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Best Poker Tournament Strategy | How to Play Poker

In the world of poker, Texas Hold’em is king. Go to any casino in the world, and you’ll see the Hold’em tables buzzing with action. Texas Hold’em poker tournaments are even more action-packed, and for good reason. With a small, pre-determined investment, players can experience the thrill of stacking chips and playing against pros for a life-changing payout and bragging rights as the lone survivor. So, how does a beginner outlast the competition and go about winning Texas Hold’em poker tournaments? 

WSOP Poker Tournament

Winning Texas Hold’em poker tournaments requires aggressive play at the right times and playing tight in other moments. Of course, a little luck every now and then doesn’t hurt either. It takes a combination of skill and chip management to outwit, outplay, and outlast every opponent at the table. 

A decade or so ago when Texas Hold’em poker tournaments was just gaining mainstream popularity, most poker tournament players only employed basic poker strategy. This isn’t the case today. Strategy in poker tournaments has grown by leaps and bounds, so “old school” strategies and playing styles simply won’t cut it at the tables anymore. Bet sizing and the way specific situations are played have changed drastically over the past decade. To win modern day poker tournaments, you need to adapt. 

Basic Beginner’s Guide to Winning Texas Hold’em Poker Tournaments

In multi-table poker tournaments, the early blinds are the easiest levels to play. Most hands should be folded in early blind levels, allowing the fishy players to be weeded out. During these initial poker hand stages, the key is to keep your cool, stay calm, and remain “in the zone” until the middle rounds. 

According to some poker strategy guides, you should only play pocket kings or aces (KK or AA) in the early rounds. However, this is playing a little too tight. If you have A-X suited or a solid pair and you’re in a late table position, there’s no reason to fold, especially if the bets are modest and you can play your hand for cheap. 

Although you may want to double up during the early rounds, you don’t necessarily need to do so. As a general rule, for the first blind level, you should only play strong, premium hands. 

Poker Tournaments: A Simple Strategy that Wins

You can find the strategy for playing each of these hands and more below, but first there are a couple of things to keep in mind: 

• This is a basic poker tournament strategy. It will help you go deep and perhaps win you a poker tournament, if you follow it. However, you can also add other elements to improve your results and overall play. Like everything at the table, the decision is yours to make. 

• You can always play more hands if you want. While this strategy is proven to win poker tournaments and allow you to cash in more chips if you have the patience to follow it, some players feel it’s a little too tight. The good news is you can loosen it up a bit by playing suited connectors and small pairs. The bad news is your bankroll can take wild swings when playing more hands, so doing so isn’t for the faint of heart. 

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at the top starting hands: 

1. A/A, K/K, and Q/Q (otherwise known as “The Big Three”) 

2. Ace/King 

3. 2/2-J/J (lower value pairs) 

4. A-X suited 

Now, here’s the rundown on how to play each one. 

How to Play The Top Three Hands – A/A, K/K, Q/Q

When playing in a poker tournament, it’s best to hang tough and wait for pocket aces, kings, or queens. While you should generally limp in with A-X suited or lower value pairs, it’s important to account for the aggressiveness of the table and its average raise. 

With the average table, you should raise 2-3 times the big blind. However, if your table is throwing out huge raises, it’s sometimes a good idea to make a significant raise pre-flop. 

Afterwards on the flop, you should bet if there are two or fewer people in the pot. If there are more than two players in on the action, the flop must work in your favor, making you confident you have the top hand. These hands don’t come around all that often, so bet big all the way through to the river. Since you were a pre-flop favorite, you’ll win the majority of these hands. 

How to Play A/K in Poker Tournaments

A/K is a make or break hand in tournament play. Generally, you would raise with this hand regardless of position. However, if you’re re-raised prior to the flop, going on the defensive may be a wise move. 

On the flop, you must hit an ace or a king. If not, check rather than bet. In the early rounds, players are usually a little fishy, so they’ll often call flop bets with inferior hands like a draw or even a low pair. 

If need be, give up an A/K hand because even a pair of twos can consistently beat it heads up. Once again, however, it’s important to play it hard pre-flop since it has a chance of becoming the best hand. If you remain in play after the flop, play it cautious by only raising two times the big blind. 

How to Play A-X Suited and Other Pairs

A-X suited and all pairs other than AA, KK, and QQ should be played as straightforward as possible. From a late position, you should limp in. If there are several people still in pre-flop, you may want to call on a small raise in hopes of drawing a flush, flush draw, or trips. 

