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Winning Poker Tournaments

How to be a winning tournament player:

  1. Question: How many chips am I supposed to have after the first two levels?

    Answer: As many as you can get. Play your cards. Play your opponents. Do not try to force action simply because you think you "need" to have a certain number of chips to have a chance of winning. You should be thinking about accumulating more chips, while trying to conserve the chips you already have. The more chips you have, the better your chances of winning. The fewer chips you have, the worse your chances.

    Forget about reaching some magical number. There is no amount below which you have no shot, nor is there any amount above which you can be guaranteed a victory. A chip and a chair is enough to win, and enough to beat you. Getting fixated on a specific number is a good way to ensure failure. Next question:

  2. Question: Should I play a lot of hands early while the blinds are small, then tighten up later as the blinds increase?

    Answer: Your play shouldn't change much as the tournament progresses. Gear your play to take maximum advantage of your opponents, irrespective of how far along the tournament is. Most players are too loose in the early stages of a tournament. Rather than become one of these players, adjust for their play instead:
    • Call more raises
    • Attempt to steal the blinds less often
    • Re-raise more frequently

    Likewise, when opponents typically tighten up later on, you should steal more often and be less inclined to get involved in opened pots. Again, this should be a reaction to the way your opponents are playing, not an action based on any particular stage of the tournament.

  3. Question: I seem to always finish on the bubble. Should I tighten up more as I get close to the money, or try to accumulate more chips early on?

    Answer: Usually the people asking this question are already tightening up too soon before reaching the money. In other words, they are over-adjusting to tournament play. Not only is it incorrect to tighten up considerably before you are two or three players from the money, doing so is the surest way to finish on or near the bubble. Just play your best, most aggressive game, and try not to let your stack dwindle to a point where you can't protect your hand with a pre-flop all-in raise. If you do, your opponents will be getting the right pot odds to call, even with weak hands. Look for opportunities to make a move before you let this happen, even if it means raising with less than desirable holdings.