Posts Tagged poker tournaments

Tip: You Never Know What Players Will Speculate With Early

This is an important tip that many players seem to ignore all the time: when the blinds are low and the Ms are high, you never know what kind of hands you might be up against. This is true even if you make a standard raise to 3x the big blind (or 4 or even 5x the big blind). You can never be assured that your raise will clear away all the trashy speculative hands you could be up against. What’s more, if you end up in a multi-way pot you need a much stronger hand than usual in order to proceed with confidence. Take this example from the very first hand played at a $12 Poker Stars tournament I ended up winning. Naturally, one of the players at my table managed to bust needlessly on the very first hand.

Everyone starts with $1500 in chip stacks. With blinds at $10/$20 everyone has a very healthy M of 50. The under the gun player makes a standard raise to $60. One player folds, MP1 calls. Another player folds, and I call from MP3 with the QJ of hearts. The cut-off folds, the button calls and both blinds fold. There are now four players seeing the flop and they all only had to invest $60 out of their $1500 stack to enter this pot. The flop comes: KJA all diamonds!

Now my first thought is that’s I what I like to call a “trainwreck flop.” A suited, coordinated flop like this with already-possible flushes, straights, sets, and two-pair opportunities galore is just inviting a bust-out. Needless to say my bottom pair, inside-straight draw hand that could be crushed ten different ways is an easy fold. But I’m expecting one of the other players in this pot to get clipped pretty bad. I wasn’t disappointed.

As it happens, the action is mighty suspicious given what a powerful flop that was. The under the gun player checks in what is an obvious betting situation. When an early position player fails to make a continuation bet in a situation that clearly calls for one (i.e. an ace and/or a king and/or a queen on board), I’m immediately on heightened suspicion. There’s no reason he shouldn’t lead out here and try to represent at least an ace on this board; he might be trying to keep the pot small but there’s just too much that could go wrong even if he had a hand like AK and flopped two pair. The second player checks, I check, and the button makes a small bet of $80 into the $270 pot.

It’s at this point that all hell breaks loose. The under the gun player check-raises more than the size of the pot, $400. Then MP1 check re-raises all-in to $1440. Naturally I fold: my hand sucks and even if it didn’t when you see someone re-raise a check-raiser you get the heck out of the way. Or as I say in my book, the first raise might be a fellow just fooling around, but the second raise is almost always for real. You need a really strong hand to play after the second raise. The button folds behind me, and the under the gun player calls all-in.

Their hands? The under the gun player had KJ of clubs for two-pair, while MP1 had the mighty 43 of diamonds for a made flush. UTG may think he has four outs twice (two kings and two jacks) but we folded one of his jacks, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the button folded either a jack or a king. He’s at the most 12% to make his full house by the river.

What’s the moral of this story? Well, firstly, two-pair is not always a powerhouse hand. Certainly, in a heads-up pot the board would have to turn pretty ugly before I’d fold two-pair. But in a multi-way pot, with low blinds, on a suited and coordinated board like this? He should have been able to get away from bottom two-pair.

Also, he shouldn’t have check-raised his hand. For one thing his hand was way too vulnerable to risk being checked all the way around and everyone seeing a turn. For another thing, he needs to find out where he’s at quickly in a spot like this. If he’d led out and then been raised by MP1 and re-raised by the button, he’d have lost a LOT less money and been able to get away from his hand.

Failing that, he should have known after launching his massive check-raise that MP1 probably wasn’t check re-raising all-in with just the queen of diamonds. The UTG was representing a hand strong enough to call any kind of over-the-top semi-bluff.

Now, if this were the $100/$200 blind level I’d be shocked if I was in the UTG’s seat and I got a call from a player with the 43 of diamonds after making a standard raise. And it would be crazy for a player in early middle position to call an expensive raise with a suited connector in the late game, especially vs. an early position raiser. But Hand #1 with $10/$20 blinds means that anything goes.

You never know what players will choose to speculate with early. A standard raise is not going to clear out all the small pairs, suited cards, ace-rags, etc. You have to be on your guard and avoid committing yourself too heavily to a pot. If you don’t have the discipline to avoid getting overexcited by one-pair or two-pair hands when you could be up against monsters in a multi-way pot, it might be better to just automatically fold your way through the first one or two levels of extremely low blinds. But if you discount the value of AK/AQ type hands early and play the speculation game (like MP1 did here) you might get paid off from players that simply overvalue top pair early.

