Poker Tournament Strategy | How to Stay Out of The Way

Poker Tournament Strategy: You can look at playing and competing in poker tournaments in two ways, but I know from experience and watching others which way is correct.

The First Way: In The Way

The first way you can look at it is that you can’t win if you fold too often. If you’re ever sitting at a table and someone utters the following words, or something close to these words, you should be happy. It confirms that you are sitting at a table with at least one fish. Those words: “You can’t win if you fold!”

Based on my experiences, this will usually be a male who sits slightly slouched in his chair, is in his 30s, 40s, or 50s, wearing everyday attire, and his chips aren’t stacked in perfect order. Your chip stacks don’t need to be stacked in perfect order. It’s up to you how you want to stack your chips. I’m just reporting an observation.

If you’re looking for extra information on poker for beginners, I highly recommend placing your largest denomination chips on top of your stack or in front of your stack. Otherwise, it’s going to indicate to an experienced player that you are inexperienced. If you want to do this on purpose, that’s fine, but the dealer or another player might call you out.

Mr. No Fold Poker Dude

Getting back to the topic at hand. In most situations when Mr. No Fold is at my poker table, he runs good for a little while and then loses it all. He builds a nice stack because he’s playing a lot of hands. When he finally loses, he usually complains that his opponent got lucky.

This player has no idea what he’s doing in Texas Hold’em Poker. His Ego and machoism is telling him that he needs to enter the fray so he’s doesn’t look like a wussy (a nice version of the word). He can’t bear the thought of being seen as a wussy. I mean, imagine the consequences!

In his mind, if you’re at his table and he folds often, you’re going to get up from your seat after a few orbits and go tell a friend at the next table that there is a wussy at the table because he folds too much. That friend will then tell someone else, and by the end of the night, the entire room will know all about his wussyism.

Of course, that’s freaking ridiculous. Note To All: Nobody gives a shit if you fold often! Add that to that list of poker tips for Texas Hold’em Poker and you will go far.

In fact, if they say something about it, it’s because you’re frustrating them and they want you to get involved more because they’re finding it difficult to extract your chips.

Know this in poker and in life: People care about themselves and their own results more than anyone or anything else. That’s the cold hard truth. There are many ways I can prove this to you, but I’m not going to get into that right now and remain focused on poker tips for beginners. And, by the way, I don’t want the world to be that way. I’m just the messenger.

Mr. Know It All Poker Dude

There is another type of player who falls into this trap. He’s the 20-something, talkative dude that uses all kinds of fancy poker terminology at the table to sound cool and authoritative. He wants you to respect him as though he is the next coming of Stu Ungar.

You’re kind of trapped with this because if you don’t say anything, he keeps yapping. If you do say something, he might come back at you and now there is an awkward vibe at the table.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. The vast majority of 20-somethings I meet in the poker world are cool. This Mr. Dude is a rare breed, but I have seen him many times. Different versions of him. In addition to talking often, he will stack his chips high and often use an annoying and loud laugh for attention.

The good news is that Mr. Dude also plays too many hands. He will run up that stack like nothing you have ever seen. It will only take him about 1-2 hours to get from 150,000 to more than 1 million chips when deep in a tournament. Just stay out of the way and wait him out. Unless he has the run of his life (happens once in a while), once something goes wrong, he’s going to lose those chips within 30 minutes. Every single one of them!

I witnessed this when deep in the Main Event at Cherokee for the WSOPC last year. I’ve witnessed this many times, but this one stands out the most because there was so much money on the line. We were down to three tables and this kid was just jamming, calling all-ins, bluffing people off pots and showing it, calling people when behind and getting there, and calling bluffs correctly on the river. He was running good and his reads were on.

However … when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Add that to your poker tips as well. It will help your mindset!


Think of it this way. How many armies have there been throughout history that dominated many battles before finally meeting their match? It might have been wise to dominate a couple of battles so people knew what they were capable of and then focused on defense.

Look at Mike Tyson. I know that’s a strange example, but hear me out. The dude absolutely dominated, knocking people out in the first round left and right. But like most boxers, he kept getting into the ring.

He eventually got knocked the fu*k out! Sorry, Mike. Hopefully you don’t read this. If you do, I might carry secret weapons. I’m sure you get the idea by now. If you enter the ring too many times, your demise is an eventuality.

  • How many times do you think you can fade that flush?
  • How many times do you think you can hit that open-end straight draw?
  • How many times do you think AK will beat 88?
  • How many times will that tight player fold when you’re bluffing?
  • How many times will you call an all-in with top pair/top kicker on the river and be correct?

Let’s take a closer look at those before moving to the other side of this. If you’re fading a flush, you’re likely ahead. No fault there. But how do you know for sure that he was on a flush draw? You could already be behind. An open-end straight draw? Really? Come on, man. Don’t call that shit for all your chips. If you call that for all your chips and hit, you got lucky. That’s not playing well.

AK vs. 88 is a tricky one. It’s up to you if you want to flip a coin. Throughout my experiences, I do best when I have the mindset of not getting involved in coin flips for all my chips unless I’m short-stacked and need to roll the dice. Either it’s meant to be or it isn’t.

