If you are at all familiar with Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, you’ve probably seen freezeout poker in action. To say that this type of tournament play is the most popular would be a huge understatement – you can go an entire career and never play another type of game.
Freezeout poker is a common style of poker tournament that starts each of its players with an identical chip stack, and when that stack is gone the player is frozen out of the tournament. For many, this isn’t just a subset of poker – this is how Texas Hold’em poker tournaments are played.
What’s really great about freezeout poker tournaments is that you can get an awful lot of bang for your buck. If you can make the buy-in, you’ve got a chance at the pot. Sure, you’ve got to make your way through every other person who’s on the roster, but that’s just nitpicking. You’ve got a chance to take home a big pot so long as you’re cool with the idea of risking everything again and again.
There are a fair number of unique factors when it comes to freezeout poker tournaments, and you should probably get familiar with them before you start play. Below is some of the basic information you’ll need to succeed in this type of play.
What Makes Freezeout Poker Tournaments Work?
The biggest question that most players have when it comes to freezeout poker is why the name was chosen. No, there’s no actual freezing here – and your poker hands will be as hot and cold as ever. Instead, freezeout refers to the method of elimination of players.
There are a couple of factors in play that tends to make freezeout poker feel unique. Neither of these factors is actually unique to the game type, of course, but seeing them together is what will cause your poker strategy to change when you sit down for these poker games.
A huge part of what makes freezeout poker tournaments work is that you cannot buy back into the game. Once your stack is gone, that’s it – you can’t go back to the bank and go for another shot. Once a player has been eliminated, the pool of potential winners shrinks and the prize gets a little closer to being won.
Another major factor in freezeout poker tournaments has to do with the blinds. Under these poker rules, the blinds will slowly (sometimes quickly) but steadily increase. They might increase based on time or another factor, but they put a tremendous amount of pressure on the players to keep moving forward. This leads to some spectacular battles and some truly fantastic play.
Who Plays In Freezeout Poker Tournaments?
The tongue-in-cheek answer here is that everyone plays freezeout poker. It’s by far the most popular poker tournament format and most of the poker rules you see online will be for this method of play. This is how the World Series of Poker Main Event is played, and many tournaments follow suit.
Now, the truth here is that freezeouts can be played by crowds of thousands or just a pair of people. If all that defines the game is how you are eliminated, you don’t have to worry about limitations on who can sit at the tables.
Rules for Tournaments that Allow Rebuys
We have already said that freezeout poker won’t allow you to get back into the game, so you’re probably planning your poker strategy around one grand effort to win.
The thing is, though, that some tournaments actually allow rebuys and re-entries even though they’re technically still freezeout tournaments.
In these tournaments, you’ll get a limited chance to come back in if you get knocked out too early in the game. You can generally buy back in before the first break, which absolutely gives players who get dealt a few quick bad hands a chance to shake off some bad luck and get back to playing.
There are also some tournaments which will allow you to buy more chips before the first break. This actually turns chip buying into a strategic element, as you have to figure out if you want to dump more money into the game to get a leg-up when the break is over.
As you can imagine, these variations on freezeouts have their proponents as well as their detractors. There are plenty of people who want a fast tournament with lower stakes, and that means truly freezing out other players. If you can buy back in, the stakes rise and the game gets longer.
Others, though, like to have a second chance when they get hit by bad luck. Sure, the poker games go a little bit longer but they eventually turn into a freezeout poker tournament after the break. There’s really not a right or wrong side to be on in this argument.
Should You Play In Freezeout Poker Tournaments?
This is one of those existential questions that you’re going to grapple with when you decide to get serious about poker. Should you actually play in this format? There are some definite pros and cons, of course.
The good news is that the poker rules here are very simple, and your strategy can match. It’s not the most difficult type of tournament in which to play, so you can probably stand a chance of grabbing your first big win here. There are also going to be plenty of players from whom you can learn at these tournaments.
There is another really cool perk that comes with playing in these tournaments – they shield you against sharks. Yes, you’re going to play against them and you are going to have a rough time, but you’re only going to see them once. No buying back in means that once they go out, they stay out.
This is a huge issue in the poker world, especially since multiple buy-ins let rich pros keep coming back again and again. Imagine a world in which you just barely beat a better player, only to see him at your next table just because his bankroll can handle it. It’s discouraging and not fun for anyone but that pro, and it’s good that these tournaments eliminate the possibility.
What you might not like, though, is how long the tournaments can get. If you’re not patient, you’re going to have a very bad time. It takes a long time to win one of these tournaments, and you can play for most of a day and still walk away with nothing. If you want instant satisfaction, a freezeout poker tournament is not for you.
You may also not like the fact that you’re going to be pretty capped in what you can win. That’s the other side of the coin from what we said above, but it’s just as true. You can spend hours in one of these tournaments only to bring home a few grand, and you’ll notice that you’re only bringing home a little bit more than the guy you beat. That isn’t something that always feels good.
In short, there are good reasons to play in freezeout poker tournaments and plenty of reasons to avoid it at the same time. You’ve got to know your style of play and what you want out of your games. Once you know your preferences, you can figure out if these tournaments are a good fit for you.
Payouts in Freezeout Poker Tournaments
We all, of course, only play poker because we love the purity of the game. We certainly don’t care about money, right?
Of course, we care about how we get paid, and we definitely need to look at how these tournaments payout if we want to understand them.
The good news is that, despite the many variants, freezeout poker tournaments tend to pay off in the same way no matter where you are. Usually, the top ten percent of players in the tourney are going to take home at least part of the pot. The higher your position, the more of the pot you bring home.
