Top 10 tips for poker tournament success
4 Dec 2017
By Tadas Peckaitis
By Tadas Peckaitis
10. Learn ICM
Independent chip modeling, better known as ICM, is one of those things. To put it as simply as I can, this concept helps you see the real-money value of your stack in any given situation and enables you to make much better decisions, which brings positive expected value in the long run.
In cash games, your money on the table is always worth the same amount that you have. But in tournaments, it is entirely different. The most important thing to understand is that chips that you lose are worth more than chips that you win.
So if you engage in a flip situation on the first hand in a tournament and lose, your expected value is 0 because you do not have any chips. However, if you double up, the expected value will not be double because you cannot win all the money in the tournament, and most of the time the prize pool is distributed to multiple players.
Therefore, you must learn ICM poker strategy to make mathematically correct decisions. It will surely help you win more consistently.
9. Build your image
Your image is essential in any poker format, but even more so in online tournaments. If you are seen as someone who steals a lot and plays aggressively early on, your opponents will not let you take uncontested pots in later stages, and that can drastically reduce your opportunities to build your stack.
Therefore, in most cases, you should start playing tight to build that image, and it will pay dividends later on. Players will be less inclined to resteal your opens, and that is the easiest way to add some chips.
8. Change opening ranges based on tournament stage
Most players overlook the importance of changing opening ranges in later stages of the tournament or do it the wrong way. To have a solid starting point, you can get my Texas Hold'em cheat sheet for online MTTs, but you still have to learn how to adjust those ranges later on.
In the early stages of a tournament, you can be opening many playable hands, such as small suited connectors or low pocket pairs, even from early positions. However, when the blinds get bigger relative to your stack, you should simply fold those hands and open more blockers instead. What I mean by that is that you should be opening K9s rather than 87s from early positions just because your opponents will have less strong combinations. Because of that, they will reshove less frequently, and your steals will succeed more often, which is the goal of opening such holdings.
Thus, playing higher cards with blockers and reducing your opening size to the minimum will help you protect your stack and ensure that you will have more success with your steals, which is the key to success.
7. Defend wide from the big blind
One of the things that does not change much at any stage of the tournament is blind defense ranges. To build a winning strategy, you should be ready to defend even very weak hands.
In today’s games, players are opening with little sizing, so naturally, you are getting irresistible odds on the call. On top of that, when you have antes in play, you probably can defend any playable hand and still realize its equity, even out of position.
I am not talking about defending hands like K8s or 86s; these are no-brainers almost against everyone. But you should defend much broader hands and include relatively weak holdings just because of the odds you are getting.
6. Steal blinds aggressively with antes
If you were able to build the right image at the beginning of the tournament, you can reap the fruits when antes kick into play.
This is the time to start stealing and restealing very aggressively to take advantage of your tight image and build the stack for later stages.
5. Take advantage of the bubble
As ridiculous as it is, even today, players play excessively tight at most online poker sites on the bubble. Therefore, you naturally want to take advantage of their mistakes.
It is evident that you should be attacking players with small stacks who want to cash and will do everything they can to prevent busting out on the bubble. However, you can build your stack even more quickly if you identify aggressive players who are trying to steal blinds from short stacks and start three-betting them as a bluff.
As a rule of thumb, these players will be folding much more than they should, and you will have another weapon in your arsenal to build your stack.
4. Try to avoid confrontation with the chip leader
Contrary to No. 5 above, you should avoid confrontations with the table chip leader. If your opponent with the stack is any good, he will be playing back at you very aggressively trying to push you, knowing full well that you probably will not risk your medium-size stack without a solid holding.
Therefore, when you find yourself in the pot with a huge stack, try a bit of pot control and never overplay your medium-strength hands.
3. Adjust strategy when you reach the money
This is the spot where many players, especially short stacks, will be going all-in with wide ranges. For that reason, tightening your play is the best idea at that moment.
Even if you are short stack yourself, do not try to get it in with random holdings because you will be called very lightly. Instead, wait for a reasonable hand and do not risk your tournament life without any reason.
Even more so, if you have a medium stack, do not waste your chips by playing random holdings and you will quickly move up the ladder while weaker players bust out.
2. Train for the final table
Everyone knows that the big money is typically reserved for first place. However, it is not easy to prevail at a final table without prior experience.
Therefore, I highly recommend practicing and learning to play nine-player, one-table poker. All dynamics are very similar to the final table, and you will even have a chance to play the bubble stage and train for that.
Thus, if you are seriously looking to improve results in tournaments, this is something that I highly recommend.
1. Play to win . . . but don't take unnecessary risks
Naturally, your end goal is to win every tournament you enter. However, many players take unnecessary risks, and this is something you need to avoid. If you bust most of your tournaments without cashing even when you have an excellent chance of doing so, you are just leaving money on the table. Thus, when you have a shorter stack and can reach even the mini cash, oftentimes you should try to do that.
Of course, if you have a good holding you should always take the risk, but you should not force it. Moreover, if you have a reasonable stack and can put pressure on your opponents, it is OK to try and build your stack — but many players simply overplay these spots and lose all their chips much sooner than they should.
So, while you should always play for the win, if you have a chance to settle for a small payday, do not gamble it away!