Poker tournaments are a great way for beginners to get a lot of value from a fixed price buy-in. Tournament poker is huge online – with games kicking off literally every minute around the clock. There are many variations in speed, betting rules, game type and variation. You will find discreet phases of play as each tournament progresses that require you to adjust your strategy. This article gives you the main things to look out for to help you reach those all-important final tables and come away with a big score.
First up you will find a reminder of your objective in each tournament. Next I have given a quick overview of the different stages of a tournament, noting how you can profitably adjust your strategy at each point. After this some words on the importance of making moves and staying active – which will prevent you becoming an ‘easy target’ for steals and re-steals.
Prizes are very much skewed towards the final table in online poker tournaments. While you will make small profits from the lower positions reasonably often, these alone will not compensate for the times you bust out. The majority of your profits will come from the occasional top 3 finish, and you should focus on reaching this goal even if it means finishing out of the money slightly more often. Players who stay tight and quiet to make the money – and only then take a shot at the big prizes – are usually too late. Their opponents have built huge chip-stacks which are very difficult to catch by this stage.
This section outlines how to aim for the final table through the different stages of a poker tournament.
Early Stages: Deep-stacks and bad players are an excellent combination. While inexperienced opponents will sometimes get lucky, in general they will donate their chips to better players. You need to play as many pots against the worst players as possible, value-bet your strong hands like crazy and make sure you get your fair share of the chips. I like to remind myself how much more difficult it will be to take those same chips from the better players later on during the early stages.
Middle Stages: As the blinds start to creep up the size of your stack starts to become an important factor in how you play. You need to keep accumulating chips in the mid-stages, and will be stealing a lot of pots. Opponents with mid-sized stacks are ideal candidates to steal from. They are in a comfortable situation and often do not want to risk getting short-stacked without a monster. Conversely, big stacks are hard to steal from and small stacks might just be desperate enough to take a hand and put you to the test.
The Bubble: Just before the paying places start, most players will tighten up – not wanting to bust just before the money. Here you can take advantage by stealing a lot of small pots. Remember that big stacked players will be trying to steal often, so you can take advantage of their looser ranges with the occasional timely re-steal.
After The Bubble: Once the paying places start things often get pretty wild. All those players who did not want to bust out pre-money now go crazy, desperately trying to accumulate chips. You should take advantage of people looser starting hand requirements here – if you get dealt a premium hand do not be afraid to play it aggressively. I should also note that there is usually a second ‘bubble’ situation just before the final table is formed.
The Final Table: Here you should watch to see who is going for 1st and who is staying quiet and trying to move up the paying places. With so much more prize money for 1st place, it really does pay to go all out for the win over the long-term. If there is a ‘micro-stack’ at the table then you can often steal from the mid-sized stacks once this player has folded. Nobody wants to be next to bust when simply waiting for the micro-stack to go out will move them up a pay spot.
Success in poker tournaments involves adjusting from deep stacked play to shallow-stacks later. Since you will not be dealt enough strong hands to stay ahead of the blinds, antes and your opponents – you will need to stay active and make some moves.
Examples include re-stealing pots in situations where you feel your opponents are raising light to steal themselves – and not being afraid to semi-bluff all-in when you have a strong draw. When you do hit a monster I recommend betting out, as this will disguise all those continuation bets you make when you whiff the flop very effectively.
You’ll need to defend your blinds more regularly in a poker tournament than a cash game too. Otherwise you’ll quickly become a target, and find yourself raised every time.
Tournaments are a great way to gain poker experience and hopefully walk away with a big win. Make sure you stay focused on your goal of the occasional big win!