Poker Tournament Strategy

Poker Tournament Strategy

  • Learn how to become an effective tournament poker player 
  • Increase your poker game significantly  
  • Stand your ground against some of the worlds biggest players 

Tournament poker has become insanely popular over the last few years, as people have seen tournaments on television where millions of dollars are dished out to the lucky winner. Though home games, ring games, and small online cash games are still out there to be had, the majority of poker players these days are looking to make a big splash through a number of online poker tournaments. Ever since Chris Moneymaker went from being a little known online poker player to winning to the World Series of Poker’s “Main Event” in 2003, more and more players have wanted to lay claim to their piece of the proverbial pie. Why is online tournament poker so tough to resist? The possibility of winning millions of dollars after paying a minuscule entry fee is the huge draw. It is like hitting the lottery; though winning a poker tournament is probably more difficult than winning that lottery.

You might think that you can master the game of poker and use skill to guide yourself to the top of a poker tournament, you will quickly learn otherwise. Finishing first in a poker tournament has a ton to do with how lucky you are, as opposed to how skillful you are. Still, you can use knowledge and sound decision making to give yourself a much better chance of getting to the top in poker. If you are going to have long term success playing tournament poker, you have to have a combination of luck and advanced skill. There are plenty of professional poker players who make it to the final tables of major tournament each and every year, so it is fair to assume that they don’t get there based solely on luck of the draw. Guys like Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey know what they’re doing. You might not ever get to their level, but with some seasoning, you can be an effective tournament poker player, as well. Like I said earlier, you have to have luck to win the tournaments, but skill can put you in position to win more than you might realise.

So What is This Poker Tournament and What’s It All About

A poker tournament is a format of poker where each player pays a certain amount of money to enter into the field. This money is referred to as the “buy-in”. Many players don’t realise this, but your poker room will be taking a little cut from the entry fee to keep for themselves. After all, they have to stay in business somehow, right? This amount is usually 10% or somewhere in that neighbourhood, depending upon where you play. After they take their cut, the remaining money is put into a pool, where it will eventually be split among a set number of contestants who finish high enough to earn the money. Depending upon how many players are in the tournament, this number can either be very small or very high. For small sit-n-go tournaments, there are sometimes only two participants who get paid. In bigger tournaments, hundreds can share in the wealth, with those lasting the longest getting a bigger slice of the proverbial pie.

At the beginning of the tournament, each player who has entered gets an equal number of chips. The stakes usually start out pretty low, but as the tournament goes along, the blinds will be raised. In most tournaments, the blinds will rise either three or four times per hour. This is done in order to keep the pace of play moving at a good rate. There are some tournaments that prefer to run at a slightly lower pact than this, though. Generally, the huge tournaments will run at a slower pace to give players adequate time to make their decisions. This is why the majority of good poker players will take their buy-in money and head to these tournaments. If the tournament is moving along very quickly, then players are sometimes forced to make moves that they otherwise wouldn’t consider under normal circumstances.

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Poker Tournament Strategy, Seating

As far as seating goes, tables are normally comprised of whatever number of players will keep things balanced around the tournament. For instance, if a tournament has 200 players to start out with, they will place 10 players each at 20 different tables. Since the number of players at each table will obviously be changing throughout the tournament, online poker systems make it so that players are moved from one table to another in order to keep the balanced number going. This continues for as long as is needed. In this format, play is over when one of the players manages to collect every chip that was originally put into play. This is no small task and usually requires hours of meticulous play to accomplish.

A very few online poker rooms offer “shotgun” style tournaments, which place a set number of players at a given table in a large tournament. From there, each table plays until there is one winner from that table. When play is finished at every table in the tournament, the winners of those individual tables come together to have a sort of “playoff” for the tournament title. This isn’t extremely common in online play, though, as most players prefer the traditional type of tournament.

How Do Tournaments Contrast with Basic Ring Games?

Tournament play is a totally different beast, as players are required to make decisions with more pressure put on them. The stakes are being raised so much during a tournament that players have to make moves quicker than they might have made them in a cash game. In a cash game, a player could bust out and lose his chips, only to pull more money out of the cashier and buy right back into the game. This isn’t the case in tournaments, as players have to exit the table when they are out of chips. Because of this, the pressure to hold onto some of those chips is extremely high. If you play tournament poker for long enough, you’ll notice that all-in situations happen much more often in tournaments than in cash games. People are much more willing to risk their entire stacks before the flop because of the chance that they could double up and take control of the tournament. When you throw the prize distribution into the mix, it can alter how people play in these tournaments. Often times, players will chance their outlook if they are getting close to qualifying for the money. No one wants to go home empty handed if they could have waited one more minute to get into the money.

Understand the “Gap Concept”

If you have been around online poker and poker lingo for a while, then you have probably heard of the gap concept. This is an interesting idea that has been expounded upon by many of the game’s top minds, including poker author David Sklansky, who has publishes a number of top-selling books on the game. The gist of this theory is that if you are playing against someone who has opened up with a bet, you will have to have a better hand in order to survive. Conversely, during tournament poker, you can lead out the betting with a worse hand that what you would need in order to call a bet. What is the “gap”, you ask? It is the space between those two hands. Your gap will ultimately be decided by your style of play. If you like to play tight, then you will have a large gap. Loose players will have a small gap in this instance, as they will be more likely to call with worse cards. The practical application of this concept is that you would be able to justifiably make a raise with cards that you’d never call a raise with. This is because, with that raise, you are applying pressure to the other players and dictating how they have to play the hands.

