Thursday, April 17, 2008
After you win, head to the felt
By Joe Hachem, Team PokerStars Pro
Special to ESPN.com
So you've won yourself an online satellite giving you an entry into the greatest poker tournament in the world. Welcome to the World Series of Poker main event, where you will be competing against some of the toughest players out there. Congratulations!
First, you're going to need to sharpen your live game, and that means you should play only live games until the main event. Why? There is such a vast difference between live and online play that it needs to be addressed.
One of the biggest differentiators between live and online play is table presence. Most online players are not aware of the importance of facial expressions, body language, handling chips, handling cards, looking at hole cards and especially being scrutinized visually by opponents during live games.
Here is a to-do list for aspiring live game superstars:
• Buy a cap and sunglasses. This will make you feel more protected from the visual scrutiny.
• No headphones. You will have too much information to compute without the music in your head as well.
• Never say a word during a hand. Silence is golden. You cannot give any information away if you don't say anything.
• When you are dealt a hand, wait until it is your turn to act. Then look at your hole cards. While you're waiting, watch everyone else look at their cards and try to pick up some tells.
• After you have seen your cards, if your hand is not an obvious fold, wait five seconds to act. Do this consistently, so that there are no inconsistencies in your actions that would signify strength or weakness.
• Formulate a betting routine. This is very important. What this means is that every time you are going to set chips into the middle of the pot, you need to do it the same way. For example, you could cut your chips down in front of you, stack them and push them forward. Following the same betting routine every time makes it much harder for your opponents to gather information about you.
• Don't overact. This means don't look strong when you are weak and don't look weak when you are strong; you're fooling no one. Voiding your face of any type of expression is priceless.
• Stay focused. After you have made a bet, stay calm by focusing on a spot just in front of you and do not get distracted. That way, they can look at you all they like and still get no information.
Second, let's talk about some of the differences between online and live play:
• Online play is way more aggressive. Don't be fooled into playing live games the same. People are more concerned about going broke in a live game than online for two reasons. For one thing, there isn't the luxury of another tournament starting every five seconds. Also, live players don't want to look silly. Calling someone's all-in with top pair will get you broke most of the time in live play as most people would not be prepared to go all-in if they couldn't beat top pair.
• A live tournament plays a lot slower than online, so be prepared to have plenty of patience. Just worry about your own table. What someone else is doing on another table will not affect you for the moment.
• Practice by playing small pot poker. By that, I mean try to keep the pot size relatively small by not making huge bets unnecessarily. For example, I always like to bet 75 percent of the pot or thereabouts unless I am making a big bluff or overbetting the nuts. Don't be one of those weak players who bet three times the pot with a big hand because they are scared of being outdrawn. Play the game right -- and if you get outdrawn, so be it.
• Play your game. It's very important to play your own game and not try to play differently because now you are playing a live tournament. Have faith in your game, and just do it.
• Be as observant as you can. There are so many bits of information in a live tournament for you to use if you just pay attention. Over the years, I have been able to survive and go very deep in many tournaments, purely thanks to my observations. Through hours of close observation, I was able to detect when opponents were weak and exploit those moments to my advantage, even when I did not have a hand at the time. In online play, we base our reads on betting patterns and previous notes on the opponent. There is so much more information to collect and understand in live play.
Finally, just play, and play and play and play. There is no substitute for experience. The more live games you play, the more comfortable you will feel. This brings confidence, which you will need a lot of if you are to defeat more than 8,000 people and ultimately face me heads-up for the title this year.
Good luck, and remember that no one remembers who came in second, so get out there and win.
Hope to see you at the final table, where maybe you will call out "Pass the Sugar!"
Joe Hachem is the 2005 WSOP champion and a part of Team PokerStars Pro. He plays exclusively at PokerStars.net, where you can play for your chance to make it to the WSOP.