Prepare mentally for the World Series of Poker

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It’s never too early to start thinking about the World Series of Poker. But first, a little self-disclosure: Last year I played in the WSOP senior event and fell just short of my goal: cashing. Not deterred, I plan on going back, maybe to the senior event.

Regardless of everything else going on in the world of poker, the WSOP is still our Super Bowl and all you need is the buy-in to play the same game as elite professionals. Not many other competitions allow that. From a peak performance point of view, now is the time to start preparing. Decide on how you’re going to manage your money for buy-ins. Plan your trip; not just travel and hotel, but check out what else is going on in Vegas. The WSOP has a spillover effect on side cash games and other tournaments throughout the city.

Make your travel and hotel plans early. Having last-minute anxiety is no way to travel to the WSOP. Think about what you want to take there: clothes, energy bars, vitamins, etc., and make a packing list.

Remember every event in the WSOP is a grind and a grueling marathon. Prepare! Make sure you have the stamina to play long, slow days. Work out at the gym and at your favorite poker room. Play tournaments!

When you get there, familiarize yourself with the surroundings: not only Vegas as a whole, but the huge rooms that you will be playing in and the WSOP atmosphere.

Before your event, walk around and get used to the sights, the sounds and the smells. Every elite athlete and team does this before a big game. I sometimes call this taking a lap when at your local room, but now you have to get used to a foreign room. Scope out the bathrooms and food, and plan your breaks.

A friend who played the last two main events told me one of the most important things is to know when the breaks are and to manage your liquid intake accordingly. What could be worse than to be bouncing your leg waiting for a bathroom break? Sip water or a sports-drink throughout the tournament. Keep hydrated, but go slowly. Though caffeine has its advantages, there are drawbacks: Some high-powered energy drinks do nothing more than give you a rush before a crash. Know their effects and act accordingly.

Mental preparation is essential. Bring headphones to listen to music, but also to block out babble at the table. Don’t drink a high-sugar and high-caffeine drink for the first time when you’re a day-and-a-half into a tournament; know its effects on you beforehand.
Before you sign up look at the structure and blind levels and develop a plan. Plans, of course, change by the nature of your table and the cards you get, but have a plan.
Knowledge is power and reduces anxiety.

Practice relaxed activation. This starts with practicing breathing exercises. Ante Up archives (anteupmagazine.com) have my articles on this and other topics. Review them. Being in a state of relaxed activation allows you to use your people-reading skills, your knowledge of the math and the fundamental poker skills you have learned and experienced.

Practice visualization. Picture yourself succeeding at the table. Picture yourself following your plan. See the win; feeling what it feels like to win.

Practice positive thinking.

Increase your patience level. Good poker can be hours of boredom followed by moments of pure acceleration.

Another article in our archives talks about the following: purpose, patience; practice; preparation; persistence; perception; patterns; passion; and pleasure.

Don’t forget any of them. Develop a mantra using these ideas; I like this one but make up your own:

I will develop my poker purpose by defining why I play and accept the pluses and minuses of this decision. Once I accept who I am and why I play the rest will fall into place. I will learn to be patient and play my game. I will practice and prepare to the extent necessary to reach my goals. I will be persistent. I will sharpen my perceptions and learn to identify patterns. I have a passion for the game equal to the reason I play poker and poker is pleasurable.

Set you goals; In order to set goals correctly many peak performers follow the SMART method. Goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented and Attainable, Realistic and Relevant, Timely. Good goals are smart goals.

Know when you tilt; have a plan to walk away, take another lap, and do some breathing exercises. Identify tilt and don’t be timid in dealing with it. Bad beats come. The peak performer practices how to deal with them.

Review your style. Don’t try to learn something too new before you go. There is a learning curve. Typically when you learn and incorporate a new style or technique you are too conscious of the new technique and your play goes down; after some practice it improves. This is true in all competitions. So, review some materials, but don’t try to change your style right now. Practice what you know and get better.

Remember, poker is a combination of skill, chance, luck and opportunity. Use the perception of luck to your benefit.

Poker is an analytic and intuitive competition. Intuition is the outcome of your total experience; it’s not a momentary feeling about what’s going on. Use you experience and preparation to reach peak performance and increase your “luck” and “intuition” and enjoy the flow of the game. And this above all: Keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. His column will give insight on how to achieve peak performance using poker psychology. Email questions for him at editor@anteupmagazine.com.