Playing Your First Sunday Major

Beginners Guide To Playing Your First Big Buy-In Sunday Tournament

Alternative Big Sunday Poker Tournaments

You may have won a satellite qualifier, or just decided that it is time to set some of your bankroll aside to take a shot – either way playing in your first big buy-in tournament can be an exhilarating and often nerve wracking experience. With $215 or more as a buy in both the prize pool and the pressure can dwarf your normal games!

This article by SNG Planet strategy writer Matt covers the key aspects of playing in your first Sunday Major. You will find some of the common responses to the big buy-in events - and solutions to them, drawn from Matt’s personal experience. While completely forgetting about the buy-in and prize pool jumps can be very difficult for first-time players – treating your first major as a learning experience (and having some fun along the way!) is a great approach. By taking the pressure off of yourself you might even come away with a cash big enough to make big Sunday tournaments a regular feature!

Before handing over to Matt – a quick plug for 2 popular articles. I have a detailed guide to the PokerStars Sunday Million and to balance this a look at 5 Cool Alternative Sunday Majors at different sites… I’ll link to them both again at the end of this article.

Playing In Your First Sunday Major – Common Mistakes

I know from personal experience that making a deep run in my first Sunday major was laughable at best, given how nervous I was and how high a pedestal I put the Sunday Million on. So if this is you, I can relate, and I want to help you to get over that before you play in your first Sunday major.

What I thought I'd do now is list the types of thoughts I had or strategies I used in my first Sunday major, and knowing what I do now, explain what I would do instead. These thoughts cover the following: Playing too tight, the effect of ‘scared money’, perceptions of the ability of other players and finally the risks of over-thinking.

Sunday Majors: Things You Should Do or Think About Instead

First Instinct: Play (Too) Tight
What to Do Instead: Select Solid Hands Based on Position

If you're afraid of making mistakes, or finding yourself in awkward spots where opponents can apply pressure to you, the best thing that you can do is stick to ‘ABC poker’. This means simply playing your hands based on their strength and position, without making any fancy moves.

When you do this you make your decisions much easier. If you open pocket 8s from early position, and are re-raised from a tight, solid player from late position, your next move is clear, right?!? The opposite (example) would be limp-calling A10o from under-the-gun; you're going to have a very difficult time playing this hand postflop. So don't play it all.

From here your postflop play should be straightforward. If you make your hand, build a pot. If you miss, try to see a showdown or fold (especially if you take a stab with a continuation bet and are called). It's that simple. As the tournament progresses, your nervousness subsides and you gain more confidence and insights into the styles of your opponents, then you can try to play more speculative hands and make some moves when the situation warrants this.

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First Instinct: Play Scared Money
What to Do Instead: Forget the Buy-in, Prize Pool and Payouts

Another mistake is to think too much about the buy-in, prize pool, money bubbles and payouts. Playing "scared money" is only going to limit you and your earnings in the long run.

An example of scared money might be folding a hand like queens, because one more player is going to bust before you make the money. Or playing so tight so that you could make the money, but once you (barely) make it, you bust instantly because you're so short.

In your first Sunday Major you should be balancing the possibility of cashing with keeping your chances of winning alive. That doesn't mean doing something stupid, like calling an all in on the money bubble with KJ, but you shouldn't be making bad folds to ensure you make the money either.

Strictly speaking, you shouldn't give the buy-in, prize pool or money bubble any thought while playing. First time around this is very difficult to do, so I suggest you just remind yourself that turning down a chance to accumulate chips is not good play when the situation arises. You will get better at this as you gain experience in big events, starting out by refusing to play scared money is a great start!

First Instinct: Be Intimated or Scared of Other Players
What to Do Instead: Learn Post Flop Play

It is very easy to think that all the players in the Sunday Million are good. After all, they must've bought in, right? Who has the bankroll for a $215 tournament, other than good players?

But don't forget that you won a seat yourself. Many of the other players did too, and some of them are very, very bad. In fact you're highly likely to be better than them.

Don't get me wrong, there are some good players too. But I think it's very easy to psych yourself out based on the tournament and buy-in only. Not to mention that if you're still a beginner, you're still learning a thing or two about playing solid tournament poker.

So what I recommend doing is taking some time to learn postflop play. Since the Sunday majors are deep stack tournaments (most of them anyway), you'll start with more than 100 big blinds.

Simply refusing to stack off with 1 pair hands, learning typical 3-bet and 4-bet ranges that opponents might use against you and avoiding those ‘easily dominated’ hands which might get you in trouble post flop will give you a real edge on many of your opponents. Taking into account different stack sizes into your strategy will put you ahead of most of them and knowledge of ICM or ‘levels of thinking’ in your strategy means you are probably already better than everyone except the pros!

Combine those ideas with my first tip to stick to solid hands and position, and you should be coming back for Sunday Majors for a long time to come.

First Instinct: Over Think the Tournament
What to Do Instead: Learn From the Experience

Between the buy-in, the players, the prize pool and the standard stuff like money bubbles and strategy, it's understandable if you're overwhelmed. Even to the point to where you psych yourself out and not play like you would a tournament more in your buy-in range/comfort zone.

If you take anything from this article, be sure it's this -- no matter what happens in your first Sunday major you should take the whole thing as a learning experience. Get a feel for deep stack games, the competition and how well you react to pressure and so on. I bet it won't be (wasn't) as bad as you think. You'll be more prepared / experienced for your next Sunday major outing, too.

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