With our satellites for this summer's World Series of Poker in full swing (see here for details), those already bagging one of PokerStars' brilliant main event packages might be looking for a little advice on how to play the "Big One".
Handy, then, that on Team PokerStars Pro we have current WSOP champ Peter Eastgate, so we asked him to write down his thoughts on going deep in Vegas. As he scooped more than $9.1 million doing just that, then it may be best to read what he has to say...
by Team PokerStars Pro Peter Eastgate
A question I have been asked repeatedly is: "What is the best way, from a strategy perspective, to play the WSOP Main Event?" I think the WSOP Main Event is unique: the number of players is more than in any other big buy-in tournament and the quality of the players is also very varied.
A lot of recreational players play it, either through qualification online or because it is the tournament to play if you are going to take a shot at fame and fortune. This makes for a special tournament and, unlike a PokerStars EPT or a WPT event, it is very hard to come up with a pre-tournament strategy.
My personal strategy when winning the event last year was that I had no pre-tournament strategy! At a big event like the WSOP Main Event, there are so many unknown variables, such as table draw, quality of the cards dealt and, most importantly, the immediate emotional state of the other players at the table. You have to pay close attention to what is going on at the table - and how the other players are reacting to playing in such a big event.
It is very important to be in tune with your opponent's emotional state and base your decisions on how you feel he or she is feeling in any given situation.
The key to playing in a long and hard tournament like this is to find the balance between accumulation of chips, and maintaining your chips stack. Obviously, the best way to maintain a healthy chip stack is through accumulation, but it is important to keep in mind what kind of risks you are willing to take in order to accumulate chips. In last year's tournament I pride myself with the fact that I was only all-in (with the chance of losing my entire chip stack) two times. The reason this was possible was that the structure of the tournament is nice and slow.
I had an above average chip stack most of the tournament and I did not play many hands where I had a lot of chips invested in the hand pre-flop. I played a kind of small-ball strategy that has become very popular among some of the better professional poker players, which in essence is a strategy that tries to control the pot size. This strategy was not pre-determined, but was the best feasible approach considering my table draws.
I have spoken to several very good young professional tournament players, who told me that they had tough table draws, in that the overall level of aggression on their table was very high, thus creating a much higher volatility. I was very lucky that my tables were fairly soft, which allowed me to slowly chip up and control the pot size, since very few of my opponents played back at me.
It is also important to understand that no two people are the same. When playing a long and grueling tournament like the WSOP Main Event it is very important to know yourself and your habits. Some people like running 10K before they play; some people eat fruit or smoke a pack of cigarettes. You have to do whatever makes you the most alert and physically fit to withstand the pressure of the tournament.
To sum up, I do not think there is a correct pre-tournament strategy that will guarantee success. Take every situation and evaluate throughout the tournament what strategy fits best to the situation you are faced with. That way you will have the best possible chance of making it deep. Always think a couple of steps ahead when you play a hand. "What will happen on the river if I call the turn?" And: "What amount will my opponent likely bet?" But always remember that there will be more tournaments in the future and that putting too much pressure on yourself will make you more tense.
You need be relaxed to make the right decisions. Stay cool when the money and pressure increases.
Good luck with winning your PokerStars WSOP package - and then in the Main Event!