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>> Strategy to Help you Win Poker Tournaments - The Early Stages

Multi-table Poker Tournament Strategy - Opening Rounds

Written by Haunted Poker for exclusive use.


This series of articles will cover poker tournament strategy separated into 3 phases of play: the early stages, middle stages, and the final stretch. Most multi-table tournaments are played online for small stakes ($5-50 buy-in) with anywhere from 100-500 or more opponents so I will focus on strategies most relevant to this structure. You can convert our methods into live tournament play, but you should realize that the blind structures are usually longer as compared with online play. Youíll also usually find that small-stakes live tournaments are a little less crazy, but are still extremely aggressive. Now, letís begin with the early stages of multi-table tournaments.

Most tournaments are structured similarly in that each player starts off with a small amount of chips (usually 1500-2000) and the blinds start out relatively small (5-10 or 10-20) compared to the starting stacks. Mostly, youíll be getting comfortable with your opponents and your table presence at this point.

During the first round or two of play, youíll often run into one or more players at your table who are more than willing to push their entire stack in with any two cards. Their overall strategy seems to come from a willingness to gamble and a need to double up right away or go home. That is, if you can say that these players have a strategy. Because youíll be running into a number of preflop all-ins from the assorted maniac early on, I donít recommend taking many expensive risks without a premium hand like pocket Aces or pocket Kings.

Even a monster like A-K is only a 2-to-1 favorite against two live unpaired cards. Against any lower pocket pair, it is essentially a coin-flip situation. Personally, Iím not willing to risk my entire tournament on a coin flip this early on. If youíre faced with overly aggressive players at your table, you should consider waiting until you have them thoroughly dominated until you risk all your chips.

Another model that can be helpful to consider is the risk/reward ratio at various points in the tournament. For example, take a look at the risk/reward ratio for bluffing preflop early on in the tournament. By bluffing, your risk is losing a good amount of chips to a reraise or becoming frustrated enough and actually calling the reraise with nothing. Your reward is miniscule: very low blinds and perhaps a few more chips from the limpers.

If youíre a player who likes to see a lot of flop, using the risk/reward model justifies your actions if you can get in cheap early on. Since the blinds are so low, your risk is very low by calling the minimum with a hand like pocket 4-4 in middle position. If the flop comes out with A-4-J rainbow and there is an early position limper with A-K, you can probably get him to put in most, if not all, of his chips for a huge reward. By risking a measly 10 or 20 chips to see a flop with a mediocre hand, you have the potential to double up your entire stack if you hit a monster. Just remember, you should be in middle or late position and be able to get in cheaply if you want to play mediocre hands like low suited connectors and low pocket pairs. If youíre going to play these hands, the time to do it is early on the tournament while the blinds are so low.

At the same time, a conservative and tight style is also acceptable during the early rounds. You donít really need to get in the fight if you donít have a premium hand. The blinds arenít forcing you to play, and you really wonít be very far behind if you arenít able to play a single hand for the first 2 or 3 rounds. While you have to be aggressive and willing to take risks to be a solid tournament winner, you can use the first few rounds to get comfortable and plan your potential strategy for later on in the tournament. Finally, if you do pick up a premium hand, you should be willing to raise it more than the standard amount of 3 or 4 times the big blind. With the blinds so small at this stage, you wonít be thinning the field much with a 30 chips raise.

Also, you should use the early rounds to begin to characterize the players at your table. Things to watch out for include overly tight players, overly aggressive players, calling stations, maniacs, blind-defenders, and solid opponents. Not only will it help you make decisions in the next pot you play against them, it will help you plan out who you can steal the blinds from and who to avoid as the event progresses. Hopefully, you wonít be shifted around between tables, but start the process over if youíre transferred.

At the outset of a multi-table poker tournament, you should settle into your own style and begin to pick up on your opponentís playing styles. Realize that many players will be looking for a quick double-up, and that youíre usually only in a coin-flip situation without a premium pocket pair. Also, a loose style of play can work early on if youíre in the right position and can see a lot of cheap flops. With the blinds so low, you have little to risk but an entire stack to gain. On the converse, with low blinds you can afford to play tight-conservative unless youíre dealt a premium hand. You can afford to hide behind that black cape for now, but be prepared to show your fangs in the next few roundsÖ


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