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Home > Tourneys > Overview

Poker Strategy - Tournaments Overview

Tournament poker is one of the world's hottest fads. While poker has been consistently played for over 100 years, the tournament circuit is still a relatively new thing. In 1972, the grand prize at the World Series of Poker (a $10k buyin) was only $80,000. In 2003, Chris Moneymaker took home a cool $2.5 million. The reason for this drastic increase in prize money is the number of players that have entered tournaments. In 1972, only 8 players entered the world series of poker, while 839 entered in 2003.

I am not a fan of tournament poker. Television has made tournament poker look glamorous- a competition where skill prevails. However, the truth of the matter is that luck plays a much larger factor in tournaments than ring games. Think about it this way: if you started with $2,000, what is the chance that you would end up with $2 million dollars before the night was over at a regular no-limit game? Zero. However, to win a tournament where each player has 2k starting chips and 1,000 people enter, you would need to win two million in chips to win the tournament. Not an easy feat to do unless lady luck truly smiled upon you that day!

In short, the reasons I prefer to make money at ring games rather than tournaments are:

  1. I can consistently win at a ring game, whereas a tournament is feast or famine.
  2. Luck plays a much smaller role in having a winning session at a ring game than at a tournament.
  3. It is much easier to tell if you are a good ring game player than a good tournament player. Since the best tournament player can easily go ten sessions winning nothing, it is very difficult to tell if you are 'doing the right thing.'

Nevertheless, I play tournaments because they are fun, and because I hope to make some money at them. Winning at tournaments still requires sound poker strategy, but emphasizes several factors more so than ring games:

  1. Your chips have a different relative value. In a standard poker game, you should view each dollar as having equal value. This is not the case in a tournament. When you start off with an initial thousand in chips, that thousand is worth a lot more than the next thousand you make. Since you cannot buy back in, you always need to have chips in order to survive. At the beginning of the tournament, you should be more reluctant to go all-in because even if you win you are not in much better of a position. However, later in the tournament you must gamble, or else you risk just losing by being blinded away.
  2. Domination plays a much bigger factor. Later in the tournament, the blinds will be so high that most players in contested hands will be all-in preflop. Thus, you want hands that dominate other hands. High pocket pairs are good because they dominate lower pocket pairs, and ace with a good kicker is a good hand because it dominates many other hands. Many players make the mistake of betting very hard with a low pocket pair such as 55. In truth, these low pockets are only good for stealing blinds. If someone calls you, you are at best a 50-50, while you are a 4.5:1 underdog if they have a higher pocket pair.