Do you want to master the most essential parts of poker tournament strategy? You’ve come to the great setting whether you want to play weekly tournaments at your local casino, low stakes at online poker sites, or test your abilities in major live events against stiff competition.
There are few things more thrilling than making a deep run in a huge event with a good stack to play with — striving for that coveted trophy worth tens or even hundreds of times the buy-in you paid to join the game. And it is the precise time you will encounter a lot more frequently on your poker adventure if you follow the expert advice in this article on tournament poker play.
In this post, we will go through the fundamentals of poker strategy and provide a brief checklist for beginner players. The checklist is intended to help you succeed in tournament poker by answering questions such as how to play in the early stages of a poker tournament, what type of bet tailoring you should use, how to confront the bubble play, what type of continuation bet strategy you should use, and how narrow you should defend your Big Blind.
Tournaments are driven by two major elements that influence every play: To win a poker event, you must collect all of the chips. However, in order to win all of the other players’ chips, you must not lose your own. Thus, in MTT (Multi-table tournaments) play, there are two goals: chip acquisition and surviving. Handling these two goals at the same time might be difficult for many players; nevertheless, following the tips in this post will undoubtedly assist you in accomplishing both.
Because of its popularity, the majority of tournaments are played on the Texas Hold’em format. Let’s take a look at some current tournament poker strategies that can help you flourish in 2022 and beyond!
Early Stages of MTT Tournaments
Although playing a poker tournament involves a different approach than playing cash games overall, the early stages of MTTs share many similarities: the stacks are deep and no antes are in play. Also, because everyone has a long road ahead to the money, the ICM pressure is near to nil.
However, there is one distinction between these games and cash games: recreational players and unskilled satellite winners are still there, and they are not aiming to fold every hand. Many players employ the late-reg option, which causes them to miss the first few levels when there are no antes in play. However, if you want to maximise your advantage, we do not advocate this technique.
You should take advantage of every opportunity to play with the weak players in the field, as many recreational players will not make it to the middle to late stages of a poker tournament.
What are some good poker tournament strategies for the early stages? Although we recommend beginning with a conservative hand selection, you must begin trying to exploit weaker: basic moves including such as isolating their limps with a wide range, isolating their raises by 3betting in position, and trying to raise more hands when they are in the blinds should be part of your armory of plays during the initial stages of an MTT.
Weak players tend to make big mistakes after the flip, so you want to make the most of the post-flop pots you play with them. In addition to targeting the weak and loose players, you should put pressure on the tight, fit-or-fold players who are not battling for pots (until it’s evident they have a monster hand and are refusing to fold!).
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Because there are no antes in play, you don’t need to compete with the strong players too much in the early stages of a poker tournament by 3-betting or shooting a turn or river barrel when you have weak hands like suited connectors. However, when a weak player enters the pot, it is your responsibility to grab their chips before someone else — those chips will not stay long!
You don’t have to run big insane bluffs every chance you get, but you do have to capitalize on the obvious mistakes these professionals make in practically every hand.
Mid stages of MTT Tournaments
A few critical features of play alter throughout the middle stages of a poker tournament: As the tournament progresses, the stacks get thinner, the antes are activated, and fewer weak players remain. In freezeout tournaments, all players save those who have collected a big stack at this time have a considerably higher probability of breaking the tournament. During these stages, keep the following tactics in mind:
Open your starting hand range
The ante or Big Blind ante in play changes the preflop calculation dramatically, since with more money lying in the pot, your open raises only need to be profitable a tiny percentage of the time to be +EV in chips. As a result, we should begin raising higher.
Play your stack size, not your cards
If your stack falls below 20BB, you should start tightening your range again, since with that stack, you’re either looking for a decent 3bet-shove place preflop or a lucrative open-shove spot. When you have a large stack, you may play more freely as long as the table conditions allow you to bully those with smaller stacks.
Tighten your calling range the closer you are to the bubble
Having a little advantage while facing an all-in near to the bubble may need some disciplined folds, since you’re no longer just playing for chip EV. The risk-reward ratio frequently warrants 3bet or 4bet shoving relatively wide, but not calling these shoves when you’re expected to be just slightly ahead or in a coin flip. Obviously, there will be occasions when your opponent wakes up with Aces and you have another premium hand, but that’s the nature of tournament poker — the situation can change very rapidly in one hand!
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It’s critical to understand how to navigate a 10-25BB stack in the middle stages of a poker tournament, since you’ll be making the bulk of choices with this stack size. You must use extreme caution owing to the possibility of shattering your stack at this level!
Bubble play in MTTs
Playing during the bubble may be tiresome, especially if there are only a few tiny stacks at various tables hoping to min-cash when someone else goes broke. Your play should be heavily influenced by the stack sizes at your table as well as your personal stack:
During a bubble, make a big stack play: With a large stack, you should take advantage of lower stacks’ hesitancy to call 3bet-shoves or massive bets postflop with less than premium cards.
Short stack play during a bubble: Your options are restricted with a small stack since you must assess how long you can wait for the bubble to explode. Folding decent hands to save your tournament life may be a feasible approach if high stacks are constantly penalizing steal attempts at your table, but there is another alternative available if you have the chips to do so: After a large stack has opened the pot, 3bet-shoving over the top. It’s in their best interests to keep the bubble going since it’s a fantastic chip collection opportunity for them, therefore the fold-equity of your 3bet-shoves increases.
