Train Your Mind To Think Like A Tournament Pro, And Your Results Will Follow
Online poker tournaments are a great way to make a living, many of the most successful MTT pros have gone on to great things over the years – many breaking through at events like the WSOP or EPT.
When you compare the way that pro tournament players approach the game, there are some huge differences compared to amateurs or recreational players. Their long-term success depends on staying cool under pressure (or after bad beats), on putting in the volume and in selecting the best value games to play and which opponent’s to target and which to avoid.
Let’s be honest, playing the nightly $5 game and trying to hit a big score against 1000’s of novices is entertaining, but it is not going to propel you into the big-league. This article lists 10 characteristics you need to be working on right now, to think like a tournament pro and hopefully get the results you deserve.
10 Ways Online Poker Tournament Pros Think Differently Than You Do
#1 – They Focus On Volume
If you have a positive ROI, then the way to turn this into a real living is by putting in a high volume of games. You’ll hit a limit of the games you can profitably multi-table, so this means finding games with higher buy-ins. Finding the sweet spot between the higher buy-in games, and those which are still easy to beat requires doing some homework. You’ll have to build a weekday and weekend schedule which will include poker sites known for their recreational players – as well as the bigger buy in games found at PokerStars.
#2 – They Know The Math
Key to tournament success is learning the push / fold math when short-stacked. If you do not know what you can call with late, or when a 12 BB shove would be mathematically unexploitable then you are leaking profit in every game you play.
In addition, tourney pros understand the Independent Chip Model (ICM) for final table play. You will not be able to do calculations at the tables, though a sound knowledge of the principals will make those key (and big money) decisions profitable.
Heads-up math is very important, the money jump between 2nd and 1st is the biggest of all. SAGE can give you a solid basis here, as you gain experience you will learn when and how to deviate from this ‘unexploitable’ heads-up strategy and gain even more of an edge.
#3 – Their Play Is Fearless
If you currently tighten up at the bubble, waiting for the paying places before making a move, then you are probably missing some big +ev spots. Tournament pros play without fear, a +ev spot is a +ev spot, once you learn to forget about the money and focus on getting your money in good whenever possible – your results will improve.
#4 – They Know The Other Regulars
Sure, you can color code your regular opponents, and even avoid unclear / thin value spots with them. This will only get you so far though, knowing how they think, who are the great players and who is average / predictable and then working out what they think of you and your tendencies will take you one step further. Your edge against the average players might be obvious, tournament pros work hard to get an edge against their regular opponent’s too.
There are plenty of tracking services nowadays, so no excuses not to know!
#5 – They Develop Hand Reading Skills
Let’s face it, most amateur’s poker hand reading skills stop at pattern recognition. You get to know when someone is weak or strong, and even that does not always work. Spotting the weak players comes next, but even that only gets you so far.
Tournament pros have ranges for certain opponent types, they narrow those ranges based on the action – then assign weightings to specific hand types. By the time the river comes they are betting based on their ‘value targets’… Nobody is right the whole time, the shift in thinking is moving from a ‘hunch’ to a hand-reading methodology – start to learn one today.
#6 – Discipline, Commitment And Organization
You will never get to pro status without committing your time to sessions, there is no point playing when you are tired, when you have other deadlines, or when you are not focusing on the games. Tournament pros adjust their schedule to their target tournaments, making sure they are rested, focused and have food / drink organized for a potentially long session.
#7 – Actively Seeking Good Value Games
Pros seek out profitable games at the sites linked with sports books and casinos (think iPoker or maybe 888). Sure, there will not be enough mid to high stakes games at these sites to create a schedule on their own, however in combination there is plenty of value to be found. Instead of some of the more ‘pro heavy’ games at Stars, why not play the Sunday Majors with a more recreational crowd instead?
#8 – They Accumulate Chips Through All The Tournament Phases
Tournament pros are focused on accumulation, and know how to adjust their own game to the changing circumstances and phases of the tournament. This is more than just the basic tournament strategy or early / middle / bubble / late. This is a focus on keeping that stack growing by switching up the aggression, isolating weak or timid players, putting stack pressure on amateurs at just the right moment. Pros do not just take +ev spots when they arise, they work hard to create those spots by reading and manipulating the flow of the game.
#9 – They Keep A Tournament Toolkit
Good tournament players know that tools only assist with decisions, rather than dictate how you play. Still, HUD software, opponent tracking and a powerful calculator for checking decisions during reviews are the minimum requirements for the seasoned touney pro.
#10 – Reviews, Coaching And Always Learning
When is the last time you sat down for a serious review of your hand histories from a tournament session? Don’t worry, most people never do this, and if you have done it even once or twice then you are in the top 5% of poker players on this measure already.
If you are not seeking and plugging your own leaks, reads and situational awareness, then you are very unlikely to make it as a tournament pro. There are many ways you can do this, including hiring a coach, doing a peer-review with a buddy, or going through your Holdem Manager database to find the leaks that way.
A pro tournament player is always learning, always looking for an edge on the opposition – if you are not doing this then you are going to get left behind!
More Great Articles For Aspiring Tournament Pros:
Sit N Go Blueprint Course (My free course will help you build a bankroll in Sit N Go tournaments, which you can then use to conquer the bigger format games!).
Best Beginners Tournaments (10 great suggestions for profitable smaller stakes tournaments for players building their experience)
US Online Poker Tournaments (Still some great options for US players out there).