Poker Tournament Play Tips
Early Tournament Play
Your play in the early stages of a tournament should be extremely tight. Most players think that since the blinds are cheap in the early stages, that this is the time to go in with marginal hands. NOT SO! In fact, the opposite is true. Since the cards are coming so cheap, now is the time to be picky about what your play with. One particular author I read went as far as to say that he only plays 2 hands in early tournament play, AA and KK. With both of these hands, he bets hard and does not try to trap. He would consider playing QQ in certain positions. While I consider that a bit too tight, it does make my point that early stages you play tight hands. You want to gain the reputation of a stone cold rock.
Hands that I will play in the early stages: JJ, QQ, KK, AA, AK suited. I will occasionally deviate from that list, but only in good position. I never bluff in the early stages of a tournament. Why so tight? This style of play will let the fish bust out, without taking you with them. How many times have we seen some schmuck stay in with 4 2 offsuit and flop two pair to beat a good players solid starting pair? It happens all too frequently in the early stages of the tournament. Even playing those top 5 hands, it can still happen to you, but hopefully a lot less.
Play ultra-tight early and do not bluff. Let the fish die off, without burning away your chips. Remember, only the top positions pay, and that’s your goal.
The new breed of poker players advocates an alternative strategy of playing more flops. They play a lot of flops early on, and when the flop hits them hard, they seek to clean up a lot of extra chips and build a stack that they can bully with. This style works well if the tournament starts you out with plenty of chips (100 big blinds or more).
Middle Tournament Play
After you have given the fish a chance to throw away their chips and you are at the table with fair and solid players, now is the time to loosen up and play your regular game. Your hope at this point is to rake in a good number of chips, so that you make it to the final tables with at least the average amount. Middle stages are also prime time to bluff at a few blinds. You have two things going for you in this case. First, as more players are eliminated, the thought that “we don’t have too far to go to make money,” begins to settle in on everyone’s mind. Many players will completely lock up as they move further into the tournament. Secondly, you have hopefully gained that “rock” tight image. A bet or raise from you will be respected. This translates hopefully into a few stolen blinds.
A word of caution: you’re still a good ways off from the money, and so a stone cold bluff with rags would not be advised. However, QJ, offsuit in late position where you only have one caller, or the blinds to go might be worth a raise.
In summary, middle tournament play should resemble your regular style of ring game play. You’re looking to gamble a little and collect enough chips to be a force at the final tables. If you bust out in the middle stages with good cards, then so be it. Better to lose it on a good play, than to make it to the final tables, short stacked and get blinded away to finish just outside of the money.
Final Table Play
Now we’re where we want to be. Hopefully you’ve made it here with at least the average amount of chips. One quickly finds that at the final tables, chip power is greater than card power. Again, the “lock-up phenomenon” is seen, as players have limped to the table with a short stack and are hoping to fold their way to the money.
Whats our strategy at this point? Loosen up even more! Be bold and take risks. Don’t play like an idiot mind you, but now is the time to put those short stackers all in, if you have a decent hand. Every person you knock out of the tournament now is very significant. In the same sense however, be careful of challenging the huge stacks, unless you have an excellent hand or they are locked up and letting their chips get blinded away.
Another final tables strategy is not to get locked up in multi-way pots. If you have a great hand, then by all means play it, but consider before jumping into the fray between two other players. Let the other two players do battle, and when one of them loses and gets short stacked, pick them off.
In summary, at the final tables, flex your chip strength, put the cripples all-in, play somewhat loose and take risks.