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What is the Best Strategy at the Start of a Poker Tournament?

Low Stakes cash games on online poker sites are lots of fun, and good poker players can make some serious money off of fish. But if you want to test yourself and see how good you really are, you’re going to want to get in the money at a Texas Hold’em poker tournament.

Texas Hold’em has some of the toughest tournament players in any sport. Truly expert players have honed their game and memorized charts of possible hand odds. 

With the advent of the World Series of Poker, the prizes and talent have gone way up. WSOP poker players train hard and study as much as they play.

To have a chance at finishing in the money and getting payouts, you’re going to need to study up on your tournament poker strategy.

poker tournament

Play Tight Poker with Strong Hands

Good hands depend on your position. Early position players are the three players to the right of the dealer. These are three players who have to place a bet without knowing anything about their opponent’s hands. 

The first two positions left of the button are the blinds, they both have set bets, so they don’t give any information during the first round of play. The third position is Under the Gun or UTG. UTG is the first player to provide information about his hand because he can choose to raise, fold, or call.

You don’t have much information during early position play, so stick with the best possible hands. Pocket pairs of AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, and 88 are playable with a good stack. If your stack is small, take the AA, KK, and QQ. You can play suited connectors down to QJ and unsuited connectors down to AK and maybe AQ. 

Middle position players don’t have much more information than early position because the two blinds have set bets. The middle positions are deceptively dangerous and have the lowest winning percentages. You can play down to 55 and unsuited AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, and KJ if you’re in good condition. 

Late position players have seen early and middle position players make their moves, so they know how many players remain in the hand. At this point, they can play much more aggressively and can potentially play small pairs or down to an unsuited T9. 

Avoid traps that you can’t afford. If you’re playing loose and get a bad flop, get out. Never chase after sunk costs.

Early players need to rely on good pocket cards and should either fold or raise. Late position players play more aggressively. They know how many players folded and how significant the raises were. 

If late position players see a tight early player make a big raise, they might only raise on an excellent hand but fold on a moderate hand. On the other hand, if the early player has been playing loosely and now has a small raise, the later player can consider playing aggressively.

Play Conservatively During the Early Stages

In the early stages of a tournament, you want to avoid becoming a short stack while looking for opportunities to get a big stack from weak players. Play conservatively, but look for opportunities.

Emerging with your stack intact is a good result during the early stages of MTTs. Play strong hands in position, and fold when you’re out of position with a weak hand. Look for players who are off their game and exploit their weakness, but don’t overplay poor hands. Don’t bust and avoid going short stack.

Big tournaments are long and require endurance. You can’t rely on luck. You’re going to need to avoid putting yourself in a position where you need to play recklessly. Short stack players have to go for dangerous play because they can’t survive an all-in that goes against them. 

Short stacks get pushed into a push-fold situation, where they have no choice but to bet their tournament life every time they have the odds. These odds are mapped out in push-fold charts that you can and should memorize. Avoid the last-last minute desperation of short stack for as long as possible.

Play Continuation Bets Aggressively and Intelligently

The continuation bet is where you continue your aggressive betting after your opponents have called. Your aggressive play is now in control of the hand, and other players are looking to see whether you will continue to play aggressively or back off.

Managing your position at the table requires intelligent aggression. The other players need to know that you are an aggressive player so that they don’t start to circle you and bite at every sign of weakness.

The general rule is to raise or fold. If you’ve already decided to raise, you should back your play and continue to raise in the continuation bet. There are several reasons.

  • The c-bet, or continuation bet, will push weak and marginal players out of the hand. A c-bet has a high chance of success.
  • If you were bluffing and now choose not to c-bet, the other players will see this as a huge tell. The other hands limped in and then you continued the limp. You just gave the other players a lot of hope.
  • If you have a monster hand, you’re not giving much away with your c-bet. Other players know you generally will c-bet because limping is very weak in this position. If another player has a decent hand and chooses to continue, you will collect a big pot.

The risk of a continuation bet is when you try to steal, but the other players don’t fold. That’s true for any bluff, but to win tournaments, you’re going to have to gamble on some coin flips and win some steals. You can read more info at our advanced continuation betting tips for poker players.

Sometimes losing a continuation is just a step towards winning a big pot with a premium hand. Stay smart but stay aggressive.

Keep Your ICM in Mind

ICM is a way of thinking about poker where you consider how much money your chips would be worth if you stopped the tournament right then

Your finishing position determines your tournament winnings. Obviously, by the end of the tournament, the winner will have collected every single chip. The tournament winner will only win about 20% of the prize pool, while others will also finish in the money and split the remaining prize pool.

You want to win the tournament because 20% of the prize pool will be a huge day. Still, finishing in the money is also a good result. 

Luck is a huge factor in taking a first-place victory. In a large tournament with 500 or 1000 players, even the world’s best player won’t win more than 1% of the time. 

In the end, try to get to the final table and finish as high as possible. Your lifetime winnings and win: loss ratios will thank you.

poker game

Consider the Situation When You Place Your Bets

The appropriate size of your bet is situational. If you’re short stack, the best strategy is fold or all-in. Large stack players can afford to wait for a monster hand before making their move, while middle stack players will try to take down small stacks and avoid the large stacks.

For middle and large stacks, the general rule is to fold or raise. If you have a hand that you think will win, play aggressively but not recklessly. Convince the other players that you want to win and dominate.

 Think about the pot odds and your opponent’s behavior. Make your move and stick with it.

At the same time, don’t go all-in on a weak pair. Making obvious mistakes on poor hands will end your tournament life early. You won’t get lucky many times, so save your luck for when you need it.

