Diet and Exercise – Winning Strategy for Tournament Poker

Chad Brown, actor, tv host and poker professional

What you eat can make the difference in whether you make the final table or crash before you get there. You will hear top pros talk about how they fell apart during a long tournament after playing so well all day. It may not be a coincidence. Many players are so obsessed with poker that they eat whatever is easiest even if it isn’t good for them, and the only exercise they get is throwing in chips and raking in pots.

You might recall hearing recommendations that passengers on overseas flights do stretching exercises in their seats every few hours to avoid getting a blood clot. That is why the massage you can get at the table is not a bad idea, to keep the blood flowing as well as relieving stress. You should never sit in your seat for more than three hours without getting up and stretching or taking a walk.

So if you’re not exercising regularly, you should be. Besides all the health benefits exercising provides, it also has positive effects on your poker game.  Most good poker players will only cash in tournaments about 10% of the time. That means that 90% of the time they are taking bad beats. That can be very stressful. Because exercising alleviates stress, it can also help you deal with the frustration. As a result, you will play better the next time you ante up. Exercise will also help your stamina, so you can play at your best for those long hours.

Protein bars for poker stamina - give it a go!But exercise alone won’t give you the optimal results you’re looking for. Your diet is critical. I’m going to make general suggestions that I feel can help you in tournament poker. For starters, you should have breakfast in the morning before you play. I know it’s sometimes hard to do that on the road. When I’m on the road and short on time, I bring protein bars. There are many on the market that can do the job. Go to your local health food store and ask which are the best meal replacement and experiment until you find the one that works best for you.

Another benefit of including protein in all your meals is that it will speed up you metabolism, so your body will burn more calories than it normally would. What a lot of you do is eat simple carbs with a lot of sugar, like pancakes or muffins. This will spike your blood sugar and give you a rush of energy temporarily. But then your blood sugar will come crashing down, and as a result you will feel sluggish and hungry. You will crave more simple carbs to elevate your blood sugar and get the same result.

Try eating small meals of complex carbs and protein every two to three hours. Complex carbs include whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and vegetables. Fruit is important, but don’t overdo fruit during tournaments; most fruits are high in fructose, another name for sugar.

When the dinner break comes, it’s best to avoid the buffet, since buffets encourage overeating. Players who eat too much on the dinner break often come back to the table very tired. They are more likely to make mistakes in their decision-making. Eating small portions every three hours avoids this problem.

Coffee and poker - a great mix!Now let’s take a look at the benefits of coffee. Some people are under the misconception that coffee is not good for them. However, a number of recent studies suggest that coffee will reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and others. Coffee has a ton of antioxidants.

Personally I drink a couple of cup of coffee in the morning and may have one more after a dinner break. You should not drink coffee too lat at night, because it may keep you from sleeping when you go to bed. Only you can know how your body will react when you drink coffee at night. You need to discover the cut-off time for yourself. In general though, you should be okay if your last cup is four hours before you want to sleep. People who have a medical condition like heart disease should probably check with their doctor before adding coffee to their diet.

And last, but certainly not least: get the proper amount of sleep! The average person requires about eight hours of sleep nightly. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you will suffer at the tables. Sleeping stimulates our production of HGH (human growth hormone) which is essential for recovering from wearing our bodies down the day before. Poker players who go days or even weeks without getting the proper sleep are just making their bodies weaker and weaker and can’t possibly play at their best.

I hope this is useful – and not just at poker tournaments but also for your life!

a5_wA popular television poker host, Brown grew up in the Bronx – where he learned to play poker in the Italian Cafes.

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A Hand in Poker History: Jerry Yang vs Tuan Lam

Poker handJerry Yang had been chip leader since early in the day, when it got to heads up play he had a 5-1 chip lead over his opponent Tuan Lam.

Jerry had looked to bully Tuan into submission, doubling Tuan up once didn’t even slow him down.

Once again from the button Jerry kept the heat on and raised to 2.3 million, this time however Tuan had a hand and reraised all in, Jerry went into the tank and decided he liked his chances.

The cards were flipped and it was a race, Jerry had a slight lead with pocket 8’s, but Tuan had two over cards and flush possibilities with A-Q all diamonds.

The flop comes down Q-5-9 and suddenly its Tuan in the lead, and it will take a miracle 8 or runner cards for a straight for Jerry to eliminate Tuan on this hand.

The turn is a 7, and while it opens up the chances of a back door straight for Jerry, Tuan is still in the lead, and it looks like he is about to double up again.

The river card however ended that dream, the river brought a miracle 6, completing Jerry’s backdoor straight, and handed Jerry the 2007 WSOP Main Event Championship.


