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How to Play Texas Hold’em Poker Tournaments In The Money (ITM)

One of the greatest moments in a poker tournament is when you hear the announcement: “Congratulations! You are now In the Money!”

If it’s a small tournament, you will notice many people smiling. If it’s a bigger tournament, the majority of the people will clap. There will only be one unhappy person, which is the person who bubbled and is still walking out of the room. If you watch carefully, they will sometimes give the middle finger while exiting.

Once all this has taken place, the poker strategy changes for many poker players. The biggest question is whether or not your poker strategy for tournaments should change as well. If you have been paying careful attention, then you know the answer to that: It depends.

BIG STACK IN THE MONEY

Sometimes big stacks have the mindset that they are now closing in on the final table and it’s their job to be the table bully because they have the most chips at their table. This is a fine way to lose all your chips. Many people do it. Don’t be one of those people.

Here’s the problem with that approach. In general, you always want to remember that chips go faster than they come. Or, if you have a perverted mind, then I should probably change that to: You always want to remember that chips disappear faster than they’re accumulated. But it should be pointed out that chips can’t come anyway (as far as I know).

When you’re winning, it’s usually because you’re running good and zoning. As far at the latter goes, it means you’re not doubting yourself and making many correct decisions. This is often a methodical process. But a winning session can turn into a losing session quickly.

If you spent all that time accumulating all those chips and things start going south, Tilt will often step in. Once this happens, you begin rushing your play and chasing your losses. Now you’re suddenly a mid-stack. And, in most cases, once this downward spiral begins, it’s not long before you’re short stacked and busto.

The reason this happened is because you became overconfident. When you become overconfident, you play too many hands. If you play too many hands, variance increases. When you increase variance, you’re doomed.

If you’re an experienced player, just know that it’s wise to chill the hell out once you reach the money. You’re nowhere near the final table! That’s assuming it’s a bigger tourney. You have a long way to go. Think of it as reaching the playoffs in the NBA season. You’re basically beginning another tournament.

If you’re an inexperienced player, or if you’re an experienced player who wants a fail-proof way to avoid Tilt, read The Perfect Range. If you stick to the rules in that book to a T, you will never go on tilt. Why do you think the people who read it keep winning money?

If you ever read a review where someone bashed that book, or if you ever talk to someone who didn’t believe in the strategy within that book, ask them one simple question: “Did you ever try applying SPATS?”

I guarantee you that the answer is no. Out of the hundreds of people who have applied SPATS that I know of, there is only one who told me it didn’t work. I still can’t understand how it failed for this person, but I think it’s safe to assume that she didn’t stick to the plan.

If you go away from SPATS on even one hand and raise with T5s because you think you’re cool, that could be the difference in 2300 chips when the starting stack was 15,000. You hit top pair and had to call/raise. Or you flopped a flush draw and couldn’t get away from it. Or you turned two pair but lost to a bigger two pair.

I read one review for The Perfect Range where the guy wrote something like: “The writer is saying that you should only play good hands.” No shit! Do you want to look cool or do you want to be a long-term winner? Why do you think so many people lose in this game? Ego!

If you’re a big stack when you first get into the money, the solution is simple. Fold often, stay out of marginal situations, and throw the hammer down when you choose to get involved. This is how you become scary to your opponents.

If you’re raising/calling often, other players aren’t going to respect those raises and they’re going to now view you as a target to accumulate many chips because your poker range is so wide and your play is sporadic. If you’re only getting involved once in a while and playing aggressively when you do get involved, they will know to take you seriously and you will get a lot more folds. This is big stack poker strategy for tournaments.

When you’re at the third final table and second final table in a big tournament, this requires a different kind of poker play. At this stage of the game, our poker rules for winning become very simple: Wait for others to blow up.

I don’t care who they are and how they’re viewed by the poker community, I’m telling you from experience that most poker pros will blow up. There are very few that won’t blow up (they are out there and I know who they are). Basically, you advance at this stage of the tournament by adopting a default approach.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play any hands. You’re obviously going to play premium hands, but you don’t necessarily want to play them in the traditional manner. In other words, you don’t want to get involved in many street-by-street situations.

To avoid those situations, increase your pre-flop raises to avoid callers. If you end up having to eat the raise, so be it. Don’t be afraid to try it again a few hands later. If you’re picking your pre-flop spots to raise more than usual, you’re going to pick up a ton of blinds/antes. Eating a few here and there (having to fold) is part of the game. Don’t let it bother you.

For example, if you open-raise 3.5 BB with QJo from the hijack and the BB raises 3x your raise, you are very likely behind and you need to eat it. Don’t get into a situation where you can lose all your chips. If you hit that Q on the flop, it could very well spell the end.

Remember that you didn’t raise to get into a street-by-street battle. You raised to steal the blinds/antes (with some protection if there is a call thanks to a decent hand). If this fails, fold. Your objective wasn’t met.

When you’re at the final table in a big tournament with the big stack, it’s all about position and sensing the right times to be aggressive. You want to open things up a little bit, but not too much. In order to win the tournament, you need every chip on that table.

An easy way to look at is this. You want to put someone all-in with a hand like A5o, but you don’t want to call a mid-stack all-in with A5o. Pick and choose your spots wisely. As the field decreases, open up your attack range a little more.

