Late Stage Poker Tournament Tips

With online sites offering more and more tournaments these days, I thought you folks might find it helpful to get into some of the more strategic aspects of the latter stages of a tournament.

You’ve held your own, took down some pots and knocked your share of players out. You’ve been checking over your shoulder for updates and you see that the player pool has been steadily decreasing. You also check your chip position in relation to the leader and the player average and you’re sure that you’re in good shape.

What a total shame it would be to come so far and still finish out of the money. After all, if you don’t get paid off, you essentially wasted your time and effort, not to mention your non-refundable buy in. I know, I know, you could look at the bright side and view a loss as a losing experience, but personally, I learn a lot better when I’m counting money, not when I’m muttering to myself in disgust…

In any case, much has been written about different survival tactics for different phases of a tournament. Some people preach conservative play early while others suggest an early double up attempt. That’s all fine and dandy, but that’s not why we’re here today. No, today deals with a situation where the finish line is getting closer and closer, so close you can just about…reach it…

As you near the end of the tournament and the cash places approach, things tend to change. As you get near the cash, and particularly on the bubble (one more player to bust out before everybody is in the money), many players will become extremely tight and play very conservatively, unwilling to be the last one to bust out before the money. If you are astute enough to notice this happening, you should be able to steal blinds frequently. This will set you up with a good stack once you’ve gotten into the money.

Here are a few tips to employ as the bubble time has arrived:

Steal Blinds – In a bubble situation, many players are unwilling to call decent raises out of fear of getting knocked out of the tournament and having nothing to show for it. If you have a decent enough holding, and a couple of players before you have folded, you may attempt a raise to steal the blinds. However, if someone in early position has called the blind, this player may have something. Be wary and be prepared to fold if someone plays back at you and your marginal holding.

Become more aware of your position – As the stakes get higher, position becomes even more important than before. At this stage, you are trying to make the money, remember that, and try to play hands where you are last or close to being last to act. By doing so, you have more information and naturally are in a better position to make smarter plays.

Forget about trying to one-up a player – Unless you are certain you have made a strong hand, avoid confrontations, especially against a larger stack. Bubble-time is not the time to pay money to try to hit your flush or straight on the turn or river. Don’t senselessly blow off your money at this time.

Be aware of the pecking order of the table – What does that mean? Simple, be aware of your opponent’s stack sizes. Avoid those players who have you covered and pick on the smaller stacks. The smaller stacks tend to remain timid at this time while the larger stacks have the collateral to send you packing.

Think before you act – You should always do this, but really think about what you’re doing. If the move you’re about to make, doesn’t make sense, re-think it again.

In this week’s Hand of the Week, I’ll give an example of how I didn’t think something through and I was ousted just before making the money. It was so dumb in fact, that to this day, I still shake my head when I think about it.

Try to be aware of these simple tips next time you’re closing in on a tournament payday. Next month, I’ll give you some more ideas on how to climb the payout ladder…

Until next time, may the chips fall your way.