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Poker tournaments are quite different than regular poker.  In a regular game, players can come and go as they wish but in tournaments you are there until you win, the tournament closes for the day, or you lose your stack.  Tournaments require stamina and a different outlook on the game.

Tournaments Have Buy-in Fees

In a normal tournament at Juicy Stakes Poker or at almost all land based poker rooms, the poker rake is eliminated because the buy-in fee covers the rake.  This is a difference that we consider to be the least important difference between regular poker and tournament poker.  We have said on many occasions that the rake is the element that players should put the smallest stock in for two reasons:

  1. The rake is limited to no more than $3 per pot even if the pot is very big.
  2. The rake is simply the way we pay the bills we incur by sponsoring online poker.  As such, the rake affects all players equally and should be equally ignored by all players.

Tournament Stacks are Defined in Big Blinds

In most tournaments the game everyone plays is Texas Holdem.  It is a fascinating story in itself how Texas Holdem has become the universal go to poker game.  For this article, we will simply assume that the tournament in question is in Texas Holdem.

As such, we have the big blind and the little blind.

Tournaments usually have fairly high blinds.  In the World Series of Poker, the blinds in the final table are usually in the thousands of dollars.  So, it makes a lot of sense to visualize one’s stack as a function of the higher of the blinds, namely, the big blind.

Defending Your Presence in the Tournament

This simple statistic gives players the sense of how much staying power they have by how many rounds they can play in.  Of course, the number of big blinds will fluctuate based on pots won and pots challenged but lost.

One aspect of poker strategy that gets more play in tournaments is the need to defend your place in the tournament by preserving your stack.

Tournament Players Have to Re-evaluate the Idea of Positional Play

In a normal game, players will often play based on how they sense the skill levels and playing styles of the other players in the game.  In tournaments, we do the same but we are also very cognizant of the fact that if we fold before the flop, we are defending our stack.  As such, before the flop in many tournaments, it is best to narrow our calling hand range in order to prolong our presence in the tournament.

One big pot won will extend your tournament life and it is therefore important to go for big pots and to conserve one’s stack by judicious pre-flop folding.

Make a Quick Evaluation of All Opponents at the Table

Another aspect of tournament poker is that there may be quite a few tables playing at the same time.  You can’t know the playing style of all the players at the other tables even as you hope to encounter them as you win your table and progress to the next table.

The only players who should concern you at any table are the other players at your table!  This seems so obvious but it is of far more importance in tournaments as your future in the tournament depends on your ability to read the other players at your table.

We can’t just leave the table to evaluate hands.  This is something we encourage players to do in everyday poker games.  We always s encourage relatively short poker sessions so that you can evaluate the hands played and still have time for other interests and responsibilities.

In a tournament, your only point of interest is the tournament and your only responsibility is to stay in the tournament table after table.

Laser Focus

So, you need—as Tom Bradly said when his team was losing by eight points late in the fourth quarter after having been behind by 25 points in Super Bowl 51—“laser focus” in evaluating the players at your table.  We need to judge them quickly and, at the same time, stay flexible mentally so that we can change our evaluation of them as their play warrants it.In a tournament, you need to survive the table. So, you need to focus directly on every action every player takes.  All of the practice you have had focusing on every hand, even hands that you folded out of before the flop, can come together to help you “know” what an opponent is doing with a specific bet.

The Players Get Better and Better

As you graduate from one table to the next, it is important to realize that the other players at your new table also survived the first table. As you progress, they progress as well.  The caliber of your opponents will get better and better as the tournament goes on.

This is often the opposite in a regular game where one strong player may leave the game and be replaced by a weaker plater.  This never happens in a tournament!

Make Judicious Bluffs

Remember, you are defending your stack.  So, there may be less reason to bluff. Surely, the caliber of players is better so a bluff that might have worked in a low stakes game might not work in a tournament.   On the other hand, you absolutely have to bluff some of the time simply because otherwise you will be an open book to good players and you will bow out of the tournament in good time!

The key is to be extra clever in your bluffs in a tournament.   For example, you might raise in early position with a low pair or suited and connected cards.  If the raise is not too expensive and the other players call your raise, it probably indicates that their hands are as “weak” as your hand before the flop.

Prepare for Tournaments at Juicy Stakes Poker

Playing poker online is by far the best way to get ready to enter poker tournaments.  You can play for short periods of time as often as you wish to and can.  Playing at a land based poker room is far more restrictive since very few poker players actually live near a land based poker room!

So, our final tip for you today is JOIN JUICY STAKES POKER!


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