For example, when it’s down to four players and you’re the big stack, don’t be afraid to roll with poker hands like QJo. If it’s meant to be your time, it will be your time. You’re now a fearless motherf*cker, and fearless motherf*ckers win poker tournaments. Even if it goes wrong, you can walk away feeling proud, opposed to feeling like a mouse.

MID-STACK IN THE MONEY

This is where you will find yourself most of the time (not all of the time). There is one simple thing I like to say to myself in these situations: The person with the most chips now will not be the person with the most chips at the end of the tournament. Watch other people blow up, wait for the right spots, and slowly come out of nowhere to take the lead.

When you have a mid-stack, you have plenty of ammunition to do a lot of damage. Remember that you are a threat to the big stacks. One thing I like to do in these situations is a little psychotic, but it makes perfect sense.

I will wait patiently, and then whether I have a hand or not, purposely isolate the biggest stack on the table. I will always c-bet, and I will almost always fire again on the turn (since many people like to float the flop). The reasoning behind this is simple, and it 100% relates to the psychological side of the game.

I’m not looking at the big stack as the big stack; I’m looking at the big stack as a human being. This human being knows that the general poker strategy for tournaments is that you don’t attack the big stack. Since the big stack knows this, if I attack him, he’s going to strongly assume that I have a premium hand. If I continue to go after him, he’s going to be even more sold on this notion.

When you play poker hands against short stacks in these situations, a lot is left up to the cards. When you attack the big stack when you’re not supposed to do so, you’re outplaying your opponent and methodically accumulating chips. Not only that, you’re slowly chipping away at the big stack’s mental fortitude. That is key. Attack every so often and grind him down.

Some people take this game personally (big mistake). If he’s one of those people, he might then force the action against you. If you’re fortunate to flop it when he does this, you could double-up through him (or stack him if he is far enough along his downward spiral).

I respect GTO, but I don’t play that game. I’m playing the person. I was recently invited to play Werewolf with the RunGood crew. These are all GTO players, and they are amazing poker players. But since I knew they were GTO, I had an idea how to play Werewolf against them.

It’s not that one is right and one is wrong (GTO vs. Playing the Player), it’s that if you know someone is GTO and you Play the Player, then you know how to approach the situation because you know their approach to the game.

For example, in one game of Werewolf, I voted off the guy who defended me when I was a Wolf. That’s not GTO. But I did it because I knew it would shift every mind in the room to firmly believe that I wasn’t a Wolf. That’s playing the player. Like I said, neither approach is right or wrong. They’re just different.

Getting back to poker, the goal is to turn that mid-stack into a big stack. Then see above.

SHORT STACK IN THE MONEY

I have found myself in this situation too often recently. As you might have picked up by now, I’m much more patient than the average poker player when playing the short stack.

Some poker pros will start jamming with AK with 20 BBs because they don’t want to get any shorter than that. I respect that, but how often are you going to get called by weaker than AK for 20 BBs? I don’t see many people calling off 20 BBs with AQ and AJ. AQ sometimes. AJ rarely, unless they’re a bad player.

I don’t panic until 5-7 BBs. And 5, 6, or 7 BBs depends on the table and the overall situation. And I shouldn’t use the word ‘panic.’ It’s more along the lines of Emergency Mode. That means open-jam with a wide range. It doesn’t mean to call off 7 BBs with 93o. That’s stupid if you have several free looks ahead of you.

When the blinds are approaching, you have to ask yourself the following: How many hands do I have left until I’m in the blinds? And will I likely see a better hand than the one I’m holding now prior to reaching the blinds?

When you look down at JTo with 7 BBs when you have one free look remaining and it’s an unraised pot, you have to roll with it. If you look down at 82o in the same situation, you have to fold and hope to find a better hand on the next free look. If it’s anything marginal, you have to roll with that hand.

When you have 7 BBs and you double-up, you now have 14 BBs. Still not great. But double-up one more time and you’re at 28 BBs. Now you’re back in the game. You’re not comfortably in the game, but you don’t need to be. You can at least now play poker hands until you are comfortably back in the game.

Basically, when you’re the short stack and you’re in the money, never say to yourself: Well, I’m in the money, so I’ll just call off with T6. That is a bad idea.

You should think this way instead: It’s difficult to get this far in a tournament. This is a rare opportunity to win a lot of money. The big money is at the final table. I need to focus as much as possible so I can take advantage of this opportunity. All good decisions. Patience and fearlessness. Whatever happens from there is meant to be.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Now you have some poker tips for winning in Texas Hold’em Poker tournaments. I strongly believe this poker strategy article is more important than most. Therefore, I recommend bookmarking it so you can read it over and over again. That would definitely fit in with our poker rules for winning.

Some of my poker tips are different than the norm. They are 100% based on my experiences and being out there in the real world playing in poker tournaments. My poker play is not based on the technical side of the game. It’s based on real experiences and understanding people and the reasons for their actions, as well as their patterns. Everyone has patterns, whether they realize it or not, and whether they want to admit it or not.

All the different approaches and strategies to this game is what makes Texas Hold’em Poker so interesting. Sometimes fascinating.

See you on the felt!

♠ pokerjournal.org | Tyler Nals