Of course, arriving a day or two early to get acclimated and be well-rested (especially important if you’re flying in to avoid jet lag), getting plenty of sleep, eating well and healthy, and get in lots of exercise are all obvious and important guidelines. Here are some other suggestions to think about.
Peter Eastgate, the 2008 Main Event winner, likes the idea of renting a house or condo with some of your poker-playing buddies “to create a healthy and relaxed environment.” He also says it’s important to make a budget of what you are willing to risk at the series to be comfortable with the stakes.
Poker author and pro Matthew Hilger urges players to read some good strategy books beforehand, and his top recommendation is Dan Harrington’s series on hold’em tournaments, a choice seconded by numerous top players in the poker community. For online players making the transition to live tournament play, he writes that it’s important to learn how to not give off tells.
Bernard Lee is a poker player, writer, radio/internet host and a casino spokesperson. For poker strategy preparation, he rereads the book he considers his foundation: "Championship No Limit and Pot Limit Hold'em" by T.J. Cloutier and Tom McEvoy. “This book allows me to review tournament basics, making sure that I enter every event with my head on straight,” he says.
Lee, who is very likely the most meticulous record-keeper in poker, jotting down every single hand he has played over the last six years, also makes copious notes during tournaments that he likes to review later. Some of his instructions to himself include patience (“The single most important reminder, yet sometimes the most difficult to follow”); mental preparation for the inevitable bad beat, and his “mantra” for the Main Event: Get through the day. “You can’t get to the final table unless you make it past Day 1,” he says. “This seems like an obvious statement, but I repeatedly see so many players try to win the event on Day 1.”
Susie Isaacs, two-time ladies poker champion, author and inaugural member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame, has just written a speech she will be giving to executives comparing how preparing for a big poker competition could relate to big business. Some of her techniques she will mention include being prepared mentally, especially being prepared for the player who has no rhyme or reason to his play. “Watch and listen, you can learn so much.” She also advises to have a game plan but to be flexible. She also warns that players should practice emotional control and not go on tilt after a bad beat. “When you go on tilt and act like a big baby, you hurt no one but yourself,” she says. “You must have a positive attitude. The power of positive thinking is real and it is awesome.”
Perhaps nobody else has written so much on mental preparation as Charlie Shoten did in his groundbreaking book, “No Limit Life.” In an upcoming article for a poker magazine, he talks about thought processes that once led to his making a wrong conclusion about his opponent’s cards, resulting in a costly bad play at a critical point in a major tournament. He blames it on compulsive behavior caused by “toxic” thoughts. Here is what he writes: “I learned expensive lessons from that final hand. One of them, compulsive play, is not easy to correct. You probably know that. Thoughts determine how good or bad decisions are as well as the range of opportunities considered. Toxic (untrue) thoughts about yourself, the other players, their potential cards, and situations that arise and change cause bad decisions. I never believe anyone anymore, especially myself, and especially at the poker table. When I see what I believe to be a tell or any other information, I don't automatically allow myself to believe it. I question it. Is it true? I am always questioning my thinking because I don't want to act on false beliefs. False beliefs are based on toxic thoughts that always cause bad decisions and compulsive responses. The cornerstone of all of the best and most creative decisions are the thoughts and the core beliefs those thoughts are based on. They need to be questioned until you KNOW they are absolutely true.”
As a side note, he says he has “cemented” into his mind a phrase to remind him to review all new information before making critical poker decisions. It is the sixth of his “Ten Commitments” from his book: “I am calm, confident and clear, wait for my best choice to appear, after considering all of my choices and the consequences of each.”
Of course, not every player gets so involved in mental preparation. For example, take Barbara Enright, best known for being the only woman to make the final table at the WSOP Main Event. She says that stepped-up exercise is important because she’ll be doing a lot of sitting, and she is also careful to see if her trademark prescription sunglasses need updating. But her main preparation is getting a manicure, pedicure and several new outfits.
Finally, Dan Heimiller, a bracelet holder and captain of the German team at this year’s inaugural World Team Poker tournament, has come up with a rather unique prep tool. He bought an inverse table, a device whereby you hang upside down. “It will send blood to my brain and make me smarter,” he explained.
Well, whatever works.