Tournament Play

How to play a Texas Hold’em poker tournament.

So you are sitting down in a Texas Hold’em tournament.It will take ages to get through the hundreds of players at the tables in the big room. You want to win this tournament more than anything, the money, the kudos, the recognition of your peers. It means a lot to you. How do you do it? Well you don’t win the tourney in the first five minutes, but it is easy to lose a lot of chips in the first stages, so chill out and play good. How do you do that?

Early stage play in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments.

How to win a tournamentAssuming you don’t get great hands straight away, spend your time working out the playing characteristics of the other players on your table, who is strong, who is loose, who is aggressive. Pay attention to the weak players and work out if they are playing too many hands, seeing too many flops. If you spot this weak player, try to play against them and beat them on the flop.
You start with a lot of chips and many players think that this means they can limp into lots of hands in the hope of catching a lucky flop. Sure, as a strategy if it works you can do really well, and we have all seen players like that, but most of the time it’s depleting your chip-stack and even worse, when it comes to a big hand you are winning, you don’t have the big chips to make the most of your opportunity. So play smart from the beginning.
To play those hit and hope hands usually means a lot of limping which is bad at this stage, or raising with dubious hands which are hard to follow up on. It also gives the big and small blinds equity with their poor off-suit dead cards. If you are going to play a hand, wait for a good one and raise significantly pre-flop. In these early stages of a tournament its great if you can increase your stack but maintaining your chip level is enough. You can take it to a higher level of play in later stages. Then when you have built up or at least maintained your chip-stack, you can start to bully the short stacks because every hand they play now is life and death. This is when your poker skills come into play, at the point where there is big difference in chips between you and the short stacks.

How to win a tournamentHow to play poker in the late stages of a tournament.

How to play pokerOk, you get through the early stages and all those players and find yourself on the bubble for the cash or the final table, how do you play now? A lot of talk is about how to take advantage of short stacks in these stages, and its true you can put pressure on them because they all want to make it to the next level and wont risk anything but the best starting hands, and they can’t afford to limp, so for you raising is good. But you don’t want to put yourself into the position too many time where you raise and they go all in, you will just be bleeding chips. So the important thing, unless you are the short stack, is to preserve your pile of chips so that once you get past the bubble you can really start to manipulate the game. The reverse of that is that you play too many hands, get a couple of bad beats and find yourself going from comfortable in chips to busted before the payout or the big pay jump. And who wants that, it’s a bad feeling.

How to win a tournamentFinal table play.

When you do get to final table, your play all depends on the relation of your chip stack to those around you. If you are the short stack you need to wait for an all in hand and try to double up. Sometimes the cards don’t come though. Then you you need to employ the ‘any two cards can win strategy.’ If you are down to a couple of blinds, any ace, any pair, or any suited connectors in any position will do. If you are the big blind and play folds around to the small blind who shoves on you, go all in with any picture card and any of the above hands, or just risk it with any cards. Heads up, it really is any two cards, although having an ace always helps so at least if neither of you hits you have the high card.

There are two types of players of a short stack at this stage. There are the players who don’t like running down their chip stack waiting for a good hand and will rip it all in with around ten blinds left. This makes sense because if you get called and win then your stack looks reasonable. Then there are players like me who will only play if the hand is half decent and wait and wait. The trouble is when your chip stack gets low it doesn’t matter what other players have they will call your shove so even if you have aces you can lose to 9, 2 off. And if you win the hand when you go all in with one or two blinds you are still vulnerable because you haven’t chipped up that much. If you are the big stack you have lots of choices, you can be the table bully or you can sit and wait for the best hands to pick players off with. You should definitely be putting pressure on the short stacks, raising on them, making them think hard about what to do. When, however, you get down to three players, you need to turn super aggressive, widen you starting hand range and play hard. Good luck.