Tournament Poker tips.

Recently I went out with the son of a friend of mine and he told me that while living in England he had made money playing poker, both in real life and online. I am a keen gambler and we got talking and next thing I know I’m playing at I started off small in 50c/$1 limit games, and it turned out he was right - you can labouriously accrue a profit by playing sensibly, but at a very poor hourly rate.

After throwing away lots of hands, I will finally get a hand to play but after the river it will become apparent that someone has the only hand to beat me …say a 2 6 to my pocket bullets that I raised pre-flop. So I got bored with shaking my head wondering why they were still in the hand and swapped over to cheap tournaments. A few dollars can become hundreds in one session…now that seems sensible.

However I have begun to wonder how I should play these. I have played a few tournaments and have finished from 60 - 300 depending on entries. I am about midfield. But it is obvious I can’t win, even when I last for ages I am dropping further behind the leaders at my table due to my conservative play.

In every tournament I have got to the point where my stack will be eliminated by the blinds if I don’t get a playable hand. What I try to do is bet up the first makeable hand I get in an early position and just get all in to end the agony. It has never worked. Whatever drawing hand I have gets crushed by someone else.

I know that 10% of the time I will get the winning hand first time out, and I look forward to playing from in front. The question is …what is the best move when your stack is getting slowly chipped away?

I would recommend you read David Sklansky’s book. It’s probably the best single book regarding tournament poker out there. SuperSystem by Doyle Brunson runs a close second. Either one will give you more help than you could ever get on a message board.

The only thing I’d recommend, outside of reading those books, is to vary your play a bit more. Very tight, conservative play can get you to the top-middle of a tournament, but it rarely will win it all. At some point, you’re going to have to pick up a few blinds here and there and chase some people off of better hands. That’s pretty hard to do on a short stack though.

A good amount of how you play needs to be a decision made depending on the table you are at and at what stage of the touranment. Bluffing to get blinds is generally not a good strategy early in the tournament, but it can be effective later. Also, trapping early and middle of a tournament can be very successful too.

Finally, as Sklansky points out, the value of each individual chip you have depends a lot on how many of them you have and how many are left out there. On a short stack with most of the players out already, each individual chip is worth more to you than if you had more of them earlier in the tournament. It might take a bit more patience to wait for a good hand rather than a drawing hand, to go all in with, but it increases your chances of hanging around.

Oh, and don’t forget to get good cards.

I like that book, and frankly any book would probably get you further than you are. It sounds like you never bluff. If you never bluff, opponents know that when you stay in, it means you have a good hand. So they are more likely to fold (reducing your pot), or only stay in if they think have something even better (taking your pot entirely). From my experience in tournies (I am not much of a bluffer, although clearly more than you), this is enough to get past the idiots who have no business being there, but against experienced players is slow death. As soon as the herd thins enough that the players left have been around the block a few times, a style like yours can’t win.

I’ve never tried this, but, in regards to your conservative play, Sklansky’s Theory of Poker has a neat section on incorporating a bluffing system with your first two cards. The idea is to base your bluffing on a random event involving your two down cards. For example, every time you get dealt K 2 or 4 7, you bluff. Since your bluffing is now based on a random event, it makes it pretty tough for people to figure out a pattern and take advantage of it.

Now all you have to do is figure out the optimal bluffing ratio and match that to an equally probable event with your down cards. Yeah, right. I can’t do stuff like that. Maybe to simplify things you could figure out a ratio you’re comfortable with, like bluffing one in twelve hands, and find an event with your down cards that has a one in twelve chance of happening.

My impression is that your biggest problem is you are playing the cards when you should be playing the table. Poker is primarily a betting game, not a card game. Even when playing online, you should be watching every hand closely and trying to get a read on your fellow players. You should be betting according to your position, the pot odds and your read of your fellow players. What cards you actually have in your hand is only one piece of the puzzle and if you consistently make it the biggest piece, you will always lose in the long run.

Your mindset should be that you are playing against the other players, you are not playing against their cards. In fact, if you end up actually showing your cards most of the time, you simply aren’t getting what poker is really about.

Thanks for the tips. With some adjustments I have now been able to finish top 20 in a tournament and win some money. WSOP here I come.