Small Poker Tournament Strategy

Poker Tournament Strategy

Whether you’re playing micro stakes tournaments or the Sunday Million – you need to know what you’re doing to have a chance at winning. That seems obvious right? But trust me, there are too many players entering tournaments with no clue. That’s great news for you though cos it mean’s poker is not dead, despite what you hear. This article is going to give you with eight poker tournament strategy tips that can be used to increase your ITM rate, final tables and wins.

But who wouldn't want to hit a big score in one of them a little more often right? The best micro stakes poker tournament strategy involves using a tight and aggressive play style in the early and middle stages and then a loose and aggressive approach in key spots around the bubble and at the final table. Beat small stakes poker tournaments. Most books suggest that you either play an overly tight strategy, hoping to trap your opponents who never fold, or an overly loose strategy, hoping to steal lots of pots from your opponents who fold too often. In reality, you should play a strategy that maximally exploits your specific opponents.

1: Don’t Stop Stealing the Blinds

Tournament poker regs seem to nit it up and count on making it deep with premium hands. Don’t be one of them. Stay active, keep stealing the blinds from late position and don’t give up. A lot of poker sites are advocating the slow down approach but that’s what your opponents want. Regs are playing too many tables, not paying enough attention and missing profitable spots to steal the blinds. Tournament poker will always reward those who are able to consistently steal blinds and keep their stack alive. The fact that people are defending their blinds loosely should not make you fold more often in late position. Why? You have position. You have the advantage in a hand, even if your hand is weaker. Never forget that.

2: Pre-Flop Bet Sizing

Consistency is very important when it comes to raising pre-flop. It’s fine if you want to make it 2.5x then stick with that. Please don’t change it based on hand strength. It’s 2020 and even the most basic of poker players will notice and instantly tag you. If you are a poker training video membership member, you’ll know my preference re’ pre-flop bet sizing but I will re-iterate it here non-members.

Early Position Min Raise

When I’m raising from early position, I lack information on the rest of the table. I want to open raise if I play but I also want to steal cheaply and/or keep the pot smaller against my opponents that flat in position. I also have no problem with it folding to the big blind and them calling a min raise. In fact, I welcome it. I will have position, a better hand and have increased the pot a little. My hand range is likely to be stronger than theirs and I have the pre-flop aggression.

Small poker tournament strategy odds

Middle Position 2.2x

With fewer opponents behind us, I am happy to increase the sizing a bit and play a slightly bigger pot against the blinds. I don’t want to raise too much as I am still potentially acting first post-flop if someone in position calls. I am also dissuading the blinds to call which is no bad thing in tournaments. I am likely to have a wider range from here so I have no problem with them just folding.

Late Position 2.5x

This may seem counter intuitive to some. Why raise more with a wider range? I want to play bigger pots when I have positional advantage. Sure, sometimes I will be light but sometimes I will be strong too. I want to charge the blinds more than the minimum to play against my wider range. By making it 2.5x I am also protecting myself against 3 bet bluffs a little more. Consider a min raise from the button. The big blind is far more likely to 3 bet bluff that than a bigger raise.

Notice that my pre-flop raise size changes based on position NOT on hand strength. I am staying logically consistent raising 2.5x from late position with A-A, 7-8 and K-6s.

3: Defend The Big Blind

Everyone and their dog are loving the small ball approach these days. The standard small raise is popular and with good reason – it works. One of the results of this is that you have to defend your big blind more. It means calling raises with hands you won’t necessarily want to but pot odds and solid poker tournament strategy dictate you must. Let’s look at a quick example to illustrate this.
Blinds – 600/1,200 (antes 120)
Player A- 42,500
You – 36,900

It folds to Player A on the button. He is a capable tournament player. He raises to 2,500. The small blind folds and the action is on you. Before even looking at your hand, let’s do some quick poker maths.

The pot is 5,380 (1,080 antes + 1,800 in blinds + 2,500 raise).
It costs 1,300 to call the raise.
We need 24.2% equity to call (1,300/5,380)
.

As you can see, we need defend pretty wide in this spot. Few matchups in Texas Hold’em have hands greater than 76% equity. There are additional factors like effective stack sizes and calibre of opponent to consider of course. But a capable player will defend wide here as we can ill afford to fold many hands when we offered these odds. If you win the pot greater than 1 in 4 times post-flop, it’s profitable to defend.

