POKER TIPS & STRATEGY

WSOP Main Event Tips and Strategies: A Dozen Pros Share Their Secrets

With just a few days left until the start of the 2024 WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas, the game’s marquee event is preparing to welcome among its participants debutants, amateurs, semi-professionals, satellite winners, professionals and legends of the game. We reached out to a host of experienced, successful professional poker players — including two past WSOP Main Event champions — to ask them for their WSOP Main Event tips and strategies on how to prepare.

Among the players we contacted were: 2021 champ Koray Aldemir, 2020 champ Damian Salas, Barny Boatman, Jonathan Little, Andrew Brokos, Dara O’Kearney, Steve Zolotow, Andres Korn, David Lappin, Diego Ventura, and Jose Nadal.

Here are the four questions we asked them:

  1. How should a player study and prepare before entering the tournament?
  2. What advice would you offer for Day 1 of the tournament?
  3. What adjustments do you think are necessary to make since it is a freezeout tournament?
  4. What mistakes do you notice that some players make in the Main Event?

We’d like to thank them all for taking the time to answer, and we hope that all of you poker-playing hopefuls out there can learn from these valuable WSOP Main Event tips and strategies. And to those of you who’ve paid close attention and saw only 11 names above, well, we have a little surprise #12 for you to round out our poker-playing dozen at the end of this article.

WSOP Main Event Tips

WSOP Main Event Tips from the Champs and Poker Pros

Koray Aldemir

Koray was the winner of the Main Event in 2021, for which he took home a huge prize of $8M. In 2018 he placed seventh in the WSOP Europe Main Event, and in total he has five cashes in the Main Event.

  1. Although the Main Event is of course special, it’s still the same game as every other tournament. A great way to study is to talk about hands with players around the same level, share view points and opinions. I also like to watch poker streams of High Roller tournaments and try to understand the decisions the top players are taking.
  2. The ME has a very deep and slow structure. But still, if you are faced with a decision you should generally just make the decision with the best EV (expected value). If you think you are a very very strong player and have a soft table, you could maybe avoid some situations that are marginal because of the structure.
  3. In general some players may be more careful in a freezeout than a reentry tournament, although in theory each entries should be regarded separately anyways in a reentry tournament and therefore I wouldn’t really make big adjustments.
  4. I feel like some players are a bit too careful in the Main Event because of everything we mentioned already. People really don’t want to bust and often try to avoid confrontations which will more often than not eventually lead to them slowly but steadily blinding down. If you notice a player playing too tightly, it’s possible to take advantage of that and play aggressively against that player.
Koray Aldemir

The 2021 World Champion / Photo: WSOP.com

Damian Salas

Damian Salas was the winner of the 2020 hybrid edition and the first Latin American champion of the Main Event. In 2017 he finished in seventh place, earning $1.4M and in 2022 he finished in 27th place. Altogether, he has cashed six times in the Main Event and has won a total of $16.5M online.

  1. I believe that the best learning tool is to observe the movements of the professional elite players and we can see them with the streaming of the circuit’s live tournaments. Trying to interpret and understand their plays will take our poker to another level. Another tip is not to arrive exhausted to play the Main Event. Many players have been playing for weeks or months in Las Vegas and are not well physically or mentally. Being rested and with good vibes is essential to make better decisions.
  2. My main advice would be to enjoy it. In very few sports we can play a World Cup and in poker you can play it “just” by paying the entrance fee. Those who cannot pay the entrance fee have the chance to qualify via satellite or sell percentages. Being able to play it is something beautiful and transcendent. Being aware of that privilege elevates sensations and helps improve your performance.
  3. You have to understand that it is a tournament that does not allow rebuys and has a very slow structure. Therefore it is a marathon and not a 100- or 1,000-meter race. You have to use your energy and choose the right moments to confront other rivals.
  4. It is a tournament where the stacks are usually deep in relation to the blinds and the most common mistake is to overvalue the strength of the hands. Another mistake I notice is that many players are too aggressive in situations that don’t warrant it and it costs them a lot of valuable chips from their stack.
Damian Salas

The 2020 World Champion / Photo: Melisa Haereiti

Barny Boatman

Barny is the holder of two WSOP bracelets, has cashed the Main Event on six separate occasions, has won a title on the European Poker Tour, is a PokerStars ambassador, and was one of the founders of The Hendon Mob website.

