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From online to live: How to prepare and adjust when playing live poker for the first time

From online to live: How to prepare and adjust when playing live poker for the first time

Do you remember the first live tournament you played in an actual poker room or casino?

No longer were you sitting around a dining table. No longer were you sitting on an emergency chair brought in from the garden furniture. And for the first time, you didn’t know everyone around the table.

It can be quite daunting playing live properly for the first time when you’re used to playing online, or at home games with friends. But most first times in poker are because of the two same reasons:


You’re playing down your local casino/cardroom


You’ve won a satellite online to a big live event.

If it’s the latter, there’s a very good chance that the event you’re about to play has a much bigger buy-in than you’re used to playing online.

So, how do you get rid of those butterflies going buck wild in your stomach?

How do you ensure you keep your composure at the live tables?

How should you adjust to playing higher stakes?

To find these things out, we spoke with a BBZ community member who recently played his first big live events at the PokerStars UKIPT stop in Malta. He ended up finishing fifth in a €220 Turbo for €1,320.

Andre Carvalho is a 33-year-old software engineer from Rio de Janeiro who now lives in London. He’s been playing online for around 12 years since his college days and built up a bankroll from a $1 deposit on Full Tilt, before putting the game to one side as he focused on his work.

But when the pandemic hit, Carvalho decided to get back into poker and built a new bankroll from a $200 deposit playing $1-$3 MTTs. He now consistently plays a $10 average buy-in (ABI), but occasionally takes some shots in events up to $30 buy-in.

“I’m a bit conservative with my bankroll and usually have around 300-500 buy-ins,” he says. “I think one of the most important things about poker is preserving our bankroll.”

Carvalho has been a part of the BBZ community for the past year and really enjoys studying poker, which helps him maintain a good work ethic even though he’s not a professional player. He owns almost all of the BBZ MTT bundles and has even had a couple of 1:1 coaching sessions with Jon “luckyfish” Clark.

So, how did Carvalho find the experience of playing at UKIPT Malta? How did it all go for him? And what advice does he have for anyone else about to play live for the first time?

Check out our chat below.

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BBZ Blog: Hi Andre! The Malta event was your first-ever live tournament. How did you end up playing there?

Andre Carvalho: One of my goals for the year was to start playing live poker. Recently I started searching for nice live events to play and I found this event location to be perfect for a trip.
I played some small buy-in satellites to the Main Event but didn’t manage to qualify. So I decided to buy in directly to the smaller tournaments (€220 Turbo) and also the mystery bounty (€440).

How did you prepare to play live for the first time?

I’ve read “Exploitative play in live poker” in the past and decided to re-read it before the trip. I quite like some of the advice on how to take notes and pay attention at the table.

I also did some basic Googling around tips for playing live for the first time and this actually helped a lot. There are a bunch of small things that I think most people kind of overlook when they have played live MTTs too many times, for example: how to find your table, the “one chip rule”, what are string bets etc.

When I got to Malta, before actually playing in the UKIPT I looked for the local casino schedules to see if there were some smaller tournaments that I could use to try out live poker for the first time. Turns out I found some local casino $45 buy-in tournament and this helped me a lot; I got comfortable handling the chips, trying to keep track of some of the stacks and bets without risking too much money. This reduced a lot of the pressure when I went to play the bigger events.

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Additionally, I also created a spreadsheet to track which events I was planning to play and how much I would buy-in for in total. I’m starting a new bankroll for live poker and tracking the results will be important.

How was it different playing live versus online? What adjustments did you make?

I think we overlook how the poker site software helps you when playing! The biggest difference for me was having to keep track of stacks, handling the chips, counting the bets and how much is in the pot.

Given that I was having to devote a lot of energy to this, I decided that I would play a very solid strategy (sometimes tighter than what I would normally play) as I think I could give up more EV by getting myself into tricky spots.

What did you do after busting the live tournaments?

I took some notes during my play using OneNote and reviewed some of these hands before going to sleep. This was especially important when I busted one of the MTTs short of ITM: I was able to confirm that some of my plays were indeed good and I also found some obvious mistakes that I should try to improve for next time. I think taking notes like this helps because otherwise, you can forget about the action and then be left wondering if you are making correct decisions.

Other than this, I was in Malta! So I enjoyed the nice weather and some social events that were being organized by PokerStars.

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Is there anything you wish you’d done differently looking back?

I would try to loosen up my game a bit during the late stages of the tournament, especially as I was a big stack at the FT. I believe I’ll get closer to playing my A-game as I get more used to the extra things you need to pay attention to when playing live.

You mentioned you play a $10 ABI online and these stakes were much higher. What was the experience like playing higher? Was the competition tougher?

I didn’t notice a big difference in competition, especially since I didn’t play the larger buy-in tournaments. Some players were still making reasonable mistakes, especially when taking ICM into consideration.

What advice would you give to an online player who is about to play live for the first time?

Focus on playing a solid game and pay a lot of attention to the table! Even if you are not involved in the hand, you are able to extract a lot of useful information about your opponents.

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