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Tip: Poker is Like a Boxing Match

There are many metaphors about the game of poker. It has been described as war: “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” It’s been compared to life itself, with women being the rake (“Rounders”). It’s even drawn romantic comparisons: “Poker is a lot like sex, everyone thinks they’re the best, but most don’t have a clue what they’re doing” (Dutch Boyd). For my money, at least when it comes to poker tournaments, I think of boxing. Poker is a lot like a boxing match: you dance around early, trade some jabs, and land power punches when your opponents tire in later rounds.

In the early stages, it’s all about sizing up your opponents. It’s like shadowboxing, conditioning yourself for the real action later. Sure, you’re still going to bet a big hand when you have one, but you’re not going to tire yourself out in the early going. You’re not looking to take any big risks, drop your guard, and suffer an early knockout. While it would be nice to score an early double-up, you’re not going to make any big moves to accomplish that goal. You’re also not going to risk any large part of your stack without a hand bigger than one pair, unless you hold AAs and push in pre-flop. To summarize: in the early stages of a tournament you’re not looking to bluff or to risk too much of your stack without a massive hand. You can speculate a bit in position with truly playable hands, but if you don’t hit the flop big you’re done with these hands. You should rarely bust out of a tournament early.

As you progress in the tournament, you open up your game. You start stealing blinds from middle and late position. In the very late stages you’re either stealing the blinds once per orbit or you’re falling behind pretty rapidly. You also need to mix in some re-raises to steal from the loose, aggressive big stacks that will start attacking the table. And there will be at least one loose, aggressive big stack raising way too often to steal the blinds. It’s a bit of a risk, but to make the final table you’re going to have to push back against these players at some point. Wait for a reasonable hand and a situation where it’s likely the loose player is just raising in position, and push back. If you can steal a standard raise along with the blinds you’ve won three rounds worth of blinds. That buys a lot of breathing room.

Finally, you launch the power jabs. Towards the very end, you’re either going big or going home. You don’t want to rely on the cards to decide your fate (that’s like trusting the whim of the judges’ scorecards). You’ll need to gamble, and usually it’ll be all-in pre-flop or fold. Alternatively, if you raise a smaller amount and get called, you’re pushing on the flop with any made hand, solid draw, or if the flop is unlikely to have helped your opponent. You must maintain a big stack at all times or die trying. It’s worth taking big risks so you have the chips you need to gamble: without being forced all-in.

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Poker Stars Bests Full Tilt Poker for Guinness Book of World Records

Full Tilt Poker’s attempt to seize Poker Stars place in the Guinness Book of World Records for largest online poker tournament has failed. Full Tilt managed to round up the 50,000 players they hoped to for their $5 “Record Breaker Tourney”, which would have broken Poker Stars previous record of 35,000 players in a poker tournament they hosted last year. Not to be outdone, Poker Stars promptly organized its own $1 Record Breaker tourney which signed up 65,000 players. It looks like this rivalry is just starting to heat up… perhaps Bodog will get in on the action by organizing a $.01 record breaking tourney?

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5 Reasons You Bust Out on the Bubble – Poker Tournament Strategy for Success

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section

It’s a frustrating experience. We’ve all been there. It’s the middle stages of a poker tournament, the blinds are starting to eat into your stack, the cards aren’t coming, and you don’t want to bust out on the bubble. Anything but busting out on the bubble! What could be worse than wasting two hours of your life and barely missing the payout? The only thing worse than that is knowing it might have been different, if you’d avoided the five major mistakes that leave you exiting right before the money.

  • Playing too conservatively – Hand values change as the blinds increase. What might have been a marginal hand at 10/20 blinds becomes a must-play stealing hand at 100/200 blinds. Particularly when the antes kick in and up the reward ratio on a successful pre-flop steal, you simply must apply maximum aggression during this bubble phase. It will never be easier to steal a pot before the flop than it will be during the bubble phase of a poker tournament. All your fellow players are equally anxious to avoid elimination on the cusp of the payout, and they will not push back at you in a marginal situation. It’s true that unrestrained aggression will occasionally have you leaving on the cusp of making the money, but unbridled folding will have you walking away empty-handed far more often.