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Winning a HORSE Tournament Part II

Poker: Andy Bloch aka The Rock

[Here’s a direct link to POKER HORSE PART I by professional poker player Andy Bloch]

To win a HORSE tournament, you have to understand the value of the blinds and antes in each of the games. From my experience, I find that you don’t win HORSE tournaments as much as you steal them – that is, by trying to win the blinds and antes as much as possible with well-timed raises. How often you do that depends on how big the antes are in relation to the betting limits.

In the World Series of Poker* HORSE tournaments, the antes are usually about 25% of the initial bet so if the limits are 100/200, the ante is going to be 25 per player with a 25 bring-in. That means there are a lot of chips in the pot that are worth fighting for. With eight players at the table, there will be 225 worth of antes and you only have to raise to 100 to try and steal them. You only have to succeed one out of every three times for this to be a profitable play. Twice you’ll lose 100 and once you’ll win 225 so, overall, you’ll be up 25.

In the early stages of a HORSE tournament, you’re not going to be able to steal the blinds and the antes very often. At that point, the tournament plays more like a ring game. Stealing the antes becomes a huge part of the game toward the end of a tournament, especially near the bubble when players tend to tighten up the most.

Professional poker tipsFor example, if I can tell the player on my left is going to play his hand after he checks his cards, I might muck my hand instead of trying to steal the pot. You really want to make sure you’re stealing in the right situations because if you try to steal too much, you’re going to get away with it less often. Tough players will know that you’re trying to steal at every opportunity and they’ll start to play back at you. They’re going to call or re-raise, trying to re-steal the pot from you.

It’s also important to realize that when a HORSE tournament gets short-handed it’s cheaper to play the Stud games than it is the flop games. In Hold ’em and Omaha it’s going to cost you one and a half bets – the small and big blind – to play each round, no matter what. But the amount required for you to play the Stud games changes as the number of players at the table decreases. If there are eight players at the table, it will cost you 225 to play stud if the antes are 25, but if there are only four players, it’s only going to cost you 125. Because there are fewer chips in the pot when you’re short-handed, you should be less likely to play against a possible steal.

When you’re playing three- or four-handed in Hold ’em and Omaha you’ll probably see more confrontations because the big blind is almost always going to try and defend against the first raiser who is almost always someone attempting to steal the pot. Often, there will be a three-bet by the button or the small blind, which further pumps up the pot. As common as three-bet pots are in Hold ’em and Omaha, you will rarely see them in any of the Stud games. You don’t even see two bets very often because the first raise in Stud is just to the completion amount. It’s not really two bets. One of the main reasons to three-bet in Hold ’em is to get the big blind out, but in Stud you don’t need to three-bet because a two-bet is usually enough to force the bring-in out of the hand. In effect, a two-bet in Stud is the same as a three-bet in Hold ’em.

Even though it’s “cheaper” to play Stud Hi/Lo than Hold ’em or Omaha, you still want to fold a lot of hands early on because you don’t want to get sucked into the pot. You want to be especially cautious when you have a low draw and you have to call a bet on every street just trying to win half the pot. It’s an even worse situation when it’s the other way around – you’ve made the high and your opponent has the low and he’s free-rolling to make a bigger high. In this situation you might have to face multiple bets in order to see the river, all the while hoping your opponent doesn’t make a bigger high hand to scoop the pot.

One of the most important things to remember in a HORSE tournament is that the relative value of the blinds and antes changes from game to game, so you need to adjust your game plan accordingly to make sure you’re stealing blinds and antes and defending your own blinds at the right times.

Andy Bloch
tickyNicknamed “The Rock” Andy Bloch is a former member of the infamous MIT Blackjack team

More poker tips from professional players like Howard Lederer, Doyle Brunson, Erick Seidel and more are available here.

*World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Harrah’s License Company, LLC (“Harrahs”). Harrah’s does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with Full Tilt Poker or Red Card Media Limited (trading as, their products, services, promotions or tournaments.

Howard Lederer on Playing Large Fields

Howard Lederer poker tournamemt tips

During the World Series of Poker, players are confronted with massive fields. For example, in the 2006 WSOP, nearly 2,800 players bought into the first $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event. Throughout the Series, it was common to see starting fields of 1,500 to 2,000.

Many players who are accustomed to playing in smaller tournaments can be overwhelmed by the prospect of competing against so many people. Some feel they need to make major adjustments to their games in order to be competitive. They play faster than they normally would, playing marginal hands and looking for the opportunities to gamble.

I think this is a big mistake. You should never alter your strategy to compensate for the size of the field. When you sit down to play in a tournament, you should concentrate only on things you can control.

Whether you’re playing against 200 or 2,000 players, you should be focused on how you’re going to beat the other players at your table. Let the rest of the tournament take care of itself. If you manage to make good decisions against your opponents, you’ll have the opportunity to accumulate the chips and survive as the field dwindles.

