Event to win serious life-changing money but it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy yourself at the table too. It makes such a difference to have happy, smiley people at the table, rather than sullen players in sunglasses listening to music. Everyone’s different though. If you want to stay quiet at the table, stay quiet – no one’s forcing you to do something you’re uncomfortable with. You can be quiet and happy though.

Isolate The Weak

All’s fair in love and war at the poker table. And that means targeting the weak and not going out of your way to play pots with people who you think are better than you. You might think the standard of play in a $10k buy-in is going to be high, but nothing could be further from the truth. The world’s best players are there but so are thousands of satellite qualifiers, rich amateurs and people whose opinion of themselves is far, far greater than the reality. Once you’ve pegged someone as weak try to play as many hands as you can against them. Isolate their raises with three bets and generally make their life miserable. We’ve played with someone on Day 2 who blinded down to three big blinds and then tanked for an age before getting his chips in with a pair of Nines. In an unopened pot. People don’t want to bust out of the Main Event and it makes them do strange things.

Four And Five-bets

Deeper stacks open up the full poker arsenal and four and five-bets are fairly common. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re looking at a Kings v Aces confrontation either. Pay extra attention to these hands and the players that are making the bets. Likewise, if you only ever four or five-bet Aces and Kings then people are going to peg you pretty quickly. Do you have any bluffs in your four or five-bet range? You could also just flat-call four and five-bets for deception with Aces and Kings, especially against aggressive players who are likely to continue their story on any board. Be careful though – this tactic can get you in trouble and you need to be aware that you might have to put your hand down. Unless you hit a set you’ve only got top pair – how many blinds are you happy getting in on a coordinated board with just one pair?


The antes kick in on the third level and that’s when you want to start ramping your aggression up. Antes favour the more aggressive players as there’s more money to win in uncontested pots. If you look at level five – 250/500/75 – on a nine- handed table, you’d be playing for 750 without antes and 1,425 with antes. That makes a big, big difference. That doesn’t mean you need to start trying to steal the blinds from under the gun, but it does mean you should be starting to raise in late position in unopened pots with a wider range of hands.

Bubble Time

Now this is getting exciting. The atmosphere in the Rio changes dramatically around the bubble and a vast number of people tighten up to ensure they make the money. If you’ve got a small or small-medium stack that will be you too. If you’ve got an average or big stack then it’s time to target the people who have shut down. We had someone at our table who said he’d be folding everything apart from Aces and Kings – and maybe even Kings! That’s incredible information but it’s what a lot of people will be thinking. Real bubble abusing pros know that they can take it further. Look for other players who you think are targeting the weak and three-bet them or even flat-call and take them on in position postflop. They’ll be looking to take pots down uncontested and will assume that you’ve got a hand if you start playing back. Be selective about this and don’t do it too often. Once you’re in the money you can treat every money jump as a bubble. Look out for the people who are constantly referencing the payout sheet as they’ll shut down before every jump.

Don’t Do This!

Rush of Blood

Playing the Main Event is exciting – the $10k buy-in, the proximity to the world’s best players and the fact that you’re only ten days away from changing your life forever… All these elements can add up to an adrenaline rush that can lead to a dreadful mistake at the table.

Here, Oliver Hudson finds himself at the same table as old-school legend Sammy Farha and flops a full house in the first hand. Unfortunately his Tens are way behind Farha’s A-T on the A-A-T board. Hudson can’t believe his luck and he can’t believe his eyes when the cards are flipped. It might be a cooler but you shouldn’t be getting your stack in on the first hand without the nuts.

Table Talk

One of the greatest things about poker is that even as an amateur you can sit and play with the world champ. That’s what happened to PokerPlayer’s very own Steve ‘HillyTheFish’ Hill but he gives away way too much information in this hand from the end of Day 1. If you’re playing with someone much better than you, the best advice we’ve got is to stay quiet during a hand.

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