  • Raising more than necessary – A lot of players will reflexively raise three times the big blind regardless of the stage of the tournament. They reason that a smaller raise will simply invite the blinds or button to call with marginal holdings. This may be true, but it’s also true that as the blinds escalate, a standard pre-flop raise will increasingly commit you to the hand. As a poker player, you always want to maintain flexibility. If making a standard raise tends to commit you to a hand you don’t want to play for all the chips, you shouldn’t make it. Of course, you always want to apply pressure on your opponents. So you will continue to raise with both your strongest and your marginal hands in favorable situations. But you should raise less than three times the big blind… perhaps 2.5 or even just doubling the big blind will do at higher levels. When the blinds ratchet up and the antes kick in, even the loosest players will begin to back off flat-calling raises. Most players are generally going to re-raise or get out of the way, and you can play the hand appropriately, confident that you’ve minimized your losses and maximized your returns by making a cheaper raise.

  • Playing drawing hands – Drawing hands like suited connectors lose more and more value in no limit Texas hold em as the blinds increase. Increasing blinds mean fewer players per pot and increase the cost of seeing the flop and drawing on the turn and river. All those factors make suited connectors and even small pocket pairs looking to flop a set unprofitable. While you may be able to speculate with these hands at the low blinds, you’ll whittle yourself down if you remain attached to them in the middle and late stages of a poker tournament. If drawing hands are to be played at all in the later stages, you should play them aggressively pre-flop to steal uncontested pots. Do not call and passively hope to hit some kind of miracle hand late in the game.

  • Playing against extreme stacks – There are two types of players you want to avoid on the bubble: the extremely large stacks and the extremely short stacks. The short stacks have nothing else to lose, and they’ll be looking to gamble with a variety of hands. While eliminating players is good for the remaining players as a group, you don’t want to volunteer to play sheriff against these short stacks. The risks of being whittled down in all-in confrontations against a short stack simply aren’t worth the marginal reward of knocking a player out, unless he’s either extremely short or the very last player before the payout. As to large stacks, you generally don’t want to stand between them and a pot, unless you have a premium hand or believe you can raise them off their hand. On the bubble, the big stacks are usually loose, aggressive players who aren’t afraid to gamble. It’s usually best not to try to out-muscle these players unless you can do some damage to them. You also want to make sure they respect your play and are able to fold a hand before you try to bully a large stack out of a pot.

  • Failing to play position – Always raise in position (unless you’re facing an extreme stack). If it’s folded around to you in the small blind, you will almost always want to attack the big blind unless you’re extremely weak and the big blind is extremely loose. On the bubble, it’s often the first player to bet that will take down the pot. When it’s folded around to you and you’re acting in position, it’s a huge mistake to fold. Pay no attention to your cards. Instead, look at the relative chip stacks and what you know of the players at your table. If there’s a better than even chance you can steal this pot, then make your move. You might get challenged, but if you make a less than standard raise you won’t lose too much if you have to fold. Plus, when you really have a hand, you’ll get paid off nicely. By being constantly aggressive, your opponents won’t know when it’s safe to make a stand against you.


This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

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The Secret to Winning Poker Tournaments – It’s All About Timing

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section

Anyone can win a poker tournament by getting the right cards at the right time, or by playing against terrible poker players. And we all know what the ultimate secret to winning poker is: aggression. But how can you more consistently win poker tournaments when the cards aren’t falling your way, your opponents are decent, and without risking your tournament life with over-the-top aggression? After all, the all-in move will work every time but once: then you’re walking past the rail.