4: 3 Bet with 30 bbs +

Tournament poker is often playing shorter stacks and less “poker” playing but that doesn’t mean you must play shove or fold poker. You don’t want to 3 bet bluff with short effective stacks cos it means the 4 bet from your opponent will always be all in. With slightly deeper stacks though (30 bbs+), you can afford to 3 bet bluff and take away a lot of pots. Poker tournament strategy is usually to attack short stacks. Screw that, 3 bet bluff the bigger stacks. I find that the big stacks are just as protective as the shorter stacks, if not more. It also means you can potentially get the last bet in if they decide to 4 bet. Good spots for 3 betting are when the raise has come from middle or late position.

CAUTION – Avoid 3 bet bluffing when they are raising from under the gun or UTG +1 as their range is likely to be tighter.

5:Learn Continuation Bet Strategy

This article is dedicated to poker tournament strategy, not continuation betting but the fact is, c betting is an important part of tournament poker. You need to understand which boards favour your perceived range and what favours your opponent. A lot of players waste chips throwing out foolish continuation bets. You need to appreciate board texture, number of opponents and stack sizes when choosing whether to continuation bet or not. If you want more help with continuation betting, take a look at our course. It’s the most in depth c-bet course anywhere.

6: Isolate the Limper(s)

An oldie but goody – the iso raise. Raising over a limper or limpers is still a very profitable play. It’s crazy to think there are still players that adopt this limp in mentality, but it’s great for us. If people want to try and limp into the pot with pocket 3s or A-9 offsuit, that’s fine, we will take their blinds all day. In some scenarios, it may seem prudent to over-limp but most of the time, just raise it 4x and win it. If they call, you can often just win it with a flop bet anyway. It’s a great way to build a stack in tournament poker and is also good for your table image. This might help you get paid later in the tournament.

7: Practice Heads Up Poker

Many tournaments end in deals being done but what if yours doesn’t? What if you’re against a tough player or someone unwilling to deal. You need to know how to play 1 on 1. After all, if you want to win the tournament you have to beat the last opponent. Heads up is a great poker format. Some basic heads up tips are below:

  • Raise every button
  • Bet most flops
  • Check raise more
  • Bluff catch 2nd pair down
  • Stay on top of your opponent, don’t let up
  • Don’t show bluffs

8: Join Poker Training Video Membership

I hope you enjoyed this article on poker tournament strategy tips for 2021 and beyond. A final tip is a little plug for our training videos. If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more, you can. 50 free spins no deposit required. By joining as a member you can gain access to almost 1,000 minutes of poker training videos. I give more tips, secrets and advice beyond this article. You can see how I play tournaments, cash games, SNGs and strategy lectures designed to help members make money.

The price of membership is only £49.99 for 1 year. You can join by clicking below or clicking the banner below for information. Once you’ve paid for membership, you will be sent your personal login details within 24 hours.

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Everyday players are sitting down at the tables and consistently making fundamental mistakes because of lack of knowledge, misinformation or failing to maintain focus.

Even just a small strategical adjustment in poker can potentially save you a huge amount in the long run.

In this article we will point out some of the best live and online poker tournament strategy tips you can use to improve your game as quickly as possible.

Tip 1: Play The Right Starting Hands

Whether it be lack of patience, or an unfamiliarity with opening ranges, many tournament poker players still open too wide. This is especially true when it comes to early and middle position opens, where there are still many opponents left to act behind who can be dealt a strong hand.

The problem is when called, wide openers are often at a range disadvantage. Often being dominated by their opponents, they are vulnerable to 3 bets since they frequently won't have a holding strong enough to continue under pressure.

Furthermore, although opening a hand like 7 ♠ 5♠ might at times not be a terrible strategy from early or middle position, speculative hands like suited connectors and gappers, as well as small pairs, work best with deep stacks behind.

These speculative hand types infrequently connect strongly with the flop, so those times they do you want to have deep stakes behind to have the potential to win a huge pot. Modern day tournament structures often only see deep stack play occur during the first few levels of play. This leads us into the next tournament poker tip, being stack size aware.

Learn which hands to open raise in MTT's - Watch lesson 6.1 from the Road to Success MTT Course. A power-packed 50 minute video below, just use one of the button options to unlock it and get instant access.

Tip 2: Be Stack Size Aware

Effective stack size plays a critical role in a tournament players success.

Having a deep stack, and therefore expanding an opening range to include a lot of speculative suited hands and small pairs is a tournament strategy that is going to be punished if a number of short stacks are yet to act behind. This most notably occurs in turbo tournaments where the average stack size is quite short.

