Team Full Tilt
In the premier episode of our new show, "Learn from the Pros" broadcast onFOX Sports Net, five of our pros engaged in a roundtable discussion aboutstepping up in limits.
Everyone agreed that one of the best ways to improve your game is to play against better players. Jennifer Harman said she faced more tough decisions at her first table with Doyle Brunson than she'd faced in all her previous years of playing poker. Layne Flack and Howard Lederer agreed that the constant pressure can be a good thing, forcing you to weigh each decision more carefully and rethink old habits and patterns. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson
said his best learning opportunities come at World Series final tables, and Phil Ivey remarked that, with time, you start to look forward to playing out of your comfort zone. Perhaps the adrenaline helps keep you focused.
But maybe there's a corollary to this; the idea that being a first-timer relieves you of the pressure that can only come from having already had a taste of victory.
It's true that you see a lot of the same names winning tournaments, but some newcomers have had some incredible finishes, and many of today's pros started out with very early success. Erik Seidel finished second to Johnny Chan in his very first World Series of Poker Main Event. Andy Bloch won the first No-Limit Hold 'em event he ever entered. Phil Gordon finished fourth
in his first WSOP Big Dance. And Howard Lederer has made the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event just once - the first year he entered the event. When Howard survived to Day 4 in 2003, he made this observation:
I am playing for more money than I ever have, and this kind of chance at the WSOP will probably only come up for me a few more times in my life. But, for some reason, I am only thinking about this table, this hand, this moment. I have read some Zen Buddhism in the last few years and it is really helping me now.
In particular "Zen and the Art of Archery", a short little book, has everything you need to know about staying in the moment. Thinking about the recent past or the possible future at moments like these can only hurt your ability to make the plays necessary to win. And, those thoughts can actually make it impossible to win. I have started to think that players like Varkonyi and Moneymaker have an advantage over experienced tournament players. Yes they would like to win, and they know this is an important tournament, but they don't feel that importance deep in their bones like a seasoned pro who has been trying to win the WSOP for years. It frees them up to play their best when it matters. My best finish was in my first try. It wasn't real to me. I remember having a great time, and not feeling a lot of pressure.
Getting back to the roundtable... everyone agreed that tournaments are a good way to get out of your comfort zone without risking your bankroll. Try to let inexperience work for you, not against you. If you're at your first final table and you see enough bracelets to fill a Tiffany display window, use it as a learning opportunity. Also use it as a chance to enjoy the
moment and focus on the here and now. You don't yet have a past, and living in the moment is the best way to ensure you have a future.