In July 2011, I attended Vanessa Rousso’s Main Event Prep Camp. It was a 5-hour, intense boot camp for experienced players needing strategy and an understanding of how to survive and thrive in a WSOP Main Event. With the 2013 WSOP quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking about Vanessa’s boot camp more and more. I had recorded the audio and since the training, have listened to it prior to and during each big event I have played. It gets me pumped and reminds me what to focus on and what to let go.
It all started when I took one day off from work. I had planned on taking two weeks together, but, all I could squeak out of that plan was a day and a half. On this first day, I was on Twitter catching up with tweets when Dennis Phillips tweeted that he was going to be starting his radio show in 15 minutes and Vanessa Rousso was going to be one of his guests. I tuned in to Phillips’ radio show. He talked to Vanessa about the upcoming 2011 WSOP tournaments in general, and in particular about the 10K Main Event that would be starting in a little over a week. Vanessa talked about how she prepares for big tournaments like that and she mentioned that just prior to the start of the Main Event, she was giving a boot camp training at the Aria – AND – during the radio show, she was giving a free seat to the first person to tweet: @VanessaRousso Work Hard Play Hard…
Yep… that would be me. I won my seat into Vanessa’s boot camp.
The Main Event Prep Camp was offered through Vanessa’s Big Slick Boot Camp. It was a 5-hour poker strategy class. We had three 8 minute breaks. No food, no coffee, no tea, no snacks, no nothin’. Everyone was welcomed, of course, to get up and leave and come back at any time. The nearest food area in the Aria was about 1/4 mile away. Even Vanessa complained to her step-father (manager of her boot camps) about the distance between the conference room and the concession area and restaurants. I stayed put with my water and peanut butter crackers so that I wouldn’t miss anything. That worked until the last hour when I was really hungry and water deprived and started having to work real hard to focus, started losing portions of the information being shared.
When Vanessa started the class, she was openly disappointed with the small attendance. She said that 20 – 25 players had signed up. She questioned the manager of the camp (her step-father) about the number of people expected.
After that, Vanessa took a poll of the 7 – 10 players in the room. Two were registered in the Main Event. Some others had no intention of playing the Main Event this year, they had attended in order to find out what they would be in for in future years. Vanessa was openly disappointed with the level of players attending her boot camp. More players straggled in as noon approached (started at 11:00AM).
Once she got going, Vanessa was like the Energizer bunny… non-stop information and exercises. We did lots of math. Went over the levels of players and what players at each level are thinking. We reviewed the 2009 schedule of play, average starting stacks each day, levels of play per day, number of players, and talked about different strategies for getting to day three – first pay day!
The main event is a marathon and there is no “reward” for having a huge stack of chips until much later in the event.
When we signed in, we had received a booklet; kind of a workbook, with pages of information and lots of pages with exercises on them. As the camp progressed, it was discovered that the pages were not the same in each booklet. At first, pages were photocopied and handed out, and finally, the manager just gave us all a second booklet that had the missing pages. Awkward, but, it worked.
Uh-oh. The microphone started cutting out – and it got to her. It surprised me how Vanessa let that slightly malfunctioning microphone rattle her. She plays poker with the best players alive, which I presume takes nerves of steel and intense focus, and she’s getting off track, distracted from her mission and whining about the microphone. Maintenance called…microphone fixed.
Back to the Lessons…
If you find yourself at a table of super-aggressive poker players and it is early in the tournament, consider how tables are being broken down. How long do you need to hold on? Might your table be broken soon? If you don’t know, ask the floor. Maybe your best strategy for that table mix will be to “hang in there” until the table breaks.
Eat, sleep, and exercise. Use same routine the days of the tournament. Surround yourself with positive people. Do not talk about “when you get busted out of this tournament”.
During the tournament:
Mood controlling strategy – ie. Music
Conversation – Do not give out any information about yourself, especially your profession. If you won a satellite into the Main Event, do NOT tell anyone. Tell people you bought your way in.
Most important piece of info–> Vanessa taught us her special way of calculating the “real” shape she is in in a marathon poker tournament. We did a number of exercises to make sure we understood the formula to use and when to use it. In addition to calculating that number, Vanessa instructed everyone to also always be aware of their chip stack in relation to the average chip stack.
Know odds and implied odds, Player levels, Players’ personas
When the logistics were working, Vanessa was on fire. She told relevant anecdotes about her and others’ experiences. She gave impromptu quizzes. Big Slick Boot Camp and GoDaddy imprinted T’s, hats and other collateral material served as prizes. She recommended books. Answered attendees’ very specific questions. She stayed quite a while after to answer more questions and pose for pictures. Her breadth of knowledge and understanding of the game were impressive.
Summary of the Main Event Boot Camp
Style – lecture.
- A+ : Length – 5 hours – Intense
- A+ : Location – (Aria)
- A+ : Good information that I was able to use in local tournaments
- A+ : Media – Recordings were allowed.
- A+ : Stayed after for personal questions and introductions. I left one half hour after the training ended and Vanessa was still there.
- A+ : Took Pics
- A+ : Quality of content shared and in the booklets
- A : Presenter (Vanessa Rousso) Engaging personality; tiny, dressed comfortably, loaded with information and willingly shared
- A : Materials – Mix = Booklet with information and exercises. Handouts, anecdotes, impromptu quizzes with prizes
- A- : Structure and Pace – Vanessa knew the material and was focused on getting through the booklet. Towards the end of the training, she was rushing to get through the booklet. Unnecessary, in my opinion, based on the level of the players in attendance.
- B : Prizes of GoDaddy and Big Slick Boot Camp – Fun and useable
- D : Logistics – Course materials sloppily put together and missing pages, distance of training room from snack area, length of breaks, lack of refreshments in the area
- D : Branding – Not favorably impressive for building a personal brand. Information shared and enthusiasm when everything was going well were excellent. Personal reaction to bad logistics, having avoidable logistical challenges and the lack of nourishment, created an imbalance with the excellence that was experienced. Was the camp great? Yes and No.
P.S. I tried to play poker after eating dinner at the Aria. I was 28th on the waiting list; a 2-hour wait the floor man said…I left.