Tips for winning a poker tournament

Feb 1, 2005 4:44 AM

If there’s anything that marks the new wave of popularity of casino poker, it’s the number of tournaments that have sprouted across the country.

The World Series of Poker, for instance, is no longer an event, it’s become a circuit, played in half a dozen venues. There’s also the World Poker Open, the World Poker Tour, the Professional Poker Tour and the Poker Tour International.

With more and more beginning players trying their hand at tournaments, it might be helpful to review some guidelines for tournament play.

The first concept a tournament player must grasp is that each structure (re-buy or fixed amount of chips, time between bet-level changes, etc.) has its own logic and rhythm.

If a person were in a live game, a comfortable buy-in for each level of play is a simple way of planning your bet patterns.

Estimating the number of hands per blind level gives a player some idea of whether it is prudent to wait for good hands or to rely on more aggressive play. For example, a good low-limit tournament hold’em dealer can manage about 32 hands per hour, and if your normal style is to play about eight hands per hour, figure six hands per hour in a tournament.

If the blind bets go up every half hour, you might only get about three playable hands per blind session. Assuming only one of those three hands can go to the end, relying on winning with cards is uncertain. Therefore, a player will have to maximize the profit for those hands won (which also increases the risk), play a larger variety of hands than normal, or look for situations where position and knowledge of competitors’ tendencies provide the impetus to offset the drain of expenses. Experienced tournament players feel the pace of the table and adjust — hence they develop a winning "rhythm."

Reading opponents quickly is an asset, especially when most of the people at the table are unknown quantities. Watching how each person reacts to raises, the range of hands for each position and different chip levels is essential to gathering information, but a good guess might be made just from the number of hands per hour played and the aggressiveness of each bet.

Also, better players look for chances to play against passive or weaker players. Their play differs when confronted with more solid styles so categorize opponents who shift tactics as more dangerous. A prepared tournament player will have an idea which hands to call.

Another method of gathering information is to induce pressure at key points in the hand. Raises early can be considered jockeying for positional dominance, but they can also test the competitive nature of opponents.

How many raises will a player make with the top hand? Will a player raise or re-raise with a draw hand? How does a player react to a check/raise or to a double bet? How easy is it to steal a blind?

Sure, watching can help but the best way to find out this kind of information is to look for times when you think you might have the second best hand but you have the position and can make the move. Winning with the best hand is easy but winning with the second best hand is poker.