Short stacks will be in push-or-fold mode. Being short, they don't have time to wait and will be looking to take any opportunity they can to move all-in. This high rate of all-ins will leave wide openers frequently being forced to relinquish their hands, without even having the opportunity to try to hit a nice flop. Problematic hands often include; J8s , KTo and weak Ax hands.

It's not just short-stacks that can cause a problem, aggressive players will be looking to attack wide-openers. This is especially true when a player opens with a vulnerable M8-M14 (20bb-35bb) stack. 3 bets get good leverage against this stack size, since continuing in the pot represents committing a significant portion of a players stack.

Wide openers would be wise not to commit a large percentage of their stack with marginal holdings, and so will be forced to fold, or face being in a high-risk situation. Staying aware of your own stacks utility, as well as anticipating how opponents will utilize their stacks, is an important tournament poker tip to keep in mind.

POKER TIP: If you are currently using BB to calculate stack size, here's a look at why using 'M' is a better MTT strategy.

Tip 3: Be Careful Overplaying In The Early Stages

As a stack gets deeper, the less willing a competent player will be to put their entire stack at risk since they have more to lose. It's rare to see good players all-in during the early stages of a tournament with hands like AKo or JJ preflop.

Smart players recognize that their counterparts aren't going to be risking their entire stack with weaker hands like AQo . Therefore, even a strong hand like AK could be at a significant equity disadvantage facing a deep stacked opponents all-in range. Could you fold QQ here?

Rather than putting in an extra raise, often times just calling with even very strong hands in the early stage of a poker tournament has great benefits.

  • Allows your opponents to continue with hands they were folding to a re-raise that you have crushed.
  • Disguises the strength of your hand and keeps you unpredictable.
  • Prevents you from getting all-in facing a super strong range where often times you're crushed.

Tip 4: Continuation Bet Aggressively But Not Always

Players have learnt the value of c-betting, but it's a strategy that is often misapplied. Being the preflop aggressor shouldn't lead to a mandatory c-bet and double barrels.

This is especially true in multi-way pots yet players continue to make fruitless c-bets with weak holdings into multiple opponents.

Even in heads-up situations, key factors to consider include;

  • How does the flop texture interact with players ranges?
  • Who has the strongest range?
  • Who has nut advantage (the biggest share of super strong hands)?
  • How passive or aggressive is the opponent we're facing?
  • How does the stack size/SPR allow us to operate on the flop and future streets?

The following hand illustrates the effect nut advantage can have on profitable continuation betting and how it applies to this tournament poker tip:

Tip 5: Be ICM Aware

The Independent Chip Model or ICM, is a great model players use to make more profitable decisions when deep in a tournament and especially at a final table.

Unlike in cash games, chip values fluctuate depending on the stage of the tournament and the competing opponents stack sizes. At it's most extreme, ICM strategy can make A♠A♣: an easy fold preflop.

Imagine a situation in a satellite where 9 players get a World Series of Poker entry and there's 10 remaining. The action folds around to a player with 100,000 in tournament chips who moves all in from the small blind. You're sitting in the big blind with A♠A♣: and also 100,000 in chips. You look around and see a few opponents with only 1000 chips left, which is the size of the current big blind. Obviously one of these short stacks is likely to bust very soon.

Obviously one of these short stacks is likely to bust very soon. Moreover the chance that they collectively out survive your 100,000 stack is extremely remote. You'd likely be a 99% chance to get a WSOP entry, so why would you call with your A♠A♣ and risk busting next around 20% of the time?

Aside from calling too wide in spots when the most profitable strategy is to proceed tightly, the opposite can also be true when it comes to pressuring your opponents. ICM allows players when they have the opportunity to assert pressure on there opponents stacks, to go ahead and do so liberally, since thinking opponents counter-strategy is to play a tight range of hands.

Here's an example of how drastically a hand range can change when the opportunity to assert pressure at a final table exists. 5 of the 6 remaining players at the Pokerstars Sunday Millions have 15bb's, whilst the UTG player has a short 2bb stack. Since the 15bb stacks wants to avoid busting out next and missing out on a large pay jump before the immanent bust out of the 2bb stack, the small blind can adjust their all-in range. Instead of the profitably 57% all-in range in normal play, they can move all-in with 100% of hands to apply pressure on the big blind.

Whilst the big blind should adjust their calling range from the regular 36% to just 10% of hands to account for the ICM effect in play.