Stack Size and “The Gap”

Depending upon your stack size, the gap between what you would call and what you would raise with will decrease. This basically indicates that you shouldn’t be going around throwing away chips if you don’t have many to play with. It becomes very risky to try to steal pots with a pair of twos if you are the short stack at the table. Of course, you must also understand what having a small stack can mean for the other players at the table. When you have a small stack, they know that you are only going to want to put your chips at risk with a very good hand. Because of that, they probably won’t call you without a great hand. You have to be able to balance this idea with the overall risk of trying to steal chips if you are going to be successful. Be careful when making this type of bluff, as you might end up on the losing end if you aren’t.

As a small stack in an online poker tournament, you also have to be very wary of the big stacks around and what they can do to you. These are the guys who might not be swayed by such reverse psychology. They might think that calling your raise is a good bet because they don’t have much risk in trying to knock you from the tournament. After all, if they lose some chips to the small stack, what have they really lost? You must understand your opponents if you want to be successful in situations like this. You have to know if they are capable of making a tough call or if they are likely to fold down their cards.

When you hold a medium sized stack, your job becomes very difficult. What hands should you play? How should you go about attacking the table? These are all things worth considering. Everyone who holds a medium sized stack wants to jump on up and join the big stacks. Still, they have small enough amounts of chips where they can be eliminated if they don’t play smart poker. When you are in this position, the best course of action is to play rock solid poker and don’t try to do too much. Wait for your opportunities and try to always make the best of them when they come along. You don’t have to sit there like a rock, but you shouldn’t be making bets when you have poor cards.

The Early Part of a Tournament

During the early potion of an online poker tournament, you have plenty of options because you will usually have a ton of chips when compared to the blinds. Just because you have the chips doesn’t mean you should waste them, though. You have time to wait on premium hands and make the most of those. You shouldn’t be going out and trying to win the tournament in the first few hands. The idea is to wait around and capitalize on opportunities. Try to exploit the weak players at the table by setting traps. If you can get their chips, then you can move on and advance through the tournament. The important thing is to keep yourself in the game. Don’t let yourself get knocked out before things even begin.

The Middle Part of a Tournament

In tournament play, you not only have to put up with the cards and the other players, you also have to deal with stakes that don’t ever stop rising. You might hope that they quit going up, but you won’t have any luck doing that. Because the stakes are going up so quickly in most online tournaments, you don’t have time to sit back and only play premium hands. This doesn’t mean that you have to play everything, but it does mean that you should consider playing some weaker hands every once in a while. Because the blinds are so big during this part of the tournament, it could actually help your chip stack to pick up some of the pots that just have the blinds and antes. If the players around you are playing loose, then tighten up your play and take advantage of them. If the players at your table are playing tight, then play even tighter. If you are able to do these things and take advantage of good cards when they come your way, then you can have huge success during the middle part of a tournament.

The Late Part of a Tournament

During the late part of a tournament, it is time for you to go to work with that big stack. When you are the big dog at one of the last tables, you hold all of the power in your hands against the players with smaller stacks. When this happens, you have the ability to sit back, enjoy yourself, and pick out which hands you want to play. You don’t have to go around raising just for the sake of raising. Let other players knock themselves out while you constantly grow your chip stack. As you approach the money, you should start making moves. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to tighten up when the money comes calling. Every player at the table will go into a shell trying not to get eliminated right before the cut-off for the prize money. During this time, you can take advantage of their apprehension and add to your stack.

If you enter this portion of the tournament with a short stack, then it is time to make a move. You cannot let yourself get to the point where your stack is so low that every other player can jerk you around. If you have a premium hand, you need to be able to make the moves in order to double up. Take some gambles and put yourself out there a little bit more than you might normally. When you do this, you will be taking the chance of busting out of the tournament, but that’s a better fate than being slowly killed off by the big stacks. When you are a small stack, you have nothing to lose, which gives a poker player the sort of freedom that makes the game fun. Take advantage of this and see what happens. You might find yourself doubling up and moving back into contention.

Attack the Final Table

If you enter the final table with either a large stack or a medium-sized stack, then you have some options. You will mainly want to stick to playing solid poker and trying to go after whatever short stacks might be at the table. This will benefit you in a couple of different ways. For one, it will protect your against getting knocked out of the tournament. On the other hand, if you are able to knock out a small stack, you move up even further into the money. A very important thing to remember is that you want to avoid a clash with another big stack at all costs. In these confrontations, somebody must lose. If it’s you, that’s never good.

Small stacks have to take a different approach when heading to the final table. You have to pick out a hand and make your stand. You can’t afford to sit around and let the blinds eat you to death. Get the best hand you can and make your move. It could be Aces or Kings, or it could be something like A-10. Whatever the case, you have to try to double up. Eventually, some players will get knocked out of the tournament and you can move into the money if you happen to double up enough times.

Improving Your Tournament Play

Ultimately, getting better in tournaments is all about playing in enough live tourneys to gain some valuable experience. When you play online, you have the chance to go head to head with a number of good players and learn from the good and the bad. There are big tournaments and small ones, so it’s important to pick out the tourney that is right for you. Because online tournaments are played so quickly, the opportunity exists to get a lot of live game action in. You don’t have to be a wizard at the beginning in order to be successful. If you play smart poker and take some of these tips to heart, then you can get better in no time. After you gain experience, you will notice that this is like second nature.

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