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World Series Time Again

Planning and preparing for the trip

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: May 28, 2010


World Series of PokerAnother year has flown by, and it is almost World Series of Poker time. This is the most frantic period on the poker calendar. The tournament often offers two bracelet events a day, each with a brutally long playing day of 12 or more hours. It also offers satellites and some cash games. Other beautiful venues like Bellagio and The Venetian also offer daily tournaments and a great selection of cash games. Virtually every poker room in Las Vegas is busy. With all of this poker available, along with all of the usual attractions and distractions of Las Vegas, it is very easy to be overwhelmed, and to have a disastrous WSOP.

While everyone dreams of having a string of fantastic successes, they are rare. Most winning players manage to grind out a profit. There may be a rare tournament win, but mostly, there are just long, frustrating hours. Losing is much more common than winning. It is important to make sure that you are psychologically fit to handle losses without falling apart. The best way to do this is through planning your trip in advance. Advance planning is a very important element in achieving success and avoiding disaster. Strangely enough, most players make a reservation for a room somewhere, grab whatever cash they can come up with, and head off. In this column, I am going to address some important issues involved in planning and preparing for a trip to the WSOP. In some cases, I have somewhat different advice for amateurs and professionals.

Specialize: I have always believed that it’s important for a poker player to become comfortable playing a lot of different games. The WSOP is not the place to try to learn new variations. The long hours and high stakes make it important to play your best games. These are not the right conditions for exploring new territories. Before you leave home, decide what is your best game, and concentrate on playing that variation. Study it and practice it in a relaxed setting before arriving in Vegas. Make sure that you are so familiar with it that you can play a long session without making any major blunders. Aim to have some periods when you play flawlessly. At the same time, make sure that your “B-game” or automatic pilot can carry you through stretches when your mind is crying out for a break. These days, no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha are probably the best games to concentrate on, since new and inexperienced players are drawn to these games. If you are a stud specialist, there will be a lot fewer tournaments and side games from which to choose, but you should still focus on finding situations where your advantage is the biggest. I also would advise you to focus either on tournaments or on cash games; don’t try to do both. I have seen some talented players self-destruct from the long hours under extreme pressure that are required to play both.

Timing: If you are a professional player with an adequate bankroll, you might plan to go to Vegas in late June and stay until the end of July. If you are an amateur or an up-and-coming pro, you are best off coming at either the beginning or the end of the tournament. Why? During the first week, a lot of players who think they are better than they are will arrive with big dreams, only to go broke very quickly. The early bird can catch these players before they give away all of their money. The final 10 days or so are good for a different reason. The main event draws an assortment of players that includes many amateurs and satellite winners. Many of these players are comparatively weak, and you want to be there to take advantage of them. By this time, you also will encounter some pros and wannabe pros who have played too many hours and lost too much money. These basket cases are often giving away the last of their bankrolls in desperate attempts to get even.

Bankroll: If you are an amateur, try to come up with a bankroll that is adequate enough to give you a shot to win but still small enough that losing it won’t ruin the next six months or more of your life. A reasonable minimum is enough to buy into four or five tournaments of your choice and a few satellites or supersatellites, or 15 cash-game buy-ins. If you limit yourself to one tournament a day or three cash-game buy-ins, you should make it through a week without facing losses that exceed your comfort level.

If you are a pro with a significant bankroll, you must protect it. A significant bankroll is one that you couldn’t accumulate in six months to a year of normal, non-poker work or playing at your usual limits. Don’t put it all at risk. Don’t put most of it at risk. There will be other days, other games, other tournaments, and other years. Whatever you do, don’t let this be a tournament that ends up with you on the rail, begging for backers. I don’t care how good you are, and most of us are not as good as we think we are; you will compete against people who are better than you. At the WSOP, you will run into nearly every great player. You will encounter the players who are the best at whatever variation you pick. You will experience stretches where your opponents seem to get lucky at all of the key moments. If you are aware that this may happen and are psychologically ready for it to occur, it is easier to avoid a total meltdown.

Schedule R & R: Don’t get burned out. Plan some days off. Try to get some exercise. Have a great dinner. See a show. This is especially important if you go to Vegas with your significant other. You may manage to burn up both your bankroll and your relationship. It is also important to remember that you are there playing poker because you love it. If it becomes too much like a “real job,” you’d be better off getting a real job (shorter hours and a steadier income). I also recommend taking a day off whenever you have a big loss or a big win. After a loss, you need a little time to relax and regain your composure and discipline. After a big win, you may get careless or think you can get away with playing any hand that you want. It is also nice to savor the win for a day or two before returning to the routine grind. Spade Suit

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s and The Library near Houston, and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.