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Preparing For The WSOP Main Event

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Aug 25, 2021


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I am happy that we now know the World Series of Poker main event will be back, in its live version, in 2021. It is scheduled to run from Nov. 4-17 at the Rio in Las Vegas. As you would assume, I will be there competing, and I hope you can join me in this wonderful event. In this article, I will discuss preparing for the main event, and how to increase your chances of a great result.

The first thing to discuss is the buy-in. $10,000 is a lot of money, at least to most of us. Make sure it is a reasonable expense for you. If you show up and this is a huge splurge for you personally, it is going to be hard for you to play your best. Any time the money at risk is more than you are comfortable with, there is a significant chance you will react emotionally when facing tough decisions and playing big pots.

Most often, the person who is playing too high for their comfort zone plays too tight, and folds in spots where they are a favorite to win. When such a spot involves risking all or most of their chips, they just can’t pull the trigger and go for it. If this applies to you, wait until the money means less to you. Or, only play if you can win your way into the tournament through a cheap satellite, and you have put less of your own money at risk.

Whether you have won a seat, or are paying full price, once you know you are going to enter, it is time to get ready. This is a unique tournament. In any other event with such a high buy-in, the field would be composed of almost entirely elite players. Something like 90% or more of the field could be comprised of top pros, a few skilled amateurs, and not much else. However, the main event is quite different.

Many of the players at your starting table will typically not be that skillful. In fact, the average skill level in the main event is probably lower than that of a typical WSOP Circuit main event (which has a $1,700 buy-in) that you might play anywhere else the rest of the year. As such, you want to remember that a lot of your potential stack growth in the early going will be from these weaker players. You need to pay attention, notice the types of mistakes they are making, and take full advantage of them.

Once you get past the first two or three days, the field will become tremendously tougher. Most of the weakest players will have been eliminated. The remaining players will be amongst the very toughest and most skillful of those who entered, with just a handful of the luckiest weaker players remaining. It is important to win chips early, if at all possible. It is only going to get harder and harder as you advance.

Of course, it is going to be helpful if you can work on your game in the time remaining between now and November. You can read books (I recommend FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, for obvious reasons), watch strategy videos, sign up for a training site, or even take private lessons (I do that too). All of this will help. But I want to focus on the other things you should do to prepare.

Mental preparedness is hugely important. This is a tournament, where if you do well, you will be playing all day long for two weeks. With some days off after day 1 and maybe day 2, you will still play over 100 hours of poker if you go all the way. Have you ever, in your entire poker career, had a stretch of 100 straight hours without facing some huge bad beats or cold-decks? I know I haven’t. Therefore, you need to go into this expecting for those bad things to happen.

You should expect that someone is going to hit a two-outer on the river to beat you in a huge pot. Or that your K-K is going to run into A-A when the other guy only has 30 big blinds. If you get busted when this happens, it sucks. But, what about when you don’t get busted? Are you going to go on tilt, and start playing stupidly with your remaining chips? Or, will you be mentally prepared for this to happen, shrug it off, and keep playing your A-game?

If you expect this to happen going in, it will likely have less of an emotional impact. So, plan for it to happen. And plan for how you are going to handle it. Players have come back from only one or two blinds to win this tournament. You can too. But not if you give up.

Think ahead about some of the logistics. Are you going to stay at the Rio, another casino hotel, with a friend, or somewhere else? If not onsite, will you have a rental car, or take cabs/rideshares to and from the Rio? Do you know how long it will take you to get from your room to the table? Even if it says it is only a five-minute drive to the Rio, you still need to find a parking spot. Depending upon when you arrive, it might be a five-minute walk from your car to your table. Personally, I don’t like to be rushed. I try to arrive at least 20-30 minutes early for day 2 and beyond. That way I’m not running up to my table, hurrying to open my bag, and trying to settle in while we’re already playing the first hand.

Also, make sure that you will be comfortable wherever you’re staying, and allow you to get quality sleep. It might be fun to stay with your buddy, and the free bed is a great deal. But if that bed is a sleeper sofa with that metal bar digging into your back all night, it might be costing you a lot more than the price of a hotel with a nice mattress. I find it rather difficult to play my best if I’m not well rested.

Whenever I play, I have my poker bag with me. A lot of pros do the same. That way, you can have a variety of items with you while you play that you might need or want. My bag has a few of my fossils, though you probably won’t need more than one as a card protector. I also have my Blue Shark Optics glasses, so whenever I want to hide my eyes and still be able to see, I put them on.

One of the most important things to have in your bag are some snacks. Protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, whatever works for you. If you feel your energy getting low, you can eat a handful of almonds and raisins. I even bring items that I can make a meal out of when needed (protein bars, dried meats, packaged mini-meals). I also recommend some aspirin or other medicine for headaches, antihistamines if you are prone to allergies, eye drops if that is an issue, wipes if you wear glasses, and so on. In today’s world, you might also like to have hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Spend some time thinking about what might be handy for you, and bring it along.

Some touring pros travel alone, but many travel with friends, and many non-pros, when playing the main event, travel with a significant other or a friend(s). It is hugely beneficial to have a support system in place for the main event.

Even though you usually get 90 minutes for dinner break, it is so much easier if your support person goes to a restaurant ahead of time, gets a table, and maybe even places your order. You can then go there and eat at a relaxed pace, not rushing to get done in time. Your support person can also bring you food from offsite or have a car ready to drive you to your preferred place. If you need something throughout the day, they can get it for you, so you don’t have to rush to a store to buy it on a short break, if it’s even available at a store onsite. This is also somebody who is on your side, and who you can talk to on breaks or in-between hands, to help you stay calm, focused, and playing your best.

Whatever you do, do NOT let this person create more stress. If your spouse or friend is texting you about getting them comped tickets for a show across town, or arguing about where you want to eat on dinner break, or anything that is distracting you from the game, basically, tell them to “F**K OFF.” You are here, competing in the most important tournament of the year, and trying to win millions of dollars. If they are not going to help you as much as they can, you need a better spouse or friend.

Of course, some other time of year, when they are doing their big thing, you should be doing all you can to support them. Even if it’s something that seems silly or unimportant to you, it is a big deal to them. So, support them when it’s their turn for their main event, and expect their support now, when it is yours.
Have fun, and play smart! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.