When preparing for your first poker tournament, you’ll probably read every book and article on the game that you can find and review some poker hands. But what’s often overlooked is the experience that surrounds the time at the felt. To make sure that you are on your A game, consider the following.
On the Way and Afterward
Just think about all the hassle that air travel has become. You need to arrive at the airport hours in advance and find ways to kill time waiting. Add to that the frustration of finding out that your luggage is overweight, plus the exorbitant prices on food, drinks, and Wi-Fi. And how about jet lag?
All this stress adds up and takes its toll on your mind. A cluttered and stressed mind is not a winner at the felt. Granted you can’t escape from the headaches of modern travel, but you can minimize the impact.
It’s best to arrive at least 1-2 days before the tournament begins to make up for any possible flight delays and to give yourself time to unwind from traveling. Early arrival means extra costs, but hopefully, with the right poker strategy, you’ll offset them rather quickly.
Travel might be fun, but it can be equally exhausting. So, be sure to plan.
You also need to consider your accommodations carefully. When choosing a place to stay, you’ll likely have more options that you can handle.
Usually, the tournament organizers provide a list of hotels that offer special prices to participants. Because poker is a game of glamor, it’s often the case that such hotels will be on the premium side.
Nothing says that you can’t opt for a cheaper place but consider the location to the tournament’s venue as well as transportation options. Whatever you do, don’t go for couch surfing or camping. You need all the quality rest you can get, and such options will be far from allowing it.
If you are strapped for cash, you can always check the ever-so-popular Airbnb. You can find some great places on this home-sharing platform, but make sure to check the reviews to avoid nasty surprises.
When you do get to your place of choice, settle in comfortably. Your room will be your relaxation zone throughout the tournament, so address any issues (uncomfortable pillows, noisy neighbors, a leaky faucet, etc.) as soon as you arrive.
Speaking of relaxation, allowing yourself some rest time is the best way to beat jet lag and prepare mentally for the upcoming game. You might be tempted to hit the clubs right away, especially if you are in some exotic destination, but try not to lose focus on why you are there in the first place — to beat all the other sharks and go home richer.
Fuel for Your Mind
Even if you ordinarily do not care about what goes in your body, the time spent at the tournament will be an excellent place to start. Avoid heavy, greasy, carb-spiked meals. You’ll get full quickly, and the satiety will disappear as fast. What will linger, though, is the feeling of heaviness and sluggishness. When your body is processing heavy, carb-loaded meals, a significant portion of its energy is focused on digestion at the expense of mental capabilities. The result is you don't feel like doing any work after having a big meal.
So, what should you eat? Focus on getting high-quality protein and plenty of water. Fish, chicken, eggs, and nuts are excellent sources of easily digestible protein. If you are in an exotic country, be careful with the local cuisine. You can’t play at the tournament from the toilet seat!
Water is equally important, so make a note to hydrate regularly. Keep in mind that by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Meaning, your brain is dehydrated and working at a lower capacity.
The whole body mobilizes in processing alcohol, depriving your brain of precious resources.
Drinking, as in alcohol consumption, warrants a point on its own. If you are playing at a tournament, your best bet is to stay away from booze. Wait. Don’t close the article yet.
Yes, James Bond did make it cool to sip on a martini while raking in all the chips. First of all, it’s a movie. Second, Bond’s goal is not to be the best on the poker table but to save the world (while holding a glass of liquor).
Having some beers or whiskey on the rocks might be relaxing when having a home game with the fellas. But when you are competing with hundreds of players, some of them way more experienced than you, you want to stay alert.
Do you know how casinos serve free alcohol on demand? They do it, so you get your mind clouded and gamble away all of your money. Furthermore, alcohol not only impairs judgment but it’s dehydrating. Remember what you just read about hydration?
If you are still trying hard to justify abstinence, think about all the good liquor you could get when you win over the other booze-induced, carb-loaded amateurs at the table. One more time, money and alcohol have their time and place together, just not when you are serious about winning.
Fitness for the Body and the Mind
Physical fitness is often overlooked by many poker players. But the saying “strong spirit in a strong body” is not to be brushed off. Being physically fit has more to do with mind games than most people realize.
First, exercise promotes cognitive restoration and development and helps the body to cope with stress more efficiently. When you are spending several days or even weeks at the poker table, the stress will hit you over the head like a hammer. Going for a jog or whatever exercise floats your boat (rowing is fantastic, too) will take your mind off the game, fill you with endorphins and aid your sleep.
Second, poker tournaments can run for quite some time, and if you are any good at the game, you’ll be strapped to a chair for days ahead. Staying in one place, doing the same thing over and over, no matter how exciting, takes a serious toll on the body — both physically and mentally. Being active will offset some of the negative aspects of prolonged sitting and will help you build your will to sit through the exhausting sessions.
If you are still not convinced of how critical it is to stay fit even if you are only using your mind, take note of the world’s number one chess player Magnus Carlsen. He places physical fitness and nutrition on par with his chess training and regularly practices yoga and soccer.
Physical fitness and mental unwinding are critical to keeping level-headed.
Staying physically fit is only half of the fitness game. You also need to think about your cognitive state and how to keep your mind sharp.
If you are serious about winning a tournament, you need to let go of distractions and stress-inducing thoughts. It might sound easier said than done, but there’s plenty you can do to ease your mind.
Practicing mindfulness has been a common remedy for stress, and while it might sound like a modern-day marketing ploy, mindfulness has deep historical roots.
Another pointer is to stay away from the news. The media tends to focus on negative and anxiety-inducing topics because it’s what sells. And reading about yet another public scandal or celebrity nose job is the last thing that you need to fill your mind.
If reading helps you relax, choose sources that will ease your mind and help you cool off from the game. And while honing your poker skills is always a good idea, spending your free time, indulging in poker-related materials might overwhelm you, so do it with care.
Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned player, it’s likely that you have overlooked some of the things mentioned in this post. While all the fun and excitement happening at the poker table, make sure to pay attention to all aspects of your game. And if you are yet to sit at your first tournament, make sure to read detailed guide to poker tournament strategy and start your journey on the right foot.
If you want to dig deeper into advanced poker strategy, learn more about check-raising and other vital concepts, you can always check out my complete training program “Poker Formula For Success” and make your life even easier at the tables!