If you’re bluffing a lot and getting away with it, you’re playing Russian Roulette. It doesn’t end well. Bluffs are good, but only in moderation. They lose their power when you use them too often. And calling all-ins with top pair/top kicker is correct once in a while, but usually not.

I know there will be some readers that disagree with this information. The majority of these readers are just that … readers. This means they’re studying books, charts, etc. I think that’s awesome, and they’re better technical players than me. But I don’t do technical anything. I’m basing my decisions on people, their patterns, and situations where variables are constantly changing.

Everything is a puzzle. When you figure out the puzzle, don’t tell anyone. If you tell them that you figured it out, they’re going to move the pieces or change the pieces. Have all the information but never let your opponent know that. This is powerful because it allows you to predict their future actions.

The Second Way: Out of the Way

If you’re seeking a poker tournament strategy: “Stay Out of the Way”. Do you have any idea how many people told me they won poker tournaments by folding often? If you want to know how to win in poker tournaments, this is the one of the secrets. And it’s not something you will read in any book.

Some people write poker strategy books to well, sell books. I have written a couple of those for beginners, but I focus more on poker adventure books and brand-building, and I’m always going to do my best to be as honest as possible.

Here’s the thing, though. You CAN’T teach how to read people and pick up betting patterns and their vibes in a book! Everything in poker is dynamic. Is a book going to tell you: “When Seat 3 announces that he’s going through a divorce and just bought a boat, it likely indicates that he’s stressed out but also feeling a bit rebellious and free, which means he’s more likely to call when you put him all-in and he has a draw.”

No. You are never going to read that in a book. You must pick up information as you go in real time. This is another secret way to win at poker. But one of the most important poker rules for how to win at poker is to freaking FOLD!

Tight Is Right

Okay. How do I explain this? I don’t mean to be a NIT. Let’s start with that. The correct answer is to play kind of like a NIT. You even want to lean a little more in that direction than TAG. This is ideal poker for beginners anyway. Here’s the catch though. You don’t want to play that way without any maneuverability.

Now that you have established that tight poker image, you can play off of it. This is especially good advanced Texas hold’em strategy for tournaments. You can get away with many things, but don’t use them too often! That would be breaking our poker rules for winning.

You can get away with raising 3x BB with 87s from the button (they will never see it coming), three-betting out of position with TT (they will put you on a bigger hand), c-betting the flop (they will think you hit it even if you didn’t), check-raise-bluffing the flop or turn (best streets for this move and you’re only getting called or raised if they have the nuts), and jamming the river (you will get it through unless they have a monster).

Remember, only use these advanced poker moves sparingly, but still implement them. There is a fine line between too much and too little. That’s a spot you’re going to need to figure out on your own. Also keep in mind that this is a poker strategy for tournaments. Cash games are much different because you have new people moving in and out more often, which makes it a better game for the technical poker player. You’re not going to be able to pick up on poker patterns and behaviors as easily.

Poker Mindset

Let’s keep it simple and get back to staying out of the way. I’ll ask it to you this way. Do you really think that having a mindset of folding often will lead to you missing out on the most important opportunities in poker tournaments?

You will miss some opportunities. But think about those ‘opportunities.’ When you call pre-flop with hands like 54s and QTs, do you think it leads to more good spots or bad spots? If you hit that flush, how often does your opponent have the bigger flush? Not that often, but when he does and he jams it, you’re calling. Now you’re toast.

Also consider top pair vs a bigger kicker. When you have QTs and you flop top pair and your opponent keeps coming after you, you’re likely going to call (or raise). He has AQ. Now you lost at least 15% of your stack.

If you fold these types of hands, you’re more likely to win. You’re still not going to miss opportunities like flopping a set with 77 or flopping top-two with KQ. You will be fine. And when you do fold 65s and QTs when you would have smashed the flop, who cares? If you let it stew in your mind, you’re not at that Next Level.

You have to think of it like an athlete. When something bad happens to a good athlete, it gets into their minds. When something bad happens to a great athlete, they immediately reset their mind and forget it ever happened. If you want one of the best poker tips for beginners, it’s that right there. Do you have the mental strength to forget about it and move on?

No matter how good you think a poker player might be, if they’re someone who is always telling or writing about bad beat stories, they’re not a great poker player. They might understand the game better than anyone in the world, but that doesn’t make a great player.

Mental Fortitude plays an enormous role. And with all the poker strategy talk of what you do here and there, this is often forgotten. I’ll take the average player with the most mental strength in the room vs. the best technical player in the room with subpar mental strength any day and every day!

Let me write it this way. If you take unnecessary risks and continue to lose chips, your winning hands have less meaning. If you avoid unnecessary risks (unless short-stacked) and preserve your chips, your stack is going to move higher much faster.

Final Thoughts

Many people believe Stu Ungar is the best poker player who ever lived. He had his ups and downs, which related to off-the-felt vices, but there is no doubt that nobody was better when he was on his game. He picked up every single detail from every single player. You would think the best player of all time was an aggressive son of a bitch, but only when necessary, which was based on the players at his table and how the game was playing that day.

“Fold and Live to Fold Again.” – Stu Ungar

Ungar’s motto: “Fold and Live to Fold Again.” If that is the motto of the best player of all time, it should tell you something, which is the following: Don’t listen to anyone who thinks they know better.

♠ pokerjournal.org / Tyler Nals