Muskan Sethi | Tips for Playing Live Poker Tournaments

Playing Poker Tournaments Abroad

If you are traveling to another country to play a poker tournament make sure you check the following:

  • Your travel insurance is booked.
  • You’ve asked your Doctor if you need any vaccinations.
  • You’ve informed your banking and credit card providers that you will be travelling so they do not block your cards whilst away.
  • You’ve checked online to make sure your debit and credit cards will work in your destination country. If not, speak with your bank for suggestions on alternatives, such as a forex card.
  • You’ve checked to see how much money you are allowed to carry; you must declare large amounts before travelling.

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Jet Lag

It can can take up to one week to adjust to your new time zone due to jet lag. To fix this, use your body’s biological clock by eating on time. Make sure you plan when you need to get up, so you know when you need to be asleep by. Food really helps and eating at the right times will adjust your body to time changes. Yoga and meditation can also help you overcome jet lag.

Snacks and Food

Depending on where you’re travelling to, food can sometimes be expensive, and it can be hard to find healthy food. Check with your airline what foods you can take with you, such as nuts, dried fruit, protein bars.

Also, research the location first, find a nearby supermarket where you can stock up on fresh fruit and water, and things that do not need to be refrigerated. It’s so easy at live poker tournaments to find unhealthy food which will not help your poker game. Plan ahead, that way you’ll be prepared to eat healthy.

I like to take porridge with me, add some fruit and drink lots of juices to stay hydrated. Keep the food light, so you stay focused at the tables. Make sure you eat lots of healthy snacks throughout, not big heavy meals.

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Backpacks and Bags

Some tournaments have a restriction on the size of the backpack you can take to the table. I would recommend taking a small backpack where you can keep all your snacks, water or other drinks, along with things like power banks for your phone and a hoodie to keep you warm. Plus, anything else you may need to keep you comfortable whilst playing. It often gets cold in casinos, so make sure you’re prepared for a change in conditions.

Sell Action

If you’ve qualified to a big buy-in event, it’s always good to sell a piece of action or even swap action with other poker players. If you sell 10% or 20%, you’ve guaranteed some money. Then, if you swap another 10% or 20% with other players, this increases your chance of a good ROI.

For example, let’s say you qualify for a €5,300 event for €215. If you sell 20%, that’s €1,000 back right away – you’re already in profit! Then, if you swap another 10% with other poker players, you’re giving yourself two opportunities to cash. You still have 70% of anything you win, you’re in profit, and you have an extra chance to cash via the other player. Who knows, maybe they will go on to win a €1 Million – 10% of that would be very nice?

Adjust to not Show Weakness

If an opponent keeps three-betting you and you keep folding, you’ll need to adjust. Make sure you’re aware of how all players are playing. Is it just you they are three-betting or is it everyone? At some point, you will need to adjust your strategy. Try tightening your preflop range, so that when they do three-bet you, you can four-bet or try to trap them. You can also try four-betting them to see how they react.

Pay attention to all players and look for tells and what style they are playing against you. At EPT Barcelona I had a big pro on my table which made me nervous. I decided to watch this player as much as possible, looking at how they play and to see if I could spot any tells.

I couldn’t believe it, I picked up a tell on a big pro. When they bet with a big hand, they would throw their chips in and say raise, when they had an average hand, they would just throw their chips in. Which allowed me to three-bet them light.

I like to wear sunglasses at the table, so other players do not think I’m a psycho when I’m looking at them over and over again. Body language and picking up tells is very important to me.

Bet Sizing

You need to see how the table is setting their bet sizes for three-bets and four-bets, work out what three-bet sizes will cause an opponent to fold or call. You need them to respect your raises – if you min-raise, players are likely to call you as you’re giving them good pot odds.

Also, if pros think you’re a qualifier trying to min cash, they may try to push you around more on the bubble. If you four-bet a pro in this situation, they are going to think your hand is strong as you’re not looking at taking big risks on or near the bubble. Use this to your advantage and making plays at the pros.


When you lose a hand, remember that it’s ok. For example, when someone bluffs you and shows the bluff, you may start to think “OMG why didn’t I call that?!”, and then you constantly start to think of that hand. You’ve got to start remember why you’re here and stay focussed on your goal. Never give up. Remember: people have won tournaments from just 1 big blind.

If you practice meditation away from the tables, it will help you to let go of hands much faster. Breathing techniques will also help. Focus on calmly breathing and being aware of your surroundings.
Poker is a mind sport and your mind must be fresh. If you can control your mind and emotions, you’ll already have an advantage over the rest of the field.

Don’t plan your strategy in advance

Most pros do not plan whether they are going to play tight or loose before the tournament. They sit down and asses the table, before adjusting to exploit how each opponent is playing. Examples:

Player Style Strategy
Loose Tight – If an opponent is calling too wide preflop and foldingto aggression post-flop. These players play ABC poker, they bet when they have it, and fold when they don’t. Three-bet more to get heads up with this opponent. Always bet into them, if they call, you’ll need to slowdown if you don’t have a stronghand.
Loose Aggressive – Playing too many hands, very aggressive. Be patient. Use their aggression against them and let them bet your big hands for you. These are very tricky players.
Loose Passive – AKA Calling Station. Check calling way too often. Probably avoid bluffing them. But you can bet weaker hands for value and get paid off, such as mid to top pair etc.
Tight Tight – AKA Rock – Playing too tight preflop then folding to aggression post flop. Avoid big pots with these players. If they bet you want out. But if they show no aggression, you can usually take the pot with a small bet.
Tight Aggressive – only raising with big hands, folding too much Steal their blinds and avoid big pots against them without big hands.
Tight Passive – They play strong hands preflop, but slow down their aggression-post flop. These are like ‘Rocks’, however, once they enter a pot with a big hand they tend not to fold. There is no point trying to bluff them, but you can bet big hands for value and get paid off. If a tight passive player check raises, it’s time to muck unless you have the nuts.

As you can see from above there are many different styles of poker, but good players swap between all strategies and learn when to adjust. For example, an extremely tight player (Rock), may have just suffered a bad beat, gone on tilt and started playing a Looser Aggressive style. You need to be aware of these changes so you can adjust your strategy.

Don’t Spew when Deep Stacked

At the very beginning of a tournament, you’ll have a deep stack – roughly 300 BBs or more. You want to avoid getting all-in preflop without Aces at this stage. If you’re more comfortable not playing, simply fold your hands and use this time to access the other players. I like to play from the very beginning as it gives me time to review the table.

On Day 1, I will play against my opponents and adjust to them according to how they are playing. Before Day 2, I will research the players and make a chart showing which players are sitting in each seat, along with their cashes and playing style. This helps me visualize the table and prepare how I will use different strategies against each opponent.

Tips for Playing Live Poker Tournaments by Muskan

Have a look at the example layout above. Which players would you prefer to be in pots with? Which players would you fold top pair to? Which players would you raise with top pair?

Plan your Breaks

When it comes to break time – whether it’s a 20-minute break or an hour dinner break – you don’t want to be walking around wondering what to do. Every player has different needs, be they:

  • Eat
  • Sleep
  • Meditate
  • Get some alone time
  • Get some fresh air
  • Catch up with friends

Just make sure you find out from the tournament director or dealer when the breaks are planned and work out exactly what you need from that time.

If you have any questions and see me or another other PokerStars Team Pro’s at an event, feel free to ask us, we are all friendly and happy to help. Good luck to everyone!!

Muskan Sethi
PokerStars Team Pro