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Tips for winning a tournament

May 17, 2004 11:08 PM

Now that we’re in the thick of the World Series of Poker, not to mention the fact that poker, because of worldwide TV coverage, is one of the hottest fads in the land, I thought it might be helpful to offer some hints on how to play — and win — a poker tournaments.

I used to have about 50 or 60 rules for winning poker tournaments — but over the years I’ve pared them down to only three.

The first thing is that you must have enough money to get into the tournament.

The second requirement is that you must have enough courage to go broke on every hand.

The third requisite is that you must have enough luck so that your best hands will stand up, and so that with an inferior hand, you can outdraw your opponents.

You have to be luckier than they are at least two or three times in the tournament. Money, courage, and luck — these are the three things I think you need to win a poker tournament.

Now let me recall some of the other good rules I followed when I first began to play tournament poker. First, you should prepare yourself like an athlete. I remember the second year that I played in the World Series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas. I went to Hawaii about three weeks before the tournament, to the garden isle of Kauai where very few people live.

My wife Carol and I went backpacking through the mud and the slosh in the tropical jungle there, climbing high up into the mountains where we ate a nourishing lunch. I was training myself to become accustomed to solitude, getting my mind right, and improving my ability to focus. And I was getting oxygen — you know, if you’re drowning in the ocean and you deprive your brain of oxygen for 10 minutes or so, you’ll suffer severe brain damage even if you’re rescued. You also suffer brain damage in the poker room if you deprive yourself of oxygen because you have to have oxygen to function properly.

So at the breaks that come every so often in the tournament, instead of heading for the restroom like most others do, I make a dash for the open air so that I can replenish my mind with some of that good fuel, that fresh, clean air. It also doesn’t hurt to run around the block a few times to get your heart pumping and your body and mind ready to return to the tournament refreshed.

All the tournaments at the WSOP are now two-day events with the final table played on the second day. I designed The Seniors World Championship of Poker in the same way so that you can play five to six hours the first day and then return the next day at about noon rested and ready to play the final table. I have a little saying that I like to use at The Seniors: "We don’t take breaks, we take taps."

Also, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and shoes that fit just so. If you’re uncomfortable for any reason, try to rectify the situation. If it’s too cool in the tournament area, go back to your room and get a jacket. One school of thought says that you shouldn’t do anything before the game or during the game that distracts you. Another one says to wear headphones and listen to music. I’m a strong proponent of both schools of thought! Do whatever works best for you.

I am writing a new book: Sixty-five ways to improve your life and your poker game, and most all of the sixty-five ways will help you be a winning poker and tournament players. I will be sure and let you know when it is ready.

Excuse me now, I have to go win a seat in next week’s World Series of Poker championship event!