The PokerNerve Road to Success course teaches players how to master ICM situations, which is key to tournament poker success since ICM comes into play as the prizes become significant. If there was only one tournament poker tip that you take away from this article, it's that you need to know ICM!

Tip 6: Bet The Appropriate Size

Strong players are capitalizing on their opponents tendencies to bet too big or too small in a number of different situations. With some similar considerations to that of continuation betting, when selecting a bet size important aspects include;

  • Which player's range does the board texture favor?
  • Who has the greatest nut saturation?
  • How does SPR influence our betting strategy

There are many great articles online about bet sizing. You should be sure to check out ThePokerBank's and the Pokerology's to learn more about this tournament tip.

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Tip 7: Take Equity Realization Into Account

Possibly due to the popularity growth of Twitch, many poker players approach to big blind play has evolved. The current trend is to defend the big blind with virtually any 2 cards, as some top pros elect to do, and the justification for this is taking advantage of the excellent pot odds being offered.

While the inclusion of antes combined with commonly seeing a small open raise size does offer the big blind generous pot odds, this has led to a fundamental flaw in the way many players approach big blind play in poker tournaments. The key concept overlooked, is equity realization.

Equity realization reflects a players ability to take a certain hand, and win their share of the pot, frequently enough, to make it profitable in the long-term. Although some top pros have the ability to win their equity share of the pot even out of position, less skilled players rarely do. This leads to a large chip loss in the long run.

It is quite difficult to realize of your equity when out of position, with no initiative and a weak range. This means them glorious odds you are being offered aren't quite as good as you think!

The following article explains this crucial tournament poker tip in more detail; Equity Realization.

Tip 8: Don't Miss Double And Triple Barrel Opportunities

'One and done' is the plight of many aspiring tournament poker players. Everyday at the tables I see players missing profitable opportunities to double, or even triple barrel. Understanding what turn and river cards are advantageous to a players range, along with opponent tendencies, are crucial parts of a winning barreling formula.

The most common scenario at the table, is a heads-up pot where the big blind calls an open-raise. And this happens to be a great spot to barrel. Big blind defenders have a wide range, and it's important to pressure this wide range, especially on only partially connected board textures with one or multiple high cards.

RedChipPoker has a great article on spotting profitable double barrel opportunities which you can read here: THE +EV DOUBLE BARREL GUIDE

Tip 9: Check-Raise More Flops

The biggest difference between the current tournament population, and the future generation, will likely be their approach to check-raising the flop. This opportunity typically occurs in a heads-up pot, after defending the big blind verse an opponents raise.

Local Poker Tournaments

Currently, MTT players only check-raise the flop in this situation around 7-8% of the time, when closer to 20% is a more optimal strategy. On certain flop textures, check-raising close to 25% of the time is an extremely profitable strategy. And if players are getting out of line with their c-bets, then check-raising at an even higher frequency could be a profitable exploit.

By giving up too easily on a wide range of board textures, or taking a more passive approach and simply calling, c-betting can be done with reckless abandon. However, by selecting a nice mix of check-raising hands, combining some strong hands with some good semi-bluffing candidates, a check-raiser can become tricky to play against and exploit the average players tendency to over c-bet.

POKER TIP: Applied correctly and check-raising becomes a super powerful weapon in your arsenal leading to more profitable poker results. But also think beyond the flop, there's plenty of check-raising opportunities you may be missing. This video demonstrates an interesting turn check-raise situation.

Small Ball Poker Tournament Strategy

We discuss check raising strategy in more detail in our post over on unfeltedpoker.com.

Tip 10: Develop A Good 3betting Strategy

Whilst 3 betting aggressively is a strategy many players employ, especially in online poker circles, failure to apply optimal 3 betting strategies has certainly led to a lot of spewy poker. Simply attacking opponents who are suspected of opening wide doesn't cut it in the modern poker world.

Players have learnt to deal with 3 bets more profitably, by mixing in some calls with timely 4 bets. Moreover, the role stack size plays when it comes to 3 betting it still largely misunderstood by much of the poker community.

Sure there are certain stack sizes where 3 bets gain a lot of leverage, but how about the role blockers play? And when is 97 a better 3 bet candidate than KT♠ ? These are just some of the considerations when it comes to a profitable 3 betting strategy. See how to design strong 3betting ranges in this article by Donkr.

Bonus Poker Strategy Tip: Avoid and Deal with Downswings

As a poker player you want to earn your money as easily and as stress-free as possible right? Well, understanding ROI, variance and bankroll management can help (see TopPokerValue's article on bankroll management).

