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I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: The Main Event

by Bryan Devonshire |  Published: Jun 26, 2013


Bryan DevonshireOnce a year for more than four decades, poker players have gathered in Las Vegas to throw a poker festival culminating in the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament known simply as the “main event.” It’s poker’s most elite title and carries with it a first prize measured in the millions of dollars. Every year many people play the main for the first time, and I sure wish I knew my first time what I know now about it.

I played my first WSOP event in 2006 but did not play a main until 2008 for reasons to be shared over beer only. I accumulated a big ol’ pile of chips only to lose them near the end of the night. I flopped the nut straight on a board with two spades, played a gigantic pot, and lost to a player who also flopped the nut straight but held spades too. While I can’t be criticized too much for getting the whole pile in holding the nuts, I did make a mistake in that hand and would have done things differently.

The main event is a multi-day marathon that taxes your body and mind. It is very important to approach the main like you would any long term, high demand activity. For the two days before the main I will focus on resting my body and mind, getting ready to pour nearly two weeks into a poker tournament. I’m going to get good sleep, I’m going to relax and be stoked to play in the main event, and I’m going to take care of any errands, bills, or life loose ends that could potentially distract me in the next two weeks.

In every poker tournament, people melt down at the end, making a critical error when they’re not at their sharpest. People just run out of mental gas after several days, and many people punt their stacks shortly after making the money. They just mentally check out; “hooray I cashed the main, f’ it, I’m all in, let’s double up or go to the Rhino.”

A good night’s sleep and healthy eating is mandatory. I wake around 10:30 a.m., make coffee, eat some sort of breakfast, and then drive to the Rio. I allow myself plenty of time to arrive and am usually in the parking lot by 11:45 a.m., which gives me plenty of time to get inside. I’m doing everything I can do to avoid stress and allow myself to focus on the ten hours of play ahead of me.

Use your breaks. I always leave campus during dinner breaks and find somewhere else to eat. Never getting outside of the casino is a sure fire way to lose your marbles. If you don’t have a car, make friends, hitch a ride, take a cab, just allow your mind to disengage and relax during dinner. The main is the ultimate marathon and will take all of your energy.

On the first day, you cannot win the tournament. You can lose it though! The whole goal of day one is to survive. In 2011 I made a deep run, eventually busting 12th-place on day 8. I only had 22,000 of my original 30,000 starting stack at the end of day 1. I had a horrible table draw littered with wizards and hot prospects, and the deck didn’t give me any spots either. The following day I was seated in the marshmallow meadow and proceed to rape, pillage, and plunder my way to 200,000 by the end of day 2. The thing is, you have time. The levels are two hours long. You don’t want to be in there gambling. If you’ve watched the broadcasts over the years, the people who are chipleaders after day one generally don’t do well. If I would have that hand from 2008 back, I keep the pot smaller on the flop, giving myself the opportunity to call twice if the board pairs or a flush gets there on the turn. I would have blasted away on a brick turn, which is what came, and I still would have lost all my chips, but had the spade come on the turn instead of the river I would have survived day 1.

Spend time getting to know your opponents. You’re going to play with them for a long time. Some of them are going to be extremely talented. Some people have never spent more than $500 on a tournament in their life, but have always wanted to play the main event. The better you know your opponents, the better you will be able to accumulate chips and avoid stepping on a landmine.

Play ends around 12:30 a.m. after five two-hour levels, three 20 minute breaks, and one 90-minute dinner break. Often, by the time you get home, the table draws for the next day will be posted online. Now you have a couple of hours to chill out and start focusing on tomorrow’s battle. I draw a diagram of the table, write in names and chip counts, and then start googling. If somebody at my table has TV time out there, I find it and have it run in the background, preferring to watch the most recent tape possible. When deep in 2011, I had 10 hours of tape to review on opponents each night and had to actively fast forward through hands not involving tomorrow’s opponents. I find out everything I can about them to make my job of figuring them out easier.

Then I sleep, wake up at 10:30 a.m., and do it all over again. I did this for eight days in 2011 with a one-day break between days two and three that was filled with watching video on opponents at my table. At the end of it all I was fried and not capable of thought for at least a week. I do know that if I had not taken care of myself the way I did that year, then there’s no way I would have gone as deep as I did. Good luck during the crucial week of the main, and may you experience the fatigue of playing this tournament for a really long time. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade. With over $2m in tournament earnings, he also plays high stakes mixed games against the best players in the world. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.