Poker Tournaments: The Ultimate Guide to Win

Unlike the cash game, tournament play is special. While the majority of the advice you can find on King of Poker can be applied to tournaments, there are certain specificities that require some adaptation. Today we are going to dig into this form of play and we offer you a complete guide to poker tournaments. Be careful, it may be a bit long, but you will find plenty of useful information!

The differences with the cash game

The first thing to consider is that the game in tournaments is different from the game in cash-game. Some players do not like playing tournaments, and vice versa. Why?

In tournaments, generally, once you have lost all your chips you will not be able to return to play. There are periods of rebuy but after a certain level, it’s over. Managing your stack is a crucial element to master.

The duration of the tournaments implies that you must be ready to play for a few hours, at least, whether online or in real life. As you can see, the patience and management of the tilts is also important.

Finally, the blinds will increase throughout the tournament, which is one of the points, if not the most important point of the tournament strategy. You will not play the same at the beginning or end of tournaments.

These three elements can be quite disturbing for players accustomed to cash games.

The calculation of the “M” ratio in tournaments

How to calculate it?

This is perhaps the strategy to know absolutely for poker tournaments that will allow you to calculate how many blinds your carpet represents to know when you can make shots depending on the moment in the tournament. For history, this is a concept that we owe to Paul Magriel.

To calculate your “M”, let’s take a fairly simple example. Say you have 1500 chips and the blinds are 10/20. Your carpet therefore contains 50 blinds, so you can stay in play for 50 blinds, without playing one. Here it is quite simple to calculate. The big blinds are 20, the small ones of 10, or 30 shields to each shots, so you can play 50 blinds (1500/30).

As you progress through the tournament, the antes will appear. They will therefore be taken into account to calculate your “M”. So, the calculation is as follows:

Let’s say the antes have appeared (10 tokens) and you’re still 10 at the table and you have 3000 chips with blinds at 30/60. Your “M” is therefore “15”, approximately. Morality, you can stay in for another 15 blinds.

How to use the “M” ratio?

Depending on your “M”, you can judge your situation according to the timing of the tournament.

Areas of the ratio “M” and ways to play tournaments

Honestly, it’s useless to start playing in tournament without exploiting this “M”, it will help you a lot to know how to play according to your stack. So, how to play effectively in tournament?

How to play at the beginning of the tournament

At the beginning of the tournament you will end up with a fairly large stack compared to the blinds and there is no antes. You will start your tournament like all other players in the green zone.

If you start poker or are not yet used to tournaments, we advise you to play few hands. The goal at this point is to play cards with potential like small pairs without spending too many chips to avoid falling on predators. Of course, if you find a pair of aces you have to try to make the pot grow a maximum.

The problem with the beginnings of tournaments is that the fish will often go down the street with mundane hands, especially online. Be careful though, if you have a pair of KK or QQ kings or ladies. If you make a raise, and your opponent re-raises you, you may want to go to bed unless these players have shown that they are playing very aggressively or poorly.

Here it will not be profitable to play flip-flops. If you have AK and someone puts a rug before the flop, it is more profitable to fold. This is only the beginning of the tournament so it will be necessary to try to read your opponents thanks to the tells and to be patient not to let you catch in a blow.

In summary, at the beginning of the tournament, we advise you:

  1. To be patient and let the fish kill each other.
  2. To find good situations to win small pots that do not seem to interest anyone.
  3. Do not engage much of your carpet without a strong hand.

The ways to play in the middle and end of the tournament

Now that you know how to tackle your tournament start, let’s see what are the key points for the middle and end of the tournament. We have seen that the start of the tournament was good enough for a tight game because the blinds are relatively weak, the fish are still numerous, so as to be careful and not to enter difficult shots to master.

Blinds increase

Here the blinds become more expensive and you have to play more moves to try to steal them. Of course it will depend on our carpet. In this phase of the tournament, players begin to think about money from paid places and so they change their behavior.

