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Mental Game & Life Strategy

The ability to set goals and the discipline it takes to achieve those goals without letting the rest of your life suffer are two of the most important things you need to master in order to improve as a poker player and begin getting serious about becoming a pro. One of the best parts of playing poker is getting out into the real world, playing in person, meeting new people and going on crazy adventures. This is also the riskiest part of the game because it takes you away from your comfort zone, and leaves you playing without your safety net. The solid footing of any healthy lifestyle depends balance and control, and a thriving poker lifestyle is no exception. Set realistic goals and learn to govern yourself so that you’re always working towards achieving your goals without letting the other, more glamorous things hinder your success. 

Table strategy is great to know, but you'll also need to understand how to manage yourself off the table to maximize your edge - and here’s where things get personal. I invite you to keep up-to date on my life and times as a poker player, and learn from my experiences so that you can learn from my triumphs and avoid my mistakes.  Any pro poker player will tell you your  mind is your most powerful weapon. Sharpen it, nurture it, rest it and give it peace so you can take to the tables - and your life - with killer confidence. 

The Best World Series of Poker Preparation

Evan Jarvis

wsop-prep

It's that time of the year again. The world series of poker is under way and the entire poker community is buzzing. Flocks of amateurs, young up and comers and old school established pros have made their way down to Las Vegas with the hopes of winning a gold bracelet and a whole bunch of cash. For the first time in 5 years I will not be joining them, yet. This year I have my eyes set on the biggest prize in poker, the WSOP National Championship and $9 million. I am doing everything in my power to make sure I am mentally and physically prepared for the grueling 8 day grind that is the Main Event.

This will be my fifth year playing in the world series of poker, and my results in the past have been good, but not great:

  • 2008 Main Event - Day 5, 165th place
  • 2009 Main Event - Day 1, busto at dinner break 
  • 2010 Main Event - Day 2, busto far from the money 
  • 2011 Main Event - Day 2, busto after dinner break after losing a 280k pot where I was a small favorite with top two pair versus an inside straight flush draw
  • 2012 Main Event - To be determined

I would really like to share the experience that my good friend Matt Jarvis had 2 years ago when he made the final table. His outlook on life was great going into the tournament and his confidence was at an all time time. I think this played into his success way more than you might expect.

I decided to not spend the full 6 weeks in Las Vegas this summer because of some advice I remember Phil Ivey saying the year he final tabled the Main Event. Some of the best value in this tournament comes from the fact that most people can't wait to get out of Las Vegas after being here for so long. Las Vegas is a city that can really take your soul from you if things aren't going how you envisioned them. It is an extremely fun place to be, but it is also extremely expensive, so if you aren't winning on the felts, the city can really take its toll on you.

I want to come into the Main Event with a different feeling this year. I want to be excited to be there, not burnt out, and excited for every minute at the poker tables, and excited for every decision that i will face in every hand of this prestigious event. I feel that my skill is up to par to be competitive in this tournament, and it has been my mind state that kept me from being successful in previous years. That's right, I'm not blaming it on bad luck, I acknowledge that with the exception of 2011, my fate was always in my own hands and I made poor decisions due to fatigue, frustration, and a lack of confidence in my own abilities.

So what have I been doing to ensure that things go differently this year?

I spent a lot of time in the company of some of the strongest no-limit player's in the world, to learn the finer aspects of the game, and some strategies that I hadn't been implementing earlier. The people who I would like to thank the most for helping me with this are: Andrew 'luckychewy' Lichtenberger, Rich 'nutsinho' Lyndaker, Greg 'gregy20723' Merson, Anthony 'wwwBTHEREcom' Gregg, Dan 'kingdan' Smith, and Christian 'charder30' Harder.

I embarked on a 4 month fitness regimen to transform myself into a poker playing machine, able to endure playing long sessions while maintaining my focus.

I have completely changed my diet from pizza and fast food, to healthy options involving lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, quality meats and dairy and of course water, lots and lots of water.

I have spent less time grinding, and focused on adding balance into my life and spending time to relax, gather myself and maintain my piece of mind.

I want to elaborate a bit more on the benefits of these things, so that you too may have incentive to make some changes in your life that will pay-off in spades on the real life and virtual felt!

Coaching: There is no faster way to develop as a poker player than to surround yourself with greatness. By being around hard-working motivated people, I really saw what it takes to be a superstar in this game, and it doesn't happen overnight. Also, the only way to get an honest critique of ones own play is to have an unbiased observer critiquing and analysing your decisions at the table. Thanks to these guys I have been able to plug many leaks, open up my game, learn new forms of poker and develop an extreme confidence in my play that I never had before. Thank you so much guys!

