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Planning For The WSOP – Part II

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: May 23, 2018


In the previous column, I dealt with some specific preparations (like setting a loss limit) to help you avoid disaster. In this column, I will focus on ways to improve yourself and your playing ability. All of this takes work, but no one ever improves at a discipline that is both physical and mental without doing some work.

Improve Yourself Physically

Since you may spend nearly two months playing poker ten to fourteen hours a day, it is essential to be in good physical shape. To maintain or increase my strength and stamina, I try to get to the gym at least four times a week. Two workouts focus on cardio (treadmill, recumbent bike or elliptical) and two on strength training (weights and weight machines.) It is also useful to some stretching or yoga.

Improve Yourself Mentally

Before I discuss poker-specific training, I want to recommend doing a variety of mental exercises designed to sharpen your memory, speed, problem solving ability, etc. There are websites such as Brain HQ and Lumosity, which provides a number of brain training games. Amazon lists a huge number of books with puzzles and exercises for improving cognition and memory.

Improve Yourself Psychologically

Modern psychology has started to revolutionize economic and decision theory. There was a long-standing economic assumption that people behave rationally. As a poker player, you have certainly noticed that that isn’t the case. People don’t always try to maximize their equity. Behavioral psychology and behavioral economics try to find out how and why people actually make decisions. For example, people generally will try harder to avoid losing 100 than they will to win 100. Try to gain some insight into behavior. It may help you eliminate some of your own irrational behaviors or find ways to take advantage of those of your opponents. It is not necessary to delve through weighty scientific papers to learn the results of this research. There are a lot of books on behavior and self-improvement written for a popular audience. Predictably Irrational by Ariely, The Undoing Project by Lewis, and The Power of Habit by Duhigg are all valuable and enjoyable.

Using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Auto-suggestion (self-hypnosis) can be incredibly useful. A hypnotist and psychologist, Elliot Roe, has a number of tapes and exercise that can be found on Poker Mind Coach.

Improve Your Poker Skills

If you are not used to playing tournaments, study tournament strategies. There are some huge differences between normal cash games and tournaments. The antes and increasing blinds, create ever decreasing stack to pot ratios. You must learn how this can change starting requirements and shoving strategies. If you play primarily online, you will find playing against live, brick and mortar opponents is vastly different. Lastly, if you are relatively old school, you should become familiar with the concepts of game theory optimal (GTO) poker.

Jonathan Little and Doug Polk, who occasionally write for Card Player and are very successful tournament players have excellent web sites. They both have a lot of free content, as well as products and services for sale. PokerGo, Twitch, and YouTube all have a lot of content. You should be able to find analysis of exciting hands by top commentators like Mike Sexton, Ali Nejad, and Nick Shulman. All of this will help you learn more about the nuances of various tournament situations.

Several recent books by Zachary Elwood, and older books by Mike Caro and Joe Navarro (with Phil Helmuth) provide excellent background for reading your opponent’s tells. This will help you transition from online to live poker. Learning detailed GTO strategies is extremely difficult, but everyone should be familiar with the ideas of balanced ranges for any action, bluffing and defending frequencies. If you are very strong in math, try The Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chen and Jarrod Ankenman.

Philip Newall’s The Intelligent Poker Player, which unfortunately focuses on limit hold’em, has a lot of great stuff on game theory and balancing ranges. It also contains an excellent introduction to behavioral psychology and economic theory within a poker context.

I also want to recommend two more general books that cover a variety of no-limit hold’em topics. One is Little’s Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em and the other is Harrington on Modern Tournament Poker by the redoubtable team of Harrington and Robertie. This focuses on modern no-limit hold’em tournament poker, and it will help you refine your starting ranges and strategic options. And of course, continue to read Card Player. I could continue making more suggestions of things to do to improve your physical, mental and psychological condition and to improve your poker skills, but I have already given you so much to do that doing it all before this year’s WSOP is virtually impossible. But, then it’s never too soon to start preparing for the 2019 WSOP. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow aka Zebra is a very successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 40 years. With two WSOP bracelets, over 50 cashes, and a few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his Vegas gaming time to poker, and can be found in cash games at Bellagio and at tournaments during the WSOP. When escaping from poker, he spends the spring and the fall in New York City where he hangs out at his bars: Doc Holliday’s, The Library and DBA.