Tournament play

This article was posted on July 18, 2007

Every player who's ever set a foot (or should I say mouse-cursor) in an online poker room, knows about general tournament strategy. The general rules are pretty much the same, whether you play in a multi-table tournament or a sit & go: Play very tight in the beginning, do not bother those who are set on committing suicide, let them go about their business undisturbed, but in the same time, be ready to take full advantage of these players whenever your expected value says you should.

Gradually loosen up, and get more aggressive, up to the point that you play almost every single hand in the heads-up stages of a tourney.

Well, this theory is pretty simple and easy to follow, but there are certain situations in a tournament when you'll be well out of your comfort zone. As a matter of fact this situation is sure to come as soon as you take a seat at the table, the question is not whether it'll come or not, but rather, when it'll come...

One situation in which a poker player always shows his/her true colors is, when he/she commits his/her very last chips. This is just about the best read you'll ever get on a player. A lot of the guys lose their heads, especially when they see the in the money stage drawing near and they commit chip suicide.

Still others will act cool, but they'll commit certain mistakes they'll even congratulate themselves for.

Now, we've all been in the situation that we had a couple of chips left (not even enough to pay out the small blind, let alone the big one) a couple of seats behind the dealer button and we got something like Q,To dealt. Knowing that we only had a few hands before it was all over for us, we certainly considered committing on a hand like that. Certainly, under normal circumstances, that wouldn't be something I'd ever consider going all in on, but with my back to the wall, it would certainly look like a possible way out.

All right, let's suppose the player in the above-described situation decides to shove his last two chips into the pot and see what happens. What is the exact situation that would most facilitate his moving all in?

Most players like to see a couple of limpers in front of them, because that generates action, and they desperately need to get as much money out of the pot as possible. The more, the merrier, they figure not knowing the mistake they're making. Having a bunch of limpers in front of you is just about the worst thing that can happen on your final hand.

Do you know why good poker players generate a lot of pre-flop action sometimes? They do it to get rid of the calling stations, and thus to secure themselves better odds post-flop. What does this tell you? The more callers you have in a hand, the smaller your chances are of actually winning. Whereas in a "full value" situation, the most you get is around 20% chances to win (most of the time it's less than that, but it depends on the number of limpers, obviously) you want something much better than that for your final chance to stay in the tourney.

What you really want in this situation is a strong raiser in front of you that will make everyone else fold. You might just "hitch a ride" on one of those pre-flop moves that are meant to cut the competition down to size.

This way, you'll go up against one guy only, and even if you turn out to be a 40-60 underdog (by virtue of your starting hands), your chances will still be much bigger than in the previous "full value" situation.

In a tournament, you have to be careful what you wish for, especially if you're not 100% sure what the right thing would be for you.

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