Eleanor Gudger: How to win a WPT

PKR Pro Eleanor ‘Elz442’ Gudger had the biggest score of her life when she topped a field of over 2,000 players to win the WPT500 for £140,000. Here she explains how she did it – and how you can win big too

Before you can win a live tournament you have to decide which one you are going to play in the first place. For many, it simply comes down to convenience, choosing the nearest casino with a buy-in that fits. But, as Gudger explains, there are other things you should bear in mind too…

‘You want to look for an event that has satellites running. Or a tournament where you’ve got lots of people winning seats into it from smaller events. Grosvenor’s 25/25 Series is a good example of that. In the weeks leading up to the tournament lots of the casinos give away seats from the £25 comps and so on. So you get to a £200 buy-in tournament and you find a lot of players that are only used to playing in much cheaper tournaments. Suddenly you can find yourself in a field where you feel very, very comfortable against the other players. Conversely, it’s good to try and avoid side events at major festivals that run without satellites – they tend to have a much tougher field.

If you play a big field tournament like the WPT500 with thousands of players you have to treat it just like any other tournament early on. I think it’s very easy to get sidetracked looking at the average stack, but I don’t think that’s very helpful early on at all. [There’s an extra dynamic at play] if you are playing on an earlier starting day too in tournaments with re-entries. The average stack can sometimes look very strange because you’ve got a lot of players who are happy to just punt it into the middle and take big chances. It’s that old saying of, “you can’t win a tournament in the first few levels but you can definitely bust it.”

That being said, I still think you need to be conscious of what other people are doing around you. It can still be very profitable to get all-in in the correct situations, especially if you find somebody who is in the mindset of re-entering today and tomorrow if they bust’

Talk talk

You might not be able to win the tournament in the early stages but you can sure get off to a flying start. You’ll have a much better chance of doing so if you pay attention at the table and – gasp! – even talk to the other players, says Gudger…

‘If you talk to people at the table you can find out a lot of information – I like to chat to people, especially when I’m in large field tournaments. People can be very excited to play because they have satellited in for  $3 and it’s the biggest event they have ever played. You can see who is nervous and also who’s thinking, ‘It’s only £500,’ because they’re used to playing £3,000 events. Those guys will just gamble it up. If you talk to people they might tell you they are prepared to fire three bullets, which is good information that you can use to adjust your strategy.

It’s very important to identify the weaker players at your table quickly otherwise their chips are going to go elsewhere. You’ll find that there are different types of weak players. My personal favourite is the over-aggressive ‘I must win all the chips’ type of player. They’ve read some tournament strategy which basically says that you must be aggressive to win. So that means in the first level, with 300BBs, they are going crazy by three-betting, barrelling and trying to get as many chips in as possible. Sometimes they can start off well if people keep folding, but if you can identify them quickly and call them down you can get a lot of chips.

If you end up on a tough table it might take more hard work to get their chips but you can’t shy away from playing your standard strategy either. The early stages are still a good time to accumulate some chips and it’s a good opportunity to play speculative hands’

Cracking Aces the right way

What are the major mistakes that players make in live tournaments? Eleanor Gudger reveals some of the ones you can profit from…

‘One mistake I keep seeing people make in the very early stages is three-betting too small, especially when they’re out of position. One hand from the WPT that I remember is when
a gentleman three-bet me from the big blind and I was in the cut-off with K-9 suited. He had hardly played any hands and I had no doubt that when he three-bet he had something. He made it so small that I had to call and I knew exactly where I was in the hand. I was lucky enough that the flop had two Nines on it and he got very attached to his Aces – it was one of those lovely spots! If you are going to three-bet at least do it with a wider range of hands and make it a decent size. I think this flips a lot in the later stages. You want to be three-betting more and taking pots down preflop because the blinds and antes are so big. 

Live reads are an interesting subject. I used to think it was mumbo jumbo but the more live poker I have played the more I have started to pick up on things. A lot of it is still the same as playing online – spotting betting tendencies and patterns – but there are occasional tells I do pick up on now, especially with more inexperienced players. A major one is seeing how comfortable they are when you put them into a tough position. Ask people how much they have behind and if they are counting it down to the very last chip they’re generally pretty happy with their hand! It’s not a universal rule but if you have someone who doesn’t want to show you how big their stack is then they’re often not very strong’

At the end of the day

If you’re playing in a multi-day tournament then the period at the end of Day One and preparing for Day Two is crucial, as Gudger explains…

‘It’s absolutely crazy how people behave at the end of a day when it’s a multi-day tournament. It doesn’t matter that you are bagging up and going home for a bit, or whether you make it though. It’s just another blind level and people shouldn’t make it into a bigger thing.

I think that people are either desperate to make it through to Day Two so that they can tell people, or they are below the average – but can still have a good stack – and just want to get it in and double up or bust. It’s a bad mentality. 

If you can identify people who are texting their friends to tell them they have made it through to Day Two when there are still 30 minutes left in the day then you should keep raising them as they won’t play back at you without it! Other people you have to identify are those who are getting it in light just because they want to gamble, so you have to take a risk with a hand that you might usually have been a bit more cautious with. I have seen people give away entire 30-40BB stacks in the last level of the day just because they’re slightly below the average.

After Day One, it’s very important not to go and get pissed. It’s a good idea to have as much sleep as possible, and on the morning before Day Two think about your stack size and the blind levels’

The final payoff

We all play poker tournaments for one main reason – to win money. But what is the best approach to take when you hit the cash and, hopefully, the final table? Gudger has her thoughts…

‘I tend not to look too much at payouts and pay jumps unless you are aware that some people are reacting to them. You’ll notice the people that just can’t keep their eyes off the numbers when you are close to the next pay jump. As soon as someone goes up a pay jump their range often changes dramatically, and will be much wider because they have breathed a sigh of relief. You need to adjust your range to take advantage of that. Once you get to the final table it turns on its head and now you need to be very aware of the pay jumps because ICM becomes an overriding factor.

Many players fail to adjust well on the final table as players get knocked out because they aren’t experienced at playing short-handed. Just because you’ve heard you should play more hands you don’t have to go crazy.

You should also give yourself experience at short-handed poker by playing sit-and-gos. There’s a lot of money on the line deep in tournaments on the final table, so to never give yourself practise at playing short-handed poker is a bit crazy.

And finally, if you get to heads-up there is usually a huge pay jump on the line, so you should make sure you get some experience playing heads-up sit-and-gos too. You don’t want to start learning how to play heads-up poker at the biggest moment in your poker career. It could be costly!’

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