POKER LIFESTYLE

How I’m Prepping for my First World Series of Poker

By Connor Whiteley
August 27, 2021

The trip is officially booked, I will be going to my first ever WSOP this October and I couldn’t be more excited! I spent a wonderful day planning my hotel and flights, leaving me on the edge of my seat until the day comes. I will be playing the $600 Deepstack event, which is a large buy-in for me considering I play $1/$2 NL cash and usually buy in for $200-$300. But hey, its the World Series of Poker. If there is ever a time to take a shot, this is it. I do have one fairly large issue though: I don’t really play tournaments.

WSOP Rio

Image credit: CardsChat.com

As a recreational player and someone who frequented home games during my time in LA, I didn’t play MTTs much. I’ve played roughly five daily tournaments at Foxwoods or the LA casinos, but it never stuck. I was always attracted to cash games. I enjoy having the freedom to leave whenever I want, and I live a considerable distance from casinos, so driving over an hour to be locked into a tournament and usually bust isn’t appealing to me. But the WSOP is different.

I used to say “I’ll just grind cash games at my first WSOP,” but I don’t think I’ll be able to resist. Those bracelet events have a gravitational pull (similar to the possibility of winning big jackpots while playing online Megaways slots). I don’t see the possibility of me passing up on the chance for a bracelet. So, a cash game player who doesn’t make it to the felt more than twice a month decides to play a WSOP event… now what?

Potts Analysis & Methodology

I called one of my best friends and fellow poker player, Potts. Yes, Potts is his actual last name and what he goes by. I know, its perfect. And yes, he should be playing Pot Limit Omaha, but I can’t get the guy to fan more than two cards… it’s infuriating.

Potts was very excited for me but also recognized I will absolutely be a fish out of water in an MTT. Luckily my good friend has been trying to get me to study the game seriously, so now I have to. Armed with our other friend Rob, a solver, online poker, and Discord, we’ve gotten to work. We started with some basic solved ranges. It looked like a foreign language to me, but my friends were able to break down what everything meant. The ranges were more akin to cash games as they’re all 100bb stacks, but it was a good start.

poker study

Online poker is where we are really working. Potts and I have dived headfirst into online micro MTTs. While Rob usually plays cash games, he works through scenarios with us nonetheless. After seeing my wife and daughter off to bed, I grind some MTTs. When I come across a decision I am unsure about, I make a mental note of what my instincts told me, why I am hesitating, and what my decision was. I will type out the scenarios that were most troubling and throw them in our Discord group chat. We usually hop on the voice chat after a session and talk through the hands in there.

My main questions are usually related to sizing (especially when I have 14-18 bbs) and preflop scenarios. Potts has been playing MTTs far longer than I have, so I know he is well versed in shorter stack depths. I rely on him for his knowledge there and we work through those tighter spots together. Rob is a cash game player, so while his short stack knowledge isn’t as vast, his preflop decision making is far more advanced than mine. Rob is my go-to when it comes to tricky preflop scenarios and board texture questions.

3 Things to Appreciate about Poker Study

Having these two guys at my disposal helps so much. I respect their game and working through spots together has allowed me to expand my way of thinking in poker. I value our study sessions more than any other resources out there. Yes, there is a wealth of knowledge found online and in books I could use for tournament play, and I do. I am constantly using resources available for MTT strategy. But personally, I learn by doing and talking it out. So playing micro MTTs and talking with poker players I respect is my main source for preparation. I highly recommend it!

Studying like this isn’t just beneficial for my one upcoming WSOP tournament. This has given me a whole new way to look at the game and will be beneficial long after my plane ride back to Boston. There are three massive lessons I have learned during the beginning stages of this in depth study:

#1 Take Your Time

Before linking up with Potts and Rob, I had a tendency not to think very in depth about each decision. Most of the time I would make my decision before the action was even on me. So, without seeing what all the other players are doing, I would come up with my idea of how the hand is going to go and I would stick with it. This led to me making huge mistakes getting married to a hand or a particulate line. Now that I am forced to walk my friends through my thought process, I actually have a thought process!

I pretend as though I am arguing my line of reasoning to my friends, and that forces me to really think about all possibilities from a theoretical point of view. Also, there’s the added embarrassment of having to say “I don’t know why I jammed, I just did”, so to avoid that I have been really taking my time to consider all possibilities. Taking my time is a huge advantage for me because not only can I point to my rationale, but if it is solid, great, and if it is flawed, even better. Now we can dissect it and correct the thought process for the next situation.

