'Tis the season for poker tournaments!

Jan 6, 2009 5:01 PM
The Inside Straight by Joe Awada |

I hope everyone had a great holiday season and that 2009 turns out to be a glorious and prosperous year, in both your personal and professional endeavors.

This is the time of year that I like to think of as spring training for the poker season. There are a number of tournaments to be contested over the next couple of months, leading up to the big one, the World Series of Poker beginning in May.

But there’s a lot to contend with before then. In February, the Wynn Las Vegas poker room hosts its Classic Poker Tournament, followed by the Venetian’s Deep Stack Extravaganza poker tourney.

And in March, the Bellagio will host a World Poker Tour event, the Five Star World Poker Classic.

No matter what level of poker you’re currently playing in, I suggest some of these "preliminaries" as a good foundation for the world-class events upcoming.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, I also suggest entering these tournaments via the satellite route. A satellite or super satellite is often inexpensive to enter, and you gain the experience of competing head-to-head with the type of competition you’ll likely encounter in the regular tournament.

A satellite tournament, by definition, is usually a single-table tournament in which the winner is awarded a seat in the main tournament.

An even better bargain is the super satellite: for a nominal buy-in – as low as $30 to $50 – you can win a seat into the main tournament. Moreover, since the super satellite usually awards several seats – up to 10 or 20 seats or more in some cases – you don’t have the pressure of having to win all the chips in order to advance to the main tournament.

Keep in mind there’s always the possibility of negotiation in one-table satellites: you can always negotiate to get $600 or $700 rather than fighting to the end; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And when you’re on a limited bankroll, if you can leave a table with money you’re a step ahead of the game.

Admittedly, some of these early tournaments or satellites often have huge fields, perhaps several hundred players. But within that field you’re going to find plenty of novices and inexperienced opponents, and the chance to cash is substantially higher than in events with smaller fields.

Speaking of smaller fields, specialty events such as Razz, HORSE, Omaha Hi-Lo and the like, may look attractive to inexperienced players.

But in these kinds of events, you’re going to be up against players who are often specialists, that is, they play in nothing but these kinds of games. So unless you’ve mastered the game, it might be best to avoid them.

Regardless of which games you choose or how you get in, you’ll find that the most critical time of the event is the first half hour. Emotions are high, people are excited and often impatient to make a splash. But, remember, you must play under control and not get carried away at the outset. Keep in mind, one mistake and you’re out, so play on an even keel.

Finally, I’ve found that winning a tournament depends on five key ingredients: skill, heart, patience, stamina and luck.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at these attributes and how you can best make them work for you.