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Tournament Strategy Guide from the Poker Hound.
One of the most popular forms of online poker is Tournament play. There are more people playing tourneys at any given time then play at ring games. They are an enjoyable way to spend from 1 to several hours. There are a wide range available both in terms of buy-in amount and the number of participants. I recommend beginners try Freeroll Tournaments and very small buy-in events. They offer a free or very inexpensive way to play. While I believe regular ring games offer the complete novice a more solid training expeience, there is certainly a time and place to try your luck at tournaments.
There are three main types offered.
These range from dozens to hundreds of players or more. This type of tourney has a set starting time and a set buy-in such $10+1. The $10 goes into the prize pool to be split among the top finishers. The $1 is called the fee or rake. This is the poker sites cut for hosting the event. Avoid playing if the rake is more than 10% in any kind of tourney. Many sites such as Party Poker offer $5+1 Multis and SnGs. That is bordering on highway robbery! It is very difficult to “beat the rake” in these games.
Multi-table Touraments pay out according to the number of players and amount of buy-in. Smaller events (80-100 players) usually pay the only the final table (9 or 10 places)or less. You can expect to win 10-20 times your buy-in if you place first. These start often throughout the day, usually on the hour or 1/2 hour. Smaller sites like Absolute Poker are good if you’d like to play against a smaller field.
Larger contests can have 1000 or more players. They pay down 100 or more places and the winner will recieve hundreds of times the buy-in amount. At the bigger sites most events will have large fields. Survival in a large event is difficult but the rewards can be huge.
If you are interested in playing against many opponents look for “gauranteed” events. These promise a minimum prize pool. Often there is an “overlay” because the buyins don’t equal the gauranteed prize pool. For instance, I regularly play the $30,000 nightly gauranteed game at Pacific Poker. For a $33 buy-in the top prize is $6900!(The $30,000 is the TOTAL of all prizes.) This usually has 700-800 people. Some quick math tells you this totals about $23-26,000 in total buy-in. That means the site is adding between 4 & 7 THOUSAND dollars to the table each night not to mention the rake! That’s real money I want to grab at.
Be sure to allot yourself enough time to play a large event. These can last several hours if you go far. Smaller events last 2-3 hours. I am always amazed at the number of people who drop out because thay have to leave for work or something. I have picked up the stacks a few times from someone who said “Gotta go, I’m pushing All-In with 10-6″ (this was after he claimed to have 7-2 and showed it when everyone folded).
These have a set number of seats available and once they fill up the game begins. That’s how they got the name Sit-and-Go. You SIT and when the designated number of players are seated you GO. These have the same buy-in plus fee structure as mentioned above. The number of participants can vary from 2 (heads up) to as many as thirty or more. The most prevalent are 1 table Sngs with nine or 10 players depending on the site. These pay 3 places in a 50-30-20% prize structure. Assuming our 10+1 exapmple was 10 players, the prizes would be $50 for first $30 & $20 for 2nd and 3rd respectivley.
These last about 1 hour for a 1 table tournament. Add about 1/2 hr per additional table.
One other kind of Tournament is called a Satellite. These can be of either type mentioned above. They are called Satellites because what you win is entry to a larger tournament. Even though I wouldn’t recommend these for new players , once you can hold your own at the table they are a way to get into a much larger event than you likley could otherwise afford.
No Limit Tournaments
One problem with Tournament play for a new poker player is the fact that the vast majority are No Limit Holdem’. The strategies I offer in the Strategy Guide are intended for Low Limit ring games. There is a big difference between “Limit” and “No Limit” Holdem’! “No Limit ” requires quite an adjustment from regular games. Starting requirements vary much more, particularly in tournament play. You will need to go more by instincts and heart, less by the book. There is also a lot more to tournament play. Different stages require different strategies. This is an important concept that even solid players sometimes overlook.
A great way to gain experience in tournaments is to join a Poker School. For a small monthly fee you will gain invaluable playing experience.
You may also want to host your own tournaments. Here’s a site that will give you all you need to get started. HOMEPOKERCLUB.NET – Create your own poker league website and record the results of your home poker tournaments online!
