Poker Tournament Strategy

Poker Tournament Strategy

Poker tournaments are the life and blood of online poker. Without exploits such as the WSOP, EPT, WSOPE and APPT in Asia for example, most of the world would be unaware of it. However, its major circuits like these which help exploit and emblazon poker popularity all over the world. And while many cash game players will argue that cash games are the more natural and legitimate form of poker, don’t forget that the online poker boom was set about largely by the catalyst of Moneymaker’s 2002 WSOP victory.

So, what tips can I give you for succeeding in MTTs (multi-table tournaments) and SNGs in general for building poker bankrolls?

First of all, you have to recognise the differences between MTT strategy and cash games. Cash games afford you the luxuries of infinite table buy-ins, fixed blind levels and more or less the same players seated at the table. In tournaments however, the blinds are constantly increasing and the antes will come into play at some point. This not only makes the game faster and forces you to build up chips quickly and play aggressively, but it also means that your strategy is a lot more related to your chip stack. The M-ratio, pioneered by Paul Magriel in defining how to play according to the size of your chip stack relative to the blinds and antes, is at the forefront of MTT strategy. Most solid tournament players will always check their M-ratio, holdings and table position before deciding whether to shove pre-flop or make a 3bet/4bet call.

In terms of progressing in the tournament, you really need to apply a loose aggressive (LAG) strategy into your game. This doesn’t mean opening with any hands or bluffing pots randomly and hoping to luck out. A LAG strategy involves making more raises in strategic positions and playing aggressively against weak or nitty TAG opponents. For example, LAGs will commonly blind-steal from LP or CO by open-raising or 3betting light against tight players on the blinds or a tight table in general. Other types of bluffs and aggressive tactics include double-barrelling, check-raising, bluff-raising, slow-playing, limp-shoving and even Squeeze play. Squeeze play is epitomizing the relative importance of table position when stealing blinds in a tournament. It is used to steal pots from an LP open-raiser who is re-raised by an EP re-stealer, and both will hopefully fold or be “squeezed” out of the hand because of the relative strength holding of your hand from that particular position (usually UTG+2 or MP).

Another important principle to understand in tournaments is ICM (independent chip model). This is basically used to make risk vs reward decisions in terms of tournament equity, as opposed to the chip equity (cEV) calculations that you’ll be used to in cash games. The main effects are that you have to play very tight in the run up to the bubble, potentially folding to opponents shoving in front of you even when you know that if you called you’d be a 70% favourite.