One of the best ways to make a massive return on your investment in poker is to play tournaments. You can buy in with a relatively small amount for a chance to win huge payouts from a massive prize pool. It’s an extremely enjoyable way of playing, because it gives you the chance to pit your wits against a large number of players and battle to outplay them all. Also, knowing that you can’t lose any more than your buy in (unless you choose to rebuy) allows you to play with much more freedom than you would in a straight up cash game. Let’s take a look at what it takes to make it in a tournament, and what methods you should use in order to top the pile.
Tight to Aggressive
If you’re in a tournament with hundreds of other players, in the early stages patience can be key. If you play tight for the first few levels, you can sit back and watch as other players eliminate each other. While the blinds are small, it is wise to see as many flops as possible, but try not to get sucked into a hand. If you don’t hit anything on the flop, that’s when you should fold. This will help you control your stack, and also lead the other players around you to believe that you are a tight player who is unlikely to bluff. If they think that you are only going to play the best hands, that allows you to play more aggressively later in the tournament.
When it gets to the later stages of the tournament, if you want to win you need to up the ante a bit and aim to take down pots. The only way to do this is by opting for a more aggressive style of play. You’d have to be extremely lucky to win a poker tournament just by always having the best hand.
Players who consistently make it to the end of competitions know how to win pots even when they don’t have the best hand. They do this by making their opponents think they have a particular hand. Remember, if you want to get someone off a weak hand, you need to maintain your story. If you bet big pre-flop and someone calls, they may be hoping to catch something. Fire another barrel after the flop, and if the other player didn’t hit anything, they will most likely fold.
Bet in Relation to Table
In the early stages of a tournament, you need to be careful with your bets. Before making any big moves, get an idea of how the other people at the table play. Most online poker sites allow you to add player notes next to your opponents, so you can remind yourself about their methods. This way, if you get separated from a player when the tables are mixed up and then meet them later on, you will still be able to see your notes.
The first thing you should aim to find out is if there are any aggressive players at the table. If there are, you should adjust your game and play tighter. Players like Sofia Lovgren are known for having quite a forceful style of play. She isn’t a fan of limping in to pots, and believes that doing so is weak. If you found yourself up against a player like the Swede, you may wish to let them control the betting. If you know that someone is likely to raise every time, you can wait for a good hand and trap them. Alternatively, if you are surrounded by tight players you can take up the role of the aggressor. When you know players are likely to fold if they don’t hit something, you can bluff comfortably to take down pots.
When to Push or Fold
In the above video clip, Brazilian poker player Vivian Saliba discusses an interesting pre-flop situation. She has pocket Jacks and puts in a raise to eliminate some weaker hands. This is a solid strategy to prevent anyone getting a cheap draw and hitting something on the flop. Her opponent chooses to put in a huge raise, indicating that he has an extremely strong hand. In this situation, Saliba was right to fold her Jacks, because the opponent acted in a way which was fitting for a player holding a higher pocket pair. It turned out that the raiser was playing aggressively with a pair of sevens, but if Saliba had called and he had turned over a higher pair, her chances of winning would have been extremely slim.
Sometimes, though, the best option can be to push all in. If you think a player is playing loose and overly aggressive, you can sometimes call out their bluffs by raising them all in after their initial raise. For instance, if Saliba had seen her opponent bet big with a wide range of hands during the tournament, she may have been tempted to push with her Jacks to get the other player off a weaker hand.
The best time to push when you have the nuts is if you have been trapping your opponent throughout the hand. If they have position on you, keep checking and allow them to bet on every street. This will lead them to think that they are in control of the hand. When it gets to the river and they continue to bet, then you can push all in. They may feel like they have to call because they have already invested so much into the hand. In these circumstances, you have achieved maximum value for your hand.
Have a Clear Strategy and Know the Game
The final thing to consider when going into a tournament is to have a clear strategy. If you set yourself some rules beforehand, you will have a much stronger chance of reaching the latter stages of the competition. You need to decide how selective you’re going to be with your hands, and vow not to see a flop with anything less than say, 9-10 suited. Research has shown that players who only play the top 10 to 20 percent of possible starting hands have more chance of winning than someone who plays the top 30 to 40 percent. Don’t forget to adjust this in terms of the types of payers at the table, though.
You should also go into the game with a clear poker head on. Make sure you know how to identify the nuts in each situation, because this will give you a better chance of working out if your opponent can beat you. For example, if a flop is 3-5-6 then the nuts would be 4-7. But you need to assess the likelihood that an opponent would go into a raised pot with a starting hand as weak as that. Another thing you must do is try to calculate your odds of winning mathematically, and decide whether it’s worth paying to see another card.
Live poker tournaments are all about patience, having a clear strategy, and getting to know the other players at the table. If you keep a level head and use a solid strategy, you will have a much stronger chance of reaching the latter stages of the competition.