How to Play Your First WSOP Event: Beginner Strategy with Maria Ho

Published on 4 July 2014 by Pokerlistings 754
This year at the World Series of Poker, found the ultimate poker fan and surprised him with a $1,111 buy-in to a WSOP gold bracelet event. To get him ready we set him up with a one-on-one poker coaching session with poker pro Maria Ho. Maria has been making a living playing poker for over 10 years and has earned over $1.5 million playing live poker tournaments. Maria coaches Joe Fox on who to watch out for at the table, how to be patient if things aren't going his way and how to settle beginner's nerves before a big event. Check out this strategy session and keep an eye out for the full mini-documentary of Joe Fox's WSOP dream come true.
Maria: Hi!

Joe: Hi, how's it going?

Maria: I'm Maria.

Joe: I'm Joe, good to see you.

Maria: Nice to meet you.

Joe: Nice to meet you.

Maria: Very exciting for you.

Joe: Yeah, thanks for taking the time.

So they plan a little one-drop event tomorrow, crazy field, unlimited rebuys the first four levels. What are your thoughts on some strategy for getting started for surviving day one?

Maria: Yeah, so you will have one bullet in it, right?

Joe: One bullet.

Maria: So I would say because there are unlimited reentries for . . . Not all of the players will be taking the reentries, but some will. You can expect that a lot of people will be gambling a little bit earlier on. So since you are only one-bulleting, I would say the best advice to combat the people that are more playing a looser, gambly, aggressive style is just look for really good spots. You'll have a stack size because you start a little bit shallower than some of the other tournaments. You want to look for a spot where you can three-bet somebody who you know is raising a lot, trying to accumulate a lot of chips. Or if you get down to something like a 20 big blind stack, that's like an excellent stack size to re-shove against a lot of those aggressive openers because you still have a stack where you have a lot of fold equity.

Joe: Some equity, yeah.

Maria: Yup, exactly. So you don't have to have a monster hand. You just have to think that they're opening a lot. They're probably opening a really wide range. And so if your three bet shoves get through, then you're picking up five, six big blinds at a time just by doing that.

And honestly, in these big field tournaments, my best advice is you just wait for the players to make the mistakes, and you capitalize on them, because I think people are always in a rush, especially when the stacks are shallower to play a lot of hands to get involved a lot. I think the best bet is to sit back. And of course, being patient and being tight is important. But mostly, it's about reading the player and seeing what style they're playing. And if you see that, there's a few players that are always constantly continuation-betting dry flops and things like . . . You can take advantage of those kinds of players who just keep firing.

Joe: Sure, sure, well, one of my strong suits, at least in the smaller stakes I play, is being able to read people and put them on hands. But obviously, I'm not playing events like this and fields like this. From your experience, are there any in today's game . . . It seems like it's changed so much. I've been involved for about ten years. Are there different tells that you're seeing in the aggressive players other than the see-bets-after-the-flop or . . . ?

Maria: Right, I would say for the more amateur recreational player that you're up against in these tournaments, I would say their first-level tells is usually the . . . it's indicative of what it is. So it's like if they act weak, they are weak. If they act strong, they are strong. I think it's very first level with majority of recreational players.

With the really good players, they're going to probably be on a second level or a third level tell. So then you have to start reading theirs as the opposite of what it is.

And I also think your advantage against those professionals is they are going to probably see you as a recreational player because they don't recognize you from the circuit or whatever. And I think that they'll try to be a little bit more aggressive against you, especially because they're going to most likely reenter because they are professionals. So they are planning to reenter a few times. So they're probably going to be trying to push you off hand. So I think that if you have a really good pro at your table and they're showing a lot of strength, I think you should be willing to maybe put it in a little bit lighter against them.

Joe: Okay, and what I see I only see from television, watching on the internet. It seems like a lot of players are raising pretty light, suite connectors or one gappers. Are you experiencing that as well in these fields? Or is it still raising with pretty solid hands?

Maria: Yeah, I would say the thing is . . .

Joe: Position maybe is . . .

Maria: Yeah, I would say the thing is is because you're playing ten-handed, that actually makes everybody's ranges a lot tighter than they normally would be. The difference between the nine-handed and ten-handed is actually really huge. And it actually makes even the aggressive professionals be a little bit tighter with their opening range. But it's like what you said. If you have position and if they're raising from late position and you have an even later position and position on them, then it's okay to be a little bit more aggressive with your three bets or maybe be a little wider with your calling range of their raises.

Joe: Okay, you've played a lot of events. I haven't. Any advice on nerves and some of the things that you do to calm yourself down or to keep yourself focused in a situation?