All poker players at some point experience downswings. In some cases, this can affect their play, volume or state of mind.

You'll be miserable, hating poker, playing less and earning less per tournament as your play will suffer.

Along with finding ways that work for you to keep a positive mindset, taking pro-active steps can help keep you confident by knowing you are dealing with the situation like a professional whilst at the same time taking positive action to get back on track and winning.

What is ROI and variance?

Every tournament you enter has an EV associated with it. So if you enter a $10 tourney, as a good player maybe you have a 30% ROI, so you make $3. So it doesn't matter whether you brick that tourney or win it for $5000, you make $3 in the long run.

Now, of course, you don't make $3 each time. 80-85% of the time you lose that $10, some percentage of the time you win a little bit, and some very small percentage of the time you win a lot. How small those ‘small percentages’ are primarily depends on not only your skill edge, but also the field size which is an extremely important concept that is often ignored.

Variance is a factor of two things:

1) Your edge

2) The field size

Example 1)

You play the Hot $55 which has $30K guaranteed, every day for a year on Pokerstars. It has 1600 runners and you have a 5% ROI, because turbo ROIs are small. Your average yearly profit is $605 however you will lose money on the year 55% of the time.

Example 2)

You play a $20 tourney with $3K guaranteed on a softer site every day for a year. It has 200 runners and you have a 30% ROI, because it's a normal speed tourney and you’re against an easier field. Your average yearly profit is $2400 and in this case you lose money only 12% of the time.

A lot of people would look at those two tournaments and make a decision based on the buy-in and 1st place prize money as to which was better to play, and it would be grossly wrong. Once you accept all the above, you realise that the 'up top' number is largely meaningless.

Nl Holdem Tournament Strategy

Yes, on the same site bigger fields may mean a lot of fish have registered to play, but you'll find a lot of small field, soft, non-peak hour tournaments have a great pro-to-fish ratio and hence are great value. Of course once you consider other sites that have smaller fields, you'll often find they are a better choice than what might be running on Pokerstars.

So what can you do?

When players start losing money and along with that, confidence, not only does their game deteriorate but they often compound that problem by failing to make rational decisions. Often losing players, or players on a downswing, go 'bink chasing' and decide to take a shot to win all their money back in one tourney. Or load up some quick $82 hyper-turbos to try to turn it all around quickly.

People get overly fixated on what's 'up top' and wanting to score big in one tournament. That’s a sure-fire strategy to fuel a down swing. If your house got knocked down would you try to slap it back up in a week? Take that opportunity to rebuild a better, stronger house.

Small Poker Tournament Strategy Rules

Make sure you're adding in some study and keep focused (see Sky's Matsuhashi How To Study Poker series), and stay fresh and positive as you approach each session. Be smart and get back into profit quicker instead of enduring a 6-12 month variance rollercoaster!

Closing Words On Tournament Poker Tips

Poker is a multi-faceted game which makes it fun but challenging. Challenge yourself to factor in the relevant concepts, and make more profitable decisions. Tighten up from the big blind, and in general around the table. This tip often quickly improves a new players results, or those that have a got a little sloppy with their play.

Calculate stack size using 'M'. Always be aware of your own, and your opponents stack sizes so you don't get yourself caught in awkward situations. One awkward situation that often comes up is when you hold an overpair to the board and an opponent puts the heat on you. Don't be afraid to make big lay downs to preserve your stack, especially in the early levels.

Be aware of your cbetting frequency. There's no need to waste tournament poker chips cbetting every time, especially when the pot is multi-way. Pick your spots to make profitable plays. Remember when it comes to the final table, regularly profitable playing ranges might alter due to the payouts. ICM is the key when it comes to those final big decisions.

Another key to success is knowing when to fire multiple bullets at your opponents. Barreling, especially against a wide big blind range can really help increase your non-showdown winnings. Finding ways to accumulate chips without always having the best hand is what top players do. This is why check-raising and having a good 3 betting strategy is so important. Correct use of these strategical concepts and the other tips outlines will get you winning more at the tables.

Now that you've acquired some great holdem tournament strategy tips to help you achieve MTT success, go out there an implement them!

One of the quickest way to improve your poker game is to take on a poker coaching, a course or join a poker training site; if that is something that interests you be sure to check out the PokerNerve road to Success Course for some advanced poker tournament strategy or you can check out HowToPlayPokerInfo's guide on poker training & poker courses to find the right option for you.

Any other poker tournament strategy tips? Leave them below in the comments, we would love to hear them!

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