Poker tournaments - rules and Strategy

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Poker tournaments - rules and Strategy

Playing tournament poker

During the last few years the discipline of tournament poker have grown very popular. The many televised tournaments have raised an interest in online poker in general and tournaments in particular. Television viewers around the globe have been amazed by the intensity and excitement onboard on the party poker million dollar cruise and all the other stops on the WPT. And perhaps what is must appealing is that apparently anybody can win these tournaments. The two dollar satellite buy-in construction worker from Ohio or the direct 10.000 dollar buy in professional both stand a chance of winning the competition. Off course this is a fallacy, the chance of a pro winning contra that of a randomly picked amateur is ridiculously higher, and the amateur should realise that his pay off from the tournament primarily consists of an extraordinary experience. But he does have a positive probability of success - he might stand a chance. And if our amateur can win a tournament, so can everybody else. Hence you can find thousands and thousands of people online every day, trying to qualify for a wpt event. In this PokerPistols article you can learn a little about how you could choose to handle a tournament.

The tournament structure

All players enter a tournament for the same amount of money, called the buy-in. In addition, the poker room or casino takes out an entry fee from all players entering the tournament. If the buy-in is $100 the house might take an extra $10, which means that the actual amount paid by the player is $110. If there are 100 players, the total prize pool will be 100 x $100 = $10,000. The pay out structure depends on the tournament, but usually there is a prize for approximately every ten players. In this case, it might be 30% for first place followed by 20%, 13%, 10%, 7%, 6%, 5%, 4%, 3%, and 2% respectively, thus making it ten prizes in total. All players start out with an equal amount of chips and, as the tournament progresses, the stakes are typically raised every 15-60 minutes. The amount of chips players begin with, the stakes and the time periods determine whether it is a fast or slow tournament. Good players generally prefer slow tournaments where you start out with a lot of chips (as compared to the stakes) and where the time periods are long. This structure gives the better player a greater opportunity of outplaying their opponents before the stakes become so high that they are forced to "gamble" too much. If there are 100 players in the tournament they will usually start by playing ten handed at ten tables. As players go broke they are eliminated (unless it is a re-buy tournament, where a player has the option of buying in again during a specified time period). Once players are eliminated, other players are relocated as tables are broken-up and re-configured. For example, if there are ten players on one table and seven players on two other tables, two players from the ten-handed table may move to the seven-handed tables, thus making all three tables eight-handed. The tournament ends when one player has all the chips.

The starting hand edge requirement

In tournament poker, you will usually need a better hand to play against someone who has opened the betting than what you need to open with yourself. The difference between the hand needed to call an opening bet with and the hand needed to open with is called the starting hand edge requirement. Depending on whether your opponents are playing tight or loose, the requied edge changes. The tighter they play the bigger the edge required, and the looser they play the smaller the edge required. This means raising when first in with a lot of hands you would never call a raise with normally. If you are sitting in late position playing Hold'em with a decent stack and no one has entered the pot, it would be correct to raise with hands as weak as 22, A-x and K-9s. Of course, if a very aggressive player is sitting in the blinds and he plays back a lot you will have to be more selective.

Size does matter

If you have a small stack the starting hand edge requirement. decreases, meaning you cannot afford to risk chips by steal raising with weak hands. However, a paradox exists here that opens up plenty of opportunity for reverse psychology. Because you have a small stack, other players will be less inclined to call or re-raise you unless they have a very strong hand. This is due to the fact that they know you are not as likely to be bluffing with a small stack, and they will not be as quick to gamble against you with weaker hands because there is little for them to win. Therefore, your chances of making a successful bluff have actually increased. On the other hand, a player with a big stack might be willing to gamble with you because they will not be risking very much by doing so and will be able to knock you out. It is at times like these that you need to know your opponents and what they are capable of doing. Playing with a medium stack is significantly more difficult because you will have to make a number of difficult decisions, since you are attempting to make a big stack but, at the same time, trying to avoid becoming a short stack. Generally, try to play more pots with the smaller stacks and avoid the bigger stacks. When you play a big stack you will have plenty of weapons at your disposal. However, you must be careful as your opponents will be expecting you to play more aggressively and will try to trap you in order to double up. When you have a big stack, the gap increases and you can afford to take bigger risks. In No-Limit Hold'em and Pot-Limit, you can use your big stack to put pressure on your opponents by betting, raising and re-raising. Size does matter.

