Whether you’re an experienced player or a beginner, the fundamentals are the same for performing well in tournaments. We’ve compiled a list of 7 tips that will get you to the final table of your next poker tournament!
A poker tournament is a long journey, full of pitfalls and obstacles. Your emotions are tested to the limit. You go through all the phases. Doubt, overconfidence, mistrust, tilt, anxiety, despair. Whatever the conditions in which you find yourself, this should not affect your decision making.
At the beginning of the tournament, the stacks are very deep. Many players take the gambling liberty of playing hypothetical hands in order to cause accidents. Do not get involved in the fight without being fully prepared, or at least take into account the fact that you are venturing onto a mined trail. Take your time and patience. The gamblers will soon be gone. You may be at an unplayable table. You’ll need a bulletproof vest. Be patient. Your turn will come… or not.
What is position? It depends on your relative position with the dealer button. The player in position is the one who is the closest from the right of the dealer button. The dealer button will speak last.
The players speaking before you will give you information before you make your decision. For example, they might check, showing a potential sign of weakness. If they are betting, you may take it as a sign of strength.
The amount of the bet can also give you additional information, as well as how long they will play. For instance, it is very rare for a player to check a flopped three of a kind very quickly. Also, by acting after everyone else, you will be able to control the size of the pot. You will be able to grab small pots that no one is fighting over.
Of course, it is not always that obvious, but it is better to be the one who collects the information before betting than to be the one who provides the information. Playing in position gives you a distinct advantage.
We recommend that you read our article on the importance of position in poker.
3. Stack Management
One evaluates the depth of its stack in big blinds. If the blinds are 100$-200$ and you have a stack of 20’000$, you have a depth of 100 BB. You can also use the “M” method, taking into account the antes and the number of players at the table, but we will come back to this later in a future article. To make a long story short, there are three different stack sizes and the depth will influence your decision making. You will play a hand differently if you have a comfortable 150 BB stack, or if you have 8 BB left. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Above 40 BB, you have a deepstack. Between 15 and 40 BB, you have a mid-stack, a medium stack. And below 15 BB, you have a short-stack, a small stack. You can afford tricky things with a deepstack, cause accidents, have fun with connectors. Between 15 and 40 BB, it’s another story. Stacks can fly in the middle. Your stack depth is appropriate for a resteal. Being shortstack, you have little choice but push-or-fold. Namely either all-in or nothing.
4. Shifting gears
As a tournament poker player, you must be like a bull in a rodeo. Your goal will be to take down the cowboys.
How do you do that? By surprising them. If you always move at the same speed, as soon as the cowboy understands your little ride, you won’t catch him anymore and he’ll take over. It’s the same in poker. There will be times during the game when you will be discreet, and others when you will act like a maniac.
There will be phases that are appropriate for aggression. At other times, you will have to back off and let your opponents get in your face. The game evolves very quickly. Sometimes from one hand to an other you will have to change speed and jump at your opponent’s throat. The speed of execution can also have an influence.
A very strong player in this little game is Phil Laak who maintains an exuberant image, you always have the impression that he is in carnival, he always jokes. In fact, he’s a snake that gains your confidence and that will strike the fatal blow when the time comes.
Don’t hesitate to do anything to make your opponents lose their mind. Especially if the player facing you is inexperienced, it is the perfect target. If everything goes well, his chips will be yours sooner or later.
5. Adjust to a Tight or Loose Poker Table
You will find yourself at the table with different types of players. The old tight guy who defends all his blinds, but only plays his premiums. The youngster who plays online and is very technical, very aggressive, but has trouble changing gears. The 50-year-old lady who follows her husband and plays for fun. The player with the hoody, glasses, who doesn’t speak but doesn’t understand much. There will also be the pro, the one who doesn’t make mistakes, the one who knows how to extract the maximum value from each of his hands. Your mission will be to adjust yourself to the table.
In most cases, you will try to play with an opposite strategy to the rest of the table. That is, if you are at a rather passive table, you will be able to take advantage of it by being active at the table. If the table is made up of maniacs, maybe it is better to tighten up your game and not get caught up in big multi-player pots. It can also be tricky to find yourself just to the right of a player that 3bet you every other time.
You will have to find the game plan for each of your opponents. Or you’ll have to be patient and wait for your table to break.
How to summarize the timing? Simply the right spot at the right time. Anyone can win a tournament by getting the right cards at the right time. However, when the cards don’t come at the right time, you have to be able to offer something else to move up your stack. You’ll also have to make decisions that commit your stack. When it’s time to go… it’s time to go.
Know how to recognise these spots. The ones that can’t be refused. You will have to adjust your strategy according to the phase of the tournament. The secret to winning is to follow the right strategy for each phase. There are three main phases: the early game, the mid game and the late game. Basically, the beginning, the middle and the end.
At the beginning of the tournament, you will have to choose between two styles. Either a very conservative style by playing only the top 5% of the hands, or an aggressive style with the goal of quickly doubling. It’s caricatured, but it’s a bit like that. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages.
Playing like a lock, you are almost guaranteed to be alive in the middle phase, however there is little chance that you have built a comfortable stack. And that’s where the problem lies. If you don’t build a stack, you’ll soon have to gamble your survival on one shot, but it will be difficult to play one of the places that really pays off. Look at the payout structure and you’ll see that the big money is only in the very first places.
The middle stage is a bit of a walk or die. The small ones will get very small and are bound to disappear sooner or later, while the big ones will become huge. This is probably the most technical part of the tournament. There will be brainwashing.
It is also at this stage that you will be able to use your stack as a pressure tactic against players who will be afraid to commit their chips and whose only ambition is just to get into the paid seats. If you don’t want to get caught up in the structure and have to play for your survival on one shot, make sure you take advantage of this phase to build a comfortable stack that will take you to the final table.
Finally, later in the tournament, the structure will have caught up with you and you won’t be able to really build your shots. Almost every time, you can potentially end up on the floor. Aggression seems to be an appropriate strategy for this phase.
7. Managing Key Moments
There are many key moments in a tournament. One of the most important is the bubble of paid seats, another will be the bubble of the final table. You will approach this phase in a radically different way depending on the depth of your stack.
With a big stack, your goal will be to make your stack even bigger. You will be able to maintain a strong pressure on the medium stacks. You will be able to be aggressive to the extreme by raising almost 100% of your hands. This also has the advantage of being fun. However, you will have to avoid to see yourself more beautiful and to pay too lightly. In addition, the longer the bubble is, the bigger your stack can grow if you make good use of it.
With an average stack, this becomes more difficult. A winning move will upgrade you deepstack. On the other hand, losing a pot at this point is equivalent to finding yourself shortstack. Yuck, poop!
Stay alert. Select your starting hands carefully. Shortstack, your goal will be to pass this bubble, then double and get some air. With 15 BB, you can still scare off the big stacks. So if you play a move, play it hard. With less, it will become complicated.
Do you have any advice for a poker novice?
If you had to give only one piece of advice to a beginner, what would it be? Let us know in the comments section of this article. And remember to sign up for our newsletter by filling out the form below to receive weekly tips that will make you a winning player.