General concepts

Points of Play

Tournament Play

How To Play a Tournament

Poker players often ask me how they should change their play for a poker tournament. Assuming they are good poker players, the answer is, very little.

It is a mistake to think that there should be drastic changes just because you are playing a tournament. There are a few changes, however, that you should make. 

These changes are based on a few factors that distinguish tournaments from regular poker games:
1. The other players are probably playing differently than usual.

2. You can win the second or third prize with only a few chips.

3. If you lose your chips, you must quit the game.

4. You can’t choose your opponents but you can usually count on eventually going to  a different table as players get knocked out and tables combine.

Let us see how each of these factors affect your strategy:

1. Whereas the fact that you are playing a tournament should technically not change your strategy very much, the truth of the matter is that most players do change their poker strategy a great deal. This, in turn must affect your strategy.

In general, you will find that most of your opponents are playing much tighter than they usually do. This means you must also tighten up, especially tightening up on your calls and value bets. However, you should be more inclined to bluffing as your opponent will be more inclined to fold than usual.

2. Many tournaments pay prizes for second and third place (some pay down to ninth place). A typical prize structure is sixty percent of the total prize pool for first place, thirty percent for second, and ten percent for third.

Because of this, your strategy should change during the late stages of a tournament when there are only a few players left. 

This is especially true if you have very few chips. If you have, for instance, a very short stack and there are four players left, you should play extremely tightly game in the hopes that one of the other players will get knocked out. 

Now you sneak into third place. (This strategy does not apply to those poker tournaments in which you only keep the value of the chips you have in front of you when the tournament ends.)

Conversely, if you find yourself with a lot of chips against two or three short stacks, you can rob them blind as they keep folding, hoping that some other player will go broke.

If you do find yourself with the least chips near the end and notice that the other players are anteing off their money waiting for you to go broke, then you must switch strategies and gamble.

3. If you are the best poker player at your table you should try to avoid risking all your chips on any one hand unless you are a substantial favorite.

In a normal poker game, you can buy more chips if you go broke with the expectation of getting even. In a tournament, however, as the best player, you are better off not pushing small edges if this risks your going broke. 

Rather, make sure you have chips to play another hand. (This principle does not apply if you are allowed an additional buy-in if you go broke.)

4. If you are at a very tough table that figures to be broken up soon, play very conservatively so that you can be sure you will have chips when you go to an easier table. 

If, however, there are only tough tables left, go ahead and play your normal poker game since things don’t figure get better.

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