All of the Online Poker sites offer Tournament play . They run around the clock. Buy-ins range from free to as much as you’d like to spend. (The big weekly events run about $500-600.) Party Poker has some very large tourneys. These could have 1500 to 2000 participants and very large prize pools. For something more reasonably sized Pacific and Absolute both offer smaller tourneys. At Absolute Poker they run from a few dozen to a few hundred players while at Pacific Poker they usually have 200-300 or more.
Play tight, solid poker at the beginning of the tournament. Watch other players closely to determine how to play them later on. Tables are usually full or close to it so your No Limit ring game strategy is close to optimum. Just remember you can’t normally buy-in for more chips. Take small risks to win pots but don’t risk a large amount unless you have a very strong hand.
As the blinds rise look for stealing opportunities . Again, don’t invest too many chips on these attepmts. During this midgame play it is important to build and preserve chips. Being in position to take a large stack to the final table is a very important key to winning or finishing in the upper money positions. Defend your blinds when you have a hand, but don’t assume the bettor is weak. You’re hoping to hit a flop. If you don’t you’ll have to muck yourhand. Call enough to let opponents know your not a “pushover” then tighten up once you’ve made your point. It is not a bad idea to push backif you have a strong hand.
Pay attention to stack sizes during this time. Try to avoid directconfrontation with a larger stack even with a strong hand. Of course if you do play a hand against a big stack, play it decisivly. Just remember it could be your last. Focusingon the small and/or medium stacks is much safer. Patience and aggresion are the best strategies. You’ll need to vary both as the tournament progresses. Mainly try to showdown strong hands. When you notice you’re not getting much action you should bluff more. If someone is nearly all-in, be carefull. You’ll need to decide whether to take a stand or let someone else challenge them. If it seems you are in a good possition to take someone out, go ahead and try it assuming adequate chips. Don’t risk exchanging places with a small/medium stack with a marginal hand. At this point in tourny you want to survive. Keep these plays down to about 10-15% of your stack.
If playing a large tournement both the money cutoff and the final table cutoff are times to watch the play closely. Players tend to get very tight at this point. Unless you are sitting on a very large stack you’ll want to be careful. If you are med/small stacked you want to continue to maintain and try to build your stack. Depending on your read of the players after you it may be safe to steal blinds. If someone else is in the hand ahead of you get out. When the blinds get really big, either push or fold. Don’t call. In otherwords unless you can push all your chips in, fold. Fold most hands. This is not the time to take unnecessary risks. Let others play and risk their stacks. Between the money and final cutoffs revert to tight solid poker. Obviously, if shortstacked you will need to take some risk to get to the final table. Do this somewhat soon after the cutoff so you are not caught short at the final cutoff stage. Depending on the size of the tourny there may be two or more tables left at this point. Be sure to use shorthanded strategy when the table is short. Play aggressive when in a pot, but, be willing to drop if someone shows they have you beat. Remember the goal here is to get to the final table with a decent chip count. Mainly, survive to the final table.
Cutoff to Final Table Summary
If holding a lot of chips- Play tight but if you can steal blinds do so. Also use chip lead to intimidate and hurt medium stacks. If a good opportunity comes try to eliminate very small stacks(if it can be done without too much risk[10-15% of your stack]).Beware of confrontations with other large stacks. Be sure to maintain adequate chips for final table. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into a “china syndrome”.
If holding average chips- Mainly your goal here is to survive. You are in the money but this is not the money you’re playing for. Taking even money is not the goal. You should try to improve/preserve your stack and should take some risk. Just be sure it is when you feel you have the best of it. Toward the final cutoff you must play very tight even if it means you will be one of the smaller stacks at the final table. You don’t want to go bust now.
If short stacked- A short stack at this point is a target. Everyone wants you out. You will need both cards and luck to make the final table. You made the money so take the attitude that you will need to take some chances to advance any further a decent ace or ace suited, may be good enough to make a stand. Also, a pair will often be good enough to push!