Winning a poker tournament with hundreds or thousands of opponents is not an easy task. Even if you’re a solid player, you will require some luck to reach the final table. In fact, tournaments have the highest variance in the game. The reason is simple – the money is spread across just a tiny group of players that reach the latest stages of the event.
This is why your goal should be to reach the final table as often as possible. Playing just to finish in the money is not a winning strategy and doesn’t work well in the long run. In this article, I will give you some tips how to improve your chance of reaching it. Of course, it does not guarantee success, but it will certainly help you to play for that big win more often.
Look For The Fish At The Start Of The Tournament
A popular saying goes that you can’t win a tournament in the early stages, but you might lose it. While there’s a certain level of truth in it, the first levels are the period where the concentration of bad players is still pretty good. Big tournaments attract a lot of recreational guys, and they are pretty easy targets in the beginning. You will find tons of calling stations, aggro maniacs, pro wannabes, and other types of people who are not professionals and can make a healthy donation to your stack.
The first step should be to identify the weak opponents at the table. Usually, you could easily achieve that after few orbits. The bad players will enter too many hands, play passive, lose too many chips, make bad bluffs or calls. Once you know who they are, it’s time to create a game plan and make your move. If you’re facing calling stations, try to value bet them more lightly with decent hands. If there’s a maniac who bets big, bluffs and plays on the edge, trap him with your monster. If there are players, who are willing to call large raises before the flop and immediately fold if they miss, try to isolate them from the position.
Answering Common Tournament Questions | The Red Chip Poker Podcast
Exploit those players while they are still in and build a stack that will give you many options on later stages of the tournament.
Defend Your Big Blind Often To Build A Stack
As you probably know already, you need to take some risks to build a big stack when playing tournaments with many entrants. One of them would be to defend your big blind more often by either calling raises or reraising yourself. You don’t have to pick one and stick to it, rather try to evaluate your best option.
For example, many players know they have to be aggressive and raise from late position before the flop. However, they are not comfortable with their post-flop play and play too passive by folding easily when they miss. Calling preflop and betting or check-raising dry flops works well against such opponents. Other guys will be eager to raise and then fold quickly against a 3-bet as well. Try to figure out what kind of player is against you and take the best approach.
Moreover, in most tournaments you will have antes in play and will be getting ridiculously good adds to call from the big blind. Therefore, you should play many hands from there. Thus, be sure to play from the big blind and master your MTT poker strategy.
Table & Tournament Dynamics Are Crucial
When you play in a cash game, most people tend to stick to the same plan. However, when you play at tournaments, there’s a non-stop movement. You switch tables, players will lose or build a stack, they can easily go on tilt and many other events will change the dynamics.
You should always be aware of that and try to figure out what’s the state of your current opponents. For example, a guy who recently won big might go to a bullying mode while an aggressor could become a nit if he loses a big portion of his stack.
Furthermore, many players change their strategies when approaching the bubble. Some will tighten up and wait for the cash. Others will start pushing everyone around hoping to build a huge stack.
You should recognize the strategy of your opponents, understand their mindset and take full advantage of every weakness you spot. Also, keep in mind how your opponents might view you and how you can best use that to create more optimal lines. For more on that, check out this video all about using your table image to your advantage.
Chips Won Without A Fight Are The Deciding Factor
Two major factors are deciding the most to your fate in large tournaments. Your luck, especially in big all-ins; and the chips you manage to snatch without a fight from the opposition. While you don’t have any control over the former, the latter is mostly on you.
As you can see in the previous tips, you need be aware what is happening on the table and how your opponents play. Use that information to find spots where you can steal the pot without a showdown as often as you can. Against very tight players, the best strategy would be to play many small pots and try to steal as much as possible preflop. While against super aggro ones, you will be better off by trapping with strong hands and not getting involved with weak holdings.
Need some ideas? Here are 3 that are super useful when playing at a tighter table:
The important factor is to relentlessly keep the pressure on your opponents and build your stack. If you’re doing it well enough, at some point, they will even refuse to engage because they will be scared. If you manage to reach such a state at the table, you will get tons of chips without risking much. This will give you a safety net against dry runs, tough moments later on, losing few flips and even bad beats.
Play In Tournaments You Can Afford
This is not about strategy but rather about entering the tournament in the correct mindset. If an event is too big for you, chances are the pressure will probably affect your game at some point. You might think you’re cool and ready to go, but that could quickly change if you come close to the money. Therefore, you should not play in games where you scared to take risks because you end up making sub-optimal decisions and that are never good.
Try to stick to tournaments you can afford so you feel free to take risks and play your A game without regrets. If you want to take a shot at events with a higher buy-in, try to qualify through satellites or find someone to stake you. This is an excellent way to lower the pressure and focus on your strategy. Playing with scared money is never a good idea.