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Poker Tournament Tips

Thirteen tips to think about before playing a big tournament

The following are some tips by crew to think about before playing in a big poker tournament.

#1 – Have fun! This is a unique experience… perhaps the experience of a lifetime. You might never get the opportunity again, so enjoy it, relax, and be yourself. Smile and laugh (this has the added advantage of disarming all those people who are taking it so seriously). If you lose a hand, it’s ok to question quietly to yourself why, but don’t let it detract from your having fun.

#2 – Pay attention to other players – this is probably the most important thing you can do. The information you can gain from this is what can make the decision between winning and losing a big pot. Look at how they play each particular situation. If they do something different, ask yourself why? If they show a particular weakness (i.e. they like to limp in a lot but will fold to a raise), try and take advantage of that particular weakness.

#3 – Listen to the story – this is something Jennifer Harman said that I love to borrow. When you’re in a hand and deciding whether to call or fold or raise, replay the story in your head and ask yourself if it makes sense. If it does, then it’s probably true. If it doesn’t, then it’s probably not.

An example of a story that doesn’t make sense: A tight player raises in early position. Two players call and you call on the button with 7-6 suited. The flop comes 8-5-4 with two clubs (you have spades). You check raise the flop. He check calls your bet on the turn which is a 3. The river is another 3. He moves all in over the top of your bet. Now you’re worried he has a full house. But ask yourself the story – does it make sense?

Here’s a tight player who only plays big cards and bigger pairs from early position. He didn’t re-raise your check raise on the flop. He check called your bet on the turn, meaning he was uncertain if his hand was any good. Then he puts all his chips in on the river. What hands beat you here? 8-8, 5-5, 4-4, and any hand that has a board card and a 3. What is the likelihood he has any of these hands? 8-8 is the only possibility and because his raise came from early position you can probably exclude that. The story doesn’t make sense. Call.

Now what about a story that does make sense. You have A-A in early position and raise. Two players and the BB call you. The flop comes Q-6-2. The BB checks. You bet. A player in middle position min. raises your bet. The player in the BB makes a smallish raise of the middle position player’s re-raise. Now you’re in a tough spot. It’s likely one of the players has just a queen and you’re ahead of that. But let’s look at the BB’s story.

There are probably a lot of hands he would call with out of the BB given the number of people in the pot, but you can probably exclude hands like Q-6, Q-2, 6-2. But here he has not only check raised, he has check raised the re-raise of a tight player’s bet who raised in early position. He has to have a strong hand here because there are two people left to act and he has no idea how they are going to act, accordingly he’s probably not too worried, especially since he knows he will be acting first on the turn if he is called. Further his raise was small – he’s not trying to push people out. It would appear the BB has a set of 6’s or 2’s. And the story makes sense. So as tough as it might be, folding the aces here is the right decision.

#4 – It’s ok to fold the best hand sometimes. Just remember how your opponent played the hand and use that information later.

#5 – It’s only a small mistake to fold to a raise. This is something Steve Danneman had written down and read out loud to himself at the table when faced with a tough decision. This is an excellent point. If you’re uncertain, it’s better to fold; especially in comparison to calling.

#6 – Position, position, position. The importance of this can’t be stressed enough. If you like playing speculative hands, it’s fine, but please, if you’re going to play these hands, make sure you’re in late middle position or later. There are many reasons why – but the key ones are, when you play these hands out of position you are at a disadvantage post-flop if you flop a piece of it (while if you have position you can at least react to what has already been told to you), plus if the hand gets raised/reraised, you’ll probably have to fold it pre-flop and those chips you end up putting in can add up. At least when you are in position pre-flop, you can be pretty certain it’s not going to get raised.

#7 – Be aggressive. Imagine you’re driving down the interstate. Imagine the cars are all boxing you in and you want to pass them. What do you do then? You get aggressive. Take that same stance in poker. Don’t drive like your granddad, sitting behind the cars waiting for the opportunity to pass them. Pass them on YOUR initiative. The same applies to poker. It’s much better to be aggressive than to be passive. One, it lets you take control of the hand. Two, it has them fearing you. Three, you get more information when you’re aggressive than when you’re passive.

Let’s look at an example situation. You have 10-10 on the button. It’s folded to a player in late middle position who raises. If you take the passive approach, you’ll just call. The flop comes A-J-4. Middle position player bets. You fold. Now look at the aggressive player with the same exact hand and flop. Except this time you re-raised him pre-flop and he just called. And he checked to you on the flop. And you bet the flop. And he folds.

