People often ask very specific questions about
how to be a winning tournament player:
- How many chips am I supposed to have after
the first two levels?
- Should I play a lot of hands early while the
blinds are small, then tighten up later as the
- 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
Surprisingly, all three questions have the same
Stop trying to force things to happen. Just
concentrate on playing solid poker, and let the
chips fall where they may.
In fact, that's the best answer for almost any
specific tournament question. Here is a more
How much of a difference is there between ring
game strategy and tournament strategy?
The answer: Not as much as you think.
Before you worry about adjusting for
tournaments, concentrate on adjusting for the
other players. The most important skill in poker
is the ability to react to a wide range of
opponents playing a wide range of styles. Players
who can do this will thrive in both ring games and
Many of the most costly tournament mistakes are
the result of players over-adjusting for
tournament play. Let's look at these questions
How many chips am I supposed to have after the
first two levels?
The short answer is: 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
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.
Should I play a lot of hands early while the
blinds are small, and then tighten up later as the
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:
- Attempt to steal the blinds less often
- Call more raises
- 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.
Last question: I seem to always finish on the
bubble. Should I tighten up more as I get close to
the money to avoid this, or try to accumulate more
chips early on?
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.
Next week, I will address the two situations
where adjusting your game will help.