Categories: Tournament Strategy
| On Updated : Jul 6, 2020 4:38 PM IST

Poker Tournament Strategy

By Dheeraj Singh

Poker tournaments are every player’s fantasy as they offer a life-changing amount of money along with the title. But it isn’t that easy as astounding it sounds. Most of the players don’t even make it to the final table nor have the chance of making any winning.

In this section, we will discuss a few poker tournament strategies that will help beginners and intermediate players in becoming a fierce competitor in tourneys. First of all, let’s figure out some of the significant differences between tourneys and cash games-

Significant differences between Tournaments and Cash Games

  • In cash games, you can enter and exit whenever you want. But, a tournament has a fixed start and end.
  • Cash games have fixed blinds, while in a tournament the blinds increase by a predefined variable (typically 15 – 25 minutes).
  • Most of the tournaments don’t allow buyback, i.e. once you are eliminated its game over for you. So, you have to keep in mind not to run out of chips in tourneys.
  • The chips are an exact representation of their monetary value in cash games, while in tourneys you “buy” your chip stack with a fixed buy-in amount.

As we know some of the fundamental differences, let’s begin with the tips –

Tip-1: Play according to the stage

Almost every poker tournament, whether offline or online have three stages – beginning, middle and end. The first rule of playing a poker tournament is to play according to the stage—one big reason for this the nature of blinds. The blinds are the smallest at the start of the competition and the biggest at the end-stage. So, you see there is no such need to take high risks at the starting when the blinds are the lowest.

Many players simply play each stage the same way. Always remember, to excel in tournaments you should play the late stages much more aggressively than the first ones. Also, you can create the image of a tight player in the starting, which will help you gain more respect when you open up your game in the later stages.

Starting tightly at the initial levels is a good poker tournament playing strategy. As the tournament progresses and players get eliminated, open up your game. By this strategy, you should survive the early rounds almost every time.

Tip-2: Keep an eye on your opponents’ stacks

Once you are through the early stages and the game is opening up a bit, don’t forget to check your opponents’ stack sizes and compares it with yours. Stack sizes are essential in the middle stages as many players provoke you to go all-in. At this stage, remember these three points-

  • Never bluff against a person who has significantly larger stack size than yours. If you don’t pose a significant risk to his chip stack, he is going to call your all-in.
  • Keep an eye on the players who have a shorter stack size than yours. They play incredibly aggressive on post-flops. There are typically two reasons for this – first because they want to get maximum value from a strong hand and second because they have not hit the flop. In the second case, the reason is that their aggressive play is likely to be interpreted as strength, and the passive opponent(s) might fold. So, make a point here, unless you’ve hit the flop, don’t call it or double it up.
  • Be cautious with the player who has stack size roughly similar to yours. They won’t show aggression unless they have a more substantial hand than yours or want to protect their blinds.

Tip-3: Know when to steal and when to protect the blinds

Once you have reached the middle stage of the tournament, it is time open up your game and take some worthy risks. The most important thing is to know when to pick the blinds and when to leave them. So, whenever the blinds reach to a level where they are equivalent to a large portion of your chip stack, picking them up without seeing the flop. Now, there are a few circumstances where you can attempt this strategy. It is the most beneficial when you are in late position, and all the players have folded to you. In this scenario, you can profitably raise with any two cards.

Tip-4: Being on the bubble

Let’s say there are six players left in the tournament and top five get the winning amount. This situation is called being on the bubble. At this stage, most of the players except for the one that is deep and short-stacked are going to tighten up their game style. Now, this could be a very profitable time for you. Don’t be afraid to show pre and post-flop aggression when you are in charge, but also consider the stack size of your opponents. Good players might know this tactic and protect their blinds. Always remember your only goal here is to take down the pots and not outplay your opponents. There is always an extra chance of the short-stacked player being eliminated.

Tip-5: Making to the Final Table

The final table is what the whole chaos is all about, and getting it is not that easy. It takes focus and a lot of calculation and hard work to reach there. Now, there are a few tactics which can help you reach the final table-

Stay aggressive – As discussed above, you must play according to the stages of the tournament. You need to play aggressively, especially in the late stages. Keep an eye on opponents who are trying to hold onto their chips, build pressure on them.

Timely aggression – Playing aggressive doesn’t mean you lose your focus or are carelessly raising the bet. Aggression wins the game, but there’s one thing which is often silent or hidden, i.e. “timely aggression.” Look for opportunities where your chances of winning are highest by being aggressive.

Moreover, winning a poker tournament requires skill and right decision making capability. Developing a style of play that is bold and fearless will always take you to later stages. This gameplay will help you to take advantage of players that are “playing passive”. And, whenever there is a chance to steal the blinds, do so. But, remember no to repeat it in every round. Once you reach the final table, it’s all up to you. The most significant barrier between you and the winning amount is your complacency. Many players lose their focus when they reach into the final stage and start thinking of it as a lottery. But it is not. So, don’t lose your focus, spend some more time, and you might win the jackpot.

Dheeraj Singh

I believe Life and Poker work on the same principle. The more you learn the better you become.