I like sharing secret Texas Hold’em tournament strategies with my readers. Consider me a loyal fellow. I would never share the information you’re about to read with people on the WSOP Circuit or at any other poker tournament series. I can think of two friends that might be exceptions. One I trust. The other never remembers anything. If I were to share the poker strategy secrets below with anyone other than those two friends, one of two things would happen…
One, the GTO crowd would either laugh at me or stare at me with a baffled gaze. I refer to them as The Herd. When Daniel Negreanu perfected his Smallball strategy years ago, this same crowd that was playing several Texas Hold’em tournament strategies. And when a big-name player comes out with another new strategy, The Herd will switch to that strategy. All the while, The Herd won’t realize that they have completely discounted the poker strategy they used to play.
Two, they would actually listen and adapt my poker rules for winning, which would be bad news for me. I don’t want to play against me because I wouldn’t know how to read me, even though I am me. See what I mean?
Anyway, let’s get to some new tips on Texas Hold’em tournament strategies that you can apply to your poker games the next time you play.
Tournament Stages – Early, Middle, Late
I don’t recommend buying-in early to a poker tournament. There are a few exceptions: it’s the only tournament you plan on playing in a series, it’s a single tournament in a regular casino poker room or home game, and you have a plan of firing two bullets if necessary but no more than that.
If you do buy-in early for any of those reasons, or just because you’re more comfortable buying-in early, then you must remember that you can lose poker tournaments early, but you can’t win them.
This is not a time for winning pots. Don’t get me wrong. Winning pots is nice, and we will definitely take them, but if you choose to buy-in early, that shouldn’t be your goal. Your goal should be to establish an image over the first three levels. Whatever image you choose to establish should be the opposite of your true personality and style of play (they are closely related).
By doing this, you’re selling an image that is incorrect. Therefore, when Levels 4, 5, and 6 come around and you switch to who you truly are, you’re going to have a big advantage because the rest of the table will be confused. This will increase your odds of winning in all poker games, including cash games.
For instance, if you’re a TAG (Tight Aggressive) player, then you want to play LAG (Loose Aggressive) in the first three levels. If you’re a LAG player, then you want to play TAG in the first three levels. Pretty much no one on the WSOP Circuit, or in any other poker tournaments that I know about, takes this approach.
At least 99% of poker players are thinking: What do I do here? They do not think long-term and treat tournaments as psychological wars with misdirection, deception, and ambushes. Sometimes, you even need to sacrifice a battle to win the war. This is a completely different than other types of Texas Hold’em tournament strategies, and it should yield you results.
Texas hold’em tournament strategies – what do I do now?
Let’s assume you’re a TAG player and you played LAG the first three levels. You then switched gears and had a few opportunities to pick off some opponents in the middle levels of the tournament because they thought you were a maniac. They didn’t realize that you had switched to sitting back and waiting for hands unless spotting an opportunity against a passive player (usually when in position).
By this time, assuming you’re at the same table, you’re opponents have no idea who you are. You zig when they think you’re going to zag and you make a U-turn when they think you’re going zig.
Some people believe that the person with the most chips controls the table. That is sometimes the case, but only at a passive table. If someone is truly a good poker player, they’re not going to consistently throw chips back into the pot when they have the chip lead; they’re going to protect those chips and coast, taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
You might have the chip lead and you might not. Either way, you can still control the table. It might not be the traditional brute force approach; it’s more of a slippery approach. Every time they try to grab you (figure out who you are), you slip away.
To this point, some people think John Cynn played poorly when he won the WSOP Main Event for $8.8 million. These are the same people who play by the book, and most people like to pick apart the champion because they’re jealous. It’s sad to see and hear. I respect a champion, especially this guy.
John played that tournament extremely well, but most people don’t see it. Most viewers thought he didn’t know what he was doing because he was 3-betting pre-flop with suited one-gappers and then limping with AK. He was doing this on purpose! That is completely different than other kinds of Texas Hold’em tournament strategies that people are used to, and people don’t like things that are different.
John knew he was up against some of the best poker players in the world, and he knew that if he limped with his suited one-gapper and raised with his AK, he would be playing face-up. By flipping the script, nobody had any idea where he was coming from.
He would then limp with a suited-connector and raise with AK. There was absolutely no way anyone was going to peg him. They couldn’t figure him out. It also appeared that he played a lot of poker hands, but in reality, he was folding most of the time. It only seemed like he was playing a lot of poker hands because of his style of play.
As a side note, John is a Facebook friend of mine. I don’t know him personally, but I know from social media that he is a very respectful and down to earth person. I’m mentioning this because he would never be the type of person to critique someone who won a championship. What does that tell you?
Be careful of the modest ones, not the talkers. If someone loves to talk about different Texas Hold’em tournament strategies while at the poker table, they’re covering up for their lack of ability at the table. These players sound and look the part, but they’re impostors. Never feel intimidated by them.
If you’re a beginner poker player and they pick up on it, they might try to insult you for a move you made. It might be a play that’s supposedly against the poker rules. Remember the following. If they were a true poker pro, they would never tap the glass (let an inexperienced player know they made the wrong move). You never have to feel intimidated because a true pro will never say anything in this spot. Therefore, the only people who are yapping are the impostors/wannabes.
