Preparation will ward off blunders at the poker table

February 27, 2017, Mark Brement  

During the first series of the recent Dallas-Green Bay playoff game, Dallas had Green Bay pinned and stopped, only to get caught with 12 men on the field, which gave Green Bay a new set of downs and ended up in a long drive and a Green Bay touchdown. You’ll never hear about this blunder or the long drive that followed. History only will remember the last-second field goal and the exciting ending.

If you find yourself getting deep into tournaments, only to be forced to play a last-ditch-effort hand because you were short (fewer than 10 big blinds), you just might be making mistakes leading up to that point and it’s worthwhile to explore the idea that we can minimize our errors. Let’s explore three common mistakes:

MISTAKE NO. 1: Many solid players avoid playing from behind and I can’t blame anybody for that. But sometimes we get knocked out of a tournament and we want to evaluate the last hand.

Did we play it right? Should we have picked a better spot? What we’re forgetting is lost opportunities that occurred hours before. Tournament players who get more than their fair share of the prize money have a knack for chip accumulation. Mr. Big Hit didn’t get to the final table with a big stack because of his patience. You have to prod yourself to get in there and mix it up. Playing to survive is Mistake No. 1.

MISTAKE NO. 2: Evaluating the last hand accomplishes nothing. Tournaments can be grueling. Putting hours of play only to end up driving home at midnight five spots from the money is painful and depressing.

At this point, you’re exhausted. Write down hands of interest at all breaks. Use your phone or a notepad. By the time you dust off your misery, you’ll have precious cargo.

You’ll have plenty of hands to analyze and you’ll be able to better your game. Mistake No. 2 is poor hand-analysis habits.

MISTAKE NO. 3: Many players, including me, burn much more energy in tournament play than at a cash game. Avoid playing cash before and after the tournament. Start the tournament feeling good.

Be prepared. Exercise before you play. Review some notes from our accurate record-keeping. Give your brain a chance. Mistake No. 3 is not being prepared.

— Mark Brement has spent 15 years teaching and coaching all facets of poker, including at Pima CC. Email him at