Poker Tournament Tips

poker tournament chipsThe majority of poker knowledge translates quite well from cash poker to tournament poker. Position is still hugely important, the adage “play the man and not the cards” is still good advice, table image, betting patterns; all of these different concepts apply equally well to tournament poker as to cash poker. That said there are enormous differences between a typical cash game and late-stage tournament poker.

Players must be keenly aware of their own stack size as it relates to the blinds as well as their opponent’s stack sizes. The blinds go up regularly forcing players to react each time. When deep stacked, players should generally avoid small-edge coin-flip scenarios in multi-table tournaments.

Tournaments are much more strategic in terms of positioning yourself well for the bubble and final table. Learning to play a solid tournament strategy isn’t all that difficult however. Using the following tips you will be well on your way to crushing MTTs.

Top 5 Tournament Poker Tips

1. Play to Your Strengths

If you like to play a conservative math oriented game then play a tight strategy during the early part of the tournament. If you prefer to play a looser more aggressive game then don’t hesitate to mix it up.

Tournament poker is really just poker. This is even more-so the case in deep-stacked tournament poker. There is so much room for play in deep-stack tournaments that you can almost play a cash game style approach. Whatever your preferred style is, play that style.

However, there will come a time in most tournaments when either tight play or loose play is the best strategy. If you are short-stacked approaching the final table, you really need to play a conservative game and try to pick your spots. Conversely if you are far and away the biggest stack at the final table, you should be playing close to a third of your hands if not more.

2. Survive When Short Stacked, Thrive When Big Stacked

When you are shorter to medium stacked during a tournament, your best bet is to pick your spots wisely and play a fairly conservative range of hands. When you are short stacked any hand you enter the pot with might have to be good enough to go all the way.

If you spot a player who is limping in frequently consider stealing the blinds with an all-in play (provided your stack is small enough to warrant such a play ~15 blinds or less).

If you are big stacked you should constantly be looking for opportunities to attack. Attack blinds, attack medium stacked players, re-steal when you suspect someone is stealing or making an isolation play, call in position and play a flop, etc. The big stack is not something that you should try to preserve. The big stack is a weapon.

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3. Embrace the Bubble

Do not fear the bubble.

The bubble should be exploited if possible and pretty much ignored if it’s impossible to exploit. If there is a big stack at the table preventing you from exploiting the tight play of the other medium and short stacks at the table then you should attempt to play your normal game.

When approaching the bubble pay attention to how each player at the table is reacting to the additional pressure. Some players will tighten up and fold hands that they would otherwise play. These players should be attacked. Other players will try to exploit the bubble by loosening up. You can take a straight forward approach to interacting with these LAG players (I.e. play ABC poker). Or you can try to re-steal and attack their loose play.

4. The Final Table, Play to Win

The reason you should play to win basically comes down to how to the prize money is typically distributed in MTTs. Online poker rooms put the bulk of the prize money in the top 3 spots. Therefore, playing to win is essential. If there are 9 players remaining, trying to wait out 2 players for 7th place money just doesn’t make financial sense.

However, if it’s a big buy-in tournament and the prize money is hugely meaningful to you then it’s understandable that you might want to wait for one or two players to bust out. But generally speaking, if you are folding AQ or 77 from middle position in an unopened pot then you’re probably playing not to lose. Play to win! Make sure you also check out our top 5 sit-n-go tips, SNG and tournament poker strategy overlap quite a bit!

5. React to Different Play Styles Appropriately

Paying attention to patterns and play styles and reacting appropriately in each situation is very important in tournament poker.

Is the player that is playing back at you the type of player to make meta-game considerations? Perhaps is attacking you because you’re shorter stacked than he is and the final table is approaching? Or is he unlikely to play back at you without a very strong hand?

Learning to differentiate the seasoned MTT players from the poker hobbyists is a key part of playing solid tournament poker. Keep your eyes open and think through each decision. The following are important factors to consider but this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Is your stack size a consideration in your opponent’s play?
  • If you fold, is your stack large enough for you to continue playing?
  • How aggressive is your opponent?
  • What is your opponent representing?
  • What is your image?

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