Basic Poker Tournament Strategy

Starting any poker tournament with a clear strategy is an absolute must if you are going to take this game seriously. Obviously you cannot take every scenario into account beforehand, and you must be able to react to any change in table dynamic as it occurs. I thought I would lay out a default approach in the most basic terms that I can.

I’m not going to mention hand ranges, equity, M or any of that scientific stuff. This is purely about how active you should try to be as you progress through a tournament, especially if you’re in the novice category. So many players get this aspect totally back to front and means those players are not giving themselves the best chance of scooping the big prizes.

Do you seem to be forever making a fairly deep run in tourneys, only to fall short at the bubble or just scraping into the min cash places? If so maybe this is for you.

Using a (deliberately vague) scale of 1 – 5 for how active you should try to be at any stage of a tournament.
1 = only playing your monster hands
5 = opening all hands that you feel comfortable playing

In a 6 max tournament with 200 entrants and the top 20 paid…

For the first few levels play hardly any hands at all. This is your chance to observe the tendencies of the other players at your table. Do they limp every hand and call any raise? Do they go crazy right from the start trying to bully? Are they patiently waiting for decent hands? Make notes and see how you can capitalise on their styles. You will obviously want to play premium hands if they come along but the most important thing is to preserve your chips for when it really matters.

150 players left, and you should hopefully have a better idea about who you are up against. You probably have an image of being fairly tight so far and there’s no need to change that just yet. Perhaps play a few more hands than before but be careful about committing to big pots out of position.

100 players left and that’s half the field gone. Now is the time to capitalise on your tight image and get as active as you feel comfortable doing. Most of the players who were active early on are either busted out or are now looking to protect the chips they’ve got. You should be pestering these players mercilessly. Keep hammering away and try to build your stack a little chunk at a time.

60 players left and the bubble is in sight. At this point you should be thinking about your table image and how that is going to change how others play against you. The others probably have you pegged as a bit loose and aggressive, so now it’s time to change. Take it down a notch or two. You don’t have to go right back into your shell, but now try to get back your image as a tight player.

25-20 left and it’s bubble time. Hopefully you’ve managed to convince your opponents that you are Mr. Tight and again it’s time to open up. Spot the players who are getting timid at this point and steal their blinds without hesitation. If your chip stack allows it then a well timed 3-bet (re-raise) or two will often get you a nice chunk of chips. Do not get over aggressive as you will come a cropper, the idea is to make it look like you could just be getting a nice run of cards.

19-7 left and you’ve cashed, but now you need to get to the Business End of the tournament where the big money is. As the bubble bursts most of the players are just relieved to have cashed, and if they’ve been hanging on for dear life, they will probably choose to just shove with any old crap. This doesn’t mean that you should be calling with mediocre hands. You should now be trying to manipulate your image again, and regain your Mr. Tight label, ready for….

The Final Table!!! Time to throw off those Nitty shackles and crank it up a gear or two. Up until now most tournaments will follow a fairly predictable pattern but here is where you’re on your own. Be creative, be aggressive and most importantly be lucky.

The Poker Inchworm

So, you’ve been playing Texas Hold em for a while and you’re getting the hang of it. Maybe you’re breaking even or perhaps made a little profit and are looking to learn a few more poker skills to take it to the next level.

You would expect that each time you add a new weapon to your poker arsenal you’d see a little improvement in your profits wouldn’t you? Well it doesn’t always work like that.
I remember in the early days I would pick up a new element to my game and wonder how I was ever profitable beforehand, but my results wouldn’t noticeably get any better. Well it wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered why.

In his book “The Mental Game of Poker”, Jared Tendler explains this phenomenon using an inchworm.
Every player has An A game, B game and a C game. Your A game is when you are perfectly focused, making correct decisions, reading the game well, basically a poker genius. Your C game is the opposite, tired, making sloppy moves, getting frustrated and donking off chips. Your B game is obviously everything in the middle and where all poker players find themselves most of the time.

If you were to rate the quality of your decision making (or anyone else’s) in each scenario and plot it on a graph it would show a bell curve:

The bell curve can be seen to resemble an inchworm, and the way inchworms move gives us a perfect analogy for how we must move forward as poker players.
When you learn a new poker skill the inchworm moves the front of it’s body forward and anchors itself there.

It’s range is now wider but the back half of the inchworm (representing the worst of your game) is still exactly where it was. The inchworm has to haul it’s back end up to close the distance again, while we have to work on one of the worst aspects of our game such as tilting or not concentrating.

And that’s how it happens, work on both ends of the inchworm and you’ll get there eventually.

Stop Swearing You ****ing Idiots!

The online poker chatbox can bring out the worst in many players. It doesn’t matter what site I’m on, there always seems to be someone ranting, cursing or berating what they consider bad play. Now I’m not 100% innocent but it dismays me how some players behave, although maybe not for the reasons you think.

I try to always to keep any chat positive, upbeat and friendly, not easy when you’ve just had your trips crushed by some clown’s rivered gutshot, but nevertheless although my blood is boiling I’ll usually bring myself to type “nh wp” (nice hand well played) and sometimes even a smiley face. I do like good manners, but even more important than that I want to encourage those people to play with me.

