Helpful tips to poker tourneys

Jan 13, 2009 5:00 PM
The Inside Straight by Joe Awada |

As we pointed out last week, we’re entering the poker season in which casinos in Las Vegas and beyond are featuring a variety of tournaments leading up to the World Series of Poker in May.

There are many daily tourneys that provide the needed experience that players require to compete at the highest levels.

Last week, I pointed out the value in using satellites as a means to enter a tournament. This week, we will review the basic qualities you’ll need to successfully participate in a poker tournament.

Those qualities include skill, heart, patience, stamina and luck.

Skill: A beginning player needs to master the basic skills of Texas Hold’em, the game of choice for most tournaments.

Skills, such as determining the math of poker, can be learned relatively easily and quickly – any number of guidebooks will teach you how to calculate the odds of making a "drawing hand" such as a straight or flush. They will also teach how to calculate "pot odds" so you can make a math-based decision whether to make or call a bet.

Perhaps, the best starting point in honing your skills is determining whether you’re going to play or fold your starting hand. Granted, any starting hand, even 6-2 (the lowest ranked of all 169 possible starting hands) can be a big winner with the right flop. But beginning players are well-advised to stick to the top 20 or 30 percent in starting hands, at least until they’re comfortable playing after the flop.

Considerations such as how to use your position at the table, raising or simply calling a bet, or how much to bet aren’t difficult concepts, but they take time to master. The best place to learn these kinds of skills are in low-limit games or inexpensive tournaments.

Heart: Inexperienced players are often intimidated by more experienced or even professional players. Since poker isn’t for the feint of heart, you need to be assured that you can compete with anyone. That’s why it’s important to begin with only the better starting hands.

When you have a good starting hand, or you hit the flop, you need the conviction that you’re holding cards as good as or better than your opponent. Experienced players tend to bluff more often, and you need to have the fortitude to stand by your hand, even in the face of a raise from a celebrity-like pro.

Of course, there’s always the chance you will be beat, but if you believe the odds are in your favor, have the heart to continue fearlessly.

Patience: Poker is a process, especially playing in a tournament. It’s not a craps table where the action is constant and fast-paced.

When the cards seem to go "dead," resist the temptation to speed things up through aggressive if not reckless play. Patience in poker, as with many other things, is definitely a virtue.

Stamina: I’ve been in tournament games, including the World Series and World Poker Tour, which dragged on for hours. During these long stretches you need to remain alert and functioning at a high level.

Make sure you’re well-rested when entering a tournament. One little miscue or wrong move can put an end to your day quickly. Your ability to make the right decisions will hinge on whether you’re physically capable of holding up over these long sessions.

Luck: Lady Luck will more often than not play a role in the outcome of any tournament. And she can be as fickle as ever.

There will be times when everything seems to be in your favor, only to have a bad stroke of luck pull the rug out from under you on the river.

There are countless times I’ve had a super hand, such as an aces-full full house, only to lose to four of a kind on the river. It happens.

All you can do is put it behind you, and believe at some point you’ll be on the other end of the Lady’s fickle finger of fate.

In the meantime, stick to the solid basics that got you to the point where you "should" have won. It will all work out in the long run.