Tournaments are what draw a lot of people to poker, maybe
because of the attention they get on television, but sometimes new players are
intimidated to try them. Tournaments seem a lot different than the cash games
that the new player may be used to. There are a lot of different strategies to
tournaments and this only covers a small part of it. A lot of considerations
like stack size and individual reads arenít included in the generalizations I
make about the different stages of the tournament. This article only talks about
the tendencies of the overall table from my experience. Since most players agree
that the best way to adjust to your table is to play the opposite of how they
are playing. During different stages of a tournament a lot of people generally
behave the same way, so recognizing this and playing accordingly is a great way
to accumulate chips. This isnít always the case by any means, and itís always
most important to observe your table for a correct read on how everyone is
An easy way for a new player to deal with the change is to divide the tournament
into different sections and adjust their play for each stage. These are just
some general guidelines though. Iíve separated the tournament in to 6 different
sections in to what I feel are the most representative of where a lot of players
At the beginning of most tournaments the biggest problem I see by far with
peopleís play is that they play way too loose. A lot of newer players just play
too many hands that they just arenít going to win with in the long run. Early in
a tournament when most of the players are playing like this, itís important that
you play the opposite of the table and wait for solid hands. At this point even
if the table is playing tight, the blinds arenít worth stealing. When the blinds
are low you can see flops for cheap with speculative hands like suited
connectors or little pairs, but itís important not to get carried away and leak
away all your chips. Too many players will play any hand or call any raise just
because the bet doesnít seem to represent a significant portion of your stack,
but all those little pots add up.
Mid to Late tournament:
I consider the mid tournament to be when the blinds start becoming a factor to
your stack and including antes and transitioning into the late tournament up
till the bubble. This part of the tournament is especially dependant on other
factors like stack size and how the rest of the table is playing. Whether youíre
a short stack and need to pick up those blinds in order to survive, or if youíre
a big stack looking to take some selective risks as well as the style of play of
the rest of the table is going have a very large effect on how you should play
during this stage.
Some people think this is a great time for blind steals when in position, and a
great time to try to steal some pots as this is when they start to become
consistently bigger. The most important thing to remember during this stage and
later ones is to not let yourself get too short stacked.
No one wants to lose on the bubble. Trust me, I know how frustrating it can be
playing for hours upon hours just to lose before you make any money. The fact is
though, that the money you make from just barely cashing is almost always
meaningless. The way that multi table tournaments are structured puts most of
the prize money in the top 3-5 spots. If you arenít playing to get in those top
spots, youíll never be a long term winner. The bubble is one of the best spots
to pick up blinds and pots off of the people just trying to squeeze in to the
money. You shouldnít just start mindless aggression just because itís the
bubble. The goal should be to target players you specifically think might be
trying to squeeze in to the money. Youíll almost never have a table where
everyone is playing tight just to make the money. Usually youíre going to have
at least one other person trying to steal blinds. Re-raising someone who is
stealing on the bubble is another great opportunity to pick up chips.
In the money:
When you just make it in to the money, you usually have a lot of short stacks
and people who after having played tight for the bubble, are looking to gamble.
Short stacks are looking to get all their chips in and double up, and all those
people who were playing tight and felt like they were being stolen from are more
likely to push on a perceived blind steal. Depending on the number of entrants
you may be transitioning shorthanded tables to full ones because of fewer and
fewer tables remaining and being broken up. Itís important to adjust to play
more hands when you have fewer players at the table and fewer hands when you
have a full table.
Final Table Bubble:
In the final table bubble you get a situation that is very similar to the money
bubble earlier. When on the bubble you usually face a situation where the table
is playing tight so you loosen up. At the final table bubble youíre usually
going to be in a short-handed situation as well as one where most people are
playing tight to try to get to the final table. People playing tight combined
with the table being short handed make it critical that you get more aggressive
and pick up the uncontested pots.
The beginning of the final table tends to be similar to the situation youíre in
when you just make the money. There are usually a few short stacks that have
been bullied shorthanded and are looking to get their chips in and double up.
Although you may be playing tighter at the beginning of the final table, once it
starts getting shorter-handed itís important to remember to get more and more
aggressive and really play for the win.
Jason is the owner of Poker Public Forum. You can find more information at
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