Maria: Yeah, I think that the most important thing is no matter who's at your table, I think don't play like in fear of any of the players at your table. Of course, there's probably going to be some people that you recognize. And sometimes, you're going to start psyching yourself out a little bit like "I don't want to play against them. I don't want to get involved in pots against them." But I look at it as just an equal opportunity table at all times, and you just have to try to play your best game. And I think if you start to feel a little bit nervous, then sometimes, I like to just listen to music. Or I just like to just center myself a little bit more or even talk to your neighbor. I think that really calms the nerves when you have friendly table banter too.

But before a big tournament, I just like to have a really . . . I don't like to get in and play right away. I like to have a really relaxing morning. And I like to wake up for a few hours before so that when I'm actually there, my head's completely in the game. And I'm not thinking about "Oh, did I return this email?" or "Did I do that other thing?" because I think sometimes people's focuses are so split when they're still thinking like "Did I forget to turn the stove off this morning?" or something like that. So you really have to just make sure once you're in the game to put your phone away and just keep your head in the game.

Joe: A couple of strategy questions like . . . With the short stack, let's say my stack is even. I'm in level 2. Do you ever want to get it in pre-flop with Ace-King or the nut flush draw after the flop?

Maria: I think it depends a lot on how many big blinds you have. I would say, just generally speaking, I think you will be playing with basically a 30 big blind stack a lot in this tournament. So I think 30 big blinds to get in pre with Ace-King in most situations is completely fine. I think anything more than 30 big blinds . . . I'm not saying like ever open shove obviously with Ace-King for 30 bigs. But if somebody raises from late position, then I think getting in Ace-King with 30 bigs is absolutely fine.

As far as flopping draws and stuff like that, you obviously don't ever want to be in a position where you're calling off a significant portion of your stack on a draw only to fold the turn if you don't hit. So obviously, I like to go all in if it means that I get to see all five cards. But obviously, if somebody bets 200 on the flop and you have the nut flush draw and you have 3k in chips, I would probably just call the 200 because there's no real reason . . .

Joe: Sure, it's my strategy too.

Maria: Right. But if it was like they bet 1,000 and you have 3,000, then at that point then you decide if you want to . . . yeah.

So I think it depends a lot on your stack size. But like I said, I think with the 30 big blind stack that you'll have a lot at this tournament, I think that a lot of pre-flop, getting it in with good hands, is perfectly fine.

Joe: Okay.

Maria: So especially when you're getting close to the money bubble, there's a lot of different variables at play. There's going to be the big stacks that are going to try to take advantage of the people that are blinding into the money. So I would say if you are one if the bigger stacks, then obviously put the pressure on the short stacks because, obviously, they would have to call off their tournament life. Whereas, you don't. So it's really important to keep your foot on the gas pedal against those players.

Joe: Would that be to medium to small stacks, not super short stacks, because if I'm raising light and they're shoved, I'm in a pickle, right? Or no, what are your thoughts on that?

Maria: Yes, yes and no. It would seem that you would basically be priced in to call off short a stack if you were raising. But at the same time, what they basically have to have, almost Aces to get it in with you. I've seen people fold Aces on the bubble, even, you know what I mean?

Joe: Because they get cracked. You bet, they want to get in the money.

Maria: And because they want to get in the money. So you have to find the player that's willing to go with their hands no matter how good it is on the money bubble. So I think that the combination of that situation happens pretty rarely with those people that do want to cash really badly that I wouldn't be too worried about that. And also, if you were one of the shorter stacks going into the bubble, I think you should look at this as a complete free roll, because it is, you know? And I think you need to not let them take advantage of you in that situation because they're trying to take advantage of people that really want to make their money back. But if you look at this, you got a free buy-in. And you should try to play to win then.

Joe: Right, I agree with that, for sure.

Maria: Yeah, I definitely think that, in this tournament, when there is such a good mixture of really good players and really bad ones, I think that if you have a very good player to your direct left or two to your left, I would tighten up my pre-flop raising range a lot because they'll for sure take advantage of that. They'll be three-betting light a lot.

And also if you have weaker players at your table, it's like there's a table of ten people. You don't have to be playing pots against the same person all the time. It's not like it's a shorthanded game. You can choose to basically play pots against weaker players where you feel more comfortable, where you feel you have more of an advantage. And there's nothing wrong with that. And it's actually a really good strategy because it's like, why do you want to fight with a bear if you could fight with a puppy?

Joe: Maria, thank you so much for taking the time to spend with me. I know you're busy. You got an important event. Thank you for the advice.

Maria: Yeah, I am so excited for you. And I'm going to get your table number, and I'm going to come check up on you on breaks.

Joe: Awesome, thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

Maria: Yeah, of course. Good luck.

Joe: Thank you.