Poker Tournaments Strategy

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A poker tournament is a competition for which hopeful players must either qualify or buy-in to play. This will guarantee you chips and a seat at the table. The prize money is usually determined by the number of players and their accumulative buy-ins. Packed with dramatic moments, these tournaments are a thrilling way for both beginners and seasoned players to challenge and hone their skills.

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Qualifying vs Buying In

Buying in to a tournament can grant you instant access, and is the most common method of entry – a poker site’s weekly schedule will feature several tournaments that don't require qualification. Alternatively, you can search for freeroll events with multiple qualification rounds leading up to the main event, though you should expect to play at least two rounds.

You can also buy low-cost satellite tickets as a means of qualification. This is a similar approach to freeroll, but you will pay a small contribution towards covering your initial entry. Freerolls and satellites are commonly used to determine entry to major events like the World Series of Poker.

How Poker Tournaments Work

Leading sites like 888 Poker and partypoker host online tournaments day in, day out. At partypoker, for example, there's a clear structure where tournaments are arranged by size of buy-in and standard of play. This makes it simple to find tournaments at your level and within your budget. Playing beyond your skill level, especially in the early stages, can put your bankroll at risk.

Some factors, like format and style, do differ between tournaments, but the structure is more or less universal. After entering, the action will begin with a knockout setup in which the last player left standing with all the chips in hand is the winner. Poker tournaments can, however, vary dramatically in terms of scale.

A land-based tournament could have 80 players, while an online tournament can attract hundreds of thousands. You won't typically encounter structured rounds, but tables will be reorganised as more and more players are eliminated.

A tournament with low blinds and thousands of players could last for quite some time. To maintain pacing, a poker site will increase the blinds at set intervals, where in cash games they remain static. This increase is entirely at the site’s discretion and can be as frequent as every ten hands.

There can also be an ante cost attached to every hand, regardless if you are the small or big blind. Stack sizes are the other main difference between tournaments and cash games; players in the latter will often see stacks of similar size between themselves, whereas in tournaments stacks can vary wildly in size, down to just one chip.

Another factor to consider is where you need to finish to share the prize pool. Make it to the top ten and you could win a substantial cash prize. Always view the tournament specifics in advance for full details on the distribution of winnings.

Vital Tournament Tips

Playing in poker tournaments is challenging for every player, and failing to prepare will guarantee you an early exit. The most important thing to remember is that your chips are your tournament lifeblood: once they're gone, you're out.

In the early stages of a tournament, stick to basic poker to maintain or grow your chip stack for the next stages where you'll be able to take bigger risks. The aim is to enter the late stage with plenty of chips and an aggressive stance.

Follow these quick tips for the best chance of finishing in the money:

  • Practice makes perfect. | Enter a lower profile tournament with a small buy-in. You cannot jump straight in to a big tournament and expect to do well, so practice is essential. Trying to survive until the latter stages will help you grow familiar with the process. In a big event, your focus has to be entirely on your stack.
  • Survival matters. Take fewer risks. | You might be willing to call a sneaky bluff in a cash game, but it could cost your place in a tournament. Hold back on risky tactics until the later rounds.
  • Don’t burst the bubble. | This is the term used to describe the last moments before the money spots are filled. Players with short stacks become more desperate as they close in on the money. This is when hours of hard work can be eradicated in a split second. Go into survival mode and let others make mistakes during bubble play.
  • Be aggressive at the end. | Playing shorthanded against nine or fewer opponents requires a more aggressive strategy. The quality of hands will vary wildly and you cannot afford to wait for great cards. Another player might get too far ahead if you do not take advantage of weaker opponents by bluffing.

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