What is Equity Realization?

Equity realization is a way of looking at the value your hand holds based on its value and the post-flop odds against it. To find the equity realization, take your odds of winning and multiply them by the pot value.

If you hold a hand with a 15% chance of winning, and the pot value is 1000 dollars, your equity realization is $150. 

Equity realization is something to keep in mind when you’re deciding whether to fold or call. Your pot equity determines whether continuing makes mathematical sense.

In this example, your equity realization is $150. If it costs you $10 more dollars to call and realize your winnings or losses, you’re better off calling rather than folding. Even though you have low odds of winning, the math favors paying to find out.

Play Double and Tripple Barrels Aggressively

Double and Tripple Barrel is when you bluff the flop and turn or all three streets. By pulling off a double or triple barrel, you turn a bad hand into a good one. 

Pulling off a bold bluff like this is difficult but puts you in a good position later in the game. Even if you lose the hand, you’ve demonstrated your guts to the table, and they are more likely to think you are bluffing when you are holding a monster hand.

Think of a double-barrel as a chance to pull off an upset. But it’s also the setup for your big win. Play to win, but even a tactical defeat can play into a long-term strategy.

Don’t just bet big on every hand. You need to use strategic thinking when you go for a bluff and not try it too often.

poker chips

Poker Tournament Strategy for Intermediate Players

Intermediate play is all about knowing when to pass on a coin flip situation. If you’re sitting at a tight table and your opponents are playing conservatively, an occasional shove will probably go well for you. 

An occasional shove keeps your opponents guessing. If you always play tight, your opponents will know that they can trust your tells. It’s always best to make them doubt you and keep them guessing.

 As you get closer to the money or when you face a big stack, it’s best to play conservatively and wait for big opportunities. Big stacks can make more mistakes than you and still walk out with your poker chips, so you need to outplay by a significant margin.

On a very loose table, you’re not going to be getting reliable information from your opponents because their play is erratic. You’re best off grinding out a win by keeping it cool and forcing them to make mistakes.

Poker Tournament Play on a Small Stack

When you’re on a small stack, you have limited options. If you have about ten big blinds remaining, you need to start thinking about going to a fold or all-in last-ditch strategy. 

The problem is that when you’re this close, an opponent can quickly and cheaply take you out with an all-in of their own. So it would be best if you got out of this hole as soon as possible.

When you have more than ten but less than 30 bbs, you’re in trouble, but it’s too soon to go all out with fold or all-in. Your strategy needs to keep you alive as long as possible at this stage.

Remember, you don’t have to win the tournament to finish in the money. Once you’re in the money, you want to last as long as possible so that your share of the prize money will be as large as possible. 

Poker Tournament Play on a Medium Stack

With a medium stack size, you’re one pot away from being the new big stack player at the table. You have a lot of power in this position, but don’t blow it. Try to avoid deep stacks because they can take odds and pick fights you can’t afford.

Look for the weaker players and shorter stacks to build up your own chip stack. If you can bet 25 or 30% of your stack but wipe out an opponent, that’s a bet they can’t take. Betting big will bully them into folding, and you’ll pick up some chips.

Poker Tournament Play on a Big Stack

You can push the weaker players around as the big stack player, but avoid playing loose. You have the advantage, and mathematically, this is your game to lose. Don’t blow your lead on a wild bet.

Take advantage of good hands to push other players into bets they can’t afford. Put their tournament life in jeopardy and take their stacks, slowly but inevitably.

poker prize

The Big Blind is Where You Play Very Aggressive Defense

Don’t worry about the SB and BB antes. The antes are the price you pay for getting the best seat in the house.

The big blind is a fantastic position with good odds to win the pot. You have to put out the largest blind stake, but you also get a great price to call and see the flop.

The big blind is where you’ll play your loosest poker. You can take bets and see the flop on equity as low as 20%, which means you can play a wide variety of hands.

Remember, you can see the entire pot equity before you make your first move. In many cases, you will be able to profitably defend even with garbage hands because of your positional advantage.

The small blind is almost as good as the big blind. Use the small blind as an opportunity to build your stack and set yourself up for a massive big blind.

Think About Your Equity when Defending C-Bets

The essential thing to realize is that villain might be bluffing, and you really might have the better hand. You need to look at pot equity and stack size to decide if the math favors your fold.

You have to make sure that you have the stack size to compete in this pot. If you have the stack, look at your equity and make the call based on the math. If you’re preflop and looking at a pair of kings, maybe you can afford to call villain’s bluff. 

It takes some effort, but spend the time to memorize the charts. You should be able to quickly calculate your pot equity and then go with the math.

How Can I Play Poker Like an Expert?

You’re not likely to win even 1% of your tournaments. Go for the kill when you can, but keep your Tournament Life Value in mind. 

As weak opponents are eliminated from the tournament, the remaining competitors see their tournament ranking rise. Eventually, the money bubble bursts, and you’re in the money.

If you last long enough, you will eventually finish in the money and start rising towards decent winnings. Keep the consolation prizes in mind, and make decisions based on survival.

A lot of poker is bankroll management. Tight play with occasional surprises will get you very far in cash games and Texas Holdem poker tournaments.

If you make it to the main event and find yourself in the heads up, it’s icing on the cake. But by that time, you’re already deep in the money. Focus on winning back your buy-in and then go as deep as possible. You can immediately start your poker game at reliable online casino Singapore to practice your strategies.

Poker variance is a real thing. Sometimes luck doesn’t fall your way, and you’re just not going to win outright. But keep calm, stay in the game, and grind out a small win.

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