Fitness: Live poker tournaments are a marathon. Most people will bring a relatively good 'A' game to the table at the start of the day, but that's not enough. We're talking about playing 8 hour days, and then doing the same thing the day after that, then the day after that, then... Well you get the idea. If your body is not physically strong you will start to feel weak and tired as the day progresses which leads to less focus on the table and an inability to make optimal decisions. It takes mental power to help your body when it is under stress, and that is mental energy that would be much better served gathering information and making poker decisions.

This is why I have prepared my body to be strong and able to sit comfortably for hours on end. My fitness regimen consists of:

Planks and other body weight exercises: to prepare my body to endure long periods of stress causing positions (yes, sitting in a chair actually takes a good amount of physical effort if you don't want to be causing stress on your joints and weaker support muscles)

Cardiovascular Exercise: including running, biking and swimming for periods of 30-40 minutes. This prepares my body to perform at its best even when under high stress situations, it will also make me more able to control my heart rate when dealing with big bluffs or other periods of high intensity. I figure if I can handle spending 40 minutes at a time under high intensity, then spending 2 hours at a time playing poker at a low intensity should be a cakewalk.

Yin Yoga and Meditation: involve sitting in poses for extended periods of time and eliminating stressors and just focusing on the moment, becoming comfortable with stillness. These practices have taught me patience which is obviously an extremely important skill to have for a tournament like the main event. The ability to also make the most out of each moment rather than looking to the future or dwelling on the past will help me get over any bad beats I may take, and help me focus on playing whatever stack size I have at each point in the tournament to the best of my ability. Remember it doesn't matter how many chips you HAD, or how many chips you COULD HAVE HAD, what matters is what you have now and how you can best maneuver those chips to move forward in the tournament.

Nutrition: This one should be pretty obvious but is very often overlooked. You are what you eat, and whatever fuel you put in your body will determine what level you can perform at. For this reason I have cut out all fatty, artificial, and heavy foods from my diet. When the body is forced to break down complex foods that are far from their natural state it requires a lot of effort from the digestive system and internal organs. This requires mental attention from the brain which means less remaining brain power for poker decisions. Fortunately the rio now has a wide variety of healthy options in their poker kitchen and will be sticking with them for my large meals.

Likewise having a steady supply of nutrients coming into the system is of the utmost importance when long-term mental focus is necessary. Rather than having 2 or 3 meals a day like I did in the past at the WSOP, I will make sure that I have at least 3 quality snacks a day (nuts, fruits, yogurt, vegetables) to give my body that steady energy supply that it needs. Staying hydrated is also extremely key, and an average human being should be drinking 2-3 litres of water a day. Drinks like soda and artificial juices work against this somewhat due to the high concentration of sugar which gives a small energy burst but are followed by a big crash. I also plan to eat light meals during the tournament and save my heavier eating for the end of the day when my brain gets it's well deserved break. There have been some articles written on this topic of why the day 1 dinner break chip leader is often out before the end of the day, treating yourself to a heavy steak when there's still work to be done isn't the greatest idea. Save the rewards for when the work is actually complete.

Relaxation: It's easy to get caught up in all the commotion down there, after all Las Vegas is a fun, exciting place with entertainment as far as the eye can see. After playing a lot of events or cash games it's easy to be constantly thinking about what you did wrong or what you could have done differently. While it's good to evaluate your own play, each tournament is unique, and what happened in the last one has no bearing on this one so it's a waste of brain power to be thinking about past mistakes. All that will do is bring your confidence down which will manifest itself in more poor play.

This is where taking the time to relax is key. Getting a massage, taking 20 minutes to meditate, or just getting outside and going for a walk can help you clear your mind and focus on what's really important in life, not what happened in some crap-shoot preliminary event. When you focus on the bigger picture and think of positive things it leads to positive feelings which just makes life more enjoyable. When you are feeling miserable at the table it will tend to manifest itself into bad plays, furthering the downward spiral. But by maintaining a good vibe and a positive outlook on things, it will tend to lead to your bringing your best game to the tables. Ever wonder why when you just don't feel like grinding but you play anyway you tend to have much worse results than those days when you are truly excited to see some cards and blast some chips around?

I have been meditating twice a week and going to the spa for massage once a week, and I feel absolutely fantastic! I can't wait to see all my friends in Las Vegas this summer and just have some good old fashion fun! The Main Event is the focus and will always be what's in my headlights, but for now the most important thing to be is making sure I feel as good as possible going into it. I've put in 5 months of hard work on my game, played over 200k hands of no limit hold'em, 50k hands of pot limit Omaha, and a lot of big buy-in events in the SCOOP. It's time to have some fun, and get the positive energy flowing!

If you would like live updates from in Las Vegas you can follow me on Twitter: @GripsedPoker