7 Tips for Preparing for a Poker Tournament

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Poker tournaments are where dreams (and fortunes) are made and broken. While playing a few hands here and there are great for learning the game and having fun, nothing tests one’s poker fortitude, intelligence, and endurance like sitting down at a tournament and playing to win it all.

Now, please don’t think I’m advocating to stay away from a tournament. It’s quite the opposite actually. If you dream of being a competitive poker player with a reputation for doing some damage at the table, you have to play in tournaments. That’s the only way to win.

What I am advocating, though, is that you don’t take a poker tournament lightly. Instead, approach your poker tournaments with the right respect and seriousness and you are bound to make more money over time than if you didn’t. If you’re not sure how to prepare for a poker tournament, here are seven tips you can use to play optimal tournament poker.

1 – Self-Care Is Crucial

A poker tournament is a marathon, not a sprint. Before you play in one, you may not look at it as an endurance spot, but the amount of mental focus, clarity, emotional control, and physical discipline it takes to win a tournament is nothing to the be ignored. That’s why, before any poker tournament, you should spend some time treating yourself to a little self-care.

Remember, your body is a machine and it helps if your body is well-maintained before the tournament.

What does that mean? If you’re playing in a $25 buy-in game at your friend’s house, you probably don’t need much more than a few hours’ sleep, a meal, and some caffeine to keep you in the fight. On the other hand, if there’s some big money on the line, give serious consideration to coming up with a pre-tournament ritual similar to what athletes do before a game.

That would involve getting a good night’s sleep for at least eight hours (or more if your body needs that amount of rest). Make sure you’ve taken your medications and add some vitamins for good measure. Eat a solid meal of something that won’t upset your stomach before the match and drink water.

2 – Set Goals

Crowd at Poker Tournament, Goals Logo with Target and Dollar Bills Spread
If you’re like most people, you want to tackle every tournament Conan style—

“Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their [people].”

That’s great. There’s no reason not to set victory as a goal.

On the other hand, there can be only one winner out of potentially hundreds or thousands who might play an event of every size. Therefore, set a meaningful goal for yourself based on your experience and be happy if you meet that goal, even if you fail to make your Conan goal.

3 – Stay Calm

A poker tournament will tax your mental endurance like few other exercises. Don’t further tax yourself by letting anger, fear, anxiety, or doubt further sap your mental strength. Instead, work to stay calm even in the most stressful situations and you are going to find that you’re fresher, more able to focus, and have a distinct advantage over other players who can’t keep their cool when the pressure is on.

If you find yourself losing your calm, you can try meditation (see the next tip) or deep breathing exercises. Practice this in everyday stressful situations or during online poker games and you will find your tournament play improves.

4 – Consider Meditation

hand Looking Over Poker Cards, Silhouette of Person Meditating
This may sound silly, but real poker professionals practice meditation before they play poker. For some, this is as simple as spending some quiet time in reflection, a 15-minute sit in a hot tub, or time spent reading or praying. Others will look for guided mediation that help them reach a place of quietness and introspection.

No matter what the activity, meditation will help the mind rest and find a level of focus that one doesn’t get even from sleep. Of course, like most things, meditation takes practice, so don’t decide you’re going to meditate for the first time right before your big tournament and expect big results. (In fact, the opposite is usually true. The first few meditation sessions are often mentally strenuous like the first few times running or lifting weights.)

Therefore, if you think you’re going to play a lot of poker tournaments, start meditating now. You will find that it pays dividends in all areas that require mental endurance (including just life sometimes).

5 – Do Some Stretches

There’s a physical component to poker and the physical component is sitting., lots and lots of sitting. Sometimes, there’s days and nights of sitting if the tournament is big enough and has enough players. While at the end of the day, spending a lot of time sitting on your rear sounds like it should be easy, it’s really not.

While I’m not ready to embrace the idea that sitting is the new smoking, I can tell you that sitting in the same place for long hours leads to sore legs, shoulders, and necks. Unfortunately, the minute the muscles start to get sore, the mind starts to tire. When the mind tires, concentrating gets harder, your calm starts to evaporate, and the next thing you know, you’re tilting, you miss a tell, or you just start to bet haphazardly.

Therefore, you’re going to need to stretch out your muscles before you play. A good stretch opens the muscles up and gets them ready for the incomprehensibly strenuous act of sitting there and basically doing nothing. (That’s not sarcasm. Your muscles do get tired.)

Also, find some good chair stretches that you can do while you play and in between hands. Find effective ways to flex your leg muscles, roll your shoulders, keep your neck loose, etc. A little bit of exercise will keep those muscles from getting tired and achy and keep your mind able to process the game.

6 – Find Comfortable Anti-Tell Devices

Poker Player Wearing Hat and Sunglasses, Cash Spread Out
It wasn’t so long ago that wearing sunglasses, ear buds, and hoodies were uncommon in the game of poker. These days, though, all of the best poker players are using some sort of item to hide the tells (which is why I am calling them “anti-tell” devices). If you think that you have a tell or you want to join the trend, that’s great, but you need to do a little research.

You don’t want to show up to the poker tournament with a new pair of glasses or earbuds that you’ve never tried before because you don’t know how they fit or how they work. You don’t know if they pinch or block your vision or do something else annoying.

Instead, try out your anti-tell device long before the poker tournament and practice playing with it. That way, you get used to it as part of your game. You want those ear buds to fit so they don’t keep falling out of your ear and let the entire table know you’re listening to Taylor Swift…

7 – Dip Your Toes in the Pool

If you get the chance to play a little poker before the tournament, then play a very little amount of poker before the start of the tournament. The goal here is to not exhaust your mind before the real chips hit the table.

Instead, if you can play a few friendly or low-dollar games, it can be a lot like a runner who jogs a practice lap or a football player who does pre-game stretches.

The mind is not a muscle, but in some ways, it acts like one. It prefers a little mental warm up before it’s called on to do massive feats of math, concentration, and control. The practice can be in person or online, but just don’t let it be too strenuous or go on for too long.


At some level, this advice probably sounds like overkill. Still, if you’re serious about poker and winning tournaments, you would do well to heed at least some of this advice.

Again, you can do as much or as little of these preparations as makes sense for the level of tournament and competition, but the more you treat your poker tournament like a big deal, the more you are priming yourself for bigger and better poker results.

At the end of the day, if you can’t do all seven of these things, make sure that you at least practice a little self-care. A tired, hungry, thirsty body is not going to perform well in any poker situation, even if it’s just friends around a table.

Also, consider a few stretches or chair exercises in any poker tournament to ward off the soreness of sitting. Then, feel free to add in the rest of the preparations as you play bigger tournaments with more money. At the end of the day, your bankroll management skills will thank you.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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