#2 Bankroll Management

I’m going to be honest… this topic bores the hell out of me. I can’t tell you how many times I have come across a section in a book, in an online training course, or a YouTube series that talks about bankroll management. I’ve heard it all. Some say have 20 buy-ins for cash, others say 50. Some say have 100 buy-ins for MTTs, others say 250. As a recreational player, I never payed much attention to it. Poker is still primarily a form of entertainment for me, and as a young parent I have plenty of expenses, so I generally just play when we have the money. Maybe I’ll skip a dinner out or hit the beach instead of the golf course to make sure I have some extra money to play with, that was my version of bankroll management.

I am now learning that a little bankroll management is advisable for anyone who plays, especially when it comes to MTTs. I decided to take some time off from playing live cash and fully commit to getting a good MTT strategy. For this I budgeted a $300 bankroll and I play anywhere from $1-$5 MTTs online; my average is around $3.50. I’ve never felt better when I buy in to a tournament because now I know I am properly rolled for it. This allows me to try new things out and make sure I am always going for the win and not just the cash.

I’m not going to pretend that my degen nature doesn’t get the best of me. Early on in this endeavor I have found myself in a few $10-$16 MTTs. There haven’t been many, and at that buy-in I am in the black, but I know this isn’t a sound strategy. For that reason, I am making a conscious effort not to take shots and stay within my pre-approved buy in levels. So while the topic of bankroll management may bore you as it does me, it truly is one of the most important aspects of the game and is allowing me to truly improve.

#3 Theory is King

I am not, and never have been, a theoretical wizard when it comes to poker. I learned by winning at my $20 home games with friends, taking those winning to the casino, losing, then going home and watching poker on YouTube. I used some training outlets and listened to about 1/5th of an audiobook, but I never took the GTO theory of poker seriously. I was married to the idea of how the old pros beat the game, by learning at the table and soul reading your opponent.

While it is true you will make the most money playing an exploitative strategy, when you don’t have the information you can’t be exploitative. Building a theoretical foundation to many game has allowed me to take my time, play solid poker, then find my exploitative spots. I’m not saying that I am going to be a GTO computer — I still plan on executing a exploitative strategy — but having that foundation gives me something to fall back on. The best part about this is there are so many scenarios that you will never run out of spots to study. Game Theory Optimal strategy still surprises me everyday. It is a very engaging way to study as you aren’t just memorizing information to regurgitate, but you are taking what the computer says to do and working through why it says that. There are still plenty of spots where the GTO move makes no sense to me, and those are perfect hands to work through with my study partners.

Learn from My Experience, and Apply to Your Poker Study

If there is one common theme to the above things I have learned, it is the use of fellow poker players. I learned to take my time by conversing with my study partners before making a decision. Now I do so in my head and will loop them in later if needed. I have two people to hold me accountable with bankroll management and make sure I am not taking stupid shots. And if I do want to take a shot, I can sell action to them instead of risking more than I should. Finally, I would never be using a solver or studying theoretically correct moves if it weren’t for these guys.

If you are like me and you want to switch from playing cash games to MTTS, get ready for an upcoming tournament, prepare to jump up in stakes, or just simply want to make more of an effort to study, find some other players. If you don’t have an immediate group of friends who play, or you don’t respect your friends’ games, get on social media. I’m in half a dozen poker-related Facebook groups. You can meet like-minded poker players and try to find some who currently study, or have a desire to study. Start writing down interesting spots you find while you play and discuss with those players, or watch a well known pro’s Twitch Poker stream and discuss the spots they come across together.

There are so many ways to improve or switch your focus in poker. Keep in mind that people learn differently. You may be pulling your hair out trying to talk through hands with someone, but are invested in a book, or vice versa. Find what works for you and keep at it. Just remember, no matter how or what you play, studying the game will improve your playing and most likely increase your enjoyment. And for that reason, I will be grinding these micro MTTs right up to my flight to Las Vegas!

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Connor Whiteley poker author
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Connor Whiteley

Connor Whiteley is a financial services professional and freelance writer who spends as much time as possible on the felt. Previously, Connor was a dealer in various underground Los Angeles poker games, but left the city and those games to raise his daughter with his loving wife Jennifer. Connor is constantly staying up to date […]

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