How to Prep for Your First Real Poker Tournament

Just for the record, we’re not suggesting that online poker tournaments are anything but real. It’s just that in this case, we’re talking about ‘real’ poker tournaments that take place in person. 

A wholly different experience to gambling online, which becomes evident in an instant.

Gearing up for a poker tournament the first time can be exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures. Irrespective of how confident you are in your game, you’re headed for something completely new.

Suddenly, the comfort of being hidden behind a screen is removed from the occasion. You’re face to face with your opponents, they’re watching your every move and there’s no software automation to prevent you from making mistakes. 

All of which can make newcomers to poker tournaments a huge bag of nerves. Not great, when the last thing you want is to be distracted from the action playing out. 

Thankfully, there are several important things you can (and should) do to get yourself ready for business. Nerves are normal and inevitable, but taking a few proactive steps before hitting the tables could work in your favour.

For example:

1.  Allow Plenty of Time 

By plenty of time, we mean arriving way earlier than you think you need to. Arriving early to the destination you need to be at gives you time to relax, unwind and familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Arriving late (or just in the nick of time) means starting out at the tournament already stressed to hell. 

You need to do everything you can to give yourself as little to worry about as possible. If it means heading out a day early and treating yourself to a comfortable overnight hotel stay, so be it.

2.  Establish Your Objectives

Your skill and experience level will determine how realistic your objectives are. If winning the whole thing is the only outcome you consider acceptable, you’re in for a rough ride. The fact that you’re new to the whole poker tournament thing means you’re actually unlikely to get anywhere near the top three.

Your goals need to be proportionate to your knowledge, skill and experience levels. Getting started, it can be surprisingly satisfying simply to get through the first few rounds. Don’t set your sights on unicorns – focus more on the experience, rather than pocketing a cash prize. 

3.  Eat Well and Sleep Well

Tiredness can be an absolute killer at the poker table. Hunger can be even worse, as you find yourself focusing on anything but the game itself. 

What’s important to remember is that the average poker tournament drags on for quite some time. Ensuring you are well rested is therefore essential – as is eating something sensible ahead of time. That said, super-heavy meals that are likely to leave you feeling lethargic are best avoided at all costs.

4.  Don’t Assume Your Strategy Will Work

It may have been a specific strategy that led to you getting a seat at your first poker tournament. You may have been hugely successful with your preferred strategy online, which you’ll now (of course) be putting to practice at the tables.

Unfortunately, what works online often proves completely ineffective in the real world. Feel free to bring your preferred strategy to the table, but be ready to switch things up if it clearly isn’t working. Flexibility holds the key to success at most poker tournaments. Stick too rigidly to one tactic and it won’t be long until you’re figured out and taken to the cleaners.

5.  Brace for Big Wins and Losses

When picturing how things may or may not play out, visualise facing the most devastating loss you can imagine. While doing so, think how you’ll feel if you absolutely nail it and pocket an enormous pot. Then ask yourself – can you keep your emotions in check in both instances?

Big wins and losses can be just as distracting, typically resulting in emotions taking the place of logic and reason. There will be times during the tournament when things become extremely turbulent on both sides of the spectrum. Your job is to brush off these highs and lows like they mean nothing, and continue playing sensibly as if they never happened. 

6.  Dress Strategically and Comfortably

On that note, it also makes sense to take reasonable steps to hide your emotions from your fellow players. Wearing hoodies, sunglasses and earphones at the table isn’t solely about attempting to look like a pro. It’s also about giving yourself the best shot at securing your emotions and intentions.

That said, you need to dress in a manner that’s comfortable and appropriate for you. If you’ve never gambled in sunglasses or listening to music through headphones before, this probably isn’t the best time to try it out. You could end up distracting yourself more than anyone else, which isn’t going to work in your favour.

7.  Focus on the Fun

If you can convince yourself you’ll have a great time irrespective of the outcome, you’re golden. You’ll get a real kick out of every game, you’ll soak up the atmosphere of the whole thing and you’ll learn a thousand invaluable lessons. More importantly, you’ll be in a better position to win as you’ll be totally relaxed.

By far, this is the best way to approach a poker tournament as a first-time newcomer.  It sets the scene for an enjoyable and enriching experience, which is about more than simply pocketing prizes. 

8.  Go Easy on the Booze

Last up, it might seem like the best way to loosen yourself up at the start of a poker tournament is to have a couple of drinks. Which might be the case, but what happens if you’re still in the game several hours later? Do you continue drinking to maintain momentum and end up hammered, or do you quit after the first few and nurse a mini hangover for the duration?

Try not to get too caught up in the excitement of the whole thing, right out of the starting gate. Plan for the long haul and remember that you could be there for many hours to come.

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