Now that the World Series of Poker has come to a close, it might be a good time to reflect on how we played if we participated, and what we can learn from the action just completed.
Incidentally, it’s always a good idea when you’ve finished playing — either in a tournament or a cash game to take a little time to evaluate your play: what you did right, what you did wrong, what you can do better next time.
Like anything else, tournament play can be improved with practice and preparation. Several excellent books, programs, and tapes have hit the stores which help analyze the process of successful tournament play and many of them can be helpful.
For now, let’s try to maximize the learning process when participating in tournaments. A month of productive practice might help win that satellite and give you a shot for all the marbles in the next big tourney.
The first concept a tournament player must grasp is that each structure (re-buy or fixed amount of chips, time between level changes, degree of change per round, etc.) has its own logic and rhythm.
If a person were in a live game, a comfortable buy-in for each level to assure playing without much risk of going down to the cloth is a simplistic way of predicting optimum goals for chip status at each blind or ante raise in a tournament.
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 depend more upon moves.
For example, a good low-limit tournament hold’em dealer can manage about 32 hands per hour (not 40 — more action, bigger pots, and slower players), and if your normal style is about eight hands per hour, figure six hands per hour in a tournament.
If the blinds 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 extra income to offset the drain of expenses.
Given speed of a tournament is known in advance, selecting extra acceptable hands for given positions is better than winging it. Experienced tournament players feel the pace of the table and adjust; hence the term "rhythm."
Reading opponents quickly is an asset, especially when most of the people at the table are unknown quantities. Watching how each 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 down against each type of player to reduce leaking additional information.
Another method of gathering information is to induce pressure at artificial rates. Raises early can be considered jockeying for positional dominance but they can 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 stuff 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.