Prize structures vary from tournament to tournament, but usually the last two or three players win money, with the winner taking most of the prize fund. To stimulate play (and to prevent the game from continuing indefinitely) the blinds rise every few minutes – forcing players to call by gradually eating away at their stacks. This means that tournaments have just as big a psychological element as regular cash games, as players suddenly find themselves forced to make bigger bets than they’re used to.
BETTER CHANCE OF WINNING
Single table tournaments are growing in popularity, mainly because they’re an opportunity to have fun and win money without risking much of your bankroll. Since the most you can lose is your initial buy-in, you can make those white knuckle ‘all-in’ calls without risking a devastating wipe-out. But what’s even better is that this limited exposure promotes bad play from the gamblers” and “bluffers” – making it easier for a cool headed player (like you) to play profitably.
Single table tournaments feature more action and excitement than regular ring games. In an ordinary game you might only play one hand in twenty, but with Single table tournaments you’re always in the game. They’re convenient too: with regular Poker you can get sucked into playing all night if you’re not careful – but Single table tournaments rarely last longer than an hour, allowing you to schedule them into your day.
MULTIPLE TABLE TOURNAMENTS
Most tournaments you see advertised are actually multiple table tournaments. These have hundreds if not thousands of entrants – and are run in a knockout style over several hours. (The World Series of Poker, which kicks off in Las Vegas, is the grand-daddy of all multiple table tournaments). Dozens of tables play concurrently, with players shuffled from seat to seat to fill the gaps as knockouts mount. Multiple table tournament buy-ins start from as little as $1 and go all the way up into the hundreds and even thousands. Now we’ll concentrate on single table tournaments, since they offer a first time tournament player a far friendlier sandpit in which to practise their game.
PLAYING FOR PROFIT
Your first choice is what stake to play at.
Rule one: don’t enter a single table tournament where the stake will affect your play. Too high and you choke when it comes to that essential bluff or call, but too low and ’tilt’ can creep in. If it isn’t worth winning then don’t enter.
Rule two: don’t watch too much TV poker! New players watch TV Poker tournaments and see the pros making wild calls -raising, bluffing, and acting up for the cameras – and presume that’s how they should play too. What they don’t realise, is that such footage is usually taken during the closing stages of the game, when most of the players have been knocked out, the blinds are rising and ballsy tactics are what’s required.
In fact, for most of the tournament you should play like the pros and play tightly: very tightly. Sure – you’ll see plenty of people eager to get into the action – but let them. Each casualty will greatly improve your chances of making the money. Remember, even if you finish in second (and often third place) you’ll walk away in profit.
Hands to play in the early stages are 11, QQ KK, AA, and AK suited, but be prepared to let all but AA and KK go if some maniac goes all in! When you’re in late position (you’re sat to the right of the dealer, with everyone betting before you) consider reducing your starting hand requirements slightly from late position if there have been no raises. This is No Limit poker and the expected value of say, a small pocket pair, can be very high.
Hands you should play (but only for cheap) when you’re in late position include two suited face cards and suited aces down to an eight. You are looking to pick up a hand on the flop that you can afford to slow play and make a big gain for a small initial stake. Also, play any pocket pair because of the disguise value if you hit a set on the flop.
Never bluff in the early stages of a single table tournament. The blinds aren’t worth it and if there are multiple callers, one of them will pay to see you.
Post flop, you should be mega-tight – and never jeopardise either your chips or your table image chasing the river. Often you’ll see one player amass a huge chip lead in the early stage. It is tempting to grumble as they steal the pots, tossing in big bets that you can’t afford to call, but a clear chip leader can actually be good news. The bluffers are in big trouble because whatever they throw in, old big stacks can afford to call – and often he’ll take their chips. Just play nice and tight – and often, you’ll be able to reach the money without making any significant bets. Create the impression you are a rock and let the fish die off without burning too many chips.
So, you’re playing tight whilst others are butting heads and throwing their chips around. When can you start to play some hands? Well, in a single table tournament the time to change gears can be dictated by the number of players left, or by the increasing blinds. In a tight game, the blinds can go up three or even four times without anyone being eliminated, but in low stakes games expect to see three or more players out within 20 hands. When roughly half the players have been knocked out, loosen up and play your regular game.
The middle stages are prime time to bluff at a few blinds and by now you’ve seen enough of your opponents to know who is susceptible to a bluff. Look for semi-bluffing opportunities in late position (especially strong draws to the nuts) and look for cheap opportunities to make gains. Use the threat of just missing the money to your advantage – don’t let it freeze your own play.
When you’re short stacked and it’s late in the game, avoid the temptation to hope that the other players will take each other out. They’ll be thinking the same and will happily watch you lose on the blinds. Take a more aggressive approach. Look to double up with all-in plays based on any reasonable cards. You’ll be surprised how many times the other players fold and even more surprised how often you will win with average cards. This does not mean go all in with 7 2 off-suit, but learn to realise that A8 off-suit isn’t such a bad hand to play when the blinds are killing you. If you find yourself ahead, keep on the pressure. Respect big raises, but attack calls, especially where both opponents have put in money. By small raises, you can stimulate betting between them to make sure you get into the heads up stage even if you lose the pot. Aggression tends to be the winner. Most hands dealt are a coin toss so the winner will be the player who wins with the most bad hands!