The secret to winning poker tournaments is to recognize the three key periods in any tournament: (1) the early game; (2) the mid stages; and (3) the late game. The secret to winning Texas hold em tournaments is to have a distinct strategy for each of the critical crunch times in the poker tournament:

  • The early game – There are two schools of thought to playing the early game in a poker tournament. The conservative approach, what I will call the Harrington school, is to buckle down, play tight, and wait for the right spots to come to you. The goal is to preserve your chip stack for the later stages of the tournament without risking any dangerous, early all-in confrontations. This is not to say that you won’t play your premium hands (the top 5% of all cards dealt), but you don’t ever want to invest the majority of your stack without a very strong hand. You certainly don’t want to speculate and gamble without a strong advantage. The advantage of this strategy is that it reduces your beta: you’re unlikely to build a big stack early on but you’re also much less likely to stage an early exit. This strategy should be preferred at the lower limits and at tables full of loose, inexperienced players. Let the loose, erratic players bust out without engaging in reckless gambling yourself.

    On the other hand, you might apply maximum aggression in the early game with the goal of doubling up early. You do this by speculating with a variety of hands, in or out of position (including suited connectors, all pairs, and complete trash if you can push a tight player off their hand after the flop). The key to this approach is to be a balanced loose player. You can absolutely not afford to be a calling station: loose play is only justified if you’re willing to turn up the aggression to compensate for playing these weaker hands. But while loose, passive play is the worst possible poker strategy, becoming a maniac and going all-in without rhyme or reason is (nearly) as bad. Loose, aggressive players looking to build a big stack early will raise and re-raise frequently, but preferably pre-flop and on the flop when the betting is cheap. When you start seriously gambling, you should either have the best hand, a lot of outs, or a good reason to think your opponent will fold. This loose, aggressive double-or-nothing approach is best-suited for a table full of tight aggressive players schooled in the Harrington strategy of preserving their starting chip stacks for the later stages. You can exploit these players’ conservatism to garner an early chip lead.

  • The mid game – If there is a single secret to winning poker tournaments, it’s found in your mid game play. This is when most players begin to tighten their game, afraid to risk their remaining chips as they edge toward the payout. This is a natural tendency: while it’s cheap to speculate with low blinds in the early game, the rising blinds cause players to reassess the value of speculating with marginal hands. If this happens at your table (and almost always it will), you should once again take the opposite approach. You need to view the mid-game as make or break for your tournament life: you absolutely must build a big stack heading into the high-blind late stages by any means necessary. You must raise in position, re-raise pre-flop, and gamble aggressively, especially against tight medium-stacked opponents. You also need to pull out the occasional big bluff on the turn and river on a board that turns scary after the flop. If you can steal two or three big pots with the worst hand and steal more than your fair share of pots without a fight by constantly raising in position, you’ll give yourself enough chips for the late stage. Since the high-blind, late-stage of the tournament will rapidly devolve into pure gambling, you need this big stack to maximize your chances of winning the tournament. If you’re going to come in one of the top spots, you can’t risk your entire poker tournament on one big gamble. Without building a big stack in the mid-stages, you’ll end up getting all your chips in for one big gamble sooner or later. If the cards don’t fall your way (and there’s always a good chance of that happening), you’ll bust out in one of the lower-tier payouts. Even if you finish in the money, you’ll miss the lucrative top payouts.

  • The late game – This is all aggression, all the time. Ideally, you’d like to pick on tight, medium-stacks. Alternatively, gamble with short stacks that are forced to make desperate all-ins. The only real rule to follow is to avoid a big gamble with another big stack. You never want to put your poker tournament life on the line on a single deal of the cards, if you can help it. That said, you’ll be forced to make some gambles in the late stages, and it’s better to be the aggressor. Challenge the other players to fold to your aggressive plays. With a big stack, you’ll intimidate the other players and can afford to lose a couple of coin flips. If you find yourself short-stacked, use the best opportunity to push all-in. Never allow yourself to sink below 5x the big blind without moving in, regardless of cards. This is the most random part of the poker tournament, but if you’ve built your stack in the mid-game
    you’ll maximize your chances of placing in one of the top-tier payouts. Dominating the mid-game is the ultimate secret to winning poker tournaments.

Divide your play and adjust your strategy for the three key phases of a poker tournament, and you’ll profit from the result. The secret to winning poker tournaments is to have an appropriate strategy for each phase, and building the biggest possible chip stack before the blinds rise to prohibitive levels in the late game. Sometimes this means an early exit, but you have to be willing to die in order to live (and profit).


This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

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