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.