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Thoughts on the 2010 World Series of Poker

Suggestions for players

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Aug 20, 2010


When this column goes to print, the 2010 World Series of Poker will be a memory (except for the main-event final table), and hopefully I’ll be a rich man. Hey, I can dream!

I commend the Rio on a very well-run tournament, and I’m especially glad that the Expo was scrapped to create more space for tournament tables. Nobody missed walking past a hundred booths manned by people pedaling items they didn’t want.

Even though the average age of players is getting younger, I was still surprised that, at the ripe old age of 35, I was actually the oldest player at two of my tables! So, as an elder statesman, I must say that some of you 20-something players really need to dress better. The WSOP is the premier event, and should be treated as such. I’m hardly a fashion plate, but I’m not breaking out my decades-old Metallica T-shirts, either. It also seemed like every other player was wearing a patch marketing an online site, which is fine; but trust me, people are much less likely to patronize that site if you’re dressed like a bum.

World Series of PokerIt made me think back to when Ron Stanley wore a tuxedo at the 1997 main-event final table. He recognized that billiards players, who then were getting far more TV coverage than poker players, always dressed formally, even though it probably wasn’t easy to shoot pool in a tux. His final table was held outside in 100-degree heat, but he still manned up and dressed up. If more players had followed suit (bad pun), maybe we could have made it big on TV before Chris Moneymaker came along. I’m not saying that everyone needs to dress up, although I think it would be a nice touch at final tables, but I am saying that players should leave their T-shirts and stained hoodies at home.

Clearly, most of the participants now (including myself) are primarily online players, thus the lack of fashion sense. But two other things caught my eye about the online crowd, and they’re much more related to poker than the players’ choice of clothes. If you are making your first WSOP trip next year, you might want to keep these things in mind:

1. You need to practice your brick-and-mortar casino (B&M) tournament skills before playing in the WSOP. Tiger Woods didn’t just show up at the Masters and dominate. He had years of experience on various courses before making his mark on the world stage. Likewise, Roger Federer spent four mediocre years honing his skills as a pro before breaking through to be dominant.

Yet, there are so many players for whom the 2010 WSOP was clearly their first B&M tournament. I could tell that they had experience in online tournaments, based on their proper use of poker lingo, appropriate bet-sizing, and general understanding of the game. But, the way that they mishandled their chips, failed to control their movements and facial expressions, and lacked other nuances clearly indicated that they were B&M novices.

We all need to get our start at one point or another. But if you’re serious about poker, why would you make the WSOP your first B&M tournament experience? Don’t you think that you should get some practice first before stepping onto poker’s biggest stage? It may shock you, but many of the 30-and-over tournament greats like Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu used to play in much smaller live events. They didn’t become great overnight. And they didn’t go to the WSOP without a lot of tournament experience beforehand. If they needed the practice, you’d be an egomaniacal fool to think that you don’t.

If you’re turning 21 next year and going to the WSOP, do yourself a favor and play some smaller B&M tournaments first. Practice all of the things that you don’t need to worry about online. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find success at the WSOP, but you’ll have a clearer idea of what you’re doing, and that will at least give you a better chance.

2. Leave the headphones at home. Seriously, they are out of control. At least half of my opponents were wearing either a full headset or earbuds. Truthfully, I wish everyone but me wore them. Let them miss every verbal tell imaginable. Let them have their focus diverted elsewhere. But I’m here to help you, so take my advice and skip the music.

Most participants prefer the no-limit hold’em events, in which your tournament life can often come down to one or two crucial decisions. You need every piece of information available in order to make the right decision. Why would you listen to music, and possibly miss that information?

Near the end of day one of a preliminary no-limit hold’em event, the tournament director announced that we had four hands left to go for the night. With an average stack, I picked up the AHeart Suit KHeart Suit under the gun and made a standard raise. Even though we weren’t yet in the money, I was fully prepared to go all in with my hand if someone reraised. Everyone folded to the big blind, a friendly Frenchman who had said a few minutes earlier that his main goal was to make it out of day one. Indeed, he had seemed to be the happiest player when we heard that we had four hands left to go. But now, he looked at me, shrugged, and declared that he was going all in!

Sure, I had been prepared to call an all-in reraise, but not against this opponent — after I had heard him say how important it was for him to make it through the day. I showed him my hand, and said, “OK, let’s come back tomorrow.” He then showed me his AClub Suit ASpade Suit, smiled, and high-fived me. I certainly wouldn’t have been as happy as he was not to get paid off! Nevertheless, we came back the next day and I made the money, but unfortunately got eliminated soon thereafter.

But what if I had been wearing headphones and hadn’t heard what he said? I probably would have gone broke, which would have cost me thousands in real money. Just so that I could listen to some music? That’s absurd.

And it’s not just the idea of hearing verbal tells; it’s the idea of maintaining complete concentration at the table. If you’re an online player, you probably multitable [play multiple tables at once], striving to make a small but steady profit from each table. That makes perfect sense, since your variance is lessened. And maybe music enables you to relax and multitable smoothly. But that goes out the window when you are playing in a WSOP tournament. You are going to either lose thousands of dollars or hit a big payday. There is no reason to focus on anything but your opponents. When you are out of a hand, you should spend every moment watching what they’re doing, listening to their chatter, and finding anything you can use when you face the one or two critical decisions that will determine your tournament fate.

Simply put, make sure that you’re capable of doing that before you make your travel plans for the 2011 WSOP. Spade Suit

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find other articles of his at