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Poker Strategy | Tournaments Strategy

Basic Poker Tournaments Strategy

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Over the last several years, poker tournaments have become exceedingly popular among poker players compared to cash games, and the most obvious culprit to blame for these developments, is the TV. Constantly aired tournaments (such as WPT, EPT and WSOP), with prizepools larger than life, often convince even the most stubborn cash players to switch sides in favor of tournies.

One of the most evident advantages of hitting a tournament instead of a cash game is the consistency factor: at higher levels, with huge blinds and antes, tilt is an inevitable guest in a player‘s game. With that, chances are that others will get tilted faster than you, and the game will turn into a crapshoot. Remember, they can‘t leave the shootout until they‘re out of ammo. Plus, a single tournament might be enough to make a whole fortune, and the classical example of an overwhelmingly successful tournament player is Chris Moneymaker or Robert Vakornyi.
If you are a beginning poker player and you're getting interested in poker tournaments, this article should provide some insight into the mistakes that novice poker tournament players rarely avoid.

A hypothetical situation: Player A sits in an online tournament, holding a K-J suited on the button, an above-average, not even overwhelming hand. Moreover, it even doesn't hold a 2:1 odds favorite against a much worse (at the first glance) 8-7 off-suit.
As players on the button often try to steal blinds, the K-J suited hand looks well in this situation; most of the time, others will react loosely even with inferior hands. Player A in this hypothetical situation has about $2.000 in chips, and raises the big blind's $400 up to $1.300. The big blind moves all-in, perhaps thinking there's a chance Player A would fold, but with $2,700 already in the pot, and Player A having only $700 remaining, A is going to call in this situation with almost any hand. The big blind had pocket fours.
If Player A had moved all-in, would the big blind have played his pocket 4's? Calling with small pairs certainly wouldn't be called a best move in poker, but as it wouldn't be likely for Player A to fold either, this was actually what the big blind was doing.
The "morale" of this situation is that if you hold a hand with which your raise automatically commits you to the pot, moving all-in could be a welcome alternative. If you are already winning, you will win even more, and if you are losing, there's a bigger chance that your opponent will fold.

Another situation, which shows one of the most popular novice mistake, under betting the pot: Player A holds the same K-J suited and is once again on the button, from where he flat calls a $30 to $150 raise from the player to his right. Let's pretend that Player A knows Player B enough to recognize his play enough, and that a call is more suitable than a raise of fold. Player C, from the big blind also calls the raise.
The flop brings some low-value cards on the table, for example 8-5-2, after which Player C (from the big blind) bets for $30. Player B just calls and the pot holds $525 in value. Player A deems it reasonable to call, and see the turn for just $30, which he does without hesitation. But the turn doesn't bring any improvement to Player A - it's a 3. Player C continues to bet for the same $30, after which Player B folds. Player A, however (as many of us would do in such a situation), thinks that Player C couldn't make a good hand if he places just a measly $30 bet, so Player A calls again. After a queen lands on the river, Player C just continues to surprise Player A by placing another $30 bet on the table. Player A, who has plenty of chips compared to the bet, calls with the anticipation of at least a lowest pair in the hands of Player C, but the opponent just turns over J-10, and surprisingly for Player A, he takes the pot.
In this situation, placing only a $30 bet, with the pot being ~$600, thus creating only a 5% margin, certainly isn't a way to scare someone from taking a shot at the pot, especially if your hand isn't even somewhat valuable, such as B's J-10. If Player B bet at least $100, Player A would certainly consider the river (or the turn) not worth chasing and would have let his hand go. However, as Player B made a mistake of under-betting, he lost the hand.

A very common mistake by novice poker players is to constantly call flush or straight draws with minimal chances to win.
Once again, a situation at a poker tournament: Player A holds an A-Q suited on the BB (big blind) - a good hand to say the least, although not a killer, with 25/50 blinds. Three players, including A, decide to limp-in to see the flop without raising.
The flop comes Qc-6c-3d, a good hand for Player A, except that two clubs hold a possible flush for the other two players in the game. Player A decides to reckon the field by checking under-the-gun. Player B shows aggression by betting $100 into the pot. Player C just calls, and Player A decides to move all-in, so that the possible draw (Player B) would reconsider chasing his flush to the end.
Player B insta-calls, giving Player A an impression that he either possesses a top pair or has a set. Player C folds, and Player B shows his hand, and it's a Kc-7c: a non-nut flush draw with 12 outs including Kings, which could possibly give him a top pair if not a flush. The problem is that Player B probably wasn't even thinking about his kings as outs - the possible flush got him too excited to call and all-in, which was a serious mistake indeed. Draws are worth chasing mostly in Limit games, where most players see the flop, and you usually do not risk your accumulated bankroll to see the river. In a No-Limit game, calling an all-in with a draw is lethal to your game in most cases.

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