Read these 11 Entering Poker Tournaments Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Poker tips and hundreds of other topics.
Want to try your poker skills against the best of the best? Then go to the annual World Championship of Poker in Las Vegas!
You won't find more games available to you anywhere else in the world, and even if you have limited or no experience playing tournament poker you can still improve by playing lower stakes side tables and watching how the better players play their hands. Plus there are tons of talented players around with whom to discuss strategy and approach.
Because its Vegas, there are also good travel deals available, so regardless of how much money you're going to leave on the table, you can be assured that you won't leave that much with the airlines or hotels.
If you plan on entering poker tournaments, know that most poker tournaments are freezeouts. In a freezeout, you play until one person has all the chips, combining tables as you eliminate players. First place gets a lot of the money, second gets somewhat less, and so on, down to a set number that gets paid out. It's usually 10-15% of the field.
A less popular form of tournament is called a shootout. Shootouts vary a little bit, but the most common structure goes something like this: if there are 81 players, there are nine tables of nine players each. The player who wins each table advances to the final table. Then the payouts are based on how long you last at the final table.
It's a bit of a dirty secret about poker tournaments, but many of them end up in deals. It makes sense: in a major tournament hundreds of thousands of dollars could be on the line with such short stacks that it's something of a crapshoot. However, it doesn't make for good TV for the World Poker Tour and others, so it doesn't get talked about.
If you're entering a poker tournament, here's a good rule thumb for deal-making: unless you know what you're doing, don't do it! The other players will only take deals that are advantageous for them. So if they're offering you a deal, you have to wonder why. Don't worry about the social pressure that will tell you to deal – if you're not confident you're getting a good offer, just play it out.
When you're playing a poker tournament, remember to keep a close eye on the number of players left and the number of players who get paid. When you get close to the beginning of the payouts, it's called the bubble. Players tend to play very tight (conservative) near the bubble if they don't have many chips – they are trying to squeak into the money.
If you have a healthy chip stack at this point, you can take advantage of this. The best situation is when you have the biggest stack at the table by a nice margin, or at least you have the biggest stack compared to everyone who hasn't already folded. You can raise with any hand, confident that the small stacks may realize what you're doing, but they'll have to fold anyway unless they have a strong hand.
In no limit Texas hold ‘em poker tournaments, how you play AK against a raise can easily make you or break you. The size of your stack largely determines your play. If your stack is between two and five times the size of the pot, you generally want to raise all-in. You may take down the pot right away, which would be a nice pot for you, and if you get called, you're only in bad shape against KK or AA, two hands that are less likely because you hold an A and a K in your hand.
If the stacks are too deep to move in, you have a decision to make between calling and reraising. Against a player who will likely call a reraise with hands like AJ or KQ, reraising starts to look better. If you're going to be in bad position after the flop, you should be more willing to overbet and get all-in pre-flop to avoid having to play the hand out of position. Finally, AK is very different from AA. There are times you need to fold AK before the flop, sometimes before you even put a chip in. If you never fold AK before the flop, you're going to find yourself busted too often.
One great play that doesn't get talked about enough is the complete-and-steal. I write it with dashes because you should think of it as all one play, not two separate actions. Here's how it works:
Star poker player Paul Darden has amassed a huge chip stack at the final table of a major no limit hold ‘em tournament. The other players are pretty anxious to stay out of his way and try to inch up the pay ladder. Everyone folds to him in the small blind, and he looks down to see 73, or some such junk. He calls (this is called completing). The big blind checks. The flop completely misses him, something like KQ5, and Darden makes a small bet. If the big blind has a hand, or has the courage to raise or call with no hand, Darden will concede the pot at a relatively minor loss.
*Most players, especially when tangling with a huge chip leader, will simply check their big blind and then fold on the flop unless they have something. It's a great way to pick up chips at a minor risk.
When someone's sitting out in a poker tournament, poker players have a name for it: “Holy crap, free money!” If you're sitting out of a tournament – anything from a freeroll online to the World Poker Tour – you still have to post blinds and antes, but you'll automatically fold when it's your turn. The most common time to see this is when someone loses their connection in an online tournament. It also happens when someone in a live tournament is away from their seat.
If you're given a penalty in a live tournament for discussing your hand or cursing, you sit out. Phil Hellmuth does it on purpose, not taking his seat in the World Series of Poker until he's paid a few blinds. When someone is sitting out, those blinds and antes are just out there for the taking, and you should do your share of the thieving. When the table is aware that the absent person is absent (as will always be the case live) and it's his or her big blind, the standards for reraising go way down.
*The original raiser knows the big blind is not calling, so he or she could have anything. Thus, if you're in the small blind with an absent big blind, think about coming over the top with less than your normal hand.
In a cash game, you should be indifferent about taking a gamble. For example, if you think that calling a $5 bet will win you, on average, $5 then you should not care one way or the other whether you call. If you think that on average you'll win $5.10, it should be an easy call. The only reason not to make the call in the second case is if you really don't want to lose that money for whatever reason. That's a bad disadvantage for you, and you should play at lower stakes or not play at all.
If you plan on entering poker tournaments, there are smart reasons to pass up close gambles sometimes – that is, fold instead of call. The reason is that there is value to surviving, because that brings you closer to a higher spot on the pay ladder. Just how much of a profitable (in terms of chips) gamble you should pass up is a hotly debated topic.
One mistake that new players no limit Texas hold ‘em players make sometimes is folding in situations where they should call with any hand at all. Suppose the blinds are 50/100 and you have 100 left after posting the big blind. It's folded to the small blind, who raises all-in. What should you do? Call! Notice I didn't even say what hand you have – even with 32 offsuit, this is an easy call.
You're only calling 100 more chips to win a total of 400 chips, so you only need to win one time in four. Even though 32 is not a strong hand, you'll win significantly more often than 25% when the SB has a hand like KQ – any time he doesn't have a pocket pair or a 2 or 3 in his hand. A good rule of thumb is that unless you have an extremely good reason not to, you shouldn't fold in your big blind if you have only one and half big blinds left after posting. A very good reason might include something like being on the bubble in a poker tournament (e.g., 61 people left, 60 spots pay).
If you want to be a good poker player and plan on entering poker tournaments you'll want to be impressive. Therefore, it's good to understand the terminology. In another tip we started with a glossary. Here are some more terms that are useful to know:
If you play online poker tournaments, or live tournaments, sometimes you'll have one player all-in while others in the pot still have money left to bet. Any additional betting goes into a side pot, and the all-in player is not eligible to win that pot. Suppose players A, B, and C are in a pot together. A and B start with 1,000 chips and C starts with 100. All of C's chips go into the middle before the flop, so C is all-in and there is no money in the side pot.
A and B are the only ones who can bet, and they check the flop and the turn. On the river, A has a dreadful hand – he can't even beat the five cards that are on the board. A bluffing here is a horrible play. At best, B will fold, but C can't fold because she already is all-in. Since A has a horrible hand, C will win and collect the pot. A is risking being called by B and losing, when there is no way to benefit by betting.