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Advice For the WSOP Main Event

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Jul 10, 2013


Bernard LeeOnce again, the World Series of Poker (WSOP), this year being the 44th annual version, has been the center of the poker universe this summer. Thousands of poker players competed in 61 preliminary bracelet events over six weeks, all chasing the dream of capturing a WSOP bracelet.

However, there is always one event that takes center stage. It is the one tournament that every amateur dreams about playing in and every poker professional circles on his or her yearly schedule. Most importantly, it is the one tournament that every poker player dreams about winning — the WSOP main event.

For many of you, this year may be your first WSOP main event. Or you may be returning to Las Vegas, attempting to cash in the tournament for the very first time. In any event, I want to pass along some advice as you prepare for the most incredible poker tournament of your life.

A True Marathon

It is often been said that poker tournaments are not sprints, but marathons. The tournaments that you are familiar with at home are often one-day events. WSOP Circuit ring events are usually two days long, while most WSOP bracelet events are three days in duration. However, you will have to negotiate four intense twelve-hour days in the WSOP main event just to make the money!

Thus, during the days leading up to the WSOP main event, I would suggest getting extra sleep to prepare for the mental and physical exhaustion. Additionally, you should try to work out regularly to build up your stamina, while eating healthy and limiting your alcohol intake.

Trust me: If you are fortunate to make a deep run in the main event, the experience will be surreal, but truly exhausting. Some people say that the WSOP main event is actually two tournaments in one: the four days before and the four days after the money bubble bursts. Thus, don’t take these words of wisdom lightly. If you make it beyond the money, you will be glad you heeded my advice.

Fly In Early

If you have never been to the WSOP main event, the tournament is truly a spectacle beyond words. Swarms of spectators watching thousands of poker players, playing on hundreds of tables while surrounded by dozens of press members. And you will be one of the participants. Many players enter the WSOP main event in sheer awe of the moment and ultimately this affects their game. You don’t want to play in your first WSOP main event with your jaw dragging on the floor the entire time.

Therefore, I would recommend flying into Las Vegas at least the day before you play, if not two days in advance. After you arrive, walk around all the different rooms at the Rio. Go to your table to see where you will be playing and soak in the electrifying atmosphere. If you are not from the West Coast, get accustomed to the heat (100 degree days are the norm) and time zone change.

Overall, enjoy the WSOP experience before you play because once they announce “Shuffle up and deal,” it is time to get serious about playing poker.

Avoid FPS and ‘All-In’

In most of the WSOP events, players are given starting chip stacks that are triple the buy-in amount. Thus, players who begin the WSOP main event, which has a $10,000 buy-in, start with 30,000 chips. Many players are accustomed to starting stacks that are much smaller and now suddenly feel they can take some chances by splashing chips around. Players begin to take more risks and start developing Fancy Play Syndrome (FPS). If you become infected by FPS, it can sometimes be incurable and ultimately lead to your demise. I would recommend implementing a typical tight aggressive style, while focusing on making it through level by level.

Additionally, although no-limit hold’em players love to say, “I’m all-in,” I recommend you try to avoid saying this common phrase. The only way you can be eliminated from a tournament is by pushing all your chips into the pot. Of course, there will be certain situations where this move will be inevitable. However, when you do say those iconic words, make sure there is a definite purpose and not just so you can say the words during the WSOP main event.

Average Stack

While playing, many players focus on the average stack size. If their stack is below this number, they begin to panic and believe it is time to push their stack. However, the average stack is just a statistic and should not be used as the conclusive indicator during in the WSOP main event.

Often, the average stack during the WSOP main event is about 60 big blinds, which provides you with plenty of room to play poker. Last year, at the start of three-handed play, the average stack was a remarkable 110 big blinds (thus, this is one of the main reasons the trio played for over 11 hours).

Overall, don’t panic if you are below the average stack. Remember, if you have half the average stack, you still have 30 big blinds, which is still not very short stacked. In general, just focus on your own stack and play accordingly.

Day One Bubble

In most tournaments, the players are concerned with two bubbles: the money and the final table. The WSOP main event is no exception to this rule. However, the tournament has another bubble that is a phenomenon only seen in the main event.

Players feel a true sense of accomplishment by surviving Day 1 of the WSOP main event. Whether it is a personal goal or the desire to show off to their family and friends, the surviving players begin to watch the clock incessantly as the last level of Day 1 winds down. The room actually erupts in applause when the day comes to an end and all the players realize that they will be playing Day 2.

Therefore, surviving Day 1 of the WSOP main event creates its own bubble and you can take advantage of this unique situation. Players desperately do not want to bust at the end of Day 1 and are willing to fold hands just to survive.

After The Money Bubble Bursts

There is no greater money bubble in poker, not because of the amount (there are of course other events that have larger amounts such as last year’s $1 Million One Drop), but because of the sheer magnitude of cashing in the WSOP main event!

Of course, you can try to abuse players on this money bubble, but often there are other players that have massive stacks at your table and have the same strategy.

Nevertheless, if you are fortunate to make the money and have a short stack, you may be satisfied in making the money and now willing to gamble or go home. However, during the WSOP main event, you have never seen players eliminated faster in your entire poker career. Last year, about 100 players were eliminated in the first 20 minutes after the money bubble burst.

Thus, if you have a short stack after making the money, don’t just gamble. If you hold on, you can easily move up the money ladder by just being patient and selective. ♠

Bernard Lee is the lead commentator for WSOP Circuit live stream, poker columnist, author of “The Final Table, Volume I and II” and radio host of “The Bernard Lee Poker Show,” which can be found on or via podcast on iTunes. Lee is also a team member of Follow Bernard Lee on Twitter: @BernardLeePoker or visit him at