‘Tips for Playing Your First Live Tournament’ with Fatima Moreira de Melo

Getting Rid of Nerves and Shakes

If you find yourself shaking at the poker table, it’s probably down to inexperience. Play some low buy-in live tournaments, to get you comfortable in the live poker environment, before playing a big event.

If for some reason you’re not able to play lower buy-in events, and must jump right into a big buy-in live event, here are some tips:

  • Chill out a little, and don’t play any hands in the first few levels other than really huge ones. Just sit and post your blinds, and watch the action until you feel more comfortable. After watching the action and seeing how the other players act, you should feel a little more relaxed.
  • Don’t fiddle with your chips, just relax and keep your hands under the table so your opponents don’t see them.
    Count any bet sizes in your head, and then move your hands towards your chips to count them. Put them in the pot in one fluid motion.
  • Focus on other players rather than yourself. Try to pick up tells from other players even when you’re not in the hand. Is their heart rate going up when they get a hand? Are they breathing faster? Sometimes you can see their chest going up and down more quickly.

Avoid Giving Tells

  • Do not wear tight clothing when playing a live poker tournament, as you’ll give away more tells. The baggier your clothes are, the better, as players will not be able to see your chest pumping.
  • Some players wear a scarf to cover up their neck, as the pulse on your neck may start to physically throb when you’re excited. I fortunately have long hair to cover this up.
  • Other players will wear sunglasses, so they can observe other people without them noticing. Also, if a player is staring at you, it can feel more comfortable hidden behind a pair of sunglasses.

Packing for a Live Tournament

If you’re playing in another country you need to be prepared for the temperature of the card room. Some casinos find it hard to regulate the temperature, so it could be too hot or too cold depending on where you’re from. I wear layers, so if I’m playing in a hot country I’ll wear flip flops, but I’ll bring along socks, and I’ll wear a t-shirt, but I’ll also bring along a jacket or hoodie. Here’s a full list of what I pack:

  • A comfortable outfit for the poker table.
  • An outfit for the gym or any sports.
  • A bikini for the beach or pool.
  • A nice outfit for the evening.
  • Protein bars for energy to keep me alert.

Pre-Tournament Routine

I usually wake up early because I’m jet lagged, go for a healthy breakfast, fresh fruit, etc. I like to get outside for a little bit and get moving, it doesn’t need to be running or the gym, just some daylight and a walk is good enough.

It’s also a good idea to go and check out the tournament area earlier to see where everything is, like food places, toilets, etc. It’s also best to double check with staff if you need to sign up or register before the tournament starts, or where to pick up your tournament ticket.

Your brain runs on carbs, so get some fruit like bananas, dates, raisins, dried nuts and such for the tournament. Also, bring some cash for drinks or any additional snacks you’ll eat during the tournament.

During Breaks

If you’re male, the toilets are super busy, so it’s always best to go before the break otherwise you’ll spend the entire time in line. I like to go and speak with friends during breaks, but I do not discuss poker hands as I find it interferes with my game flow. If you tell someone about a hand and they tell you that you played it wrong, that mistake can get stuck in your head, and you do not need that.

It’s also a good time to grab some water or eat a snack. Walk around a little and get the blood pumping again.

How to Stay Focused

It’s so bad to sit down for hours at a time. Besides the breaks, I like to get up sometimes to stretch a bit, just near my seat, move a little and wake up the body. Sometimes a little coffee, but mostly water.

I do not check my phone the whole time I’m playing, but if you need yours for music or whatever, bring a charger as some tables have USB ports. If not, you can always bring a power bank.

What keeps me involved in the game is observing the other players; sometimes I’ll pick one person and focus on them for one orbit. I’ll check for:

  • Their breathing.
  • Facial expressions, for example a pained expression during a difficult decision.
  • Timing of moves.

One thing I find hard is if I take a partner or a friend to a live poker tournament event. If they’re not into poker it can become frustrating as you feel like you need to entertain them. For example, you may have made Day 3 of a big event and need to rest to prepare for some of the most important stages of the tournament, but your friend/partner wants to go out and party.

It’s much better to travel with a fellow poker friend or make it clear that your friend/partner will need to entertain themselves until the tournament is over.

Final Thoughts

Play your game, try and stay comfortable, remember every player is different and stick to your style. Don’t let another player’s comment change how you play.

I hope you do well in the tournament – as long as you don’t beat me! Sending good vibes…

Fatima Moreira de Melo
PokerStars Team Pro