Most poker tournament decisions are routine, or at least you would like them to be. In reality, even though math and common sense often indicate you should do a certain “thing” in a hand – usually fold, there is much more to our human nature that complicates such decisions. In fact, we are programmed to reason using every fiber of our being. The skill of tournament poker – especially in its long run value – is to surrender the battle, lose patience and allow other competitors to take the initiative, skill mixing and folding rather than defending your raises and continuation bets.
You will not be controversial if you agree that at least some of the decisions in a hand are routine when compared to playing in a cash game. Hands involving Jacks, Queens, Kings, Aces and even the Ace flush – are routine in a cash game, and becomes almost second nature when playing tournament Vodka138. When these hands are analyzed in the context of a tournament – where chip management is king – and combined with the tournament structure, it becomes more initiation money.
But of course, it is not your duty to guide all of your opponents – especially considering you just might lose hands to them, in which you would likely be named the tournament player of the year! In these hands – you want to ride your opponent, limit your losses and live to fight another day. Let the machines battle: you are only a useful player in situations where you can limit your losses. In other situations – be prepared to go all-in and battle it out with the best hand. This is especially true of the later stages of the tournament. You can’t afford to wait and see a flop with a 6s7s and you’re in the blinds – it’s a bad idea.
Don’t be in a hurry. As a general rule of thumb, it’s not worth rushing anything in poker tournaments. If it’s a large tournament, you want to be at least an expert hand to the final table. That said, in the beginning you want to be an aggressive and hard-working player. If you impose an early schedule on yourself, you’re probably safer cutting corners and playing your best hands rather than being Patient Zero for someone else’s rake.
There isn’t any magic scroll to tournament success. It takes skill, patience, and assertive but sensible decisions for the first level, and then some more deep thinking once you get deeper. The real power of the tournament, after all, is the number of opponents in the field: are you competing against maniacs? Or, selecting tight game against folks who are going to be tough?
In the early stages, poker is really a numbers game. There’s no real secret to winning big pots early, other than maybe waiting for that premium starting hand. However, you should not be afraid to take a small pot, especially if you believe you have the outer odds handle. Once you are outside the big blind, and heads up, the blinds have a tendency to gobble up what was, for all intents and purposes, a stray hand.
Remember, if you only play the top ten starting hands, you’re going to be at roughly even odds with your opponents. Don’t be afraid to call the raise, especially if you’re uncertain of the player behind. When you make your move – whether it’s to pick up an extremely cheap flop in position or steal a big pot – you should be prepared to pot commit your opponent if necessary to maximize your returns.
The first few orbits of a tournament are relatively easy. Once you have a general feel for the other players, their moves and reactions, you can start to be selective in your starting hands, especially in regard to position. At this stage, you are not really playing your cards, but an estimation of your opponents’ cards, using observation and experience to make bold assessments.
As your feel for the opponent game improves, you should be able to classify opponents into, at most, the following groups:
The Fish – Players who rarely play a hand, but when they do they play it aggressively. They are generally weak and not really serious contenders in any tournament. They tend to get exposed to high stakes games too often and are likely to be funded long before they could ever become a serious contender in the world poker tour.
The aspirers – Players who are extremely good poker players, but who have had several reasons to leave the game. Many of them play only tournaments, and they play aggressively in the hopes of winning at the final table to get a shot at a larger purse. You could argue that they are the best players in the world, but unless you can operate the same way, setting traps with slow-playing draws, they are touchdowns waiting to go up by taking dangerous chances in drawn out contests.