If you’re one of the smallest stacks in the poker tournament, you’ll have to risk your whole stack at some stage before blinking out (unless any of the other smaller stacks manage to risk their tournament life before you!).
Stealing the blinds in MTTs
Stealing the blinds refers to a circumstance in which a player opens-raises before the flip with the main purpose of eliciting folds and uncontestedly winning the blinds and antes. Early on, blind stealing is not a priority, but after the antes kick in and stacks become deeper, every successful blind steal wins you enough chips to play a whole round.
When going for a blind steal, you should consider the following variables in addition to your cards:
- Your table position: the closer you are to the button, the more you steal.
- When players in the Small and Big Blinds do not want to defend regularly, they steal more.
- Stack sizes at the table: steal less once player after you have approximately 10-15BB stacks, as players are more likely to re-steal.
How to size your raises and bets in MTTs
The size of bets in tournaments has varied dramatically during the previous two decades. Players used to raise at least 3BB, 4BB, or even more preflop, then bet the pot on the flop — bet-sizing in modern poker is substantially different. When watching high stakes players play in an event like an international High Roller tournament, the most common opening will be between 2-2.2BB and c-bet on the flip anywhere between 25-33% pot, never exceeding 50% pot.
While you should normally position your bets so that they provide adequate leverage on your opponent while not putting too many chips at risk, you can start to size up your bets on the turn and river. You may size up your bets and even overbet on the subsequent streets, especially if your opponent is unlikely to have nutted & powerful hand combinations on a given board owing to the way preflop activity transpired.
Continuation betting in MTTs
In the early 2010s, continuation betting 100 percent of the flops in poker tournaments was an effective strategy since many players would merely call preflop and fold on the flop if they didn’t hit anything. The average tournament participant in 2022 is a little more clever than that, and we need a relatively balanced c-betting approach to farewell.
To build an effective c-betting strategy, you must first understand how the math underlying c-betting works. A 50 percent pot c-bet, for instance, would work 33 percent of the time to break even (not including equity when called), but a lesser bet sizing, such as a 33 percent pot c-bet, would work 25 percent of the time.
Because they are such low numbers, you should almost always place a c-bet.
Other things to consider when deciding whether to c-bet or not include your opponent’s playing style: how he has previously reacted to c-bets, what type of range you believe he would flat versus your open, is he likely to fake you if you indicate weakness, and so on. Against strong check-raisers, you should start checking more flops and reduce your aggression slightly, but against fit-or-fold opponents, you may use c-bets to push the pedal to the metal.
Defending your Big Blind in MTTs
To call from Big Blind against a min-raise, you receive fantastic odds – you just need a little more than 20% equity with antes in play. While you should be more careful in defending your small blind when there is only one player remaining to act after you, you should defend your big blind regularly against late position raises. Even when you don’t make it to the showdown due to a terrible runout or villain aggressiveness, you don’t need much of a hand to consider playing your Big Blind versus an open. The basic math of poker tournaments leads to the following rule of thumb when your opponents begin with a typical 2-2.2BB open-raise: You’ll have to protect your Big Blinds a lot!
So, how much is “quite a lot” exactly? You should protect at least 40% of your opening hands against late position opens by calling or 3betting. If you have a skill edge over the opener, you should raise this figure by much over 50%.
Mastering Final Table Play
The final table is where the major money is made in tournaments. At this stage in the tournament, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve either played brilliantly or been really lucky – generally both, even though some players prefer to believe it’s just them.
The final table is the ultimate test of your tournament poker abilities since ICM forces you to make some difficult folds that you would not make if the payout ladder did not influence your choice.
However, in order to acquire chips, you must also remain aggressive. If you only wait for premium hands, you could earn a pay jump or two, but you won’t have enough chips to battle for the heads-up and the trophy. In most table situations, playing tight and using timed aggressiveness to gain chips from lesser players at the table is the best strategy. What you want to avoid in almost all situations is playing too tight and passively.
If the lineup is particularly tough, you have to take greater chances to avoid being run over – however, although you may have previously called 4bet-shoves with cards like in the top 10%, owing to ICM, the proper play is typically to fold unless we have a monster. Because the best players at the table realize that they can’t fight back too much preflop with sharp pay jumps, you’re more likely to be up against a stronger range while confronting preflop aggression. If there are players who’re 3bet/4bet-shoving light, they will be picked up at some time, and you will receive a pay jump — this is another reason to avoid a large preflop confrontation unless you have a monstrous hand.
However, you should provide pressure to shorter stacks than yourself (unless they are really short, such as less than 10BB), as their best choice is likely to fold. Even if they are a small favorite, putting their tournament life at risk is not profitable. It’s devastating to lose your stack if there’s just one huge stack and a bunch of short stacks at the final table. In that circumstance, you should avoid conflict at all costs.
You should always adapt your play to the current table conditions in poker tournaments, and final tables are no exception. If there are any tight fit-or-fold players, you should rob from them mercilessly while 3betting them lightly. If there are several maniacs battling over each pot they enter, you may have to take a stance against them at some time. However, it is normally best to remain patient and wait for a situation where you have a card advantage over their range before striking back.
The Bottom Line is…
Tournament poker is a pleasant and profitable format since it is the game that most casual players alike. Anyone who is willing to put in the time and practice diligently may play exceptional poker. Work on your game, read our poker tournament strategy advice and analyze your hand histories, and you may become a tournament beast – a genuine force to be reckoned with!