Texas Hold’em Tournaments are one of the biggest reasons for poker’s incredible growth over the past years. The World Series of Poker is one of the largest poker tournaments in the world, and the fact that it was televised on ESPN drew an incredible amount of attention to poker. Well, it’s not nearly as easy as putting your money into a tournament and winning $8+ million dollars. Tournament poker takes a ton of strategy, and most tournaments are an incredibly tough grind. There are multiple different parts of a tournament (if you are fortunate enough to make it deep into the tournament), and feature different types of play for each.
Whether it be online tournaments or live tournaments, there are different types of tournaments. A standard live tournament will feature blind levels that are between 20-120 minutes depending on the tournament or event. You don’t need to focus too much on the length of the levels, but more about what the blinds are at, and how many big blinds you have. We’ll break down tournament play by early, middle, and late sections of the tournament (basically by blind levels).
Remember, the strategy for tournaments, is to make it into the money. After you do that, then you focus on winning it all. You can’t win an entire tournament in the first 10 minutes.
Basic Tournament Strategy
The first, most important, and main thing to remember, is to play tight. A tournament is a long grind, and is not the place to go crazy trying to bluff a lot or win every pot. You have to pick your spots to bluff, and pick your spots to win small to medium pots. You can’t try to win every pot in Texas Hold’em tournament poker. Another important thing to remember is to pay close attention to the play at your table. You’ll typically be with a table for a good amount of time, and if not, you could run into the players later in the tournament. Watch how the players play, see how often they bluff, how they bet, etc.
Early Tournament Play
Most tournaments blind levels will start at either 25/50 or 50/100, and your starting stack will range between 5,000 chips to 30,000 normally. This means that you have plenty of time to play your cards and read your opponents. If you have 5,000 chips and the blinds are 25/50, this means that you start with 100 big blinds. The time to start to worry when you are short on chips, is when you have about 10-20 big blinds. Before that, there’s no need to worry, and you should just continue to play your game. Early tournament play is about trying to win pots, don’t get involved in a huge hand with just any pair or top pair, wait until you get a big hand to try to get all your chips in the middle. Just play small ball through the early levels, and make it on to the later levels of the event.
Mid Tournament Play
What “mid tournament” is, depends on the size of the tournament field of course. But if you have 7,000 players like the Main Event does, it would be around the 500/1,000 blind levels I’d say. Regardless of exactly what the blinds are, mid tournament play and how you play it depends largely on your chip stack. If you are near the top of the field, you can play more hands, steal from the shorter stacks, etc. On the other hand though, if you are a short stack, you need to sit tight and wait for spots. For example, if you have 150 or 200 big blinds, you need to be making moves to steal the blinds in position, or even attempting to put more pressure on the shorter stacks; as they will be playing incredibly tight and looking for spots to go all in. And if you are a short stack? Just wait. Again, a short stack I would consider having between 10-20 big blinds, anything above that you have a little bit of wiggle room to play some hands, but don’t get crazy.
Late Tournament Play
First off, if you’re late in a tournament, good work because you’ve probably made the cash (which is the whole goal of this thing). Let’s say for example though that making the cash was the top 70 players of the field and there are about 90 left. If you are a big stack with 20 players from the cash, you need to consider playing pots against the shorter stacks. They are going to attempt to do everything they can to make the money, and you can take advantage of that by stealing pots and picking up chips. Try to build your stack for once you are in the money (if you are a big stack). If you are a short stack in this spot, sit tight and remember not to worry until you have about 10-15 big blinds now. Only move all in with a big hand, and at this point, there is NO raising; it’s all in or fold.
So you make the cash, and have about 61 more players until you’re at the final table. Play your stack, but at this point, always take advantage of your position and who is sitting to your left. Play fairly tight still, as the short stacks tend to get a little crazy once they make it into the money. If you have the big stack, look for spots to take out the short stacks (don’t make any crazy calls), and just continue to grind out the tournament and build up the stack. If you are the short stack, just wait for a GOOD spot to push all in. Shoving Q/10 off suit from middle position isn’t that spot, unless you have under 10-15 big blinds.
Final Table Play
You’ve made it to the promised land, and only have to get past 8 more players in order to take down the tournament. Final table play is very similar to the “in the cash” play. Look for spots to eliminate the short stacks with good hands, and don’t be afraid to make calls with pocket pairs or two big cards when in positions like the small or big blind if a player with a short stack in late position pushes his chips in. And if you are the short stack? You already know what to do, just wait.
If you get to heads-up play, you are going to be playing a much wider range of hands. Raise a good amount more (especially if you and your opponent are close in chips), and don’t be afraid to bluff. Once you start to get short, or the blinds get to the point where both sides have a low number of big blinds, you should be shoving all in on anything with an Ace, anything with a King, any pocket pair, and a good amount of Queens. You have to remember that there is only one other player left at this point, and anything with an ace, king, queen, or pocket pair is most likely ahead pre-flop. The whole idea is just to get it in ahead.
Now, this is a basic overview of Texas Hold’em Tournament strategy, there will be some spots that are tough, and call for tough decisions; but that could happen with a wide range of hands. This is why we recommend one specific thing. It is ALWAYS better to be the one putting the pressure on your opponent for all of their chips, compared to being the one having to call off your chips when your opponent pushes on you.