A friend recently experienced live final table poker for the first time as a spectator and was amazed at how players at the tables were able to keep their mental focus for hours at a time. This type of focus is second nature to experienced players, but all of us that play tournaments have been in the situation where we had to learn how to cope with final table play.
If you’re new to live tournament poker or have yet to make a live final table, here are a few tips to help you mentally prepare for the long haul of the final table.
Play More Satellites and Sit & Go Tournaments
How do you get to Broadway? Practice, Practice, Practice. How do you become better at playing final tables? You play more final tables. The best way to experience the situations of a final table is to play in either single-table Satellites or in Sit & Go Tournaments.
These give you many of the different situations that you will experience at the final table without having to play the entire tournament. Think of this as learning the theory of final table play.
Get Ample Rest the Night Before
For events where there is an overnight break before the final table, it is a good idea to get proper rest the night before the final table. If possible, get a full eight hours of sleep or whatever amount of sleep that you normally need to function appropriately.
Also, make sure you are able to properly wind down in the evening and relax before bed. Sit back, relax, watch some TV, have sex or do whatever if is you need to do to relax. A relaxed state will reduce stress for the next day and will help you play your best game.
Eat a Well-Balanced Breakfast (or Lunch)
It is always a good idea to have a well-balanced breakfast the morning before a final table. If your final table is later in the day, a healthy lunch is ideal to giving you the physical energy you need to make it through the day. Yes, we realize this sounds like a cheesy 80’s health PSA, but it is applicable.
It is never a bad idea to bring yourself a few snacks to the final table to help keep energy up. Your snacks don’t have to be fancy. Something as simple as some peanuts can help give your energy and keep your blood sugar from dipping too low.
If your final table has a late dinner, or no dinner break at all, you definitely want to bring some snacks.
Don’t Forget Your Rituals
A lot of us have rituals that we like to take part in before we play in a tournament or a final table. Sometimes these rituals are location specific. For example, I like to have a turkey sandwich at the deli inside the Bicycle Casino about an hour or so before any live tournament I play there. It is a silly ritual but that was the meal I had before my first live tournament cash there and I continue to do it.
You may or may not have a ritual before playing in a tournament, but if you do, try to make sure you indulge before the final table. The only exception to this would be if your ritual is deemed illegal in the state where you’re playing. Otherwise, taking part in these silly rituals can help put us in the right frame of mind for playing.
Move Around During Breaks
Poker players sit for long periods and this prolonged period of sitting can drag down the mind. That’s why it is a good idea to get up and move around during the 10 to 15 minute breaks you get during the final table.
Go to the restroom, get a drink or simply just take a lap around the poker room. The movement helps get the heart rate up, improves circulation and respiration and can improve overall alertness.
Don’t Eat Too Much During Dinner Break
If your final table lasts long enough for a dinner break, you need to watch how much you eat. Some people can eat all they want and it not impacts their ability to play. However, most of us will suffer some type of effects from eating a heavy meal during the dinner break.
The post-dinner “food coma” can turn your A-Game into a C- game in short order. It is better to eat a light dinner or maybe skip a dinner and stick with the aforementioned snacks.
Eating a small meal or a snack will give you the energy you need without giving you the dreaded food coma that some players will suffer from.
Play More Poker Later at Night
Something that has always proven to be an advantage for me in poker is might tendency to stay up late. While poker pros are accustomed to late night poker sessions, many amateurs and semi-pros are not. If you fall into the later category, then you need to play more poker later at night.
Most of us slow down later in the evening and it becomes tougher to make decisions and play our best poker. You need to train yourself to play later at night and work on making proper decision-making.
This may require an adjustment to your overall sleep schedule, but if you plan to play live tournaments regularly, it is an adjustment you need to make.
Did You Notice a Pattern Here?
When you started reading this article, you probably thought it would be a list of psycho mumbo jumbo or mental tricks. However, as you have seen, we are focusing on the physical as a key component of the mental.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how many poker scenarios you have worked out in your head, if you’re body and mind are not functioning at peak efficiency, you will fail. You need to be physically strong in order to be mentally strong.
Realize That Poker is Part Luck Regardless of Skill
We should point out that no matter how prepared you are for the final table; there is an element of luck in poker tournaments that you cannot escape. You can prepare yourself perfectly for the final, but if you lose every flip you’re ahead or your aces get cracked three times at the final table, you’re not going to win.
Skillful poker players are going to win more money in the long-term. That’s a statistical fact. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to win every tournament you start the final table as the chip leader.
The final component of preparing yourself mentally for final table play is to accept that some things are out of your control. You cannot control the cards and sometimes they will determine your fate, for better or worse. When it is for the worse, realize that it is not your fault and move on to the next tournament.