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            Playing in pot-limit and no-limit money games does not completely prepare a person for poker tournament play. A formal competition has somewhat different strategy, and vastly different psychology. There are enough dissimilarities to fill a whole book. Some top tournament players actually have trouble breaking even in money games, and vice versa. Here are seven pointers for the big-bet poker player who wishes to enter a tournament.

            First, the length of a tournament event has a great effect on the style of strategy used. Many events are one-day competitions. A satellite tournament usually lasts only about a couple of hours. The World Championship, a $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em contest held every spring, is a five-day event.

            In a tournament, antes and blinds are raised on a regular basis. Competitors are eliminated as they run out of ammunition, and eventually the winner emerges, having won all the chips in play. The frequency with which the antes, blinds and betting structure are increased has a great influence over the pace of play. When the stakes are raised at rapid intervals, such as in a satellite event, aggressiveness becomes even more important. Often at hold’em or Omaha, no player will have a hand that has much of an advantage before the flop. For example, a pair of sixes has little edge at hold’em against two overcards such as a Q-J. Being the bettor and getting your money in first gives you three shots to win. The opponent may fold, you might have the best hand and have it hold up, or you can get lucky and draw out. One thing is for sure; in a pot-limit or no-limit hold’em satellite, the meek inherit little.

           Second, position is usually worth less in tournament play. For most situations, the size of the antes and blinds in relation to the size of your stack is far greater in tournaments, especially those events of shorter duration. Hold’em and Omaha have four poker betting rounds, but in a tournament someone is often all-in well before the last card has been dealt. As we know, being able to exercise a positional advantage on all the betting rounds is preferable to having the betting end early because someone is all-in.
            Third, the psychology of tournaments is substantially different from money play. Many money games become attractive because one or more players go on tilt. Many people become steamers after losing some big pots and getting stuck. They will call, bet or raise in that circumstance on far more meager values than normal. In a tournament, losing a big pot usually means you are out of the competition. The player does his steaming from the rail, and you lose out on the benefit. 


There are quite a few tournament players who do not seem to be playing for the purpose of winning prize-money. Rather, their goal is to see how long they can last “playing with the big boys.” You should exploit his attitude in an opponent by bullying him with your chips, to put it bluntly.
             A good poker player usually approaches tournament play with an entirely different attitude than the survivalist. If he is going to finish out of the money, he would prefer to bust out early. “Time equals money,” as the saying goes, and there are often attractive cash games available for those who get eliminated. S
             Fourth, because the psychology of tournament play is so different from money games, many players will change their style of play in competition. Some actually do a Jekyll and Hyde act, going from a loose plunger to a subdued sitter. Observe how each of your opponents is playing in the tournament, and pay more attention to this than how they usually play for money.
             Fifth, most money games are played with blinds, whereas tournament competitions often use an ante in addition to the blinds. Use of an ante changes the play quite a bit. There is a lot more money in each pot at the start.
             Getting your fair share or more of their booty is important. To do this, prefer to raise when you are the first person to enter a pot. If someone raises in front of you, he might be trying to rob the antes himself. This is especially likely if the game is shorthanded poker. If you have enough strength to call a raise, it may well be preferable to reraise instead. In fact, you may not even want to wait for a hand this strong to play back, if the situation is right.

              Sixth, it is possible to be a winning money player without excelling at shorthanded play. You can simply quite a cash game when it gets short. This is not true for tournament play. Poker prize funds are structured to pay far more for the top spots. It is hard to get all the chips without beating the second-place finisher heads-up. And the only way to avoid playing shorthanded is to get eliminated from the competition. If you are to be a successful tournament player, it is an absolute must to become proficient at shorthanded play. See the discussion of satellite play later on in this section,” for some advice on how to do this.
          Seventh, at the final table of a tournament, your chip position can have a powerful effect on your strategy. Can you win a bigger prize by staying out of the action until a short stack goes broke? Suppose most of the finalists have $5,000 to $20,000 in front of them. You have only $2,000, but there is one competitor who is in worse shape. If the payoffs are structured so finishing in the next higher place puts you in the money or substantially increases your prize, try to stay out or pots and give the unfortunate one a chance to go broke.
           If you have a lot of chips, play differently. That little guy who needs to rob the antes to stay alive is an excellent target. He may not have much of a hand, and losing to him is not fatal. The guy with a big stack is also vulnerable. Your little jabs can get him thinking about getting busted just when things looked rosy. But avoid playing a big pot against him unless you have a potent hand. The right play on a hand late in a tournament may be markedly different from the right play under normal conditions.