  1. Day 1 in particular is far deeper than many players are used to and it’s good to spend some time thinking about this. You need to know how to play hands through all the streets, protecting your stack while getting value. It is also important to be well rested, calm and focused. It’s a long slog if you’re gonna make the final. Don’t play any poker the day before, unless you are still trying to win a seat.
  2. Don’t worry too much about building a stack on day 1. It’s great if it happens, but the important thing is to stay in. If you end the day with anything close to starting stack, you will still have a playable stack on day 2.
  3. The real adjustment is to how other people view the tournament. Not only is it a freezeout, it’s once a year and for many a once in a lifetime event. This means many players will be more risk averse than you might normally encounter in a big buy-in tournament. This tendency will be particularly pronounced as bagging up time approaches towards the end of the day. It’s about the only tournament with multiple ‘bubbles’ with no actual prize money involved. You should waste no time when you sit down at your table, figuring out as much as possible about your fellow players, and adjusting accordingly.
  4. It’s as easy to get overexcited as it is to get overawed. In the end this is a no-limit Texas hold’em tournament. You know how to play. Take your time, stay calm and focused, bring your A game and be lucky!
barny boatman

Barny with his second bracelet / Photo: WSOP.com

Jonathan Little

Jonathan Little has 48 cashes in the WSOP, with two having been in the Main Event. He is a two-time World Poker Tour champion, the founder of PokerCoaching.com, and a prolific author of poker books, including the 2014 book “Cashing The WSOP Main Event”.

  1. I strongly recommend any serious tournament player go through my comprehensive 40-hour long Tournament Masterclass on PokerCoaching.com. Using short videos on specific topics and lots of quizzes, it ensures you know how to play all stages of the tournament well.
  2. Simply to show up and play great poker. Ideas like “I need to make day 2” or “I need to gamble to get lots of chips” are not valuable thoughts because to achieve those goals, you have to play in a manner that will lose value. Study hard and make the most profitable decision in each situation you are in.
  3. Freezeouts and non-freezeout tournaments should be played almost identically. The only difference is that you should not gamble hard when there is 15 minutes left in the re-entry period then you have 25% or less of a starting stack.
  4. Some players drastically overvalue “strong” hands like top pair. When you are 200bbs deep, top pair is often not good if a lot of money goes into the pot. Also, some players drastically overvalue conserving their tournament life to the point that they do not take any risks at all, which results in them eventually blinding out in the middle of day 2 or 3.
Jonathan Little

Jonathan at the WSOP 2024 / Photo: Hayley Hochstetler

Andrew Brokos

Andrew is a poker coach, podcast host and writer with six cashes in the Main Event, three of which were Top 100 finishes. He wrote about his experience in those tournaments in the highly recommended book series The Thinking Poker Diaries.

  1. If you are not accustomed to deeper stacked play, that’s a great thing to bone up on. The slow structure of the Main Event means you could easily have a stack of 60bb+ even should you be fortunate enough to make Day 3 and beyond. Understanding how deeper stacks affect your preflop ranges and postflop play is crucial.
  2. Be patient. Even if you get off to a rough start, and end up with a well below average stack, you will still have a lot of big blinds, including your most valuable: your last. Don’t get panicky just because you see other people with stacks of 200K. Make the best decisions you can with the stack you have, and you may well be among them soon.
  3. Survival is more valuable in the ME than in any other tournament, because the structure is so deep and the field so soft (relative to events with comparable stakes). You will get good opportunities, so don’t feel compelled to play big pots in murky spots. You don’t have to re-raise AKo from out of position. You don’t have to check-raise bottom two pair on a coordinated board. If you aren’t sure you’ll want to play a big pot, then don’t start growing one.
  4. Worrying about the wrong things. There’s no prize for surviving Day 1 (or Day 2). For a lot of people, playing the ME is a bucket list experience, and it’s understandable they want to make it last. But if you spend the whole tournament afraid to commit your chips without the nuts, are you really getting the experience of playing? Taking appropriate risks to accumulate chips *is* a survival strategy. Those chips you win are how you survive a cooler or a bad beat later in the tournament. And for the love of Pete, if your only goal is to make it to Day 2, don’t announce that to the table! You might as well draw a target on your chest. Last and most importantly, have fun!
Andrew Brokos

Andrew playing in the WSOP / Photo: Joe Giron

Dara O’Kearney

Dara has 53 cashes at the WSOP and has won $1.3M live and $4M online. He is one of the hosts of The Chip Race podcast and has written six poker books together with Barry Carter.

