Poker Tournament Strategy

By definition, poker tournaments are structured events that put players against each other to compete for the entirety of whatever chips are in play. In tournaments, play continues until all players have been eliminated and there is only one player left who has won everyone else’s chips. Because skill is a valuable asset in tournament play and the prize money is so massive, tournaments will always be an extremely profitable tool for great poker players who are looking to make a living playing poker, especially online tournaments that run round the clock.

If you can manage your finances and your bankroll to carry you between big wins, which may be months at a time, tournaments can be a very lucrative investment. Think of a tournament win as an hourly wage and divide up your winnings by the amount of hours you put in to all the tournaments you play, whether you won or lost, and then factor in the buy-ins as your expenses. Looking at tournament play in this light can put winning a big lump sum in perspective.

Another way to think about tournament poker is from a mental aspect. Tournament poker is not a personal game. While there is a lot going on in the heads of the players that won’t be shared, there’s also a cooperative level to tournament play that, if recognized and utilized, can be an asset to your game. For example, there may be times when you didn’t win a pot, but you are glad that one of your opponents took it from you rather than someone else doubling up at your expense. If you can learn to manipulate these types of plays to your advantage, your overall tournament success may be better.

The most important thing to remember in tournament poker, though, is that it’s not about winning one hand; it’s about winning the whole tournament. You have to take on an “end result” mind frame rather than a “right now” one. The consequences of each hand compound and this must be remembered. Additionally, the style of each individual player must be studied and considered for the long-term haul of the tournament. Read your opponents regularly, so that when it comes down to the final table, you’ve got their number, but don’t afford them the opportunity to predict you.

The biggest mistake most tournament players make is overlooking the importance of the bigger picture. Your single goal in tournament play should be to win the last hand, and everything you do prior to that should be based on that one objective. Any pot you lose between the beginning and end of the tournament ultimately has no real value. The only pot that does have value is the last one. Your focus should be on the next three to ten hands and beyond, not just the one currently in play. Also whether you have invested in the current pot or not, you are still essentially “in” every pot.

All that being said, there is another key character trait required to be a successful tournament player—audacity. Tournament play is a series of tedious decisions that must be made in the face of difficult situations, outside of the typical decisions that poker requires (Should I fold? Should I bluff? Should I call?, etc.) In tournaments, players are put into much more intense and challenging situations that demand brash and brazen action. The nature of tournaments is to provoke danger, the ultimate danger being that all players but one will eventually be broke. It is the ability to look risk in the eye and act on it with the utmost nerve that will ultimately make you a tournament winner. These will be your shining moments when you endure risk and defy failure. Every prolific tournament player will ultimately be forced to either act heroically or leave the table. This is hard for many players to adapt to, but it is essential to win.

When peril looms, the successful tournament player will rise to the occasion again and again and again. Those who seize the moment with bold action are in a different class from the players who fold under pressure. Being daring and taking risks are the secrets to being a victorious tournament player. But there’s an important catch to the story. With risk comes failure, and as an avid tournament player, you must be prepared to lose, a lot. You are essentially risking loss in every tournament you play compared to the few tournaments you will win.  Because of this, integrating a solid tournament strategy is essential in becoming a well rounded and winning player.

Ultimately, tournament strategy is very different than that of cash games and players must adapt and refine their skills constantly in order to be successful.  The most important thing to remember for tournament play is to be patient, pick your spots and always pay attention to the various levels and players in the tournament.