Since the amount of a player’s chips a profound effect on his play, it is obvious that in tournament you must pay extra attention to the size of each stack around the table. For example, short stacks are much more common in tournament than cash games. You’d be surprised how often during a tournament I have seen the foolish play of a bluff made when one of the players in the pot was all-in, or an opponent had so few chips left he had to call.
            As you can see, being a skillful money poker player is no guarantee of success in tournament play. Especially at pot-limit, the character of play changes. You should look for opportunities to acquire tournament experience in small one-night weekly competitions, if these are available. Even if the betting structure is limit rather than pot-limit, you will gain insight into tournament strategy. You may even be starting on the road to a World Champion title someday.      
             This type of event calls for adjustments to be made in your game from the regular tournament strategy you employ, so I feel a discussion of these changes is  worthwhile.
             A satellite poker tournament is a contest to win an entry into a larger tournament. Most satellite tournaments are one-table events where first place is the only finishing position that of satellite, as a multi-table satellite that pays several places is more like a regular tournament in nature. 
             Any time you change the scoring system for a game, it is necessary to make an adjustment in the strategies you use. Satellites are sufficiently different from a regular tournament event to requite a rethinking of some of the methods employed.
             Those of you who compete regularly at tournament poker are aware of how important it is to knock opponents out of the event when you have reached the final table. The reason this is important is that it is possible to win a prize, sometimes a pretty good-sized prize, by simple survival, without ever accumulating a large number of chips. This applies to any event that pays more than one place. Any time someone gets knocked out of the event, it improves your own chances, even if you did not get any of the chips.

              A winner-take-all tournament is different. The only way you can get a prize is to “pay” for it with the chips you have won. It is important to realize that even though the last two or three players sometimes make a deal, this does not change the nature of a winner-take-all tournament. If there are three players left, and two of the  players have nearly all the money, it is unlikely that a deal will be made, and the third player wouldn’t get much if a deal was struck. Even a world champion is not going to intimidate his adversaries if he only has a couple of chips left.
              To illustrate my point about the different strategy needed for a winner-take-all tournament, let me propose a hypothetical question. Suppose you are in a satellite tournament that started with ten players, each getting $300 worth of chips, so the total number of chips in play is three grand. (this is a common format for satellite play.) Through your devastatingly skillful play, you have amassed half the chips ($1500). Question is would you rather have the remaining $1500 all in the hands of one player, or divided among three other players, each with $500? Naturally, if the event paid more than one place, you would want only one other player, since this cinches second place for you. But here, second place pays zero. Is anything gained for you by having fewer players? No. I cannot see where it is any easier to beat one opponent out of fifteen hundred than three players out  of five hundred apiece. So remember that your goal in a satellite event is to accumulate all the chips, not to outlast most of the players.
             Perhaps this is a timely moment to discuss the practice of a portion of the players at a one-table satellite to have a small pool of money taken up in a voluntary special collection and awarded for second place. Naturally, you must have kicked in to the collection to be eligible to win this pool money. Thus, it is quite possible that the person who actually finishes second in the satellite will not be involved in the pool, so the highest finish among the pool members will get the cheese.

