Mental Tips for the WSOP Main Event

  • Jared TendlerJared Tendler
Mental Tips for the WSOP Main Event

The 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event is nearly upon us and thousands of excited poker players are already making their way to Las Vegas. I've had three clients make the November Nine in the last three years and many more have gone on to win bracelets.

While I can't exactly give you the advice you may need to win the Main Event, I can certainly help you avoid throwing it all away as I see many players do every year. You need to treat the Main Event like a tennis player would treat a Grand Slam tournament, but many poker player's treat it like a vacation.

Keeping it Simple

I may be known as the guy who helps players overcome tilt, but if there is one thing that tilts me personally it is seeing players reading my book at the table while they are playing in the Main Event. It's flattering of course, but when you are in a big event it's time to perform, not learn.

My first piece of advice, then, is to minimize active learning. Rather than trying to learn a lot of new information away from the table, now is the time to work hard on eliminating your biggest leaks and really making your game solid.

Before the big event, make a note of your biggest errors, especially the ones that show up when you are tired or tilted. Your primary learning goal when taking a shot at a big event like the WSOP is to ensure that these errors do not happen.

When away from the tables discuss these errors with friends, post them on forums and read a bit of strategy about them. Since these mistakes are often connected to a mental game problem like tilt or overconfidence, be sure to have the mental correction to go along with the tactical one. At the tables, keep a piece of paper handy that reminds you of the corrections.

Focusing on eliminating your worst makes it easier to automatically play your best. If you instead focus on learning a lot of new things, you can't guarantee the new stuff will even show up (since it's so new), and you make your big leaks more likely to appear.

Overexcitement & Dreaming

The excitement of the WSOP is awesome, and it's why so many of those who play it will walk away with great memories. But it can be easy to get too excited and that's a big problem. It leads some of you to bust out on the first level of Day 1 and others to nit it up too much near the bubble.

It is every player's dream to win the Main Event, but each year around 7,000 players have that dream quashed, and only one person has it fulfilled. Dreaming too much can get in the way of making good quality decisions in the moment. You only have a certain amount of mental space at any one time during a hand, and when you are too focused on the end result of winning the Main Event, you're not focused on making clear decisions right now.

Ideally, you'd fight to keep your mind from focusing beyond the current level. But if you find that it's too hard to avoid thinking about winning, especially when away from the tables, at least make your thoughts more practical.

Instead of just fantasizing about what it would be like to win and what you'd do with the money, think about what you would do a tough tactical spot. Think about, for example, what you would do on the money bubble with different stack sizes or when facing an all-in call with pocket kings during the first level. Think about the situations in which you are likely to make mistakes, and try and make the daydream about what you would do instead. Not only may this arm you well if that scenario comes up, at the very least it won't surprise you when it does.

Mental Overload

Another problem poker players face when they get deep into the tournament is managing themselves while away from it. Poker is so mentally taxing, especially when you are playing for 12 hours or more a day, that it often requires effort to be able to switch off. When playing for long hours, many days in a row, getting proper rest could make the difference in how you perform when it matters most.

Often players have a hard time turning off because their mind continues to grind after they are done playing. The day is over but your mind is flooded with thoughts about hands, mistakes, and random things your opponents said.

When you're intensely focused on poker for 12-plus hours, your mind has taken in a ton of data. Sometimes this massive amount of data makes you feel more tired than you physically are. It's a phenomenon I call "bloated brain" or the mental equivalent of eating too much food. You're not tired physically, but you've stuffed your brain with too much information and it weighs you down.

All that data needs to be "digested," so to speak. Normally, the mind can do it. But when there is so much data and you need to recover quickly for the next day, you need to actively help digest it.

The easiest way that I've found to accomplish this is by writing. On a piece of paper, or on your phone or laptop, write down anything on your mind. Make a note of the biggest mistakes you made, and why they were mistakes. Write about interesting hands or tough decisions, even though you won them. Basically, get all this data out of your head so your mind has less to digest.

This technique minimizes the amount of thoughts that will be swirling around in your mind when you try to settle down enough to go to sleep — which can take hours. Instead, you'll get to sleep faster, and wake up with more energy and a clearer mind. Which practically guarantees that you'll play better than if you show up tired and foggy, as though you're hungover.

This idea is very simple, but it could have a big impact if you make a deep run.

Jared Tendler is a mental game coach to over 500 poker players, including some of the best players in the world, and is the author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2. Learn more at www.jaredtendlerpoker.com.

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