“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
— Benjamin Franklin
“Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”
— Thomas Edison
“The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.”
— Vince Lombardi
One of them has his picture on the $100 bill. One invented the light bulb. And another is considered the best coach in the history of American sports. These are guys who know what they’re on about.
Regardless of the pursuit — be it presidential politics, scientific innovation or football — preparation is key. And if you want to be successful in poker tournaments, where you’re often up against many hundreds of people with similar ambitions, preparation is a crucial part of it.
In the live arena, tournaments can go on for many days, meaning you have to have a strategy that can see you through an endurance test. And even online, the various types of poker tournaments can last several hours, meaning you need to prepare for long sessions, often alone, where one mistake can end it all.
So what can you do to prepare for a poker tournament? How can you stay alert, focused and on your A-game? Well, quite a lot as it turns out.
It’s common knowledge that motor skills improve the more you practice them, but so do many other things that poker players might rely on. Of course, the more you find yourself calculating pot odds, making notes on opponents and sneaking in successful bluffs, the easier you’ll find it the next time you try it. But it’s also worth remembering that by playing poker tournaments, you’re conditioning mind and body to the activity. Moreover, you are weighing statistics in your favour. The more you see bad beats, the less they affect you. The more you make correct mathematical decisions, the more the variance equals out.
Playing poker tournaments is the absolute best practice for playing subsequent poker tournaments. You can’t help but learn when you’re sitting at the table.
You may have noticed that there are many poker skills that can be applied in everyday life, and the opposite is true as well. Plenty of things that are just good common sense when you’re trying to lead a healthy everyday life also help at the poker tables. Sleeping well is among them. Particularly when you’re looking at a long session, which may go into the early hours, you need to make sure you get enough sleep. That can mean blackout curtains and earplugs, as well as putting the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door if you’re in a hotel. All of this can be done in advance. It’s all preparation.
In the longer term, preparation can also mean finding a good routine to get yourself off to sleep when adrenaline is pumping. Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Do whatever helps you to drop off. And do it consistently, whether you’re playing a tournament or not, so that when poker days come around, you can at least keep the sleep routine the same.
Taking regular exercise is another one of those things that just makes good sense regardless of your job. However, when it comes to poker, you need to make solid plans to work it into your routine. If you’re travelling, you need to either make sure you find a hotel with a decent gym, or find yourself a good hotel room workout. If you’re at home, you need to schedule down-time and exercise time into your weekly routine, examining tournament schedules so you can identify conflits before they arise.
Sometimes it’s smart to get a fitness partner. It’s one thing to disappoint yourself by forgetting to exercise, or not showing up. But it’s harder to do it to a buddy, so fitness partners can be great motivators.
Poker players spend a long time sitting down. There’s just no way to avoid it. And if you’re going to be spending long sedentary hours, you should probably make sure you’re comfortable. As we discovered a few years ago, bad posture is an absolute killer. So invest in a good chair, check out the ergonomics of your workstation, and prepare for the long grind.
In the live arena, you may find yourself hostage to the seats provided by the tournament organisers, but by all means bring cushions, back-rests or other posture aids. Your curved spine will thank you for it in the long run.
Sometimes the very best way to retain focus for long periods is to actively spend some time not staying focused. Find something else to do during your down-time. Our “Five-Minute Filler” series offers a few, sometimes light-hearted, ways to fill the five minute tournament breaks you get online, but you should also make a point of scheduling trips to see friends, or at least the outside, when you have longer away from the tables.
On an hour-by-hour basis, try to find five or ten minutes to focus on things other than poker. On a day-to-day time-scale, look at giving yourself at least as many waking hours when you’re not playing poker as when you are. And on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis schedule in days off and holidays. They’re crucial to keep your appetite for the game and preventing the rot setting in.
The best-organised poker tournaments offer plenty of options for food and drink, but there’s pretty much nothing anyone can do to avoid the forming of queues. When a vast field goes on break at the same time, it’s simply inevitable that there will be lines outside the toilets, as well as at the best food stands. But why not take this part of tournament life into your own hands? Why not prepare some food in advance and bring it with you? Almost all major poker destinations — even Monte Carlo, which has arguably the world’s most hidden Spar — have supermarkets in the city. Buy some food in advance and you won’t need to queue any more. (We took a look at some brain foods for poker players.)
Daniel Negreanu is a good person to emulate in this way. He is a proud vegan and so has very particular dietary requirements, which are often not catered for on poker menus. While you might not be able to afford a personal assistant to prepare your meals, you can at least channel your hidden Negreanu and reach into your backpack for a Tupperware tub containing your favourite morsels, even if you have to pack it yourself.
If you’re playing online, you can also do some similar preparation. Why not cook some meals in advance, allowing you to heat them up in the five-minute tournament breaks? You could probably actually put together a decent stir fry in five minutes, so long as you’ve done the chopping in advance. And if you’re hosting a poker night, you could do a lot worse than our list of delicious recipes. It’s all about the preparation!
There are, of course, plenty of other ways to make sure you’re well prepared for a tournament. If you need to study solver charts, make sure you’ve done all that before sitting down to play. If you like to listen to music, make sure everything is charged up with enough juice to last you the session. And if you need that caffeine hit, make sure you’ve got enough coffee in.
There’s so much about poker tournaments that you simply can’t control. So make a point of taking charge of the things you can.