              The strategy for lasting the longest (yet not winning first place) is quite different than the strategy for amassing all the poker chips. To survive, you avoid confrontations and risk-taking as much as you can, hoping for an obviously favorable situation before doing battle. A bluff is something t be avoided if possible. I believe that getting involved in a pool that rewards survivalist tactics reduces your chances of winning the satellite. Pool members give up a little something to non-pool members because they have an incentive to employ a less-than-optimum strategy for winning the satellite. A person who wants to be a successful competitor –it doesn’t have to be at poker should not be doing anything that causes him/her to lose focus on the primary task. Michael Jordan did not make a side bet with Scotty Pippen on who was going to score the most points in a Bull’s basketball game that night. Even a bet of an inconsequential amount like five bucks would have been an unacceptable distraction. 
              The fact is many satellite entrants play as if they had a side bet with someone on who can last the longest. They very seldom bluff, and don’t risk chips unless they have either a short stack or a big hand. My friend, the event normally lasts less than two hours. It is not that easy to get the nuts. A good satellite player is a good improviser, a person who hopes to beat the hand his opponent actually holds, instead of nearly all the hands his opponent might conceivably have. Good money poker players come in a variety of styles; good satellite poker players do not. You must be aggressive to win satellites.
               Yes, aggression at the key moment is a necessity. However, that moment is in the later stages of play, and not in the early stages. Let’s talk about this a bit.
               The typical satellite format for hold’em is to have ten entrants. These players get three hundred dollars worth of chips apiece. The blinds start out at five and ten dollars, and go up –usually doubled every fifteen or twenty minutes. So at the start, there are nine other players competing for a pot whose chips are only five percent of your full stack. How are you supposed to play in a many –handed game with a tiny pot? Tight, tighter, and tightest. Don’t get into big fight over nothing unless you are a strong favorite to win.

                There is another element of satellite play that also dictates tight play at the start.
Take a look at those other nine entrants. What you rate to see at a typical table is three tough players, three average players, and three people that you have never seen before in your life. Of the three strangers, one will be so scared that you won’t ever play a pot with him, and the other two will play like they are double-parked. With those two looses, you are liable to get called if they have as much as king-high. They are not worried, because they “didn’t expect to win anyway,” want to see how you are playing, and can enter another satellite in a few minutes when they bust out in this one. The obvious correct poker strategy for the early stage of play is to do nothing fancy and simply wait for a good hand.

You will not be waiting long for the situation to change markedly. Often, half the field disappears by the time the blinds are raised for the first time, and the crazies figure to be gone. You are now playing in a five-handed game, and the blinds constitute ten percent of your stack instead of only five percent (unless you were lucky enough to snag a pot). It is time to play a little poker. Come out of that shell and get ready to gamble.

By this time you have had an opportunity to size up the other players. They are probably going to be gambling also. They don’t figure to be holding a rock hand any more than you do. So if you get something reasonable like top pair, don’t be making a big laydown.

One fact about hold’em that is of critical important for the late stages of satellite play is that it is hard to get a large overlay before the flop. Pair over pair and suchlike is rare. The typical layout is more like A-Q vs K-9. Sure, the A-Q is favored, but not by as big a margin as many people think; it is less than a 2-to-1 favorite. There are plenty of spots in later stages of satellite play where you get caught trying to steal the blind money and now simply have to put the rest of your dough in and hope to draw out. There are also going to be a fair number of times where you reluctantly go with your hand hoping to improve and actually have the best hand already. So don’t be gun-shy before the flop. A typical situation when the table has shrunk to three finalists is for the players to each have about a grand in chips, and the blinds to now be at least $50 and $100. Any time the blinds are ten percent of your stack and you are posting two out of three deals, you don’t have much flexibility. A hand like Q-9 looks more than reasonable, and an ace is a monster. So be sure to readjust your hand value scale if you get to be a finalist.

               As you can see, the most important quality of the skilled satellite player is the mental flexibility to adjust to the current situation at the table. In the space of less than an hour, you go from a rock to an aggressive player to a kamikaze pilot. The reward is nice. An average satellite player rates to win one out of ten satellite tournament poker. A top pot-limit or no-limit player rates to win about two out of ten satellite tournaments. (If you don’t believe this, I hope that you are around to bet against me the next time I play in a series of pot-limit Omaha satellites.)


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