7 Tips to Survive as a Tournament Poker Player
If you talk to some seasoned poker pros you’ll find that they always have a tip about this, that, or the other thing. These players have learned through experience how to save a buck and how to maximize their profit, and while some of the “tricks of the trade” require some added effort, there are others that may seem insignificant that don’t require much time or effort either –so why not do them? In this column I’ll take a look at 7 things –some big and some little– you can do to make your time in the tournament poker world easier to navigate.
Tip #1: Always Carry an Umbrella
As a poker player you should pretend like you live in Seattle, Washington. What I mean by this is you should plan for rainy days and always bring an umbrella, which in this case means having a rainy day fund. The size of your rainy day fund will depend on how much you rely on poker for income –pro players surviving on their poker winnings will need this fund to cover months of expenses, while a semi-pro can get away with far less, as their bankroll can be replenished from outside sources.
No matter how good you play, or how high your ROI is, as a tournament player you will experience downswings, and while most will be relatively short in duration, there will be a few that are long and pronounced. So, if poker makes up any portion of your income make sure you set aside a little something extra for the times you get caught in a downpour.
If you are a serious poker player than your bankroll is your lifeblood, and a poker bankroll is a very rare kind of blood. Not only do you need to be careful with it and practice good bankroll management, but it doesn’t hurt to set aside some of your own blood in case a random “accident” happens down the road. It may seem like you’re being overly cautious, but it can save your life in an emergency.
Tip #2: The Dangers of Staking Other Players
Having a rainy day fund leads into the next two tips, the first of which is to be very selective when you stake other players or swap pieces. The primary reason you should be careful when doing this is to avoid any unintentional collusion should you wind up at the same table as a player you are staking or have a piece of. Even if you don’t intend to soft-play you don’t know how the person will behave in these situations, or even how you will react subconsciously.
Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for players to scam you (such as selling more than 100% of themselves and bombing out of the tournament on purpose), slow-pay you, or worse. So if you do find yourself in a situation where you are able to stake other players be very picky about it, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions or make certain demands. And finally, don’t let the “Horse” set the terms of the stake. Look at their results and determine what a fair market price would be.
Tip #3: The Dangers of Being Staked
On the flip-side of staking is being staked yourself. If you find yourself in a situation where you need or want to be staked (maybe you forgot about Tip #1, and didn’t set aside a rainy day fund; even though I told you to!) be careful you don’t end up in a situation where you can find yourself deep in makeup and basically owe your backer more than you can reasonably hope to make.
The way to avoid this is to be honest with yourself and your abilities. Just because you can “sweet-talk” someone into staking you in WPT Main Events doesn’t mean you should if makeup is part of the deal and you’re not +EV in these events.
Being staked also has a direct impact on your reputation as a poker player. Playing over your head and ending up deep in makeup isn’t really something you want on your resume. Good stakes benefit both sides.
Tip #4: Read the Fine Print
When you enter a tournament make sure you are familiar with all of the local rules, and perhaps even more importantly the fine print on the tournament structure sheet. Rules will vary from casino to casino, and what may be an accepted practice at one card-room could result in a penalty at another.
Furthermore, make sure you understand ALL of the fees and how they will be applied, and whether dealer tips or other fees are automatically taken out. An example of this was the WSOPC Events in recent years: Unbeknownst to some players there was a strange (cash-only) fee that had to be paid at the table in order to get a top-off on your starting stack. Players who were unaware of this cash fee were put a severe disadvantage, simply because they didn’t have $10 on them.
I’ve also heard countless stories of dealer tips being taken out of the prize-pool up front (this will be noted on the structure sheet) and staff asking the winner if he wants to tip the dealers. Of course you can leave them something extra if you want to, but you’re under no obligation to, as they have already been tipped.
Tip #5: Be a Structure Nit
Say what you want about Allen Kessler, but the guy knows how to spot every edge. While I don’t advocate taking the time to find the best match-play promos for slot machines in a 1,000 square-mile area, you should emulate “Chainsaw” when it comes to tournament structures. Before you enter an event, make sure you go through the blind levels carefully and see where the jumps are and where the tournament will go from slow to fast.
Knowing this information in advance can give you a leg up both in terms of finding the best structures and by knowing when the blind jumps will happen before they do. There is a big difference in how you should play at the tail-end of the 50/100 level depending on whether the next level is 75/150 or 100/200; the same applies for tournaments that jump from 200/400 to 400/800, instead of a 300/600 level.
#6: Become a Poker CPA
It seems relatively easy to track tournament results: buy-ins compared to results. But, the truth is you should not only be tracking your buy-ins and results. In addition to the basics you should be tracking tips, expenses for each trip (hotel, food, travel), and anything else that directly impacts how profitable a particular event is.
An example of how this could come in handy would be if there were two events you were considering travelling to: Your notes and records (as well as the reconnaissance you have done, remember to Read the Fine Print) tell you that Event #1, a $1,000 buy-in tournament with a $60 fee, will have a minimum cost of $400 in expenses. Event #2 is also a $1,000 buy-in tournament, but has a steeper $120 fee. However, Event #2 will only cost $240 in expenses. On the surface Event #1 looks like the better value (half the fee) but taking everything into account you’ll save $100 by playing in Event #2.
#7: The Poker Lifestyle
One of the hardest things to deal with in the poker is the lifestyle. First of all poker is a stressful, demanding, game, that requires you to put in long hours at all different times of the day and night. If that wasn’t enough, where you play poker (if you play live events) will be a haven for all manner of temptations, form drugs to gambling, to partying. And of course there are the degenerates in the game. While most poker players are kind, obliging, and helpful, there is also another subset that is simply looking to scam or use you in any way they can.
Navigating the poker world requires a very strong mind, and you need to know that these temptations will be there. Casinos, and the denizens of a casino, have only one thing in mind: Separating you from your money.