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Four Beginner Tournament Mistakes to Avoid

November 5, 2021
by Pete Clarke

If you’re looking to grind tournaments as a serious hobby or more, then there are a few pitfalls you really need to stay clear of. Tournament poker can be thrilling but it can also be gruelling. Not many players make a success of it outside of the odd lucky cash. Here are some of the reasons that people might fail to achieve their tourney goals.

1. Being Under-Rolled

It might seem like ninety buy-ins is plenty and that going broke is just a distant prospect, but ruin is always closer than you think during tourneys due to the extreme volatility involved and those dreaded extended cold stretches. Tournament variance can be brutal. Even accomplished pros with proven track records can go on 100 buy-in downswings in short spaces of time, especially if they’re firing multiple tournaments every day and going hard at the various tournament series on offer at PokerStars.

Assuming that you’re not playing poker for a living, try to have at least 200 Buy-ins for the stake you’re going to play.

If your roll is $1000 and you’re not happy to reload it, then you should be playing mainly $5.00 events. Of course, it is permissible to fire the odd larger tournament where you think you’ll have a good edge on the field, but this can quickly become a lethal habit that swallows up your bankroll in no time if you take it too far.

2. Not Planning your Schedule

There are a few bad things that can happen if you get into the habit of firing up a bunch of tournaments without thinking. Here are the main ones:

  • You can end up overextending yourself if you do not know when a tournament is likely to end. If your final table clashes with real life priorities or bedtime, you can find yourself too unfocussed or too tired to perform optimally.
  • You can also easily overload your schedule. If you fancy your chances in that heads-up bounty builder event, then don’t register your normal daily amount of 6-max events. The heads-up game will demand a huge amount of your focus. You’ll quite literally be in every pot.
  • You need to play to your strengths. If you’re a very quick player who acts mainly on subconscious experience and instinct, then turbos might well give you the highest hourly. If you’re a deep thinker who likes to have a healthy time bank at all times then avoid turbos like the plague.

3. Under/Over Fuelling

Let ‘fuelling’ mean eating, drinking, sleeping, or anything else your body and brain need to function optimally during a long tournament session.

  • Under eating, unless you’re used to intermittent fasting (which can be a fantastic option for a tournament grinder), causes reduced willpower, heightened emotion, and poor concentration.
  • Over-eating leads to a period of lethargy which persists for the extent of digestion. Eat little and often while playing a long session.
  • Under-hydrating causes a dreadful hit to concentration and can even lead to physical discomforts such as headaches and even disorientation. This is the last thing you need creeping into your tourney session where you need to be able to snap in and out of periods of intense thought.
  • Over-hydrating is bad for one obvious reason. You get one five-minute break each hour. Running to the toilet after folding can be a reasonable emergency strategy but it should be avoided wherever possible due to how disruptive it is on finding that all important flow.
  • Under Sleeping can lead to a huge dip in performance. Sadly, many grinders fall victim to this one because being sleep deprived equally affects the faculty of being able to tell how well you’re playing.
  • Over-Sleeping can lead to a poor sleep schedule which can in turn lead to under sleeping. It’s also very important to manage your time effectively as a tourney player. If you have ten hours of your waking day taken up by poker, then you will need to be awake for another few in order to take care of life tasks, socialising, family, exercise and whatever else.

4. Neglecting Mental Game

Tournaments are incredibly tough on the willpower reserves. It takes nothing more than as five second lapse to ruin hours of hard work. Of course, your blunders won’t always get punished but they will add up to ruin that ROI very fast. Here are some of the things you can try to work on your mental game.

  • Hire a mental game coach.
  • Rehearse thought process to rewire your mind when it starts to enter detrimental modes.
  • Make a list of your most common mental game leaks and jot down triggers, dangers, and fixes for each.
  • Practice three-minute meditations to focus the mind during break times.
  • Advise anyone you live with that you shouldn’t be disturbed unnecessarily during this time.

Of course, there is a lot more you can do to become a more effective tournament grinder, but the main theme of all of these pitfalls has been under-preparing. Plan ahead beforehand and life will feel a lot easier mid-grind.