Why did he fold? Because

  1. You took control of the hand. You represented strength pre-flop. He represented weakness (by just calling your reraise).
  2. He doesn’t know whether or not you have an ace, a jack, pocket kings, queens, or jacks. He only knows what he can beat. If he can’t beat any of those hands, he thinks you might have, he’ll have to fold. And if he does happen to call your flop bet, then you have the added advantage of getting a free card on the turn because he’s likely going to defer to you. You might pick up a set or a straight by being aggressive rather than being passive. The last advantage of being aggressive is you’re much more likely to get paid off when you have the big hand. When you play passive and all of a sudden are raising, people will tend to not pay you off because they will give you credit for a strong hand. But when you’re constantly aggressive, they won’t know if you have missed or not.

#8 – Patience and Discipline – There are going to be stretches where you won’t play a hand (or should not play a hand) for 30 minutes or longer. You have to maintain your focus here and be disciplined. Watch what the other players are doing when you’re card dead. Look for the weaknesses in their game. Try and guess what hands they might have. Big tournaments are marathons – for you to make the final table you’re going to have to play a significant amount of poker. You can’t win the tournament in an hour, but you can definitely lose it.

#9 – Don’t talk to other people while in a hand. There are going to be people who ask you questions while you are in a pot. Stay silent and stare at one spot on the felt. Anything you say and do can be used against you – maybe not in the current hand, but in a later hand. Do the same thing no matter if you have the nuts or are completely bluffing.

#10 – Be consistent with your actions. Try and always look at your cards and bet the same. Place your chips out in the same manner. Take the same amount of time to fold pre-flop that you do to raise.

#11 – Be aware of your stack size and your opponents. You might not be much of a math person and that’s ok, but you should always be aware of your stack size and that of players already in the hand with you or who might be in the hand with you. As far as the math goes, typically avoid draws unless the bets are small, you just aren’t likely going to make enough money, if you hit your hand, to justify the bets you’re going to have to call. It’s better to pick up pots when you’re being the aggressor than to call on draws and hope your opponent pays you off if you hit. In fact, it’s much better to be the aggressor with the draws than the caller. So don’t worry about the math, but do worry about the ability of your opponent to bust or cripple you.

#12 – Make proper sized bets. If you are re-raising someone, don’t give them the correct odds to call.

#13 – Forget about the money. If you don’t worry about the money, you won’t play scared. If you play fearless, the money will come.

Factors To Consider Befor Starting A Poker Tournament

When deciding what tournament or tournaments to play in, there are several factors that you need to consider before sitting down at the table. The first and foremost concern is bankroll considerations. This is so important that I am going to spend an entire chapter talking about it. The real short answer is if it’s going to take a significant portion of your bankroll, unless you have a very good reason for doing so you should not play in the tournament.

What are some other factors? A lot of it depends on whether you are playing live or online, so I’m going to break these down into two parts.

Live factors

  1. Bankroll considerations – see next chapter
  2. Venue – how close is the event to your home. The closer it is to your stomping grounds, the more comfortable you are likely to be. This can be a two edged sword… you might be so comfortable that you play too loose or you might have an edge because you know the players that you are playing with so well. There is also the additional bonus of not incurring extra expenses such as travel and lodging for playing in this tournament.
  3. Structure – some live tournaments have very fast structures that turn the tournament into a haphazard game of bingo in no time. Before playing in a tournament, find the structure for the tournament and make sure it is in line with what you are comfortable with. If it’s a fast structure, understand that you’re going to require more luck than normal in order to have a chance at pulling off a profit.
  4. Buy In – this ties into bankroll considerations but is also a factor for other reasons. The higher the buy in, usually the better the structure will be and accordingly the better the play will be. Lower buy ins typically bring in fresh faces who might be playing their first tournament or are just there to have fun. This can be good and bad. Good in the sense that you will be able to take advantage of their mistakes. Bad because you will have to avoid numerous minefields and have some good luck if you are going to navigate your way through the field.

Online factors

Bankroll considerations, structure, and buy in all play a significant role in tournament selection in online tournaments; venue does not, however, as you will be playing from the comfort of your own home. This in itself is a factor, though, as distractions such as television, friends and family, e-mail, surfing the Web, and the phone ringing can lead you to play less than optimally. If you’re sitting down for a session of poker, try and treat it as if you were going to a live casino. Shut off the television and close down all the extra programs you have running on your computer. Tell your friends and family that you are playing and that you need to focus.

One of the bigger advantages of playing online is the ability to play in multiple tournaments at once. I’ll spend some more time later discussing this and how to deal with it properly. This does allow more flexibility though. If you bust out of a tournament in the first hour, your day isn’t over like it would be if you were playing in a live tournament as you can sign up for another tournament.

The bottom line

When it comes to deciding what tournaments to play in, you have the ultimate control. It is your money and how much you pay and where you play is completely up to you. Try and pick a structure that you are comfortable with, one where you feel you will have an edge against the other players, and a buy in that makes sense for your poker bankroll. Most importantly, have fun!