POKER TOURNAMENT STRATEGIES

A little bit of knowledge can go a long way. Check out our top 10 tips for tournament success to give yourself a bit of an edge when it comes to tournament play. When you're done here, you can see all the details in our Tournament section.

Don't Try To Play Too Many Hands

The cardinal sin in any form of poker, but particularly tournament play, is to try and play too many hands. There's a fold button, so don't be afraid to use it.

A good pre-flop strategy is only to play premium hands. In early position, that means you should only be looking to play hands such as AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AKs, TT, AQs, AK, AJs and KQs. If you're in a later position, you can expand the list a little depending on what has gone on before you. Assuming that no-one's made a huge raise, hands such as 99, AQ, ATs, QJs are also worth playing if it's cheap to see the flop.

Always remember, folding is often the best option. Don't worry when you fold 9-3 and 9-3 come out on the flop; you've still made the right decision.

When You Do Play A Hand, Play It Hard

When you do get a premium starting hand, you should be looking to make a raise unless there's already been a large raise before you, in which case a call should do it. If you're first to act, then start with a raise. Why? Because (a) you want to get some money in the middle if you've got a good hand and (b) you want to knock out players with lesser hands, particularly those on the blinds who could otherwise see the flop cheaply. These players may have lesser hands, but they can still get lucky on the flop, so you want them out of the way. Never let people see cards cheaply when you've got a good hand.

Large Pocket Pair? Raise.

If you're in early position, and have been dealt a large pocket pair, you want to raise (see above). And if there are already callers before you, the pot may already be reaching a size where you want to try and win the pot there and then without even seeing a flop. With AA, KK or QQ, make a large raise to either scare players off or make them pay through the nose to see more cards, especially as they're likely to have an lesser hand than you. If everyone folds and you win the pot without seeing any more cards, well that's a good thing.

Watch Out For Raisers And Re-Raisers

If someone has raised before you, or re-raised you, only play the hand if you still reasonably expect to have the best of it, as even good starting hands can become vulnerable in this position. Unless you suspect a bluff or poor play, don't be afraid to lay down a good hand. For example, even if you've got something like KQ, you can still be vulnerable to someone with a large pocket pair, AK, AQ, etc. Avoid large confrontations unless you're highly likely to be in the driving seat.

If, however, you're pretty sure that you are in the driving seat (you're holding something like AA or KK), then play it strongly and re-raise or move all-in. They're the best starting hands you can have, so you're highly likely to be in the lead, which makes this an opportunity too good to pass up. It's best to act pre-flop; if your opponent folds and you win the pot without a fight (and without bringing lady luck into the equation), then so much the better.

Found A Flop You Like? Bet Big.

Again, it sounds obvious but you should always be doing it. If you made top pair with a strong kicker, three of a kind or a flush, then you should go for it; now is not the time to be hanging back. Of course, always look for dangerous flops which makes a straight or flush draw increasingly likely.

You may decide, from time to time, to "slow-play" a hand. For example, you've got a pocket pair and you make three of a kind on the flop. You're now highly likely to have the best hand, but if everyone else if checking (especially if the flop isn't much help, i.e. 2-6-9 in different suits) you may also wish to check in the hope that someone else catches a worthy, but inferior hand. One thing to watch for; make sure that you're not giving someone a cheap way to make a better hand than you, so keep an eye out for possible flush or straight draws.

Know When To Bluff

Bluffing tends to work best when there's something on the board that makes a bluff convincing. For example, if you get to the river and you're trying to make a straight but miss, and want to bluff, continue to bet as though you made the straight. The cards on the board should act in a way to help your make your bluff that little bit more believable. Bluffing when there's nothing doing isn't recommended.

Keep An Eye On Your Chip Stack

Always, always, know how many chips you have and play accordingly. For example, if you're short-stacked and only have 1,000 chips remaining and blinds of 400/800 are coming to you, you need to make a stand on the next two half-decent cards or face being all-in on the small blind, forced to play anything that comes your way. Also, it's often best to play a hand while you can still make at least a reasonable raise rather than get to the point where you're struggling to cover the blinds. Any raise from that situation will always meet with many callers, thus reducing your chances of winning the hand.

Similarly, if you've got a lot of chips compared to other players at the table, don't be afraid to use them to put them into some unpleasant situations.

The Later Things Get, The More The Blinds Are Worth

Another one from the school of the obvious. The higher the blinds, the more important they are. For example, blind stealing can be a more profitable activity towards the later stages (and hence the risk levels are more acceptable) and if you're on the big blind, it can sometimes be worth defending your investment in the pot even if you don't have a premium hand.

Be Brave Even If It Could Mean Going Out

Whenever you're put to a decision for all your chips, that decision is not going to be easy. But always have courage. If you've played sensibly and are reasonably sure that you've got the goods, then play the hand even in the face of aggressive play from an opponent. Just because they're making big raises, doesn't mean you should automatically back down because you don't want to go out. To win any tournament, it's likely that you'll have to take the odd risk.

Sometimes It's Best To Let Other People Do Your Dirty Work

While you should always be brave, the aim of the tournament player is to not get eliminated and finish as high as you can, ideally in the money. If two or more players on your table are slugging it out and going all-in, you might want to consider folding and letting them get on with it no matter what cards you have. After all, you'll be one place closer to your goal and there's no risk. This is especially true for the latter stages of a tournament, where each place you move up is taking you nearer and nearer to the money.

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