How To Win At Tournament Poker, Part 2 by Chris Ferguson
Last week I talked about not adjusting for tournament play, answered three specific tournament questions, and stressed that there is little difference between tournament strategy and ring game strategy. This week, I would like to expand on that by answering a fourth question, and address the two situations where it’s right to deviate from simply playing your best game.
The fourth question: Surely the different payout structure between ring games and tournaments means something, doesn’t it?
Yes, tournaments differ from live action in that you are rewarded for how long you last, rather than for how many chips you accumulate.
In ring game poker, the chips you save by folding are just as valuable as the chips you win by playing. In tournament play, the chips you save are actually more valuable.
Consider a typical $1,000 buy-in tournament with 100 players, where first place is worth $40,000 out of a total prize pool of $100,000.
At the beginning of the tournament everyone has 1,000 in chips with a value of $1,000. The eventual winner will have 100,000 in chips and, in live action, would be entitled to a prize of $100,000. In a tournament, that same $100,000 is worth only $40,000, meaning that, at the end, each 1,000 in chips is only worth $400. As your stack grows, the value of each additional chip decreases, which means you want to be slightly more averse to taking unnecessary risks in tournaments than you might be in live action. (And if you are at all averse to taking risks in live action, you’re probably playing over your bankroll.) Don’t overcompensate for tournament play. Most people would be better off making no changes at all, rather than the changes that they do make.
Having said all this, there are two cases where adjusting will help:
1. When you are just out of the money.
If you are short stacked, you need to be very careful when committing your chips, especially with a call.
If you have a large stack, look for opportunities to push the short and medium stacks around – especially the medium stacks. These players will be a lot less likely to want a confrontation with you, and it should be open season on their blinds and antes.
If you have a medium or small stack, you need to be a bit more careful. Remember, though, that the other players – even the larger stacks – don’t want to tangle with you. They just want to steal from you without a fight. Be prepared to push them around a little, and even to push back occasionally when they try to bully you. This often turns into a game of Chicken between the bigger stacks to determine which large stack will let the other steal most of the blinds.
2. At the final table.
Very little adjustment is necessary until you are one player away from the final table. Here, again, you should tighten up slightly because this is the next point where the payout structure handsomely rewards outlasting other players.
Look for opportunities to push around the other players, and the smaller stacks in particular. This is good advice throughout the final table.
What about heads up?
There are no more tournament adjustments necessary. You are essentially playing a winner take all freeze-out for the difference between first and second place.
Remember: Tournament adjustments should be subtle. It is rare that your play would be dramatically different in a tournament. When in doubt, just play your best game. And if you never adjust from that, you’ve got a great shot of winning, no matter what game you’re playing.