  1. I shift my study away from trying to learn anything new and focus on what I know (or think I know) already, like revising for an exam. I also focus my study on the most common spots, and the most important (like ICM).
  2. The structure is so good you don’t have to force the pace, you can be very patient and wait for good clear spots. You will probably be playing with the same people all day (table breaks and changes are rare because not many people bust) so focus more effort than usual on getting to know them and reading them. Don’t expect it all to be plain sailing: you will lose some pots so be prepared mentally not to be thrown off when it happens.
  3. Be more precious with your tournament life. Don’t take any unclear spots for all your chips.
  4. Playing too many hands because they feel like they can splash around early on.
Dara O'Kearney

Dara at the WSOP / Photo: Omar Sader

Steve Zolotow

Steve is a poker legend with 86 cashes (four in the Main Event), 25 final tables, 2 bracelets and winnings of $1.9M at the WSOP. At the 2024 WSOP, he has placed third, ninth and fourth in various events. He has been playing poker for 40 years and has won $4M.

  1. The first thing you need to do is acclimatize your body and mind for the Main Event schedules so you can be awake and alert for the days of play that await you. The days start at 12 noon, so I recommend getting used to waking up a couple of hours earlier depending on the time zone where you live. Another tip is to be very clear about the ranges of hands with which you will be betting and defending. You can find them online and study them well.
  2. The first thing you should consider is which Day 1 you are going to play. Days 1A, 1B and 1C have the advantage of having rest days in between, including Day 2D. On Day 1 you will play with a deep stack in relation to the blinds and the game is quite similar to a cash game. It is important to look for favorable spots to try to accumulate chips from the beginning to try to increase your stack of chips. It is also important to get to know your tablemates as quickly as possible: see who is a professional, who is a beginner, who won a satellite and who has already cashed in before. Seeing who wants to survive and who doesn’t care about money is vital information.
  3. I think the biggest adjustment has to be made by people who have a large bankroll and are used to playing their first round very aggressively to accumulate as many chips as possible. In the Main Event they have only one bullet and therefore must be more cautious with their aggressiveness. Likewise, it is not highly recommended to be too passive, since if you manage to go to Day 2 with a smaller stack than the initial one, you will have a hard job ahead of you.
  4. I think all players make mistakes and it depends a lot on their level and their goals. Some amateurs are too passive and other professionals are too aggressive. It is a tournament that has a great reputation, but I think it is important to play it like any other so as not to generate extra pressure. In some situations it is worth taking a calculated gamble and you should not be afraid to do so. You should try to make as few mistakes as possible without being too tight or loose, looking for opportunities to value bet and bluff. And if you find yourself in a very marginal situation where you have doubts, it is better to take the more conservative path.
Steve Zolotow

Steve during the 2023 WSOP / Photo: Mathew Berglund

Andres Korn

Andres has 49 cashes, has made seven final tables and has won one bracelet at the WSOP, with lifetime earnings of $1.7M. He has five cashes in the Main Event and in 2019 he finished  third in the $1K Mini Main Event.

  1. To prepare, there is a lot of poker training material online. You can watch videos, read books, and take courses in schools, to name a few tools. It is also important to prepare by playing and that is what I do in my case.
  2. It is a very slow and very long tournament, so I recommend playing with a lot of patience. On the first day there is a lot of fear of being eliminated so in general those who make big bets usually have good hands. It is important to recognize these types of players and exploit their weaknesses.
  3. Since most players are passive and afraid of being eliminated there are good spots to be aggressive, since most are playing the biggest tournament of their lives and do not want to lose chips.
  4. I notice that players tend to be too passive in general and wait until they have the nuts or a very strong hand to risk chips. Playing that way makes you very predictable and exploitable.
Andres Korn

Andres during the 2024 WSOP / Photo: Alicia Skillman

David Lappin

David has 13 cashes at the WSOP, with two of them having been in the Main Event. He has earned $864K live and $861K online. He is one of the hosts of “The Chip Race” Podcast.