What is the point of driving bad players away from your table by launching verbal assaults at them. You should welcome these players with open arms, and smile and joke with them as you slowly take their chips. Many players are recreational gamblers just looking for some fun, so in a way you can see yourself as providing a service.

My Poker Hero

One of my all-time poker heroes made a series of videos about 5 years ago. There’s no doubting his genius and much can be learned from this guy. I know they’re old but I can’t bear the thought of anyone not seeing them.
Oh, and check out the comments on youtube. Some people really just don’t get it. Enjoy!

Take it away BucKLoX…

Lesson #1, Never let avatars push you around
In this lesson, I’ll teach you how to use aggression to your advantage by designing bets to piss people off.

How Satellites Nearly Broke Me

Being a fairly decent low stakes tourney player I’m always itching to have a crack at the the big money tourneys.
Strict bankroll rules have been very important to my poker development, until recently never having to redeposit, so I realised satellites were the best way to get there.

Having built a roll of about £1.5K I decided to forget about the small buy-in games and concentrate on qualifying for the £50-£100 tournaments. I thought my method was pretty sound, buy into £5 and £10 satellites and get there at a bargain price.

I didn’t do badly at first, my Sat win rate was acceptable and I had my fair share of entries to bigger games, mixing it with the Big Boys (and Girls). The problem was I was struggling to cash in any of them. I realise much of it was down to variance and also playing against better players but I knew I was good enough. I just had to keep plugging away and take down that one BIG score and everything would be OK.

Never Happened :(

As my roll got lower and lower my confidence dropped, paranoia crept into my game. I also didn’t realise that I was inadvertently breaking my Bankroll Rules by playing Satellites. Consider the following:

Say my bankroll rules only allow me to play £5 tournaments, then it must be OK to play £5 satellites, right? Well not necessarily. Think of it long term:
I want to play in a £25 tourney. I know I can play a £5 Sat to gain entry (1 in 5 get through) but I might not get there the first time.
I now have to think about my expected success rate in this format. For simplicity’s sake let’s say on average I get through in 1 out of 3 attempts.
Then I’m essentially paying £15 to enter the larger tournament, but this is breaking my Bankroll rules.

I was down to my last £200 before I realised what was going so wrong. I got myself together and have learned a valuable lesson. I thought I was being so careful too.

Please don’t fall into this trap, and be smarter than I was.

Be Lucky :)

Shark Spotting

I’m not the best note taker in the world but I do try. If I spot an unusual play or tell I will do my best to get it written down, however my most common note is along the lines of “Idiot Station, value bet the hell outta this clown” or perhaps “Aggro Nut-Bar, all in any two at any level” or even just “c***“.

These notes are very satisfactory to write at the time, but often get me into trouble the next time I meet them when I get a little too eager to punish them. Yep it turns out sometimes they are playing properly.

A few days ago I decided to subscribe to Sharkscope in the hope it would help me identify weak/losing players and for that matter the sharks too. It’s been a real eye-opener in some respects, and have found myself furiously having to change my notes on many players.

It seems many of the “clowns” I had encountered are actually serial winners, and some who I had pegged as “Good Regs to be avoided” are throwing away thousands of pounds every year, and up until now not in my direction.

I’ve been correct a lot of times too, but it’s really pointed out to me that the tells I’m looking for (constant 5x opens, flat calling out of position, ridiculous bet-sizing etc) may be a sign of a bad player, but not always.

I’m going to keep on at it though and hopefully see my Sharkscope graph start to slope the right way pretty soon.

My Second Televised Hand

Another televised hand on Sky Poker was from the same tournament table as before. I didn’t disgrace myself this time, but there was a great fold by TOMMYD.

The most important thing I gained from this was hearing orange analyst Carlo Citrone stating quite emphatically “Bear_Proof DOES know what he’s doing”.

Now I would hate for you to think I’m a very vain and shallow man but I feel it’s important to reiterate that it was announced on national TV that “Bear_Proof DOES know what he’s doing”. ;)

My First Televised Hand

Sky Poker often show nearly-live replays and analysis of online hands on it’s dedicated TV channel. It’s quite rare for me to get a hand shown and even rarer for me to have the presence of mind to actually record it.

I’m not proud of this one although it turned out OK. I do remember playing scared as it was a big buy-in tourney (£110) and I had satellited in for a tenner, and just for the record I was completely in awe of YOYO, Sky Poker’s resident pro Julian Thew, and had firmly pegged him on a monster hand this time.

Hi I’m Bear Proof

Well here it is, my first post. My name is Ben and I’m a bit of a poker fanatic. I play mainly on Sky Poker although I also dabble on Lock, Pokerstars, Titan, 888, Party Poker.

I started playing around 2007 on Ladbrokes and shortly after on Full Tilt (Yeah, I hate what they did but sigh!, I still miss it) and realised that I could hold my own on the micro-stakes tables.

I’ve now got to the stage where I’m comfortable in my ability but have yet to turn out any decent profit. Perhaps I’m on the verge of something big, or maybe I’m just deluding myself.

Earlier this year I was asked to join a poker team, Sky Poker’s Hitsquad, and I’m very proud to be amongst their ranks.

This blog is just somewhere for me to post my poker related ramblings, videos and anything else I find interesting. I hope you find some of it useful.

Be Lucky :)
Benny Bear-Proof