How to Win A Poker Tournament: 10 Concepts You Must Master
After doing well at the WSOP Main Event, I am getting more questions than usual from people about how to improve their tournament poker game. I have outlined 10 concepts below that should help your game.
1. Understand how the structure of a tournament influences your play.
The WSOP Main Event may be the most favorable structure in the world as it gives you 30,000 in chips, 2-hour rounds, and a slow increase in blinds. Your local event probably provides 5-10,000 in chips, 20 minute rounds, and a a level or two where the blinds jump up.
Adjust your game to the structure of your game.
2. Poker is about the players and not just about your cards.
Your cards are important, but knowing the players is just as or possibly more important. You need to figure out how your opponents play. Are they aggressive or passive? How do they play on each street as a pre-flop raiser or caller? Do they always make a c-bet? Do they 3-bet with a range of cards or does it only mean they have a premium hand?
Do not assume your opponents play like you.
3. Get out of your comfort zone.
When you started playing poker, you may have seen charts of which starting hands to play and from what position. If you follow these charts, I can promise you will never win a poker tournament. Why? You won't be dealt enough of these hands in the right position to make it to the end of an event.
You must learn to open up your game. The way to do this is test different moves or ideas, and to learn by watching or reading from others. For example, have you ever 3-bet an opponent pre-flop without a premium hand? If not, try it. In fact, if you are going to 3 bet an opponent in may be best to try it with a trash hand than a hand like K-J. (Do you know why?)
Now, if you've played a lot of poker, you may think you play good enough to win. But, you are not winning. Why? You may have a better understanding of the game, and a new comfort zone, but you need to continue to work at your game.
If you are not one of the November Nine, I can promise you that you have a lot more to learn. I know I do.
4. Know your own table image.
Players who are good at getting a read on their opponents, forget about how other players are viewing their style. If you know how an opponent will read your playing style, you can take advantage of that information.
And, you should realize that not all opponents will read you the same way. Oh yeah, there are even a few players who don't even care.
5. Chip Stacks
Always be aware of your stack size and those of your opponents. It is important in so many decisions you have to make at the table.
I will give you an obvious example that too many players still don't get it. Let's say the small blind has 1,000 and the blinds are 200-400. The big blind has 30,000. The small blinds moves all-in when everyone folds to him. What should the big blind do? Hint: The big blind peeks at his cards and finds 7-2 offsuit.
Call. It doesn't matter what the big blind is holding.
Simply, you want to manage your risk based on the stage of the tournament and your chip stack. Early in an event you want to reduce your risk, since you can't accumulate enough chips to win an event in early round. Later in the event, you can take on greater risk if your stack size declines too much or you see an opportunity to win a big pot.
Position is always important. And, a back position is a favorable one since it allows you to risk less, and win. Some examples:
If you are in a back position, and everyone folds to you preflop, you should look to raise.
If you are on the button, and have a speculative hand, it may be a good play to call a pre-flop raise. Why? Because even if you miss the flop, if other players flop, your bet her may win.
If you want to squeeze players with a 3 bet, it is easier to do it in a back position.
You can also float an opponent by calling a raise from a back position.
Of course, if you are in the small or big blind, you will be out of position which will make it more difficult to play a hand.
8. Learn how to play with a short stack
I took one chip in a WSOP satellite and turned it into finishing 71st in the Main Event. Did I get lucky? Of course. But, I also have a good understanding of short stack play.
To me a short stack is when you have to decide to move all-in or fold. Here are some things to consider:
First, have an idea of what is a short stack in your game. Is it when you are 20x's the big blind ? 15x's? 10x's? This is the time, where you have to move all-in or fold?
Second, you need to have your own guidelines as to when to move all-in by your position at the table.
Third, you should determine if you need to adjust these guidelines if there is any action that happens in front of you.
Here is an example that I witnessed the other day. This event pays out 14 places. We are down to 20 players. The blinds are 400-800 with a 100 ante. The player under the gun has 6000 and raises to 2000. It is folded to the big blind who moves all-in (he has 10,000). The under the gun player folds! He shows K-Q, and the big blind shows J-J.
The under the gun player's mistake is that he had a short stack with less than 8x's the big blind and only raised. He has to move all-in or fold.
Too many players make raises pre-flop short stacked and then fold to an all-in move. This is a major leak.
If you know if your opponent is strong or weak, it would help your game immensely, right?Most poker players do things either consciously or subconsciously that give you this answer. You have to work at developing your skill. But, frankly, it can be a lot of fun and very profitable.
Caro and Navarro are two authors who have written excellent books on spotting tells. I have written a lot about how to spot tells, and how to get better at it.
Here is one simple exercise: Look at your opponent seated to your left. Find out what he does pre-flop to signal if he will or will not enter a hand. Now, you will find times where you can alter your play based on knowing his actions.
10. Play to win, and not just to cash.
The money in most events are in the first three spots. If you are playing to survive in order to cash, you are not understanding how payouts work. It may be why that player folded his K-Q in the example above (Note: he did not cash in that event).
The next time you play in a tournament, look at the payouts. Let's say you finish 10th, 10 times in a row. Now, look at how that compares to one win.
I hope this helps!