Commentary

Fairytales do come true

Updated: May 12, 2008, 11:35 AM ET
By Vanessa Rousso, Team PokerStars Pro | Special to ESPN.com

Sometimes, dreams come true. From Cinderella to Chris Moneymaker to Carrie Underwood, these legends and stories give people hope that they, too, might someday hit the big time. With the advent of relatively inexpensive Internet poker satellites, now more and more people have a very real chance at realizing their dreams in the form of poker's very own "golden ticket" -- a seat to a live, big-buy-in, major poker tournament. However, while Willy Wonka's golden ticket holders didn't need to know anything other than where and when to show up, poker's shot at the big time comes with a bit of a catch. In order to cash in on their chance at success in the big leagues, online satellite winners will have to prepare for the strategic differences between the live tournaments that they are about to encounter and the online satellites that got them there.

Vanessa Rousso
Jay Directo/AFP/Getty ImagesRousso recently was victorious on NBC's Poker After Dark cashing in for $120,000

To begin with, the Internet's efficiency eliminates the need to wait for a dealer to manually shuffle and deal out the cards, thus allowing online players to see many more hands per hour. Therefore, when it comes to live tournaments, players will most likely have to wait much longer than they are used to waiting online until they have a playable hand or the opportunity to make a move. Countless Internet players have qualified for a live event, only to blow up in the very early phases of the tournament because they don't realize that live tournaments last much longer than the online tournaments they are used to. Live play requires tremendous patience in order to achieve success.

That is not to say that successful online players do not have discipline; on the contrary, they do, in that they have control over the temptation to think of online play as a game. Therefore, if you have had success online and find yourself entering the world of live play, try to remember what it was like when you first realized the discipline it would take for success in online poker. Then tap into that self-control and force yourself to be patient -- indeed, even more patient than you are accustomed -- when you play live. The hands will come, I promise!

Another element related to the extended nature of live tournaments is that these events take place over the course of days, not hours. This length means that there is now an element of endurance, both physical and mental, that comes into play in determining who will find success. In the end, poker tournaments mimic the real world in that it is survival of the fittest. Making sure that you get your sleep and avoid drinking and other drains on your system during the tournament is of paramount importance.

Because live play often involves traveling to another part of the world, you should also be prepared to overcome jet lag. You should always try to have a planned routine during tournaments. You should begin the day with a healthy start, pace yourself during play and end things on a relaxing note. I like to end each day with a movie to help me get rid of the hands that seem to play in endless loop in my mind after I have played a full day of poker. This bit of advice (given to me by another pro) has helped me get a restful night's sleep in several critical situations.

If you are used to playing on the Internet, you may not be aware that when you play live, you must make a conscious attempt to mask your unconscious tells. A good way to begin the process is to have a strict, patterned way of conducting yourself. Never vary your physical mannerisms, voice cadence, speech pattern, posture or chip-shuffling style while you are playing … if you can help it. Otherwise, you risk giving off information to your opponents that will help them uncover the strength of your hand. For more information about how to hide your own tells, as well as how to uncover them in your opponents, I recommend that you read "Read 'Em and Reap" by Joe Navarro, a former FBI spy trainer who has tremendous insight into human behavior.

The likely differences between the opponents you face online and those you will sit across from when you play live are tremendous. Your online opponents are often more aggressive because they feel that their anonymity is a defense against accountability for their actions. Players who aren't worried about looking like a donkey on the Internet will often take a shot with a mathematically improper call -- say, to try and hit a gut-shot straight draw -- in situations in which these very same players would fold if they were seated in a live game. In essence, this means that live players are sometimes more predictable in their attempts to play optimally and demonstrate their prowess among their peers at the tables. When you play live, remember this trend and exploit it!

Finally, it is important to note that when people play online satellites, they are generally trying to get into tournaments that are, by and large, out of the reach of their actual bankrolls. However, these players must be aware that this will invariably have an effect on their mind-set. Most likely, they will value just making the money in the live tournament, far more than another player who simply bought in and is used to playing at similar stakes. Thus, satellite winners ought to try to hide the online origin of their entry, or else they open themselves to the risk that opponents will exploit this information against them in critical situations.

Ultimately, cashing in on poker's golden ticket is a two-part process, and players must carefully prepare for each stage. Winning the satellite into one of poker's big dances is only half the battle. To realize your poker Cinderella story, you must be able to adjust to the very different rigors of a live, big-buy-in event -- three clicks of your heels simply won't be enough to get you there.

Vanessa Rousso is one of the top female poker players in the world and a part of Team PokerStars Pro. She plays exclusively a PokerStars.net where you can play for your chance to make it to the WSOP.

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