10 Difficult Situations Beginners Face In Online Poker Tournaments – Early Stages

By Pablo Paglayan

There are some situations in Online Multi-Table Tournaments which generate many problems to beginner players. In this article we will take a look at those which might get you in trouble in the first levels of poker tournaments.

Finding yourself with top pair/weak kicker

It’s very common to see beginners opening more hands than they should in the early stages of a tournament, only to find themselves in difficult situations very often with hands that might look good, but actually they are not.

To avoid getting into tough spots, the best solution is not to open mid-strength hands in the early stages of a tournament. Why? Well, hands like K-T, A-7 or J9s will usually make you win a little pot (when your opponent(s) don’t hit the board), or lose a big one (when your opponent(s) have you dominated).

It’s very unlikely to extract much value from a weaker hand with hands like the ones mentioned above, and taking into account the fact that blinds are extremely low at the beginning of a tournament and we don’t need to steal at all, playing only strong hands is not bad at all. 

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Playing against a calling-station when having a ‘draw’

It is not a secret that playing a ‘draw’ in an aggressive way is an excellent idea in an average situation, but… What should we do when facing an opponent who never folds? The most important thing to decide how to play in these spots is position. Do we have position against the calling-station?

If the answer is no, then probably the best option is to play our ‘draw’ passively because it will be very difficult for us to win the pot by bluffing. Calling-stations tend to call even more light when playing in position because they feel they can go to showdown cheaper, so semi-bluffing them is not the best idea.

If the answer is yes, then we can base our line on our opponent’s range. We should take into account what happened preflop. Did we call his raise in position? Did he call our raise? With that information we can come to an accurate conclusion to know if semi-bluffing with our ‘draw’ can be profitable in the long run or not. A perfect spot to bet is if we called his raise preflop and then he decided to check and not to make a continuation bet. However, if we raised preflop and he called from the blinds, we might not want to bet more than 1 time in a board that hits his calling range. When semi-bluffing with a ‘draw’ in position against a calling-station, make sure that the board hits your range a decent amount of time, otherwise the villain will call almost every time.

Facing an all-in situation pre-flop

In the early stages of a tournament you should try to avoid huge pots with mid-strength hands. Remember that doubling up is not very important as we are just starting the tournament. If you feel good at your table, there’s no reason to play a “coin flip (50/50 situation)” for a ton of chips.

The reason why we should only call an all-in situation preflop with a strong hand is that players are very unlikely to be bluffing, plus the fact that stacks are huge in terms of big blinds so we can just go on playing good poker post-flop, where we have an ‘edge’ against the others, instead of risking our tournament life pre-flop.

difficult spots in the early stages of poker tournaments

You might be thinking: “Great, but which hands should I call with then?”. Definitely monster pairs (AA, KK, QQ) are an easy call. However, calling with hands like AK or JJ against an all-in of more than 100bbs is not that good, because we would be “hoping for a flip”. Why? Because it’s unlikely that our opponent pushed with AQ or TT,  and even less likely with worsethan that. However, if we have already invested a considerable number of chips in the pot and we have the right odds against villain’s all-in range, a call can be a good idea as long as you have a decent amount of chips behind to keep playing if you lose the hand.

Of course, you should make your calls lighter against short stacks or maniacs who are pushing all-in with a high frequency. Against a maniac, AJ or TT should be good a huge amount of time, while against a short-stack it depends on exactly how short he or she is, but AK and JJ would mean an easy call for sure.

Part 2 of this series of articles will cover difficult situations beginning players encounter in the middle stages of poker tournaments.

If you are a new player looking to build online tournament experience and build your bankroll at the same time, I strongly recommend the 180 Player Sit n Goes at PokerStars.com. These kick-off every few minutes, and go through the different stages like a larger poker tournament. They are easy to beat too! Check out my 3-part guide to the 180 SNGs here.


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