While these hands are more than capable of busting big pots with several players, they can also become worthless with high blinds because you’ll often miss out on playing the flop. Also, since the blinds go up as tournaments progress, players with short stacks go all-in far too often to limp in with these good but not great hands. 

Key Poker Tournament Strategy Points

This pretty much covers the strategy for the early tournament rounds. Remember to play tight in the first few rounds. If you have A/K and someone pushes the pot to put you all in, just fold (unless player is very short stacked and your chip stack will only take a minimal loss if you loss the hand). You will have several other opportunities to do the same and go all-in as the tournament goes on. Only put your money in the middle when you know you’ll get it back. 

Hold’em Poker Tournament Strategy – Middle Rounds

The middle blinds are a bit more complex. By this point, most fishes are generally weeded out, so you’ll need to loosen up a little. However, you also need to be on guard, because there will still be some tight players waiting to unload their aces and catch you off-guard. 

Playing tournament poker is a lot like walking a tightrope. You need to stay clear of as many slippery situations as possible by only playing the very best hands. The only drawback to playing this tight is you need a big stack to wait it out for premium hands. 

How to Play Tournament Poker with an Average Stack

In a tournament, most poker players will find themselves in this position. If you’re one of them, it’s important to loosen up a little by adding hands like J/J and Ace-Queen to your list of starting hands. 

When raising, it’s a good idea to bet the flop. If someone next to you is playing tight, double his blinds and bet the flop with any two cards. You may need to get a little aggressive here, but try to remain tight for the most part. 

How to Play Poker Tournaments with a Big Stack

There’s not a poker player alive who doesn’t love playing with a fat stack, but while it may seem easy, there are some things to consider before loosening up your game. 

Poker Player thinking

First, as is the case with any chip count, you need to evaluate and understand your table’s current status. If everyone is playing really tight, you should use your big stack to test the blinds of shorter stacks as much as possible. However, only do so with decent hands. 

Conversely, if the table is playing loose, you should stick to your premium starting hands. You should also raise the blinds when in a solid position to do so. 

How to Play Poker Tournaments with a Short Stack

If you have a short stack, you must be aggressive during the middle rounds of tournament poker games. Go all-in whenever you spot a weak hand. If you’re wrong, at least you’ll go out with a bang. 

Playing aggressive means never getting blinded out. If you have a decent hand, raise the blind and go all-in. 

It also means adding any pair to your starting hands list if you’re in a late position and able to raise the blinds. If you have a strong pair, such as 10/10 or 9/9, be brave and go all-in, even if you’re in an early position. To be a threat in a tournament with a short stack, doubling-up is a must. 

Tip – Raising the Blinds

Knowing the poker rules and being able to win a table or two is one thing, but the good players often separate themselves from the bad as the tournament progresses and the blinds get higher. At this point, be patient when raising blinds and choose your opportunities wisely. 

You should only raise someone who is playing really tight. However, in the later stages of a tournament, you may need to raise anyone if you have decent cards. 

That being said, you should try to spot tight players and go after them hard during the middle rounds. When these rounds are nearing an end, you may also want to be more aggressive than normal with the blinds. As you get closer to the money, people will start to tighten their play. 

For example, if a poker tournament starts out with 500 people and only places the top 50, you’ll see everyone begin to tighten up when there are a little more than 50 players left. This usually occurs at the end of the middle or start of the late rounds. If you play your hands right, this is when the chips can begin piling up. 

Hold’em Poker Tournament Strategy – Later Rounds

If you’ve made it to the late blinds, give yourself a big pat on the back! This is where the money is. It’s also where you’ll face your toughest opponents and biggest decisions. 

In most cases, you’ll either find yourself sitting at the final table or finishing just out of the money. Placing is great, but if you’d rather win the tournament and take home all of the bacon, and who wouldn’t, here’s how. 

The Cards Don’t Matter

Yes, you read that right. In the later rounds, the cards will almost never come your way. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t still accumulate a ton of chips and build a formidable stack. 

You can do exactly that by raising the blinds while the other players are simply trying to make it to the final table. Just be forewarned, this strategy can have an adverse effect. You’ll either win poker tournaments or get eliminated, so needless to say, there’s substantial risk involved. 

The good news is players usually won’t call when their blinds are raised. This is especially true if you’ve been playing it safe and tight up to this point, giving you the opportunity to collect one pot of blinds after another. It can add up quickly. 

Small/Average Stack Method 

As just pointed out, raising blinds is the best way to create a fat chip stack. In fact, this is why you should play tight most of the time in poker tournaments. By doing so, you’ll be able to bluff all the way to the bank if the cards run cold, which they often do. Once again, the cards aren’t always needed. 

