Poker tournaments are fun — though they can be indeed daunting for the newcomer. You see all of that prize money and a big field of players and owner… could I really win?
Absolutely. However, you need to realize that poker tournaments do indeed attract a huge amount of players. They all want the same thing that you do – a big stack of cash! What is the poker newbie to do to maximize their success at poker tournaments?
Glad you asked!
1. Learn the Fundamentals
The fundamentals of poker are out there. Studying good poker theory just makes sense no matter who you are. You might think that you don’t need to really spend a lot of time reading up on the basics, but we’re here to tell you — you do. Otherwise, you’re going to get creamed. Do you know the importance of position in poker? What about hand strengths? Do you know which hands to avoid? You might see players playing 72o, but this is actually one of the worst starting hands in poker. Don’t hope for a lucky flop. You might get 7-7-2 rainbow on the flop, but that type of draw doesn’t happen very often. You really need to make sure that you’re truly playing hands worth playing. That’s the hardest part of being a newcomer. When you feel like you can steal a pot, you might push in with less than a premium hand. At lower levels of the tournament, this can be okay, but as you rise higher? Expect people to be playing much more aggressively. If they feel that you’re bluffing and trying to be bigger than what you are, they will tear you down in a hurry. You need to make sure that you rise above that.
2. Study Your Opponents
Your opponents are the ones that really need to be studied here, not just the cards. You want to make sure that you look at the way everyone is playing. At first, this might take you a while, and you might feel discouraged. There’s nothing to worry about. Play a few poker tournaments that are more like Sit-N-Gos, where you don’t have to go from table to table. This lets you really see what type of players you’re dealing with. Are you dealing with bingo players, who go all in just to scare people? Or are you dealing with sharks? Look at who has the biggest stack on the board, and who doesn’t have the biggest stack. There are a lot of players out there that really will mess with your head, so keep your guard up.
Even though most tournaments have chat boxes, you don’t have to feel obligated to use them. They are just there for people that want to chat on breaks, or in between hands. Some players are all about chatting it up, while others want to concentrate. You’ll find out what type of player you are as you play more rounds.
3. Set an Image
Your image is simply the way others see you. Don’t be afraid to play “dumb” for a while in order to get a better read on someone. If they underestimate you, then you ultimately have power over them. However, you don’t want to get carried away. There’s going to come a point where you really do need to tighten up and not play so many hands.
Being a tight player is a good thing, because it means that you have an eye for selection. But you don’t want to get so tight that you become a “rock”.
This is also the case for “limping”. There is a time and a place to seriously raise — yes, it might make other people fold, but who cares? Raising shows that you do have something, and it can set you up for a continuation bet (c-bet). C-betting plays into your image. If you c-bet, then you’re reminding them that yes, you have a good hand. Make them pay to keep drawing against you. Chances are good that they will either fold or push in, and that means that you have a much bigger pot than if you limped in (called) and then raised (scaring them away anyway).
4. Change Your Image
Changing your image is necessary. You don’t want people getting a read on you and then basically forcing you to change your strategy. That just wouldn’t be fair or fun. You need to think about how you’re playing. If you’ve been playing loose, tighten up. Yes, that might mean you sacrifice a few hands that would have been playable. But it’s all about making sure that you keep your opponents on your toes. Change the amount of your raises as well, so that you don’t form a pattern. If you’re always raising 5BB when you have something good, that is a flag that players will fixate on.
5. Grow in Aggression
When it’s time to grow in aggression, you’ll know. This is usually when you’re either on the bubble (1-2 places away from a money finish) or already in the money and you want to knock some people out to get their chips and rise higher.
A lot of newbies are afraid to get tough. Why? If you have a good hand and you know it, why not raise preflop? There’s no need to feel like you can’t win just because others aren’t winning. You don’t want to get sucked into what other people do to the point that you’re frozen in time. That would definitely be the wrong course of action.
The better approach is to raise when you can, and fold when you do not have the advantage. Do not “river ride” your way through wins. If people pick up on the fact that you’re doing that, they’re going to use it against you. They will make you pay to draw, and then when you lose to that last out on the river, you’ll wish that you had just folded. It’s happened to us a thousand times, and we always swear that we will fix this mistake.
It’s up to you to decide what you will do in a tournament situation. Some people thrive in tournaments, and prefer to play that way. Other people prefer to play table games. It’s really going to be up to you to make sure that you’re thinking about how to play, and building your own strategy. If you’re super new, you might want to play a few ring games and really interact with people before you jump into a tournament. There’s nothing wrong with a little free poker practice to sharpen your skill. Remember this: every shark had to start at one point as a fish!