May 26, 2022
You’ve finally decided to go out to Las Vegas to participate in that great poker convention known as the World Series of Poker. Good for you. There are 88 bracelet events at Ballys, as well as numerous other tournaments and side-action there, along with all of the other poker to be found up and down the Strip and throughout Las Vegas. It is truly the absolute zenith of poker action in the world and shouldn’t be missed.
Unfortunately, as someone coming to Las Vegas to play, you’re likely already starting in a hole. Put another way, the local poker-playing boys and girls are licking their chops at the prospect of your arrival, and for good reason: you stand to lose your poker bankroll to them if you don’t know about — and adjust to — the many disadvantages that you’re likely to face once you hit town.
This article is meant to help you identify those disadvantages in advance so you can avoid them and, perhaps, even profit from your visit.
Excitement and eagerness to play
We don’t normally think of our enthusiasm for poker as a bad thing, but it surely can be. In the frenzy of playing in Las Vegas, your excitement and eagerness can torpedo your typically deliberate and thoughtful poker play.
Think about it. You’ve just flown out or driven a long way coming to Las Vegas for your first WSOP. You’ve cleared your schedule, packed your bags, done your planning, said your goodbyes, gotten to the airport, waited and taken your long flight, deplaned, gathered your belongings, gotten to your hotel, unpacked, made your way to Bally’s, waited for a table, been called to your seat, and are finally playing.
Are you really going to play your typically well-controlled and patient game?
Unless you’re superhuman, your play will be at least somewhat affected by your circumstances. You’ll be charged up for action.
Compare this jacked-up you with the local Las Vegas player who’s sitting across from you, and who plays in Vegas nearly every day. For them, this is just another walk in the park – albeit a park now overly populated with people like you, who are out of their element.
This is, as they say in the military, a target-rich environment. And you’re the target.
The resident poker player has all the time in the world. If they don’t hit any decent cards, read you for weakness, or don’t feel that they’re in a winning situation, they can easily wait things out, move on, go home, meet friends, or do whatever.
In short, they can be patient. You, on the other hand, are chomping at the bit.
That’s a huge disadvantage. Sure, you might get hit by the deck, run over the table, and deliver a crushing blow for tourists everywhere, but the chances are that you won’t. More likely, chances are that you’ll eagerly engage in action even when your better judgment might dictate that you fold.
There’s no easy and simple way to escape the pressures of being too eager to play poker, but there are a couple of things that may help put you in the proper state of mind before you do.
Get into the habit of giving yourself at least five minutes for some mental exercises to help you calm down and relax before you play. Get your seat, get your chips, and then leave the table for five minutes to reaffirm your intention of playing your best game. True, it’s not a full-scale meditation session – but even this brief buffer of five minutes or so will help you get into the right frame of mind to play your best game.
Similarly, in the interest of reminding yourself of this intention, it helps to take frequent breaks to step away from the action and excitement at the table. I recommend five minutes every hour just to breathe, get some perspective, and recommit yourself to playing your best game.
Weariness from playing too much
The action in Vegas, especially during the WSOP, is endless. When you’re coming to town for a short stay, the desire to make the most out of your visit can easily hold you fast to a game, even when your body and brain are begging for some rest. For the poker tourist, time spent sleeping, resting, or otherwise away from the table is time wasted, right?
In this frame of mind, players often spiral downward until they crash, igniting their poker bankroll in the process. These poker tourists suffer from three problems that feed and compound each other.
- Their weariness causes them to lose their poker skills
- They lose their ability to see that their skills are diminished
- They lose the self-control to pull themselves away from the table even when they notice that their skills have diminished
The well-rested Las Vegas resident, who plans his day around taking advantage of the exhausted tourist, has a huge advantage.
The remedy for this is both simple and difficult. Set a time limit – either a fixed time to end your session or a time limit for how many consecutive hours you’ll play — and honor it. At the very least, make sure that when your internal alarm bell for leaving goes off, you step away from the table to evaluate how you’re doing.
You’re coming to town with a plan to lose
Many poker tourists come to Las Vegas ready to lose the money they have brought. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what they do. They decide that since they visit so infrequently, they’re willing to gamble more, to play bigger than they normally do, or to otherwise eagerly put their money at risk in ways that they’re generally too prudent to do otherwise.
This is a formula for losing that those locals who are playing for a profit will gladly exploit at the table.
If you want to be a winner, you need to think positively about your play and arrive prepared to win, not to lose. Sure, poker is a game with large variance and, in spite of your best intentions, you may end up losing. But you can control the variance to some degree by making good strategic decisions as you play.
If you’re a winning player back home and want to win in Las Vegas, you need to bring that same deliberate and skillful play to your Las Vegas experience. That starts with bringing your intention to win, not an expectation of losing.
Lack of game and seat selectivity
Ironically perhaps, Las Vegas offers the tourist a much better opportunity to practice good game and seat selection than does their poker scene back home. During the WSOP, Vegas has more tables to choose from than anywhere else in the world. Even so, tourists, amped up with the desire to play usually take the first seat at the first table that’s offered to them, and then stick in that seat at that table for their entire session.
This is usually a mistake. Games during the WSOP range enormously in quality. Some may be populated by a bunch of professionals and highly skilled amateurs; some are filled with local nits with short stacks, while others are filled with wild, drinking, deep-stacked recreational players. Some will have a few players who are tilting after busting out of a tournament while others have players desperate to win enough for a major tournament buy-in.
Poker tourists eager for action often shackle themselves by mindlessly staying in a bad game and not even trying to change their seat to the one at the table that’s most likely to be profitable.
Look around and be willing to move to the table with the weakest lineup. Don’t worry what others think as you change tables. Make friends with the floor, who can help you move tables until you find the ideal one for you. Mindfully change your seat to get to the left of the aggressive, deep-stacked players so you can see their actions before you act. And if all the games in the room seem too tough, there’s nothing wrong with trying one of the many other rooms that are spreading your game.
The difference between leaving Las Vegas a winner or a loser may well depend on how good you are at the skill of table and seat selection.
I can think of few poker experiences that are more fun than flying out to Las Vegas during the WSOP. If you prepare for the four disadvantages you’re likely to face as an out-of-town player, you’ll stand a better shot of returning home a winner. And that will make the fun even greater.
Venerable grinder, 7-stud enthusiast, host of “House of Cards Radio” and author of Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day (D&B Publishing, 2020).
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