The good news is that even if you’re not in the top ten percent, you know exactly how much you are going to end up losing. The amount you spent to buy-in is the amount you’re going to lose whether you are the first person to go out or if you just missed the top ten, so you’re not going to end up in a bigger hole than it cost to start playing.
Poker Strategy for Freezeout Tournaments
We’ve discussed all of the pros and cons of this kind of tournament, as well as how it works and what you should expect. Now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to play.
Since freezeout poker is the most popular type of tournament poker, you’re going to have to make sure that you understand its rules and the strategies you need to win. We are going to look at the poker strategies that will propel you into the top ten percent and that will help you understand this type of play.
Playing for Your Tournament Life
Alright, let’s start with the big one – you can only win the tournament if you don’t get knocked out.
Don’t walk away yet – this isn’t quite as simple as it seems. It’s something that you’re going to keep in mind, because you need to understand the risks that come with every bet. You can’t just buy back in here – you’re stuck with the stack that you bought. You don’t get do-overs when it’s so easy to get kicked out.
If we’re looking at the game as a one-and-done proposition, we have to realize that we’re going to spend an awful lot of time focusing on staying alive in the tournament. In terms of poker strategy, this means that we are going to be far more caution than we’d have to be if we could buy back in.
Note that the watchword here is caution, not fear. You can never hope to win if you don’t take chances. You just have to make sure that you’re paying attention to your stack and the possibility of getting dropped from the tournament while you play.
Let’s look at a hypothetical.
We’ve got a pair of queens and we are going to open up the pot. The player coming in behind us hasn’t played a hand since 1992 and is really tight and he hits a big three bet for over half your stack. From experience, we know that this player has a good hand – probably something like Aces/Kings/AK. How do we proceed in order to maximize our ability to stay in?
If we were in a simple cash game, we’d want to point out that our hand has a little edge over his hand. We’re trying to stay in the tournament, though, and that means we have to be a little bit more cautious than normal. We can’t guarantee a win here, so it might be in our best interest to fold.
There are probably a couple of people up in arms over that statement. After all, pocket queens are great and folding before the flop seems like cowardice. The truth, though, is that a bad call here can completely end our game. Do we really want to risk our tournament life in this spot?
Probably not, right?
This doesn’t mean that we can never play a good hand, nor does it mean that we have to fold anytime we think another player has something good. It just means that we always need to think about the future when we play. Pick a better spot.
Assorted Strategies for Freezeout Poker Tournaments
The above strategy is incredibly important, but it’s not the only thing you need to keep in mind. Let’s knock out some other quick and dirty tips really fast:
1) Spend some time learning about how the tournament works. These tournaments have a natural progression, and you need to know what each stage means for your ability to make money. You absolutely can’t play the same in the early game as you would when you’re on the bubble, and your play at the final table needs to be tuned to a specific set of circumstances.
2) Learn when to be tight. When you’re in the early part of a freezeout tournament, you’re going to want to be a typical TAG player. Tight and aggressive is going to bully out the weak players and get rid of those who are too loose, and you’re going to go forward with more confidence.
3) Stacks goes down, aggression goes up. As you hit the middle of the tournament, there’s a good chance that your stack is going to shrink just because of rising blinds. Your job here is to get a little more aggressive to grab more chips. Don’t let the blinds force you out of the game.
4) Go crazy on short-stacks. If you get unlucky and get down to the point where you have ten big blinds, it’s time to start playing a little crazy. You are looking to hit opportunities, not to play the best cards. You don’t have any options other than folding and going all-in, so embrace it.
This is when you are going to steal blinds, re-steal bets, and rebuild your stack. If you can’t do it here, you’re not going to make it until the end.
5) Look at ICM. Independent chip modeling is a big part of the end of the tournament. You’re essentially assigning a money value to your chips to figure out how much you’re actually risking or making with each move. Essentially, you’re shifting the way you look at your stacks.
You’re no longer about stack management at this juncture – you’re learning how to make money. What you’re going to ask yourself is whether taking a certain move has a greater or lesser value of turning a profit. It’s a hard part of poker to master, but it’s something at which you should always take a look.
6) Don’t make it complicated. Honestly, freezeout poker tournaments are pretty easy in terms of rules memorizations and strategy considerations. This is the type of poker you’ve been playing your whole life, so don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Play solid poker hands, pay attention to your stack, and learn how the game flows – that will be enough to keep your alive and get you into the winner’s circle.
Freezeout poker tournaments might not be for everyone, but it is an awful lot of fun. It’s a good way to get comfortable with tournaments and to start making money, and it’s definitely where you want to start if you’re getting serious about poker.
These types of poker tournaments do a great job of protecting your bank and keeping the dangerous players away from you, so put some time into them even if you’re going to concentrate on other game types in the future. Once you’ve mastered the format, you’ll want to stick around – after all, this is where all the easy money will be learning how to play. See you at the WSOP!
Freezeout Poker Tournaments – FAQ
What is a freezeout in poker?
A freezeout means there are no re-buys in a poker tournament. You only get one chance. If you lose all your chips, you can't get back in.
Should you play in freezeout poker tournaments?
Yes. You won't find them very often these days, but if you see one, play it. It's a different kind of tournament because people can't play to re-buy. I recommend leaning towards aggression because most people will be playing tight.
Can you make money in a freezeout poker tournament?
Yes, but what's even better is that you're only firing one bullet, which minimizes your risk.
How should I play in a freezeout type tournament?
In a freezeout, most people will be playing tight because they know they can't re-buy. This means fewer shoves with draws and top pair on the flop. They're going to lean toward seeing how the board runs out. Take advantage of their fear and apply pressure, but not constantly. Pick your spots.