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Devo's Guide to The Main Event

by Bryan Devonshire |  Published: Jul 08, 2015


Bryan DevonshireSo you’re gonna play the World Series of Poker main event. Very cool, good for you! With over one hundred million poker players worldwide, according to the World Poker Tour, the six thousand plus poker players who get to play in the main event really are a fortunate few. Twenty-seven of those players are lucky enough to play every day of the main event during the summer, and nine of those lucky bastards come back for the final table in the fall. I have been lucky enough to play the main event seven times now, and two of those times I ran well enough to make the last day of the summer, finishing 25th in 2014 and 12th in 2011. I’ve learned some things over the years and will do my best to squeeze them into the rest of this page.

First, it is important to remember that the main event is an absolutely grueling marathon. Once day two starts, you will have no time or opportunity to do things not main event-related until you have lost all your chips or made the final table. Therefore, you will not be able to do any of the life-related things that need doing, and you certainly don’t want those things distracting attention from the main event. Get all those things taken care of before you play your first hand of the main event so you can devote your mental energy into this expedition of a poker tournament.

Getting on a main event-appropriate sleep schedule is essential to my success. It is important to get enough sleep every night, and the only window that you have to sleep in is from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m.. Getting to bed at 2 a.m. is sometimes impossible during the main event, and 11 a.m. is often too late to wake up and be ready to play cards, so I like to get about 7.5 hours of sleep starting at 3 a.m.. Having that rhythm coming into the main event is very helpful, because there is no such thing as feeling more rested as the tournament progresses.

In 2011, I lived in Vegas. Having a place to stay off The Strip is nice. The drive to and from the Rio serves as wake up and cool down times. Having coffee and breakfast at home without having to deal with a restaurant is a nice perk. But, the drive to and from the Rio is time, and time is hard to come by during the main event. In 2014, I stayed at the Rio. I booked my hotel through day 2, then extended my stay as my stay in the main event was extended. I made a mistake on day 6 though. It was the weekend, and the room rate was jacked to a couple hundred bucks and I wasn’t going to get it comped. My stack was short and I wanted to start the drive back to Colorado as soon as I busted, especially if that moment came just after noon. To cover my bases, I asked some WSOP folk if they could help me with a room if I made day 7, they said no problem. Turns out I made day 7, and turns out nobody could help me with a room, at any Harrah’s property, because they were completely sold out. I spent that precious time scrambling for a room when I should have been researching tomorrow’s opponents or resting. Next time, I’ll have a room for the night on any day that I am playing in the main.

Besides all that, get enough sleep and eat good stuff, and the rest of doing well in the main is just poker. We all know how to play poker tournaments, but we are not used to tournaments with such structures and so much time to do things. This results in many people getting their chips into the middle prematurely. This doesn’t mean don’t get your chips in the middle, it just means that you can be more selective than in other tournaments.

My day one goal is to make day two. In 2011 I did that with 21,000 in chips. In 2014, I did it with 89,000. It isn’t until the end of day two that you need to start doing things. The last level of day two is 600-1200, 18 hours of play after we all started with 30,000 in chips.

Day 3 is moving day. We’re going to make the money tomorrow on day 4, and you want to have some chips come bubble time. After the bubble bursts, people are going to disappear quickly, and you can easily move up the pay scale by accumulating chips before the bubble and having enough after to weather the wave of eliminations coming.

Things start getting intense on day 5. The energy in the place kicks up to a level that is unique in poker. Stacks are getting shorter and pay jumps are getting bigger.
Everybody is in the Amazon Room while maintenance guys are packing up poker tables and loading them in a truck. A strong understanding of Independent Chip Model (ICM) is important in this phase of the tournament, and this is when players start to crumble under the pressure. I have noticed that tells become much more common and defined as the immensity of the situation is too grand for anybody to be truly relaxed. Don’t wear sunglasses because those don’t help conceal tells anyways and it’s bad for your eyes. A scarf might be a good idea though. It gets cold in the Rio.

Do your homework. Every night when poker players are on their way home, magic fairies are doing things at the Rio, including generating seat assignments for the following day. Those seat assignments then get posted on the internet where people can look at them. Sun Tzu teaches us to know our enemy in The Art of War, and there is no better way to get to know your enemy in poker than Google. A player with $3 million in career cashes is going to play much differently than the player with $3,000 in career cashes. I like to draw a table diagram on a piece of paper with players names, stacks, and any relevant information I have on them noted. I can add notes as play progresses, and I have a pretty nifty pile of table diagrams after doing this for a decade.

Good luck in your main event run, you’re going to need it. You’re also going to need to be well-fed, rested, and play good poker. Have fun with the experience. You are a member of a small group of people envied by many with the opportunity to play the main event. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade and has more than $2 million in tournament earnings. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.