There will be – vulgarly – two kinds of players:

  1. The amateurs who play to be in the paid places and who will play really very few shots.
  2. The pros and some amateurs who play for the win, which is much more profitable. These play more blows and exploit those who are afraid of losing before the paid places. Do you remember our article on poker predators?

At this point in the tournament, the blinds are now big enough to be stolen in certain situations. But we must play differently depending on the size of our carpet. This is where our famous “M” ratio comes back.
Play “Short Stack” in tournament

If you play tournaments often it will not be rare that you arrive in the middle of the tournament with a small carpet.

So we will see the best way to play, without losing his cool. Here, if your M becomes lower than 8 you will be forced to steal the blinds. You are here in orange zone and you must impose your pace.

Here are some tips for playing this “M” effectively:

  • When you are on the button and in the small blind, you must put 100% of the time if no one before you is in the game and if the person in the big blind has a smaller stack, or equivalent.
  • If you are followed, it is not so serious, in fact you will often play a 30% (see the odds in poker), but this will be offset by the number of times you win by stealing the shots without being followed .
  • Here, if you receive monsters like KK or AA, it will often be very profitable to play them as if you were stealing the blinds, putting carpet. Indeed if someone has a hand containing an ace and a lot of chips behind him, you will often be followed, and to you the “double up”.

Playing with a Medium Stack

We consider that our carpet is about 25 blinds, so in green zone. You have a perfect carpet to do real raises and re-raises.

Here we will never get back into a shot first without relaunching, because that allows several things:

  1. You can win blinds unchallenged if everyone goes to bed.
  2. Your raise frequency will increase and so when you have a huge hand your opponents will not be able to read you.
  3. With this kind of carpet you will be able to set traps and even rob thieves. If you notice that someone is very active and that he raises often, try to re-raise him in position, with play or not.
  4. If your image is that of someone who plays pretty good cards it is a very good technique. Often your opponent goes to bed and even if he follows you you will be the last to talk and so you can bluff on the flop.

As for the traps, they are a very powerful weapon that you can use with this stack size. Trapping with a big hand is often a good idea, but how?

  • You can “limp” that is to say you just follow the big blind, in order to re-raise then. This strategy works very well on an aggressive table, but avoid it elsewhere because if no one raises you will be in a delicate position where there will be many people in the game which will significantly lower your chances of winning.
  • You can also just follow a raise. Indeed there are often people who try to steal the shots where the players were content to follow the raise because it is often an admission of weakness.

Be always careful in this part of the tournament, there will be many opportunities to win shots that nobody wants. Identify those who are afraid to jump before the paid places, they will be your targets.

Play tournament in “Big Stack”

You live the dream of all tournament players, your stack is huge and even if you lose a big shot you can still leave. Playing with a big rug is very profitable if you play a lot of hands. It will work all the better if you are at a table where players play very few hands in the hope of getting paid places.

In reality, you are really in a strong position, so you can:

  • Play all the moves where nobody has neither followed nor raised.
  • Get into a shot by restarting but you must avoid over-relaunching players who just pay the big blind, it will often be a trap. Here a good raise will be a little less than 3 times the big blind, the famous 3-bet effect that you bet more or less it will have the same effect, your opponents will only face you with good hands, but you will save a few chips each time they raise you.

The disadvantage with being “big stack” in a tournament is that all players want to catch you to double their rugs. Here are some rules to know what to do if you re-raise all-in:

  • If your opponent has less than 10% of your stack you can follow with almost every hand. Here following with any hand can prove to be a good investment, because if your table saw you follow with 10 and 3 you will pass for the crazy who follows everything and you can be sure he will not have fun not to re-raise you with anything.
  • If you are facing a middle stack that re-raises you, you may be able to play coin-toss with pairs of ten or hands like AQ.
  • In the case of a carpet that is of the same order of magnitude as you, play more cautiously. If he showed you that he was wise enough and that he played very few hands, it is even possible to sleep AK.

If you play in tournaments, it is important to keep in mind how big our rug is compared to others and to adapt the way we play according to your “M”.

For those who would like to try tournaments online, know that all rooms offer, we invite you here to read our comparison to see the room that suits you best.