As far as the late stages of poker tournaments are concerned, I don’t care who you are in regards to style of play, and I don’t care what anyone else says; I have been in these situations enough to know for an absolute fact that you must play position poker.
For example, while it might be fun to play KJ-suited from UTG+1 early in the tournament, that hand is a fold every single time when you’re down to the last few tables. If you get involved with a hand like that, the only way someone else is getting involved at these levels is if they have you beat. If you think you might miss an opportunity, then you’re mindset is wrong. Switch to this mentality: A bad fold is always better than a bad call.
That brings me to my next point. Before we get to that next point, though, if you happen to get down to heads-up play, switch to uber-aggression. I’ll cover that in another article related to Texas Hold’em tournament strategy.
Folding Too Much?
Have you ever heard someone walk away from a poker tournament after busting and say, “Damn it! I folded too much!”
I’m going to guess the answer is no, which speaks volumes. How often do you hear someone walk away from a tournament after busting and say they made a bad call? Okay … that might not be very often because it’s almost always a bad beat story. What these people don’t tell you is that they played poorly and had a short stack prior to their bad beat. If they had 55 BB and it was truly a bad beat, then they likely played the hand poorly because they put 55 BB into the pot.
But what about the player who folds more? I’m not talking about the Nit who waits for the nuts. I’m talking about a good player who is patient and unleashes deceptive havoc when he/she enters a pot. What about that player?
Here’s the first thing I’ll tell you. That player will never tell a bad beat story. And if you pay careful attention, you will notice that even when they don’t cash, they’re going deep. When they bust, it’s often in bubble territory. This can be frustrating for them, but you know as someone watching that this player is going to have many big scores. Even if we eliminate the deceptive long-game/treat-it-like-a-psychological-war factor, there is one simple reason this player is going deeper more often than their opponents.
Let me put it to you this way, and this will relate to most Texas Hold’em tournament strategies. Former Heavyweight Champion, Evander Holyfield, had a win/loss record of 44-10. That’s pretty good, but you probably thought his record was even better (because Iron Mike Tyson couldn’t beat him). Holyfield had a great chin (defense), so he was tough to defeat, but he stepped in the ring 54 times on a professional level.
If you step into the poker ring at a professional level 55 times (play 55 poker hands in a tournament), you’re going to lose. It doesn’t matter how good of a chin you have (defense), you’re putting yourself at risk too often.
Fold in any spot that you think is even remotely questionable and you will find yourself going deeper in a lot more Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. This doesn’t mean to play passively. You want to apply pressure whenever you sense weakness. In fact, the players who have the guts to do this fare better over the long haul. This instead refers to spots where someone is putting pressure on you. Smack Ego across the face so he will stop trying to influence you, then fold. When you defeat Ego, you have a much better chance of winning.
This is an interesting topic as it relates to Teaxs Hold’em tournament strategies. Forget about the Small Blind. You’re out of position and have committed very little. Fold most hands, it will save you a lot of chips! For the Big Blind, some people believe you should always be a Defender; others believe defending is overrated and can get you into trouble. They feel you should fold. Just like many other aspects of Texas Hold’em tournament strategies, it depends.
If the player who raised is a Nit, there are really two options. You can either play conservative and fold, or you can call (don’t raise this player here) and know that it will be easy to get your opponent to fold if he misses the flop. This player is easy to read, so calling isn’t bad.
If the player who raised is a medium player, it should depend on your hand. If it’s a marginal to strong hand, call. These players are also easy to read, and they’re even easier to deceive. If it’s a bad hand, fold and wait for a better spot.
If the player who raised is a good player and you have a weak to marginal hand, fold. Eliminate Ego and wait for a better spot.
All the Texas Hold’em tournament strategies above should make you a stronger player. There are different ways to play your poker hands, which should be determined by many variables, including the stage of the tournament, the image you want to sell to your opponents, position, and who you’re up against.
If there is one thing you take away from this article, it’s to forget the traditional poker rules and keep yourself unpredictable, but while folding more often and remaining in control. This style of play is dangerous, but you’re the dangerous one.
Texas Hold’em Tournament Strategies – FAQ
How should you play in the early stages of Texas Hold'em tournaments?
I wouldn't recommend buying-in early, but if you do, then you want to play very tight in the early stages.
How many big blinds should you start with in a Texas Hold'em tournament?
You will usually start with somewhere between 50 BB and 200 BB depending on the type of tournament. On average you will often start with 100 BB.
What does the bubble mean in poker?
This means you're the last player to get knocked out who doesn't make the money. It's not a good place to be. You want to fold most of your hands when you're on/near the bubble because you're waiting for someone else to get knocked out so you can make the money.
Should I defend my blinds in Texas Hold'em tournaments?
You should defend your big blind with marginal hands or better, but only if the raise is reasonable. If it's 4x BB or bigger and you have a marginal hand, it's a fold. You also have to factor in who raised and the position of that player.