Simple Strategy Changes During Different Stages Of Online Poker Tournaments Make A Big Difference
To Your Chances Of Making A Big Score.
This page gives you a high-level overview of strategy changes in poker tournaments. First the key factors which determine your strategy are looked at, followed by a stage-by-stage approach. I have also included links to many more articles covering pre-flop tournament strategy, post flop play, final tables and more!
Basic Tournament Strategy - The Underlying Factors Which Drive Tournament Strategy
There are three key underlying factors which will influence your tournament strategy. These are the way the prizes are distributed, the increasing blinds and antes and finally the kinds of opponent you will find in multi-table tournament compared with cash games. Lets take them one at a time.
- Prize Pool: Only 10% to 20% of the field will get paid anything in a typical tournament, and the payouts are very heavily weighted towards the last few finishing places. Profits for tournament specialists come from the occasional big win, with final tables and smaller cashes helping keep them going between the big scores. You can not hope to make a profit over the long run with tournaments unless you hit those big scores - you need to play to win!
- Blinds And Antes: The blinds increase as the game goes on, which alters the ratio between what you 'pay' each round and the averrage stack size. This factor means that you have to keep ahead of the blinds, to avoid your stack falling away to where it is not big enough to cause opponents any damage - let alone reach that final table. You need to stay active in tournaments, to ensure that the blinds to not swallow you up!
- Opponents You Will Meet: Tournaments, especially at the lower levels, are filled with novice and amateur players. This makes them profitable over time for thinking poker players - yet also makes them 'dangerous' in the short run. Just because a call was not mathematically correct does not stop it from happening! Just because you would not have played a certain hand from early position does not mean that someone else would not do so, and so on. This means that you have to balance the need to take chips from worse players with the risk of a bad-beat - this can be a tricky balance to strike!
Of course, these factors all interlink - and the random distribution of cards makes things even more varied. Tournaments can be very profitable - though you often need a large number of games before the 'varience' evens itself out.
Next I will explain how these 3 key factors influence you strategy during each stage of the game:
Beginners Tournament Strategy – The Early Stages
The starting stages of any online poker tournament present a quandary for the thinking player. On one hand the proportion of bad players will never be higher, all the fish are still in the game! On the other hand the fish can easily get lucky and put a beat on you costing many chips. If you are to put yourself in a viable position in the later stages then you must be willing to play some pots in the early stages. At this point you have enough chips to see some flops, make some bets and take down some pots – make sure that you use them.
Stay out of trouble by not enterting multi-way hands unless you have a hand which can flop a monster (play small pairs and suited connectors multi-way, but not hands like Ace-Seven off suit or King-Nine suited!). Keep those bluffs to a minimum too, though continuation betting (betting on the flop after you raise pre-flop) if fine against just one ot two opponents. Key to the early stages is to bet big for value, since the fish do not like to fold you should go ahead and build pots with your big hands. For more on solid pre-flop tournament play, see the linked article.
Remember, those chips will be harder to get into your own stack later, when better opponents will hold them! Stay positive, stay out of multi-way pots with marginal hands and keep firing for value - and your stack should start building nicely!
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Beginners Tournament Strategy – The Middle Stages
After the first hour or two there will be a big difference between the biggest stacks and the smallest ones. At this point in the tournament your stack size becomes important in determining what hands you can play against which opponents. Bear in mind that an extra-large stack and the extra-small stacks are more likely to call your bets – the largeone because it will not hurt them too much and the small because they are getting desperate. Try to play pots in position against medium sized stacks – these players are comfortable enough not to want to be involved in a large pot without a very strong hand, and are more likely to fold.
Remember, your objective is to get to the later stages of the tournament. You need to stay active enough that the blinds do not catch up too fast with you stack size. Try and be first into pots where possible, you are going to need to steal blinds, resteal from aggressive players and make the occasional move to take down a pot. If your move fails, don't get discouaged - get straight back into the action, you are aiming for the big money here... let the fish slow down and aim for the mimimum cash!
Beginners Tournament Strategy – The Bubble
The bubble is defined at the period of time when just a few more players need to be busted before the paying positions begin. If you have a big stack relative to the others at your table then you should use this - most of your opponents will not want to leave the tournament empty handed, and will fold most hands until the paying places start. It is often possible to bluff with any-2 cards here. If you have a medium stack then remember that the big payouts are reserved for the final table – taking a chance when the others are playing super-tight may put you in a better position to reach that goal.
My message for new players is clear, unless you are in a desperate state chip-wise you should not be influenced by the start of the payouts - use the fact that other players want to cash to increase your chances of making that big score, this is the more profitable strategy over the long-run.
Once the bubble bursts many of the timid players will be deparate to double up and get back into contention... this can be an opportunity all of its own - you can catch many big bluffs and bets with hands which were not strong enough to justify them at this point in the tournament.
Beginners Tournament Strategy – The Final Table
If you are fortunate enough to reach the final table of an online poker tournament -congratulations – here is where the big payouts start. Often by the time you reach the final table the blinds take up a large proportion of your stack, if you have less than 8 to 12 big blinds then your strategy is restricted to all-in or fold most of the time. Since any reasonable bet you make will commit you to call a re-raise it is usually best to push all-in with any hand you intend to play. It is always better to do this when first into a pot after some opponents have folded to reduce your chances of running into a monster hand.
Key to the final table is going for the top 3 spots, the payouts are so much bigger there that risking that lower place finish to 'aim high' is more profitable than trying to hang around and move up a place or two. In fact players who are trying to move up the spots are exactly the ones who will give up pots without a big fight - so make sure you target them!
For more tips on playing the final table, check out my Final Table strategy article here.