How to Prepare Yourself for a Poker Tournament

How to Prepare Yourself for a Poker Tournament

Everyone has his or her own approach for how to prepare for a poker tournament. Some people head to the gym, some meditate, and some watch the entire Rocky series from start to finish (looking at you DNegs.).

Here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself and make sure your tournament experience goes smoothly.

1. Set goals

No matter if it’s a big multi-day tournament or a nightly turbo at your local casino, be sure to set yourself goals before you take your seat in the tournament. This way you can feel as if you have a goal that isn’t as big (or non-specific) as “Win this tournament.”

For example, by setting a goal to get to the first break, you can pace yourself and hopefully not make any rash decisions during the first few levels. Then when you get to the first break you can reevaluate and say “Okay, let’s aim for the next break” if you’re a bit short, or “Okay, let’s aim for the end of the day” if you’ve managed to chip up early.

2. Don’t panic

Whether it’s your 100th poker tournament or your first, people are bound to get nervous ahead of the “Shuffle up and deal!” This can be especially true if they’re shot-taking in a larger buy-in event, or if they have satellited into a tournament on a major tour.

Remember — don’t panic. You will be playing the exact same game you’ve done since you started playing with pennies around the kitchen table with your father or grandfather. Two hole cards, five on the board — best five-card hand wins.

3. Take your time

Just before every tournament, the one thing I like to keep in mind is that I’ve paid the buy-in to this event, so the least I can do is enjoy myself. Take your time with your decisions! Not only do you get your value for money from the buy-in, but you may even start to feel certain benefits from slowing down your decision-making in certain tricky spots.

That guy’s been three-betting you all day and you look down at {a-Spades}{k-Spades}. What’s your play? Do you raise? Call? Jam? Whoa! Slow down and consider all of the relevant factors before acting. Take your time on every decision and you’ll start to see a difference in the way you play.

4. Wear layers

Preparing well for a poker tournament also involves thinking ahead of time about spending the better portion of a day and night in a poker room. The most common complaint by far from poker players, at least in my opinion, is that the tournament room is either too hot or too cold. Don’t let this become an issue for you and come prepared for either circumstance.

Shrek told us all about the importance of layers, and don’t you forget it. You don’t need to be wearing thermals or a parka — just enough layers for you to be able to adjust to the climate in the tournament room.

5. Restroom trip

There’s nothing worse than aiming to settle into your seat and focus on the first few orbits, only to feel nature calling inside the first level. Then you’re left with the decision over when to make that dash to the restroom.

If you miss a hand from early position, you’re missing out on value if you get dealt a monster. From late position and the button you’re missing both position and potential blind-stealing hands. And from the blinds themselves? Well, no one likes to give up their blinds!

Take my advice and make sure you make the most of the early rounds. Show up early and head straight to the restroom. Doing so also helps make sure you’ll know where the restrooms are located for later once the breaks come.


You can do much more to prepare yourself for a tournament, including going over strategy, playing some hands, ensuring you get adequate rest, and more — for more on these tips, see Rich Ryan’s tournament preparation plan.

The most important thing is not to let your pre-tournament routines hurt your chances of success. Don’t let a lack of preparation negatively affect your ability both to play your best possible game and to enjoy yourself once you sit down to play that first orbit’s worth of hands and start trying to build up that starting stack.

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