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Head Games: Take Your Tournament Game To The Next Level

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: May 04, 2022


The Pros: Timothy Adams, Charlie Carrel, and Mark Seif

Craig Tapscott: What were the top ‘Ah-Ha’ moments along your career’s journey up the stakes that really made a difference in your results?

Timothy AdamsTimothy Adams: There wasn’t really any ah-ha moments. Just through your poker journey you learn ways to deal with how to approach the game. Ultimately, it’s a game. You should enjoy it. 

It’s easy to get down when playing poker if things aren’t going your way but doing that is just harming your future opportunity. The future can be the next minute or the next month. It’s important to stay present and be ready for the next hand. There is always a next hand coming. 

With all the crazy things going on in the world today, if you’re sitting down at a poker table, you’re pretty fortunate. It’s important to have this perspective and to remember it’s just a game and games are to be enjoyed.

Charlie Carrel: I would have to say that when I learned that range analysis was first and foremost the thing to think about in all spots, my game changed.

There were also some other moments, such as when I broke down hands that seemed obvious, but actually turned out to be complete punts. Or when I counted combinations. Combo counting really broke some of my misconceptions about the game.

Also, my game went to a new level when I took the time to think about and study live tells. At that moment, everything about poker changed for me.

Mark Seif: I would say my first “ah-ha” moment came in May 2001. That’s when I quit practicing law full-time to dedicate myself to playing poker for a living. But I wasn’t remotely prepared for that change. Even though I was playing high-stakes cash games at Commerce Casino, I was still investing heavily in the stock market on an almost daily basis and sitting on too many fences in general. I lacked focus, to say the least.

I knew I had to buckle down and focus if I was going to make it as a pro. I looked closely at my poker results and found that I was doing far better at $80-160 stud than I was at bigger limit hold’em games or similar size pot-limit hold’em games. I made the decision to play only $80-160 stud, even though I was playing against Phil Ivey, Chad Brown, Danny Robison, and Eric Drache, among other stud superstars. I also decided to play some tournaments if I was running well.

I also felt that I was sharpest in the morning, so I focused on playing during the day mostly. I was lucky to be able to choose when to play because this particular game ran 24/7, 365 for years without ever breaking. I developed a routine where I would get up around 6 am and be out of the house by 6:30 am to beat the LA traffic from Pasadena to Commerce. Most days, I quit the game anywhere from 1 pm to 3 pm. Only, on a few occasions did I play late into the night.

I proved to myself that I could make a living playing poker, but only if I exercised an uncharacteristically high level of discipline and focus. I later learned this was pretty much the biggest factor for me to achieve success in poker.

Craig Tapscott: Please share some of the ways you have approached a deeper study of the game?

Timothy Adams: Basically, lots of solver work, studying preflop ranges, using equity calculators. That type of thing. The most important thing is to not mimic or copy strategies but to understand them. Knowledge is power and there is a lot of information out there to help acquire the knowledge. 

Charlie Carrel: I’ve only ever watched other people play, thought about poker, and talked poker with the friends around me. I never studied GTO, but it came intuitively to me as I played and become more experienced.

Mark SeifMark Seif: I have always been a student of the game from the perspective of GTO play, and of course, from a strictly statistics/odds-based approach as well. GTO is essentially a defensive way of playing designed to make you less exploitable to your opponents due to you playing too predictably. I have long advocated, in my WSOP Academy courses and WPT Boot Camps, that one should mix up their play such that they make a variety of plays when they have the same hand/same situation.

Craig Tapscott: What are some of the ways you get your mind and body ready for the crushing hours of MTT play?

Timothy Adams: I usually try to stay active with a combination of gym (weight training, functional movements), sports (hockey, soccer, paddle tennis) or low impact activity (going for long walks or getting lots of steps in, in general).

I don’t have a specific routine before I play, but I just try to listen to my body or my energy levels (takes practice just paying attention to these things). One day I may prepare by playing sports before a session or maybe I’ll go for a long walk. One of my good poker friends prepares for his sessions by doing intense cardio or weightlifting. In my experience, that type of activity drained my energy reserves for the rest of the day. Everyone is different.

I make sure I’m well-fed and eat things that make me feel good. I just try to eat clean and have a good combo of proteins, fats, and carbs. I know I’ll be making a lot of decisions when I play a poker session, so I’ll decrease my amounts of screen-time before I play and do something like go for a walk in nature to clear my head. It’s basically just things that make me feel good. That’s up to the individual to figure out for themselves. 

Charlie CarrelCharlie Carrel: If I play a poker series, I’ll eat as clean as possible, meditate for an hour before I play, and meditate on every break. I’ll surround myself with a good environment, whether that be an office space or the right people.

Mark Seif: To be honest, I am not the best at being able to ‘prepare’ per se for a tournament other than the obvious getting some sleep the night before, having a clear mind that morning by taking care of whatever I need to have done so that I’m not thinking about it while I play. When I’m well rested and able to focus I generally know it and I will usually decide to play that day.

I try to be on time or even a little early. I like to be there for every hand dealt whether I’m in it or not. I try to pay close attention to every player and every play they make. I try to stay off my phone as much as possible. I almost never wear headphones and I try to keep myself “involved” in the game by guessing what my opponent is likely to be holding during a hand and then comparing that to what is ultimately shown. I pay close attention to bet sizes (actual and relative to the pot size of course) and pressure points for each opponent. I also pay close attention to stack sizes and how each opponent adjusts their play when their stack changes substantially.

Other than that, I never drink alcohol while I’m playing and never eat a big meal at dinner. I try to monitor how much caffeine I’ve had throughout the day. I essentially try to wind down physically and mentally as the day winds down, which is important for getting an adequate amount of rest between days in a long series. ♠

Timothy Adams is one of most successful tournament players ever, with more than $26 million in career live tournament earnings. That’s good for 19th on the all-time money list and second in Canada behind only Daniel Negreanu. The WSOP bracelet winner most recently won the EPT Prague High Roller in March. Follow him on Twitter @Tim0theeAdams.

Charlie Carrel is a top tournament pro from England with nearly $10 million in career tournament earnings. The popular YouTuber won the EPT Grand Final high roller for $1.2 million and the Triton Super High Roller London for $1.6 million. He also took down an online WPT High Roller for $600,000. He can be found @Charlie_Carrel.

Mark Seif is a former attorney with nearly $3 million in live tournament cashes. The California native has two WSOP bracelets which he won back-to-back in 2005. He has 18 wins in total on his CV including trophies from the US Poker Championship, Venetian DeepStack, World Poker Open, Legends Of Poker, and most recently, the Wynn Millions. Seif is @markseif.