  1. Well right now, I’m getting some practice in on the live felt. To be honest though, the main thing will be working with my DTO app before going out to Vegas. Getting in the reps on that trainer has been invaluable to my game.
  2. Get there on time and pay attention to all the hands. Profile your opponents as best you can as it can be obvious who is too tight and also who is playing wild. Calibrate accordingly. Edge-pass close spots, value your tournament life and most importantly, don’t give up if you get short. It’s an incredible structure so you can be relatively patient when mounting a comeback.
  3. The main thing to consider here is that the pros are likely to be playing a little more carefully and playing the closer to chipEV game that they might early on in a re-entry.
  4. I think the recreational players are mostly very weak with a very deep stack. Their mistake is to be in there with a predictable, strong range (big pairs and big Ace-X holdings only), hands which are difficult to play on a lot of run-outs. They don’t understand which pots to bloat and which to pot-control. In this, I think you can find a lot of edge, particularly on Day 1 and 2.
David Lappin

David playing in the 2021 WSOP / Photo: Hayley Hochstetler

Diego Ventura

Diego has earned $2M in his career and is the winningest Peruvian player in history. In 2023 he won his first WSOP bracelet and he has a total of four Main Event cashes.

  1. Arrive a few days early to acclimatize to playing the previous tournaments to more or less understand the profiles that exist in Las Vegas.
  2. It is played very deep and many players make terrible mistakes. You have to wait situations where very strong hands are placed and avoid stacking too loosely.
  3. The first adjustment would be to put pressure on those who are playing the tournament of life. That is, using the fact of it being freezeout to put your opponents at risk. Second, understand/study the variance and the real probability of winning or reaching the final table of an event with so many people.
  4. The main ones are stacking too loose, or playing too tight to the point of not even extracting enough value from the hands.
Diego Ventura

Diego with his first bracelet / Photo: WSOP.com

Jose Nadal

Jose has 22 cashes in the WSOP with five having been in the Main Event. He is fifth on Mexico’s All Time Money List with live earnings of $1M.

  1. I think the best thing is to play a couple of tournaments before to arrive better prepared for the best tournament of the year, and try to eat healthy and do some exercise to have a clear mind and be able to play the tournament relaxed.
  2. Take it very calmly, since this specific tournament is a marathon and do not try things from another world since the tournament only takes you with the 2-hour levels to be able to play your best game and not be in uncomfortable spots from day one that can be handled by the structure.
  3. Being a freezeout does not allow you any type of error in your decisions, which makes the tournament more attractive and you can take advantage of that to put pressure on your rivals.
  4. I think the most common mistake people make is that they forget that the tournament lasts 8/9 days and they make many mistakes by wanting to press hands that perhaps are not necessary at such early levels of this tournament and have to play much more postflop than preflop since the structure allows you for that.
Jose Nadal

Jose during the 2022 WSOP / Photo: Danny Maxwell

One Final WSOP Main Event Tip from Our Founder, Robbie Strazynski

Playing in the WSOP Main Event represents the “white whale” for legions of poker players and fans out there. The idea of buying in to the most important poker tournament of the year for $10,000 and possibly making a Moneymaker-esque run at glory is the stuff that dreams are made of. It goes without saying that we hope the WSOP Main Event tips and strategies the pros have shared with you in this article help you better prepare for what’ll undoubtedly be a memorable experience.

But it’s that experience that I want to focus on with my one tip: ENJOY THE RIDE! I’m no poker pro, but I know deep down that as much as you’ll be scratching and clawing for every chip and to defeat your opponents at the felt, it’s critically important to take a step back from time to time while you’re in action at the WSOP Main Event and just appreciate the moment; take in the one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Count your lucky stars that you have the good fortune to have a seat. Just cherish the experience and entrench it in your memory banks, because it’s something that’ll stay with you for the rest of your life.

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Santiago Garcia Mansilla
Written By.

Santiago Garcia Mansilla

Santiago is a longtime veteran of the poker industry, having written primarily about the game in Argentina since 2009. He has published hundreds of articles in Sudamerican Poker and Pokerlogia, and has provided live media coverage at the WSOP Main Event in 2015 and 2019. In addition to being a former columnist in PokerFace Magazine, […]

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