Handling The Pressure Of Big Money Tournaments

Every poker player handles pressure differently from the next. How you handle pressure can be the difference between winning and losing.

Koray Aldemir won the 2021 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event this week and banked a cool $8 million. It is safe to say he perfectly handled the pressure of a big money tournament. Everyone handles pressure differently. Some thrive, others wilt. Those in the latter camp tend not to win much money from poker.

The title of this article mentions big money tournaments, but you can apply the following tips to any situation. In addition, what is a big money tournament anyway? Aldemir playing for $8 million is obviously one. But being on course to win $250 from a $1 tournament counts, too.

Understanding What Pressure Does To Us

You need to understand how the human mind works before looking into handling pressure. We are programmed with a “fight or flight” response that triggers under stressful and dangerous situations. Our bodies give us a surge of adrenaline (this is why some poker players’ hands tremble in a hand and give off a tell) which prepares us to run away or stand and fight.

The adrenaline increases our breathing and heart rate, while our blood pressure soars. Our brains are overloaded with signals and responses, so we revert to what we are know best. Anything you are not an expert at goes out of the window. This is why some players still play great preflop when under immense pressure, but fail to continuation bet when they should or call opponents down with incorrect pot odds. They mastered preflop hand ranges, but the rest they are still learning.

Furthermore, a lack of sleep and fitness can exacerbate stressful scenarios. Make sure you are well rested before a big tournament. Additionally, try to look after your body in terms of nutrition and fitness. Your body will thank you for it; your mind will too.

Preparation Begins Before The Tournament

Make preparations for the tournament before you even head to the casino or fire up an online poker site. Have clear goals in mind regarding your goals are. Are you playing to maximize your Return On Investment (ROI) or to simply cash. Your overall strategy differs massively between these situations. Any goal is fine if you consciously set it for yourself.

Try to visualize yourself attempting to reach your goal. This allows you to gain experience without physically being there. Imagine the ups and downs that tournament poker brings, but achieve your end goal in your visualizations. Doing this means you will not get disheartened when things do not go your way. You do not expect the event to be plain sailing.

Do Not Worry About Things You Cannot Control

Try not to expend energy or add pressure to yourself worrying about things out of your control. Treat every hand of poker as a blank canvas, and as a new puzzle if you will. Wipe the slate clean after each hand, regardless of you winning it or suffering a bad beat. Treat each new hand as a fresh opportunity to add to your stack.

Attempt to play every hand to the best of your ability without any external influences. It helps to think of the chips you win as extra lives in a video game. All the extra lives allow you to soak up losses and bad beats on the way to achieving your goal.

Follow Bankroll Management

Playing for life-changing money at the WSOP is a unique situation, not to mention very few players in the $10,000 Main Event are properly bankrolled for such a tournament. For the most part, however, you should always try to stick to tournaments you are bankrolled for.

Playing outside your bankroll naturally adds pressure because you risk going broke. It is easier to concentrate on playing solid poker if you can afford to buy into the same tournament another 100 times instead of one or twice.

Furthermore, playing outside your bankroll likely means you are playing for sums of money you are not used to. Moving up stakes when your bankroll allows makes it possible to stay level-headed and gain plenty of experience along the way. Handling pressure becomes much easier thereafter.

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.


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