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Poker Strategy | Tournaments Strategy

The Harsh Reality Of Tournament Poker

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It's Not All About The Cards

The glamour and glitz of television make it seem like being successful at tournament poker is easy... that anyone can do well. Think of all the rags to riches stories we've seen just in the last five years. Chris Moneymaker, Joe Hachem, and Jerry Yang all came from nowhere to win the WSOP Main Event and millions of dollars. If they could do it, anyone could... right? The harsh reality is that for every Chris Moneymaker, there are probably 100 players that go broke or just struggle to break even. Many cash game professionals will hit the tournament circuit and after learning this, quickly jump back into the cash games where making money is much more consistent.

The reason so many people are into tournaments is twofold. One, there is the allure of the big score. Nowhere else can you turn $10,000 into a million in a few days’ time. No cash game in the world will provide that kind of opportunity. Second, is the possibility of fame and sponsorships. While shows like GSN's High Stakes Poker give some publicity to cash games, it's mainly made up of players who have made a name for themselves in tournament poker. The WPT and ESPN's coverage of the WSOP are where it's at if you want to get on television playing poker and in order to do that you have to play tournament poker.

Here's why tournament poker is so hard. Payouts are top heavy and making final tables and winning tournaments is a very difficult task. It can be months, even years, between tournament wins or final tables and if you don't prepare yourself mentally and financially for this inevitable reality, you could find yourself broke and desperate.

It's not enough to cash

Many players have a very successful record at cashing in tournaments but have problems making it to where the real money is... the final table. I've had friends, players, and students of mine tell me that you can't make the final table or win a tournament if you are out of the tournament. This is their argument for their tight, survival minded, playing style and while it has some merit in the long run, it's going to lead to minimal profits and could even lead to a slow dwindling of the bankroll.

Let me show you an example using the 2008 World Series of Poker as the basis. We'll have our hypothetical player cash 7 times playing just No Limit and Pot Limit Hold Em events, an impressive feat indeed that has been accomplished by very few players in the history of the WSOP. We'll spread the cashes out between the bottom pay out spots and pay out spots just short of the final table and vary the cashes between different buy-ins. This player will play in the maximum number of events possible starting with a big enough bankroll to do so (something common on the tournament circuit at a huge event like the WSOP). How does our player do? Let's look.

• Event #1 – $10,000 Pot Limit Hold Em, did not cash, -$10,000
• Event #2 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em, did not cash, -$11,500
• Event #3 - $1,500 Pot Limit Hold Em, finished 69th out of 713 for $2,725, $1,225 profit, -$10,275
• Event #7 - $2,000 No Limit Hold Em, did not cash, -$12,275
• Event #9 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em Six Handed, did not cash, -$13,775
• Event #11 - $5,000 No Limit Hold Em Shootout, 7th out of 360 for $16,920, $11,920 profit, -$1,855
• Event #17 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em Shootout, did not cash, -$3,355
• Event #21 - $5,000 No Limit Hold Em, 24th out of 731 for $19,583, $14,583 profit, +$11,228
• Event #25 - $10,000 No Limit Hold Em Heads Up, did not cash, +$1,228
• Event #27 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em, 206th out of 2,706 for $2,955, $1,455 profit, +$2,683
• Event #31 - $2,500 No Limit Hold Em Six Handed, did not cash, +$183
• Event #32 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em, 55th out of 2,304 for $7,547, $6,047 profit, +$6,230
• Event #36 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em, did not cash, +$4,730
• Event #38 - $2,000 Pot Limit Hold Em, 16th out of 605 for $8,808, $6,806 profit, +$11,536
• Event #41 - $1,500 Mixed Hold Em, did not cash, +$10,036
• Event #46 - $5,000 No Limit Hold Em Six Handed, 38th out of 805 for $14,377, $9,377 profit, +$19,413
• Event #49 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em, did not cash, +$17,913
• Event #52 - $1,500 No Limit Hold Em, did not cash, +$16,413
• Event #54 - $10,000 Main Event, did not cash, $+6,413

As you can see from this example, our player cashed in an astounding 7 of 19 events or 37% of the events he played in. His finishes included a 7th, 16th, and 24th. Very respectable indeed. His profit for his 7 weeks of hard work? $6,413. Factor in expenses for room and board and our player probably broke about even. Why? Because he wasn't able to hit the big score.

Now let's look at another player. This player plays in all of the Hold Em events as well and fails to cash in all of them except for Event #46, the $5,000 No Limit Hold Em Six Handed event. He takes 5th in this event winning $174,041. His profit for the entire WSOP is over $100,000, yet on “paper” you'd probably think the first player had a much better WSOP and was a much better player.

In tournament poker, it's not about how often you cash, it's about how much you win when you do. This is the harsh reality of tournament poker. If you're going to be successful, you MUST put yourself in positions to make the final table and the high payouts. Survival, while important at times, is not the key. Accumulation of chips is. This book, hopefully, will show you concepts that will help you consider survival when it is necessary, but more importantly will help you to acquire chips so that the final table is not just a possibility. It's a reality.

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