The beginning

In the beginning of a tournament you usually have a lot of chips as compared to the stakes. Therefore, you can afford to wait for good hands before getting heavily involved in a pot. It is recommended that you play patient, solid poker and try to trap weaker players with weaker hands. You do not want to make any big gambles where you risk going broke. Hopefully you will get lucky and manage to accumulate chips so that you are able to continue playing in this manner.

The midway battle

Since the stakes are constantly rising, you can generally not afford to sit back and wait for premium hands before you make a move. And, because the blinds and antes now mean something for your stack, you have to open up your game and start picking up pots. Be sure to be the aggressor and take more risks. Remember that other players will usually play quite cautiously at this stage because of the higher risk of going broke. If they play tight you loosen up, and if they play loose you tighten up. At this stage, you should also have a greater understanding of how your opponents play. Use this information when making a decision. Knowing which opponents you can bluff and which ones are "calling stations" will greatly affect the way you play your hands against them. Remember that you goal is progressing into the late stage as one of the big stacks.

The late state battle

If you have a big stack at this stage you have a huge advantage and you must capitalize. Only then can you afford to sit back and play a little more passively until you are close to the money. When you are only a few spots away, you should start making moves with your big stack, or even with a medium stack. Your opponents will fear going broke at this stage so you will have plenty of opportunities to steal pots. A very aggressive play is recommended and you should make sure you are the aggressor and not the caller. Avoid confrontations with big stacks and pick on the smaller stacks in order to avoid going broke. If you have a small stack you want to make moves before you become so short stacked that you cannot avoid getting played with, regardless of what the other payers are holding. If you get a great hand, you should do what it takes to get action in order to double up. For example, slow playing hands that you would not normally risk going broke with. In this situation, it is important that you gamble more and take risks if you want a chance of winning the tournament; of course, you also run a greater risk of going broke.

The final battle

If you have a big stack or medium stack you can play basic strategy and try to pick on the small stacks. However, you must again be aware of avoiding big stack confrontation. Your goal is to finish in the top three spots, at least, where the big money is. If you have a small stack you must find a hand and go with it. Remember to be the aggressor and not the caller unless you hold a great hand. Do not wait until you are so short stacked that doubling up will not make a big difference. It is better to make a move with nothing than to get anted out of the tournament. As players get knocked out you will have to play more aggressively, especially when it is down to the last four or five players. If you have been sitting back playing passively, your opponents will give you a lot of credit when you suddenly start giving action. It is important to think of your table image at all times and adjust your play accordingly. If the other remaining players are only trying to outlast each other, you can play aggressively and steal the blinds and antes.

How to get experience

A great way to gain tournament experience quickly is by playing online - Our recommended Poker rooms. There you can play tournaments with re-buys or no re-buys (freeze outs), with buy-ins ranging from one dollar to a couple thousand dollars. Your basic strategy will not be very different when playing in a small or large buy-in event. There may still be several hundred players to beat and it might prove to be equally as hard to finish in first place. Online tournaments are much quicker, but it is possible that you will be able to play the same amount of hands (or more) as in a decent sized live event. This is because the hands are played much faster (no shuffling, counting chips, and so forth). Indeed, one or two table tournaments are a good way to gain experience of final table and shorthanded play. For online tournament play the PokerPistols recommend Party Poker (many wpt satellites), Intercasinopoker (many tournaments in general) and Riverbelle Poker (many guaranteed tournaments).

Written by Smith Jones - a writer at

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