In the second instalment of our Daily Strategy column, Team Pro’s Georgina “GJReggie” James offers some tips to people attending a live poker event for the first time.
Hundreds of thousands of people play poker without ever leaving their home. That much has been true ever since the advent of online poker, something like 25 years ago.
But playing online poker can sometimes also lead you directly to a major poker festival, like the European Poker Tour (EPT), for example. There are hundreds of players at every event who have won a satellite package, offering them the chance to play live for what might be the very first time.
Stepping out from behind the computer screen can be pretty daunting, particularly if your first trip is to something like a record-breaking EPT Barcelona. But here are some really useful tips for any newcomers, thanks to Team PokerStars Pro’s Georgina “GJReggie” James.
Learn some live-play basics to get your confidence up
If I’d just won a package, I’d be pretty excited to play and if I wasn’t used to playing live, it might be a good idea to try and get some practice in, just at a local game. Just to get an idea of how the game is going to run, having an actual dealer in front of you, practicing looking at your cards, that kind of thing. I always think the hardest thing for me, even now because I don’t play too much live, is counting chips. So it’s a good idea to get used to these things. Even if it’s just one or two experiences beforehand, getting used to looking at your stack, knowing how many chips you’ve got, looking at the pot and getting a rough idea how much there is. I always think that’s a good idea.
Pack your bags to prepare for all eventualities
You want to bring a variety of clothes for different temperatures because it’s really, really hard to predict what the poker room is going to be like, if it’s going to be too hot or too cold. Making sure you’ve got something for everything would be a good idea, regardless of what the weather outside is like in the city you’re in. I always make sure I bring a water bottle because they usually have stations where you can refill and you want to play hydrated while you’re playing because you can have some really, really long days. Especially if you’re doing well. One other thing I try to plan, even though it doesn’t necessarily work that well, is food. You do get a dinner break, but those 15-minute breaks aren’t the most amount of time, and when there’s so many people trying to go and get food, and you might need to use the bathroom too, you might find it hard to get food if you’re hungry. So try to be a bit prepared on that side of things.
Look at the tournament schedule to find what else you could play
These festivals are huge and if you’ve won a package, you might as well make the most of the time that you’ve got at an event. There are usually quite a lot of satellites running to a lot of the other events as well. It can be pretty affordable to try to satty into some of the other events. It gives you something else to do, and a bit more practice playing live poker, if you don’t get to play live that often. It’s usually pretty fun. When you’ve won a package especially, you really want to make the most of your time here. Whether that’s playing poker, or seeing the city, plan your schedule so you can make the most of it.
Make the most of the hospitality and check out the activities on offer
I really recommend talking to all the staff PokerStars has at the events and getting their tips. The player liaison PokerStars has is absolutely stellar. You really couldn’t go to a better event as a first timer because they host these things and manage these things incredibly well. If you’ve won a package, you’re most likely to get some free merch as well — get some food vouchers, some tickets — so you absolutely have to visit the welcome desk. They’re always really, really friendly there and there are people who speak every language. They’ll be able to guide you and help you out if you have any issues. PokerStars Travel are really useful as well. If you speak to them, a lot of the time they might have tickets and vouchers for things. I know here in Barcelona, you can get bus tour tickets from them, if you’d like. I’d recommend talking to them for sure.
Have an idea of what you want to do, but stay flexible
I wouldn’t plan my day super rigidly because you never know what will happen in a poker tournament, but if you are going to play multiple events at an EPT, make sure you know if it’s a two-dayer or a one-dayer. That’s always good to know. See if you have any guaranteed days off, so you can arrange activities, things like that. Look at what you want to play, see how long that tournament might go on, and then if you’ve got any days that you know are guaranteed to be completely free, you can go and do some sightseeing maybe.
Get to know your surroundings, and be well prepared for a long day
On the morning of the event, I’d definitely get a good breakfast in, for sure. I’m not an early bird, so I don’t wake up too early, but it’s important to get some breakfast in. After that, I kind of like getting to the casino a bit early, when it’s a bit quiet. When I arrived here to Casino Barcelona for the first time, I actually walked into the casino as everyone was leaving on dinner break and it was quite overwhelming. There was a whole sea of people. That might make you feel a bit anxious if it’s something you’re not used to. So I always like to get there a bit early. You get to survey the room, take in the atmosphere, wander around and make sure you know where the food places are, where the bathrooms are, and get to know the area. If I wanted to be playing from the start, I’d then make sure I get to the reg desk early so I can be there for the first hand.
Make sure you’re comfortable at the table, and you know where everything is
When I first sit down, usually I’m just making sure I’m in the right seat. They’ll give you your table and seat number, so be sure it’s right. Then say hi to the dealer, and hopefully say hi and good luck to everyone else as well. Be nice and friendly. Then it’s a case of getting your stack, arranging it how you want it, and making sure you know which denominations are which colour, things like that. Take a note of where the screens are as well, that’s quite useful. There’s usually an information screen within view somewhere which lets you know what the level is, what the blinds are, and when the next break is. And then just get comfy. If you want your water out, take it out you bag and put it on the table near you. Then just breathe for a minute. Then you need to play your first hand, win your first pot, and you’re sorted.
There might be things that surprise you
The sheer amount of people took me by surprise. It’s amazing to see how many people have come here, how the live events are really thriving. Obviously they’ve broken every record in the book while they’ve been here, but it’s kind of an overwhelming number of people. I think when you walk into the poker room for the first time, you’ll see the TV set and that will be a shock. It’s unmissable. The stage and the set-up for the live stream is out of this world. It’s very, very impressive. Even better than I was expecting.
Real events are not exactly like you see on TV
I think poker can sometimes be a bit over-glamorised on TV. The set is very impressive and very, very nice, but there’s also 2,000 other people squished in a corner playing poker that you don’t see on TV. People also don’t realise how long the days can be. They think, “Oh, you’re playing a few hands, it goes well and then you go home.” But the days can be really, really long and you’ll be playing into the early hours if you’re doing well and you make the next day. I don’t think some people grasp the concept of how tiring it can be to play these tournaments. They’re like, “You’re just having fun! Playing poker all day! It’s just a game!” They think every table is the TV table, as opposed to the reality of it.
Manage your expectations, and just try to enjoy it
Just try to enjoy the experience and have as much fun as possible. Play your own game. You can get in your head a lot, when you’re playing a big live event, you’ll be thinking, “Everyone’s going to know I’m new, and everyone’s going to take advantage of me.” But I don’t think that’s the case. If you think about it too much, you’ll end up playing worse. Just stay relaxed, stay focused, play your own game. Try not to have too many expectations and just make sure you have fun and you enjoy the experience. I feel more relaxed when people start chatting at the table. That makes it more social and that’s a lot of the reason people come to these events. So go to the activities, make some new friends, play a bit of poker and have some fun. All you can do is the best you can.