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Getting started online
- Choosing a poker room
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Online Texas Holdem
- How to start playing online
- Online poker tournaments
- Online tournament strategy
- Online bluffing
- Online tells
- Player notes
- playing multiple games
- Playing online professionally
Poker Room Reviews
- Poker stars
- Victor Chandler
- TITAN POKER
- 888 Pacific Poker
- PKR 3D POKER
- William hill poker
- Cake poker
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TEXAS HOLDEM BASICS
- Texas holdem fundamentals
- Game instruction step-by-step
- Hand ranking
- Buy-ins and table stakes
- Betting, calling, checking, folding
- Texas holdem rules
- Where to play
- Responsible play
- Poker terms
TOURNAMENT STRATEGY - GENERAL
Tournaments are all about survival and adaptation: you need to be able to survive to the final table (and hopefully finish in the money), and you need to know how to change your play when the situation calls for it. And, ideally, you”ll have amassed a decent stack to play with if you do make it to the final table.
In cash games, your goal is to make the correct decisions every time and eventually your bankroll will grow. Players use strategy that employs pot odds to help them make the right decision for each play. But in tournaments, you need to use additional strategy than just pot odds to base your decision on or you won”t have a big enough chip stack to survive when the blinds are very expensive; you need to play with a bit more risk than in cash games if you want to do well
The tournament strategies listed here are applicable to both live and online poker tournaments, but be sure to also read our pages for strategy specific to each type of game.
Poker tournaments can be very long and they require a lot of energy because you have to concentrate so hard for a prolonged amount of time, so getting a good night”s rest before a tournament and eating breakfast are critical in having enough energy to perform adequately in a tournament. If you”re playing cheap or free games online, this isn”t important, but as soon as you”re putting your own money on the line, you want to make sure you”re physically and mentally ready to play in a long tournament.
Don”t play too many hands
One mistake a lot of new players to tournaments make (and poker in general) is that they play too many hands. If there are a lot of players at your table, the chances that someone is going to have a stronger hand than yours goes up. Always remind yourself of this when you”re looking at an average or weak starting hand and fold before the flop, and remember, there”s no such thing as a bad fold. Also, at the beginning of the tournament, the blinds are small when compared to your chip stack, so play tightly (most of the time) so that you don”t get knocked out right away.
Don”t call a bet that you wouldn”t also call if it was a raise. If you”re putting chips in the pot, it had better be because you have the best hand. Otherwise, your chip stack is going to dwindle very quickly (especially in No-Limit games) because you”re staying in too many losing hands. When there are less players at the table, you can ease up a bit on the strength of the starting hands that you”ll play, and when it comes to heads-up play and/or when the blinds are very high, you can ease your restrictions even more.
Find a balance between taking risks and playing tightly
Even though we just wrote that you need to play tightly at the beginning of the tournament, it is also true that tight players don”t win tournaments. That”s because those who do usually end up limping to the final table (if they even make it that far) with a short chip stack, which leaves them vulnerable to being knocked out (especially when the blinds and antes are high). You need to be brave and take risks and get as many chips out of people as you can when you have the nuts (or are bluffing) - even if it could mean getting knocked out of the tournament.
Another reason you don”t want to play too tightly is that you don”t want to be predictable. Poker legend Doyle Brunson once said, “To get action, you have to give action.” What he means by this is that if you play too tightly, people will fold whenever you bet because they know you have a good hand. It”s a good idea to mix your play up a bit when it won”t cost you too many chips in order to establish yourself as an unpredictable player.
When you do get the nuts, you want to get as much value from it as you can. Depending on how strong the hand is, you might want to raise pre-flop to build the pot. Another strategy is to not raise pre-flop, nor right after the flop in order to conceal the strength of your hand. An ideal situation is when another player thinks they have the nuts and are betting heavily. Call them on the flop and the turn, but go all-in in the river (or sooner if you think they”ll call). When you have the nuts, your goal is to play the hand as hard as you can and extract as many chips from the other players that you can. Also, a strong raise prevents the other players from seeing another community card cheaply, in addition to forcing players with a weaker hand than yours to fold who could possibly get lucky and make the winning hand if they were to see another card.
Raise with large pocket pairs
No matter how many people are at the table, if you have A-A or K-K, raise before the flop. If someone has already raised before you, calling their raise is fine. Some players go all-in with those two starting hands, but it”s wise to see the flop first in case it looks like someone has made a flush or a straight, in which case, your large pocket pairs are now obsolete.
If you raise heavily pre-flop, you might get everyone to fold, thus allowing you to steal the blinds/antes and any bets made thereafter. When the blinds start to become expensive, this can be lucrative (especially if you”re starting to get low on chips).
Pay attention to raisers and re-raisers
As already mentioned, only call a hand if you”d also call it if it was a raise. So when faced with a raise, only call it if you can reasonably guess that you have the best hand, or you think the player is bluffing, or that they”re not a good player and they don”t have a strong hand.
Pay attention to the size of your chip stack
They say that “chips are power” in poker tournaments, so it”s important for you to monitor how many chips you have left, as well as how many chips your opponents have. You always want to have more chips than the amount that the average player has. (You can easily check this in online poker tournaments by looking at the tournament lobby where the smallest, average and biggest number of chips per player is displayed.)
The size of your chip stack influences how you”ll play a hand. When the blinds and antes are 20% the total of your chip stack, you will be knocked out in five full rounds if you don”t win any more chips, so you”re going to have to change your strategy by loosening up the starting hands that you”ll play (you can”t afford to wait for a really high premium hand). If you”re down that low, it”s also a good time to play slightly recklessly with the hope of winning a really big pot; you”re going to be knocked out soon anyway, so you might as well make a last-ditch effort to stay in the game.
