Playing in the WSOP? Be Psychologically Prepared With These Five Tips

  • Dr. Tricia CardnerDr. Tricia Cardner
2014 World Series of Poker

The 2015 World Series of Poker is just a little over a month away with the first events starting on May 27. Playing the WSOP is a bucket list item for many players. The prospect of earning fame, glory, and perhaps even piles of cash can be scintillating! However, there are many potential speed bumps along the way. I’m going to share a few psychological tips with you that will help you make the most of your experience.

1. Have Fun

Dr. William Glasser theorized that the four basic human needs are belonging, power, freedom, and fun. While poker can certainly feed all four of those needs, I’d like to focus on fun for a moment.

Whether this trip is your first or your twenty-first, make every effort to have fun. Take a moment or two to relish the experience. Poker is the one activity where anyone who has the cash can sit down and play with the superstars of the game. Make it your goal to appreciate this fact and have a good time. Having fun is a human need because it’s a prerequisite for learning, and there will be ample time for that at WSOP.

2. Learn as Much as You Can

As a relative WSOP newbie a few years ago, I found myself with a table draw that included Hevad “RaiNKhaN” Khan to my right and Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi on my left. Now, I could have been sad and scared by this bad fortune, but I chose to look at it another way. I decided that I would see what I could learn from my tablemates while remaining calm and having fun.

Instead of being intimidated by the “name” pros or other tough competitors you might end up playing against, pay attention to what they are doing and try to figure out the “why” behind their actions. You may just learn several new tools you can add to your own game.

3. Practice Centering Breaths

Chances are you’ll find yourself in many hair-raising situations. Whether you take a bad beat or get put to the test for a lot of chips, you need to learn how to manage your emotions.

The best way to practice “arousal management” is to learn how to breathe properly. As humans our bodies are designed to work a certain way when our adrenaline gets flowing. We start breathing in a very shallow manner, our heart rate increases, and the prefrontal cortex (the site of decision-making and self-control) shuts down.

To stop this process and get back on track, you want to practice deep, slow breathing. The best way to do this is to take 15-second breaths. Breathe in for 6 seconds, hold it for 2 seconds and exhale for 7 seconds. Make sure you count this out in order to get the full benefit. You may have to do this several times in a row to clear your head sufficiently. It sounds simple, but it works.

4. Have a Touchstone Quote

It’s good to have an inspirational quote to look at (on your phone or tablet, or even written on a card in your wallet or purse) when things are not going so well. You can use anything you like, but a few I like include:

Playing in the WSOP? Be Psychologically Prepared With These Five Tips 101
Make a list of strategic reminders before you play, then check them often
  • “If you are going through hell, keep going.” ~Winston Churchill
  • “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” ~John Wooden
  • “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~Nelson Mandela

You could also make a list of reminders for yourself of things that are important to you to focus on. Reminding yourself to play only one hand at a time is one example, as is a reminder to not play marginal hands out of position. You can make notes of things that are relevant to you and refer to them often.

5. Take Notes

Finally, one of the fastest ways to improve your game is to take notes of hands that you play or that you see others play for later review. Many top pros take notes and the WSOP is an excellent time for you to pick up the habit. You might want to relay especially interesting hands to your friends back home, too, since if you play a few 12-14 hour days in a row, they all start to run together!


Hopefully, you will have many chances to attend the WSOP. It’s a great place to make new friends and see old ones. The experience that you have there will be whatever you make of it. If you want it to be amazing, it will be. But if you focus on negative things, you probably won’t have a very good time.

Get into the right frame of mind, have a great time, and you might just walk away with a pile of money. What more can you ask for?

Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Positive Poker with Jonathan Little, available in paperback, audio, and e-book formats via D&B Poker as well as through the PokerNews Book Section. She also co-hosts The Mindset Advantage Podcast with Elliot Roe, available for free on iTunes, and you can follow her on Twitter @DrTriciaCardner.

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