Image via Wikipedia
The following post about tournament poker strategy is from rakemeback. It provides a summary of Dan Harrington's system for playing tournaments.
The best way to approach a multi table tournament (MTT) is through the Harrington system. This system, devised by Dan Harrington, consists of a set of general recommendations, based on the relationship between your stack size and the ever escalating blinds.
In the early stages of a MTT, everyone is relatively deep-stacked (not in the traditional cash-game based sense of the word, of course), which means everyone has a multitude of options at his/her disposal. Holding more than 20 times the BB+SB in your stack is the ideal situation, and that’s exactly where you are at this stage. Your goal should be to maintain yourself in this situation all through the tournament, right up to the late stages when the whole game-plan changes. The best way to secure such an ideally sized stack changes as you go through the event.
In the early stages, your stack size allows you to play ABC TAG poker. That’s right, get that TAG style off the shelf, dust it off and put it to use. Make sure you’re even tighter than usual. Only act on premium hands and be extremely aggressive on those hands. This type of approach will give you the best odds to keep your stack above 20 BB+SBs, deep into the tourney.
Stack Size: 10-20 BB+SBs
In poker, things rarely go according to a general plan though. You may take a bad beat on one of the solid hands you commit chips on, or you may simply fail to follow the TAG style and you end up with somewhere between 10-20 BB+SBs in your stack. This is a less than ideal situation, in the sense that it’ll force you to take some chances. You will have to loosen up a little and to add to your stack as soon as possible in order to get right back to the above 20 BB+SB comfort zone.
Stack Size: 6 BB+SBs
If your stack happens to dip further (and because the blinds grow all the time, you don’t even need to lose to get to this point, it’s enough if you don’t keep adding to your stack), and you find yourself with about 6 BB+SBs in your stack, the noose tightens and you begin to feel uncomfortable. At this stage, your main problem is that you will not be able to use your stack to intimidate your opponents, and thus you’ll lose some of the strategy-weapons you had at your disposal. Don’t try to bluff anyone, just wait for a solid hand and pray that someone doubles you up.
Stack Size: 1-5 BB+SBs
When your stack sinks to 1-5 BB+SBs, you have arrived to the “do-or-die” zone. You need to do something to get your stack-size back up, or you’ll be blinded out soon. Unfortunately, your only remaining option is the all-in, something that you should generally avoid in a poker tournament. Pick the spot for your all-in well. Try to go up against a single opponent, as the involvement of several players in what could be your last hand, will ruin your odds.
Stack Size: Smaller than BB+SBs
Your stack is smaller than a BB+SB. In this situation, just shove it all-in on the first reasonable hand you pick up and start praying.
Late stage Tournament Strategy
Your late-stage tournament strategy is determined by one dominant factor: the money bubble. Your tourney goals will dictate the optimal course of action. If you’re content to sail into the money, you should tighten up, but if you aim for all the marbles, you should take advantage of the fact that most everyone else tightens up on the bubble. Right before the money bubble, it’ll be much easier to get your opponents to fold hands. They’ll often let go of really good hands too, just to make sure they don’t bust on the bubble.
Once the bubble bursts, you should be in a good position to make a deep run with all the chips obtained this way.
In the late stages of MTTs, aggression becomes more and more important. The blinds – which are huge by that stage – create favorable pot odds for everyone, for almost any two cards, so the action will degenerate into a coin-toss/crapshoot by the end of it all. A sufficiently large stack can still offer you a huge advantage here though. Make sure you whip your short handed and heads-up play into shape if you aim for the big one.
Sign up for rakeback too. Most rakeback deals (like the ones available at Rakemeback) give you a rebate on your tournament fees. In the long-run, such an edge can prove priceless.