New to Live Poker?
These days I seem to encounter many more good and observant players in small buyin tournaments and cash games. While it can take a while to figure out who these players are, you might be able to spot one or two before the game starts or during the early rounds. Here is what I look for:
1. A player starts doing chip tricks as soon as he sits down. This is a great indication of confidence and usually means this player at least has some experience.
2. Poker stories. If someone is talking about a poker hand, pay attention to how advanced their explanation is. This can reveal valuable information on their skill level.
3. Well known players. If you see someone shaking hands with another player in a bigger game before sitting down with you, then there is a better chance he is a good player.
I will also try and chat to anyone sat alone at my table and see what information I can pick up. While these pointers aren't always accurate and shouldn't be taken too literally, they can at least give you a head start in developing reads.
So let's assume that at least one player is watching how you play, how should you act at the table during a hand? One word is very important here, REPETITION. What I mean by this is that you need to behave exactly the same whatever the strength of your hand. Find a relaxed seating position, which if you're unsure is usually how you are sat when you're studying a hand you are not involved in or when you have a big hand.
Here are some things to take note when you're playing a hand:
Time. Take the same amount of time to bet whether you have a decision or not, or strong or weak hand.
Betting. Make sure your betting action is the same regardless of your hand strength. Also take notice of your chip denominations and use the same ones each time, for instance don't bet lots of small chips when weak and a few big chips when strong.
Eyes. Be relaxed about where you look. If you never look at a player when bluffing, then never look at him when strong.
To reiterate, repetition is the key. For extra nervous players, take one hand out of action by resting it on your cheek or thigh and have your chips separated so you don't have to fumble with them during a hand.
Another major point to look at is talking. Against good players my advice is to never talk, even when they start asking you questions and even if you think it is your only chance to win. More often or not you will give away information about your hand, or more dangerously how you act when weak/strong. Let your betting do the talking. Against bad players it's sometimes ok to try and sway their decision with a few words, but always be aware of what it's doing to your image.
After you are comfortable at the table you can start to use these pointers against the other players. Look at how they react in different situations and try and spot breaks in any repetitions they have. Of course, these need to be backed up by solid reads on how they play hands, but noticing some physical tells can help sway decisions. Don't worry if you don't notice anything straight away as it mostly comes from experience. Also, watch the good players as much as the bad players as it's usually the better players who have more concrete tells as they make less random moves.
Finally, don't get too stressed or bored at the tables. Have a good chat and laugh between hands to relieve tension, this can often be more beneficial than trying to watch every hand. Be friendly to the other players as they are your 'customers' who you don't want to scare them away! Live poker can be an immensely fun and sociable experience if you treat the game with respect...and stay away from the casino games!
Preparing for a live tournament
As I sit in the lounge area of the Full House in Reigate, soaking in the ambience of poker chips shuffling together, Sky Sports on the big screens and the hum of the coffee machine I feel extremely relaxed ahead of tonight's tournament. This is by no mistake, I take careful steps to make sure I'm feeling great before a tournament. Just because poker is not a physical sport does not mean you shouldn't carefully prepare both your mind and body.
Being on a good sleep schedule is very important, so try and get as many good nights sleep as possible leading up to a tournament. If you are an early riser and your tournament is later in the evening, try catching a power nap before you leave. A power nap lasts 20-40 minutes and can help revitalise the sleeper much like a decent nights sleep. Be careful not to sleep longer than the stated time however as this can result in you entering a deep sleep without completing it, leaving you feeling more tired than you did before!
If you are a regular exerciser try not to have an intense workout on the same day as a tournament especially if you usually feel very tired after one. Definitely have one the day before and on the day do some low intensity cardio such as walking or cycling as this will help relieve tension.
Avoid caffeine until absolutely necessary. When I played my first big event I saw a player with about six Red Bulls lined up on the bar and when I tried copying him I soon found out what a mistake I had made! Caffeine can provide more negative effects than positive ones including dizziness, confusion and irritability. When you have been playing for eight hours straight and your eyes are starting to drop, then its time for some caffeine. Otherwise, try to build and rely on your body's stamina through a healthy lifestyle.
Similarly, try not to eat too many sugary/processed foods whilst playing as these can give you unnecessary highs and lows. Fruit is a great snack when playing but I have found casinos don't usually have any, so stick a few apples in your bag.
When travelling, plan your journey ahead. Allow time for getting lost especially if going to a venue for the first time. There is nothing worse than arriving in the nick of time, flustered and stressed, or even worse missing the tournament altogether! If playing a multi-day event then book hotels well in advance as you can usually get some great deals.
Remember, you want to be relaxed and ready to play when you sit at the tables. Do everything you can to help and this will give you an instant advantage over your opponents.