Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Let's All Work At Getting To The WSOP Main Event Final Table

I want to share my thoughts on how we can all improve our chances of winning a poker tournament, and maybe meeting at the final table of the WSOP main event. I have written a list of 20 key skills, and each week will expand on each area.

If you have time, please let me know how to improve these articles so we can all improve.

Tournament Poker Series: Let's Meet at the WSOP Final Table

Here is a list of 20 key skills that sets apart the winning players. When you go through the list evaluate yourself on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 5 being the highest.) Frankly, I didn't score very well when I broke things down this way.

1. Entering an event with the right mental approach to tournament poker--playing to win and not just to cash.

I tend to start with the right approach, but often weaken since I have read so much about "survival" in poker.

2. Entering a tournament poker event with a plan--when will you play tight, loose, aggressive, solid, etc

While your plan will change based on what is happening at your table. Even at the start of the event have a plan for how you will approach each event.

3. Embracing the risk in the game and realizing that you can't beat the luck inherent in poker

I often think that different cultures view risk differently. I believe in the US many players, myself included, believe that hard work, smarts and a little luck is all you need to succeed. Not true in poker. Poker is gambling, which means you are taking risks and need a lot of luck.

4. Identifying betting patterns of your opponents

I tend to get lazy after a couple of hours of play and forget to watch my opponents close enough to find betting patterns.

5. Identifying tells of your opponents

At the very least, I try to check out my opponents to the left to see if they look at their cards before action gets to them. I often pick up if my opponents will play or fold a hand.

6. Identifying your own betting patterns

I rarely think about this area.

7. Identifying the tells in your own game

Funny story: A friend told me he had no tells. So I watched him play for 30 minutes. I had never witnessed more tells by one player in my life! I shared what I found--and he was shocked.

8. Your skill at how to play pre-flop based on the strength of your hand

I tend to have a tighter approach in the first three positions than most players.

9. Knowing the importance of chips stack sizes on your decisions

This is something that I have worked on a lot in my play, especially after reading Ace on the River.

10. Knowing how to adjust your game based on your position

I actually gave myself a 5 on this area--which must mean I am missing something.

11. Knowing how to make plays when you are card dead

Another area where I think I have improved upon, and sometimes get called an "idiot" by my opponents. I know that Harrington talks about M. Maybe I'll event something too--MC--for my initials.

12. Realizing the importance of and frequency to bluff successfully

I really need to work on my bluffing game.

13. Knowing the right time to push all-in

I think I do well in knowing when to push.

14. Knowing the right time to fold and realizing that sometimes it s right to fold when you are ahead.

I know this sounds wrong. But, I read a quote by Chip Reese that reflects this idea, and after thinking about it, I think what he says is applicable to tournament poker as well.

15. Accumulating enough chips so you can survive at least one bad beat

I have worked very hard at this skill. My weakness is when I bump heads with a player who has the same goal but is more aggressive than me.

16. Knowing how to play at the final table

Funny but sad story: A few years back I was competing in the big Lucky Chances Fall Series of Tournaments. On three consecutive days, I ended up at the final table. And each time I played so bad, I got knocked out in 7th place or worse. After that experience, I significantly improved my game for final table play.

17. Knowing how to play heads-up poker

I think I am in the top 10% of HU players. Although sometimes I try to get too tricky and knock myself out.

18. Knowing the 101 winning moves you can use in tournament poker

Frankly I may have written the book, but I don't recall all these plays.

19. Not letting your emotions influence your decisions and not going on tilt.

This is by far my biggest weakness today. I never went on tilt during my early years playing tournaments so I'm not sure why I go on tilt now. I usually try not too show my anger. And I never berate my opponents like Phil Hellmuth. But inside I am boiling.

20. Making the best decision for every situation that comes up in tournament poker

Nirvana.

If you scored each area, what is your total score? Now take your total score and reduce it by 20%. You are not as good as you think. Almost every player over rates their own abilities in tournament poker. I know I do.

I am going to post on each area--probably once per week. I also will add some additional skills that I realize I forgot--for example, I should have an area on bet sizing.

Also my friends at Poker Bankroll Blog are going to post my articles as well. Check out their site.

See you at the WSOP Main Event final table this year--and I don't mean watching from the stands!

5 comments:

OhCaptain said...

Very interesting list and most are incredibly important.

On #2, I never enter a tournament with a plan on switching gears. I tend to switch gears in reaction to events and that change is based on what I think is optimal because of that event. I'm not sure if that's a plan or not.

For me, 4,5,6,7 are very important. It's actually what keeps me interested for most of the tournament. As the tournament progresses, I play games in my head trying to use the information to figure out hands that I'm not even in. Also being keenly aware of your opponents interpretations of your tells and patterns can be used later to exploit situations. While of course, during a hand, your betting pattern will determine what you opponent will believe or not believe about the quality of your hand.

Anonymous said...

I only started playing 6 months ago and am doing what I think is pretty ok for my experience. One thing/word which I think is very very important to people at my skill level and that is discipline. It may be my inexperience but I cannot tell you how many times I bet or called knowing I was probably beat for a variety of reasons. You can make all the rules you want but you need the discipline to stick to them. it is a word that I printed out and stuck over my desk in capital letters - DISCIPLINE

Chance47 said...

Mitchell, thank you for sharing this list - it covers the key points well and I like it. For me #4 and #5 are big holes in my games as most of the poker I play is online and frankly I don't bother trying to read opponent play when playing online because it is very hard. If there is something that may not belong on your list I would vote for #17, the HU skills. They way I see it, HU is a rarity in a tournament and even should you get heads-up in a large tourny then your chip stack will almost always limit your options (unless you happen to be even). Nice job and list!
-Chance47

Chance47 said...

Mitchell, thank you for sharing this list - it covers the key points well and I like it. For me #4 and #5 are big holes in my games as most of the poker I play is online and frankly I don't bother trying to read opponent play when playing online because it is very hard. If there is something that may not belong on your list I would vote for #17, the HU skills. They way I see it, HU is a rarity in a tournament and even should you get heads-up in a large tourny then your chip stack will almost always limit your options (unless you happen to be even). Nice job and list!
-Chance47

Mitchell said...

Chance47:

Thanks for the feedback.

As to HU play in a tournament it is hugely important because the difference between first and second place money is big! I have worked hard at learning HU play because, well, I finished 2nd enough to know the frustration. I may be the unhappiest 2nd place finisher in poker (oh yeah, I also don't believe in chopping.)

The great thing about HU is that you can be down 4-1 and with a little luck and better play than your opponent, you can win. (Frankly, few players take the time to learn HU play which makes it even easier to win.)

Your options may be limited when you are low on chips, but in most cases I have found that I had enough chips to use them effectively.

Please take the time to learn HU play. It is really really worth the effort, and it will give you a big edge against most opponents.

What's Your Poker IQ?