Howard Lederer poker professionalIf you manage to stick around, you’ll have the opportunity for a nice payday. But if you gamble excessively in the early stages and bust out, you’ve got no chance at all.

In any tournament, the determining factor for whether you should play a given hand is the size of the blinds. If you have 10,000 in chips and the blinds are 50 and 100, there’s no need to play A-J in early position. But if you have 10,000 in chips and the blinds are 1,000 and 2,000, you need to move in with that same hand. It’s the blind structure that should determine how you play, not the number of players in the event.

In the WSOP Main Event, I’ve seen a lot of players feel pressured by the vast size of the field. But it’s a false pressure. The Main Event has a great structure. The blinds increase slowly, so you can play patiently and look for your spots.

You can’t win any large event in the first hour on the first day, so don’t worry about what’s happening elsewhere in a tournament. Play your game and do your best to beat the players at your table. It’s the surest path to success in any tournament, no matter the size of the field.

Howard Lederer.

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Riding that Poker HORSE – Part 1

Andy Bloch professional poker player

If you want to win a HORSE tournament, you have to be good at all five games. You don’t have to be the best player at any one game, but you can’t be the worst. If you’re really bad at one of the games, it’s going to hurt you. People often ask me which of the HORSE games I’m best at and I always give them the same answer it depends upon who I’m playing against. Whatever my opponent’s worst game is, that’s my best game.

In a HORSE tournament, it’s really important that you remember to switch gears from one game to the next. It can be easy to forget if you’re not careful, especially in the Stud portion of the games. When switching from Hold ’em to Omaha, you get dealt a different number of cards. You automatically know that’s it’s a different game because you’re holding two more cards in your hand. That’s not so obvious in the Stud games because all three versions start off the same. The only giveaway that you’re playing Razz as opposed to Stud Hi or Stud Hi/Lo is that in Razz, the high card is the bring-in instead of the low card. Otherwise, all of the Stud games have the same basic structure, so it’s really easy for players to forget to switch gears.

In every HORSE tournament, there’s invariably going to be a couple of hands where somebody forgets which game they’re playing. Part of the skill required to win a HORSE tournament is not making that mistake yourself, and realizing when one of your opponents has forgotten which game they’re playing so you can take full advantage of the situation. When you remember to switch gears from one game to the next, you’re going to have a big advantage over opponents who are slower to remember and a huge advantage over those players who never remember to change their games.

It is especially important to change gears when the game switches from Stud to Stud Hi/Lo. A lot of weak players think they can get away with playing any high hand in Stud Hi/Lo, and that’s a huge mistake. They might not have been dealt a single quality hand for the entire round of Stud and then, as soon as the game switches to Stud Hi/Lo, they finally pick up a good high hand that they decide to play because they’re still in the Stud Hi mindset. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap.

A lot of the really good high hands in Stud aren’t playable at all in Stud Hi/Lo, but weak players will often play them anyway. You might play a hand like J-10-9 in Stud because of the ante, but it’s a terrible hand in Stud Hi/Lo. You’re looking to make a straight, but the odds of that happening aren’t very good. Even if you do make a straight, you’ll often have to split the pot with the low who might be free-rolling you to make a flush. If you make two pair, it will be vulnerable to a low that makes a bigger two pair, trips, a straight or a flush. It’s the same with a hand like split 9s. When you’re playing Stud Hi/Lo, the high hand values go way down so you only want to play premium high hands. That means Aces and perhaps Kings, unless you’re in position and you can get heads-up with a player who’s only going for the low.

A lot of weak players also make mistakes when the game switches to Hold’em because they fail to get out of the Stud mindset and into the Hold ’em mindset. There are certain plays that you make in Hold ’em that you don’t make in Stud. For example, in Stud you’re far less likely to defend the bring-in than you are to defend the big blind in Hold ’em. In Hold ’em I almost always call in the big blind if there’s just one raise, but I would never call a raise after bringing it in in Stud unless I had a decent hand, such as a pair or a three-flush, or a three-card low draw in Stud Hi/Lo.

Your willingness to defend your forced bet should change from game to game. In Razz you’re almost never calling when you’re the bring-in. When the game changes to Stud, you can start calling a little bit. When it switches to Stud Hi/Lo, you’re going to be calling a lot more because a low up-card is more useful in Hi/Lo. Then, when it gets to Hold ’em and Omaha, you’re nearly always going to be calling a single raise from the big blind.

As basic as this might appear, simply remembering which game you’re playing and adjusting your play accordingly is an extremely important concept if you want to succeed in a HORSE tournament.

For more on tips on how to become a winning HORSE player, read next week’s email where I’ll discuss why it’s important to fully understand how the different blind and ante structures in each affect your game.

Andy Bloch


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