With all the interest in tournaments right now, the question might arise: What single factor distinguishes poker tournament professionals from players who have equal knowledge but somehow never place?
Is it experience, timing, luck, patience? Of course, there are many factors that determine consistent returns, but perhaps the one component that stands out is preparation.
What kind of preparation can overcome bad cards or a tough table? The first item to check is the total probable cost including expenses, satellites, buy-ins, re-buys, and live action. A good professional should be able to anticipate an hourly return from some form of play that will offset these expenses and net a profit.
The structure of each tournament should dictate the type of hands to play and the chip position a player needs to be competitive. If a good player is in a competitive position, he has a chance to win because he knows he will not get into hands at the wrong time, waste money on speculative bets, go on tilt, lose patience, etc.
So before each tournament, a good player sets his strategy. How many rounds will money last if no hands come? Figure the number of hands per hour for a typical game and subtract about three for tournament procedures.
Next, look at how fast the blinds or antes move up. Just blinding out should give a player an outside time factor to find a hand.
Of course waiting until there is nothing left is not usually a good policy so subtract about 20 percent of the time to allow enough margin for viability and not just survival. Now that the worst possible outcome is known, what is a good amount to allow movement? Some players think that doubling up each round is necessary but others look to win one hand per round.
In every good plan is a calamity clause. If things go wrong and elimination is imminent, what types of hands with big action pots do you play? Here, you assume that you will not get a quality hand in time because of the frequency so look for hands that will occur more often.
The reason you choose action pots is the leveraged return in the event of success. That does not mean that head’s up opportunities are ignored, just that time may not permit waiting for good situations.
Unless you are down to your last round, there is still time to make choices. Some players choose to get into the raise war pots but, with a limited amount of chips, I prefer to look for situations where marginal material is getting five or six-way calling action.
If the cards hit, a check-raise will thin the field with sufficient return for all in. Even though most books tell you to get maximum return for an all in bet, settle for legitimate competition and try to get rid of players with more chips than brains who are just sight-seeing.
There is a saying that fits very well here: Most players don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. Live game strategy is not the same as tournament strategy. Good players in live games have developed a style that is profitable for live games.
However, tournaments have factors such as increasing blinds and bets, table movement, forced seating, and so on that create a whole new set of factors. Without adequate preparation, only luck will enable a player to prevail.
Sometimes a bad card can send a player into desperation play long before it is necessary because he does not have a good idea of his expectations.
Also, knowing that there is time allows for relaxation that conserves energy for later rounds and prevents forced errors that waste chips. Is it any wonder that tournament professionals win a higher percentage of times? I don’t think so.