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Poker Tournament Strategy

July 14th, 2010

Tournament Strategy

For those who don’t know, playing tournaments are quite different to regular cash games, and the strategy varies considerably.  Not only this, but the poker strategy you apply in tournaments at Betfair should vary depending on the stage of the tournament, your chip size, and the type of players on your table.

Early Tournament Strategy

At the start of the tournament, you should only be playing your best hands possible.  This includes any high pockets, AK AQ AJ, and possibly high suited connectors or middle pockets (depending on your table position and implied odds).  The reason you need to play so tight at this stage in the tournament is that there are so many players on your table.  This makes it very likely at least one will have a great hand, so entering the pot with a poor hand will usually just cost you chips facing a dominating hand.  Another reason for playing tight so early on, is that your chipstack in relation to the blinds in most tourneys is very low – plus you only have one buy-in.  This means you can’t afford to take risks calling the flop with bad hands, because at the end of the day you will just bleed your chips away.  Don’t worry about doubling up too quickly at the beginning of a tournament, there’s plenty of time for this in the middle stages.

Middle Tournament Strategy

The middle stages of a poker tournament are most important, because it’s where you need to accumulate most your chips, and its also where the blinds/antes become significantly large.  This increases the value of each pot, which makes it more important to bluff and use aggressive tactics such as 3betting, value shoving and blind stealing.  Its important if you want to succeed in tournaments, to constantly take advantage of your table position and pick off weak players.   The middle stages of tournaments is also importantly because it’s where you’ll reach the bubble i.e. payoff level.  You can afford to open your hands and starting range a little more now to include smaller pockets, suited connectors and generally anything else with potential.  If you become short-stacked (less than 20xBB), you need to be going all in regularly and value shoving to double up.  Try to get your stack in as early as possible with any of your top 70% of hands dealt. 

Late Tournament Strategy

Most importantly, make sure you change the way you play as the tables become short-handed.  You should open your starting hand range up greatly to include even mediocre hands like A7 or J9.  Another important rule of thumb in the late stages of a tournament is avoid heady confrontations with a deep stack (unless of course you have him dominated).  Playing against big stacks at this late stage can end your entire tournament, and its much more practical and less risky to focus on picking off the small-medium stacks first.  If you find yourself small stacked at this stage, it might be best to sit out and hope someone goes out before you, giving you a better payday.  For a big stack at this stage, you should be looking at 1st place, so keep playing aggressively and hitting back at players, however make sure you don’t aimlessly throw your chips about.  Be the policeman at the table, not the village idiot.

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