Pay attention to expensive blinds later in the tournament
Seems pretty obvious, but you will need to make sure you respect the size of the blinds when they get to be pretty high in the later stage of the tournament. They can become so high that stealing the blinds is a lucrative way to win chips and guarantee to stay in the game for another full round.
Sit back and let other people knock themselves out
If there are two or more players who have gone all-in, unless you unequivocally have the best hand (or so you think), you should fold your hand and let the players duke it out on their own. Hopefully one or more gets knocked out, which puts you one place closer to finishing in the money. Think of it as letting the other players do the dirty work for you without you risking being knocked out yourself.
Just as in cash games, you need to consider your position when developing your strategy and how you”ll play your hand. It is particularly important to play according to your position when you”re short-stacked. You should play tightly in early and middle position in case someone after you raises with the intention of knocking you out if you call them. If you fold to their raise, you”re going to lose out on the chips you initially called with, and when you”re short-stacked (and with increasing blinds), you can”t afford to lose chips. So only call pre-flop in early or middle position if you have a really strong hand.
You already have the knowledge on how to best play your cards, but sometimes feelings can get in the way of you making the right decision. This is where self-control is imperative in being a good tournament player - if you don”t keep your emotions in check, even though you know how to play the hand correctly, you stand to lose the hand and be prematurely kicked out of the tournament if you ignore your strategy in making your decision. Again, getting a good night”s rest is helpful in staying mentally alert in long games. Also, having a lot of experience in playing in tournaments helps to build your confidence and reduces or eliminates the incidence of you losing self-control. We recommend PokerStars.com for beginner, intermediate and advanced players to play in online tournaments in order to gain experience for free. The more you play, the more confident you”ll feel as you tweak your strategy until you find yourself finishing in the money the majority of the time.
Early stage of the tournament: surviving and building your chip stack
When the blinds are cheap enough, you can afford to play more marginal hands (as long as not too many players are in the hand), such as small pairs, but never bet more than 5% of your stack pre-flop or you risk being knocked out too soon.
Watch out for aggressive players who go all-in in the first few hands of the tournament. This is especially true in online games (particularly free tables) where people will often go all-in for the first hand with the hope that at least one other player calls them. They”re trying to double-up right off the bat and knock out at least one player. If you”re playing at a free table or in a freeroll tournament, you might want to just fold the first hand if you”re in early position to save yourself the chips in case you have one of these first-hand raisers at your table. Or if you have a really strong hand, you could go for it and go all-in and be one of those first-hand raisers, too. It”s important to get a big chip stack, but know that you”re putting yourself at risk of being knocked out right at the beginning, so it”s not advisable to do this in real money tournaments.
If you”re a passive player, use the early stage of the tournament to build a steady increase in chips. Try to see the flop for cheap and win a few hands here and there. But eventually the blinds will start getting really high, so you should try to break out of this mold every once in a while to give your chip stack a much-needed boost.
If you do get a big chip stack at the beginning, back away from confrontation against players with similarly big chip stacks. Your goal is to at least finish in the money, so focus instead on players with small chip stacks so you can knock them out and get one place closer to finishing in the money. When you play against someone who also has a big chip stack, they have the potential to either knock you out (if they have more chips than you and force you to go all-in), or take a sizeable portion of your stack.
Middle stage: getting into a good position
By the middle of the tournament, you”ll need to adjust your play to accommodate the rise in blinds. Because the blinds are worth more, there will be more players trying to steal the blinds, and often the first player in the pot will most likely raise instead of just calling with the hope of getting everyone to fold. Keep this in mind as some people will raise with an average hand, so if you have a strong hand, you might want to call their raise. All of this pre-flop raising and folding means you”ll see less flops as the game progresses.
If you do play your hand, the blinds are going to be a significant percentage of your stack, so you must be careful not to limp into the pot or you could be put at a significant disadvantage. But you also want to make sure you win at least one hand per round so the blinds don”t bleed your chip stack dry, so you need to find a good balance between playing loosely and tightly.
As a general rule, play looser with your starting hands for pre-flop raises, and play tighter when you have to call a bet or someone else”s raise. If you”re in late position, play your hand aggressively to get people to fold.
If you”re short-stacked, you will most likely be called with the hope that you”ll be knocked out, so go all-in with an ace card and any kicker and don”t play any marginal starting cards. It”s your best chance of doubling up your chips and surviving to see a few more hands.
Late stage: final table and fishing in the money
The last stage of the tournament is when you make it to the final table and hopefully finish in the money. We have an entire page devoted to this most-important stage of the tournament, so to complete your tournament strategy lesson, please go to that page now.
- Introduction to Tournaments
- Tournament Formats
- Poker Tournament Rules - General
- Tournament Strategy - general
- Online Poker Tournaments
- Online Poker Tournament Rules - General
- Online Tournament Strategy
- Live Poker Tournaments
- Live Tournament Strategy
- Hosting a Home Tournament
- Hosting a Charity Tournament
- History of Women in Poker
- Professional Female Players
- Female Advantage and Strategy
- Ladies’ Tournaments
- Hosting a Ladies’ Poker Night
Hosting a Home Game
- Hosting a game
- Dealer's Choice
- How to deal a hand
- Drink and food
- Strip poker
- Poker Books
- Texas Hold'em movies & TV
- Famous players
- Poker Hall of Fame
- Hand Nicknames
- Poker Terms
- Poker Leagues
- Collusion in Poker
- Poker Vacations