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Ten Important Tips for Your First Live Poker Tournament.

I recently participated in my first live hold’em tournament. It was a small local charity game with half the total buy-in going to the prize pool. I haven’t quit my day job yet but I did finish third and gained some valuable experience along the way. Here are 10 tips that hopefully will allow you to also have a successful first live tournament.

1. Read up on common tells.
Common tells published on the Internet will give you a “head’s up” about what to look for from other players and what to look out for so you don’t make these mistakes.

Players in small social games are oozing with these tells. In my game the player to my left for gave classic tells for three big hands that saved me from getting involved. In one hand when two pair hit the Turn, he sat up straight (classic posturing) and gave an “oh noooo” comment (classic bad is good). Sure enough he dragged another player all-in and showed the Full House.

Search for “Poker Tells” on Google or Yahoo. It’s worth the time.

2. Don’t drink too much.
I am not much of a drinker, which probably makes this tip more important to me than others who are more accustomed to the effects of drinking.

My tournament started at 7:00 pm with a field of 67 players. As with most social events held at a local hall, Beer tickets were available at the door. I purchased the standard 3 for $10.00 offer. I finished in third place at around 1:00 am. Whilst three beers over a five hour period is not heavy alcohol consumption, I failed to realize that my friends would be very supportive of the fact that I was playing at the Final Table and felt it necessary to keep me comfortable. Although I was not drunk by any means, it would have been much better to have had a clearer head for Final Table action.

My advice, if you intend to drink, is to drink a little at the beginning of the tournament to ease any nervousness or anxiety. After a few drinks it’s best to switch to coffee, soda or water. Save the rest of your tickets for after you get knocked out or for your victory celebration.

3. Pick you seat carefully.
You may not have the opportunity to pick your seat as you may have to draw for seating position. If you can pick you seat, don’t sit next to the dealer.

Sitting next to the dealer blocks you from seeing the player on the other side of the dealer. Furthermore, you will tend to focus on players across from you spending less time watching the players on the ends of the table.

It’s much better to play facing the dealer, to give you the feeling that he is presenting the game to you.

4. Sit in the same position.
To avoid giving out the posturing tell, find a position you’re comfortable sitting in and stay that way.

Most players will lean into the table with both elbows resting on the bumper or the table. If you sit back in your chair, you will involuntarily change your position when you hit a big hand. If you lean into the table your more likely to stay that way since you tend to take that position when checking your pocket cards.

You have to be comfortable since you’re likely to be at the table for a while but avoid sitting in a position that causes you to move about too much.

5. Take advantage of breaks.
This seems obvious since the intent of a break is to do things you can’t do while at the table. You will be surprised at what can occupy your break time.

You will find conversation easy to get involved in when discussing the previous session. Long lines at the bar are guaranteed and busy bathrooms are sure to take up a good amount of time.

Make sure you get the important things done first. It’s a real distraction for the next round if you didn’t get a chance to go to the bathroom.

6. Don’t worry about not getting good Pocket Cards.
Since this is a live tournament, you won’t get dealt near as many hands as you are accustomed to from Internet play. It’s therefore logical to assume that you won’t see as many good starting cards as you’d expect.

For many, this causes frustration and poor judgment. Bad starting cards are played to see the Flop and bets are lost. I have read many times the advice to save bets and play for one big win per hour.

In this tournament I played nine hands in five hours. Three were lost bluffs, one blind steal, one split pot, three big wins and, of course, the last all-in loss. But still, I finished third with only three winning hands and none was over a high pair.

7. Keep track of others Stacks at your current table.
You always need to know the current situation of the players you are playing against.

Keeping your eye on the small stacks and big stack will help you determine your play against these players. Small stacks will often be looking for the opportunity to double up and will play week hands as their last chance. The Big Stack will often use their relative strength to make you get involved in a hand deeper than the hand deserves.

Capitalizing on opportunities and avoiding bad bets are key to a successful tournament.

8. Stack your chips according to the current Big Blind.
This is the one thing I messed up and it took a toll at the Final Table.

As the tournament progresses, Antes are introduced and Blinds increase. By stacking your chips according to the amount of the current Big Blind you will be able to visually see exactly what it costs to see the flop.

I didn’t have a good handle on this and as the tournament progressed I lost track of where I was in respect to my stack.

9. Always know how many chips you have and the total chips in play.
Chip counts are very important. This information is instantly available on the internet, but it is not in your face during live play.

Before the tournament starts find out the number of players you’re up against and the starting stacks. We started with 67 players each with 1000 chips making 67000 chips in play. Stacking your chips according to the Big Blind will allow for easy calculations for the amount of chips you have. Comparing that to the total chips in play will give you some perspective of your chip count.

When I was at the Final Table with four players left I became chip leader betting all-in with pocket 9s. Although I knew I had the largest stack I had no idea how much of a lead I had or how many hands it allowed me to play. This is valuable information at this point of the tournament.

10. Know the payout structure.
Knowing how many players are being paid and the payment for specific positions is important. Make sure you know this before the tournament starts.

Cashing is very important in tournament life. Your style of play will likely tighten when the payout bubble is about to burst. When we had two tables left with 10 players in total the action slowed as only those who finished in the top eight got paid. I was very cautious about playing hands during this time and I had a friend feeding me information about stack sizes on the other table.

“Go Big or Go Home” is certainly a popular style in tournament play but “Cashing is Critical” allows you to play again.

After playing Internet games fairly regularly for just over a year, coming third in my first live tournament was a real treat. There is a huge difference between Internet play and live play. Hopefully I have given some insight to the latter, which will help you in you first experience. Like every “first” experience, it will be great!

by Brian R. Smith.
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