When there’s a lot of people in and the blinds get high, you can raise with almost any two cards. Again, you should key in on tight players. However, if there are none, make sure every player has to make a tough decision for every single chip. 

If someone calls when you raise the pot, don’t back off. Go ahead and bet the flop. Most of the time, your opponent won’t get what he or she is looking for on the flop, allowing you to take the pot. 

If an opponent re-raises, just play it safe by folding and following the exact same method with the next blinds. The chips can rack up quickly by doing this during the later rounds of a Texas Hold’em tournament. 

Sometimes, someone will call you on a bluff. When this happens, just stand down and let him take the hand. However, you should try to pressure most people into making tough decisions for your chips. 

This strategy may seem risky, but it’s actually not as risky as it might appear. The majority of opponents won’t call your raises unless they have pocket aces, especially if you played it tight during the early rounds. 

Poker Tournament Large Stack Method

The above playing method or strategy should be used if you have a small or average stack. However, if you find yourself in the top 10 with a large stack of chips, you might want to tighten up your play a bit. Keep playing like you did during the early rounds until you reach the final table. 

The only exception to this rule is if you have a tight player in a late position behind you. If this is the case, you can go ahead and raise his blinds and expect to come out ahead regardless of your cards. Just don’t make the mistake of getting too greedy. 

If your stack is really big, play even tighter. Although you may want to occasionally raise a blind if you have a strong pair, remember your large stack can dwindle in a hurry if you’re not cautious. 

Strategy In Poker Tournaments – The Final Table

Every poker player wants to end up at the final table in a big Texas Hold’em tournament. If you make it there, you’ll need to follow a strong strategy and exude a certain attitude at the table. 

Final Table

Study the Other Poker Players

Since so many players get shuffled from table to table during the early rounds, studying your opponents isn’t really necessary. 

At the final table, however, all of the players are there to stay until they go all in and lose their stack. If they’re there, they’re also likely to be strong tournament players. 

Against these players, you’ll want to play extremely tight for the first dozen or so hands in order to get a feel for how everyone is playing. 

Is someone leaning their large stack on the others? Is the player to your left folding left and right? Has someone loosened up their game? 

While you’ll likely notice a lot of tight play at the final table, these are all things to pay attention to. You may also run into a player or two utilizing the maniacal go for broke approach to win poker tournaments. It’s important to spot these players and make the right adjustments to your play. 

Ultimately, playing at the final table of poker tournaments requires playing the table and other players rather than the cards. 

In Poker Tournaments Be Patient

At the final table, you’ll experience better poker play than anywhere else as most players will only play their best hands. That being said, if you spot a maniacal player at the table, sit back and let him take some people out. 

When a few people have surrendered their chips, make your move. However, don’t go for broke unless you have a strong hand. 

If there’s no such player and everyone is laying really tight, you may want to increase your risk appetite and raise some blinds. Just remember to play the player rather than the cards. 

In Poker Tournaments Don’t Count on Luck

You can’t finish first in poker tournaments without a little luck. However, most players who make it to the final table are excellent tournament players, especially at the WSOP, making it a dogfight for each chip and finishing position. 

To win the fight, you need more than luck. You need to utilize every edge you can. Identify the maniacs and tight players, and then adjust your poker play accordingly. 

Poker Tournament Winner

The best way to be the last player sitting at the final table is to study the table like your life depended on it. You need to analyze every single detail and spot any possible edge. It’s not about the cards. It’s about your ability to observe and adapt. 

♠ pokerjournal.org

Poker Tournaments – FAQs

Q: How do poker tournaments work?

A: You pay a set amount (buy-in). You Play Poker. If you lose all your chips, you’re eliminated from the tournament. If you are the last player remaining with all the chips, congratulations you won. Usually the top 10%-15% of the players earn a portion of the prize pool.

Q: What are the best poker tournaments in Vegas?

A: It depends on the time of the year, but you’re always going to to be safe at the Wynn Poker Room. During the summer, there are many tournament series going on, WSOP, The Wynn Classic, Venetian Deepstack, Plus more..

Q: Do poker tournaments use real money?

A: You buy-in with real money and then get a set amount of tournament chips for the tournament. In most re-buy type poker tournaments, you can re-buy and try again if you are eliminated.

Q: How long do poker tournaments last in Vegas?

A: Most daily/nightly poker tournaments in Vegas are a few hours long. These are usually run year round. A WSOP event can last several days, playing around 12 hours a day.

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