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Poker tournaments have many elements that make them such an exciting format to play. But if you want to win a tourney, you must end up with all the chips. Still, the fewer chips you have, the more valuable each chip becomes in monetary value – you should be careful when risking your chips. This principle is dictated by a concept called ICM, the Independent Chip Model. With ICM, you can calculate each player’s overall equity in a tournament.
To sum it up, we know that we need to protect our chips while still trying to win those of our opponents. What kind of tournament poker strategy should we use at the tables to make the most of this information?
One way to approach this question would be to find out what strategies are bad. When you know which mistakes to avoid, your play improves dramatically.
Let’s take a look at six types of mistakes to avoid in tournament poker:
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It’s easy to see why many players try to play too many hands from the early position or calling too many raises. TV poker is full of clips showing how some poker celeb raised 5-3 suited and crushed their opponent’s soul post-flop. Players like Phil Ivey might get away with this, but for most players, this will be a surefire way to lose all your chips quickly.
The style you should play in poker tournaments is called TAG, standing for Tight Aggressive. It means you’re very selective of your hands from each position and playing your hand aggressively once you decide to play it. Got dealt A-9 offsuit Under The Gun? Fold this one quickly! What about QJ suited in the cut-off? This hand is playable –don’t call but raise. If you have a premium hand like AA or KK, go for a 3-bet if someone opens.
You should also look to adjust the style depending upon your opponents, which we will cover in future articles.
Putting your tournament life at risk with an overpair is a standard play at the later stages of the tournament when the stacks are shallow. However, when the stacks are still deep, it’s better to play a medium pot with these types of hands.
Let’s say that you raise 3 big blinds from UTG with pocket queens and get called by the Button and the Big Blind. The flop comes 7-5-3 with a flush draw. Even if this seems like a great flop for our pair of queens, you don’t want to back your hand with your entire stack in the early levels of the tournament. Both opponents could have hands like sets, and strong combo draws. You would prefer to get at most two bets in, either on the flop and the river or on the turn and the river.
Another excellent example of a commonly overplayed hand is A-K, also known as the Big Slick. Putting over 100 big blinds in the middle with this hand is very rarely a great play. At best, you’re flipping with hands like QQ or JJ. At worst, you’re way behind against KK or AA if all the money goes in pre-flop. Three-betting with A-K is fine, though – what you want to avoid is 4-betting and calling a shove, or 5-betting this hand (unless your opponent is a total maniac playing any two cards!).
“There are a million ways to make mistakes in poker tournaments, and every poker player on earth makes some. If you can avoid the bigger mistakes at the tables, the game will come to you naturally in time. Be patient with getting results in tournaments poker – massive winnings await those who try to get better each day!
-‘Zumbapoker,” High Stakes regular on PokerStars & Pro Team member of Beasts of Poker
Your strategy at different stages of the tournament should change quite a lot in terms of aggression. In general, you should start opening more hands once the antes kick in, especially from the late position. The players in the blinds will be out of position if they call your raise, making it easier for you to navigate post-flop.
The math behind blind stealing is simple. If you raise to 2.2-2.3 Big Blinds pre-flop with antes in play, you only need to succeed about half the time to turn a profit. When you get called, you sometimes win the pot by bluffing or making the best hand as well.
Look for these blind stealing opportunities the next time you play – we promise you will find some that you didn’t consider before!
After Doyle Brunson’s Super System got published, many players learned to bet the flop (c-bet) virtually every time after raising pre-flop. This strategy used to work very well as your typical opponent would fold too often on the flop. This is not the case anymore, though! In modern tournament poker, you should be quite picky about spots for the continuation bet.
What factors advocate going for a c-bet on the flop? For one, c-bet when your opponent is likely to have missed the flop. Second, c-bet your strong draws. Third, c-bet more when you’re heads-up on the flop.
Another mistake we see quite often is too big of a bet size when c-betting. Half a pot or less will usually do the trick here, so don’t go too big when c-betting.
Learning how to avoid these six common mistakes should be more than enough to start doing better at poker tournaments. Make sure to write them down before your next poker session, and prepare to start crushing!