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Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 30: Preparing to Play the World Series of Poker

Preparing to Play the World Series of Poker

When you think of the World Series of Poker, you no doubt picture Phil Hellmuth playing every tournament in pursuit of his 14th gold bracelet. You might even dream of one day following in his footsteps and playing at the WSOP. However, unless you have a bankroll like Hellmuth — and let’s face it, most of us don’t — chances are your trips will consist of trying an affordable event or two.

The numbers show that the “dreamers” generally come to Sin City to try their luck at the WSOP in low buy-in events, usually those with a price tag of $1,500 or less. I was one such dreamer, and the very first WSOP event I played was the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event at the 2011 WSOP. It was a lot of fun as I got to play against the likes of Scotty Nguyen and Matt Savage, but alas I did not cash.

That didn’t stop me from coming back the next year and buying into a $1,500 no-limit hold’em event. I did a little better there finishing 141st out of 2,811 players for a $3,719 payday. Getting a WSOP cash was a dream come true, but little did I know that less than a year later I’d have a gold bracelet to my name when I topped a field of 898 players to win the $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em event — the one that will be kicking off the 2015 WSOP this afternoon.

Before players are dealt the first hands of the first event of this summer’s series, I thought I might share with you some tips that I find useful to follow when it comes to preparing for a WSOP event. Who knows, maybe they’ll help you win a bracelet of your own?

Tip #1: Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Register

Tens of thousands of players participate in WSOP events, and about 95% of them wait to register until the day of a tournament. That’s a big mistake unless you want to wait in line for an hour or two. When you come to play, you’ll want to be ready and focused. Waiting in a line can be somewhat tilting, and is not a good way to start the day.

Instead, when you know you’re going to be playing a specific event, register for it as soon as possible. You can register for any WSOP event right now, so there’s no reason to wait. If your event is more than two weeks away, you can register online. If something comes up, you can always withdraw and the WSOP will give you back your buy-in. It sounds like simple advice, and it is, but poker players tend to ignore it time and again.

Tip #2: Get Ready for a Long Grind

If all goes according to plan, you’re going to be playing poker for a full day or two or maybe even three. Those days will no doubt be filled with some key pots and memorable moments, but in between you’re going to have to contend with hours of boredom. Whether you listen to music, play with your iPad, or read at the table (like me), you are best served to come prepared for the long grind.

Here are some things I always bring with me to a WSOP event:

  • reading material
  • iPad with my Bose headphones
  • snacks & a beverage
  • phone charger

Just remember, if you bring things to the table, don’t leave them behind when it’s time to go. Do that, and chances are you’ll never see them again.

Tip #3: Patience is Key

Like I said, if you go deep there are going to be some monotonous stretches. It’s important that when they come you don’t try to make something happen. Instead, be patient and let it happen. Those cold cards will eventually warm up.

Likewise, even though the blinds get bigger and your stack only seems to get smaller during these dry spells, that’s no excuse to get off your game. Stay focused, grind it out, and wait for your moment to strike.

Tip #4: Don’t Let a Small Mistake Turn Into a Big One

Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 30: Preparing to Play the World Series of Poker 101
Thanks, Iron Man!

There were plenty of key moments that helped propel me to a WSOP gold bracelet, but one in particular really set me on the right course. After making a mistake (in which I doubled up an opponent after calling too light for too many chips), I was beginning to feel that rage we call “tilt” boiling up in the pit of my stomach. I know myself, and had it boiled over I would have punted off my stack and been heading back to the hotel well short of the money.

Fortunately, I happened to be reading a magazine article about Robert Downey, Jr. at that time. Here was a man that had made his fair share of mistakes in life, but was experiencing a career revitalization thanks to the success of the Iron Man films. In the interview Downey said something regarding past mistakes:

“I stopped worrying about fixing things and just dealt with what was right in front of me. The bouncing ball of the moment."

I don’t know why, but that was exactly what I needed to hear. I calmed down, reflected upon those words, and before long my stack was bigger than it was before. Throughout the rest of the tournament I kept the “bouncing ball” in the forefront of my mind, and lo and behold I went on to win.

All I can say now is, “Thanks, Iron Man!”

Tip #5: Be Prepared for the Improbable

I never pictured myself at the final table of the Casino Employees event. Even when I returned third in chips out of 55 players on Day 2, I hadn’t even considered it. It wasn’t until we were down to the final two tables that I realized there was a good chance I was going to make it. Of course I was excited, but I realized I was woefully unprepared. How so?

First, I was so focused on playing poker that I didn’t have a chance to tell my friends and family back home how I was doing. Aside from the occasional 15-minute break, there wasn’t any time to update everyone. Second, the final table was supposed to be live streamed on a delay, and there’s a lot of information to be gathered when the hole cards are eventually shown.

I made do on both counts. I had a friend let my family know I had made the second day, and as it turned out the live stream actually didn’t happen because of technical difficulties. But they were both unexpected problems with which I had to contend.

Chances are you’re not going to make it to the final table, but there’s always that chance. Expecting the unexpected is a hard thing to do, but believe me when I say, if and when that time comes, you’re going to want to be as prepared as possible.

Photo (Iron Man): Eva Rinaldi. Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

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