Poker tournament strategies differ a lot from simple cash games. Everyone starts with the same stack, unlike cash games where people can bring stacks of different sizes to the same table. Also, tournaments are all about survival. Once your stack of chips is gone, so are you. These strategies will help your survive the different phases of a tournament.
Value of chips changes – at the start of the tournament you will have plenty chips compared to the blinds. For example, every tournament on 9stacks gives you a different starting stack. StackUp gives you a starting stack of 25,000 chips, which amounts to 500 initial blinds while The Multiplier gives you 12,00 chips amounting to 100 initial blinds. But as the blinds increase, you will be left with fewer chips compared to the blind. Hence, always keep an approximate count of how many blinds you have left. When you only have 7-10 blinds left, wait for a monster hand and shove pre-flop. With a stack so small it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to get value if you play more than 1 or 2 hands and if all the players end up folding, you’ll be able to steal their blinds.
Be patient –Wait for the right hand to come. Play tight during the first few levels and avoid big pots unless you have a monster hand. This will allow you to maintain a healthy stack. You don’t want to get into massive pots and lose too many chips in the early rounds, as an increase in blinds later on will further reduce your stack relatively. A common strategy a lot of players use is playing multiple tables – while you’re playing a big tournament you can also play cash tables or 15-minute tournaments in parallel. This keeps you busy and doesn’t make you impatient. On 9stacks, you can add another table by simply clicking on ‘add table’ on the bottom left corner of your screen.
Protect your blinds – DO NOT LIMP, i.e. do not just call the big blind with an average hand. Chances are other players will raise pre-flop if they have a good hand and if you limped in, you will definitely be folding. Only call the big blind if you can call the raise or raise if you can call the re-raise. As I mentioned earlier, increasing blinds will deplete your stack.
Don’t fear the Bubble Phase – The bubble is a poker slang used for the phase in the tournament where the players are only a few spots away from money. For example, if a tournament pays out top 5 players, the bubble phase would start when there are about 10-12 players remaining. As players enter the bubble phase, they tend to change the way they play and start stressing out. Some beginners don’t realize that your strategy should mostly depend on your stack. If you have a short stack, play cautiously. Make every move to maximize your chances of surviving and fold anything that isn’t a monster. If you’ve playing well and have accumulated a big stack, it’s time for you to punish the shorts stacks. Play aggressively and steal their blinds as often as possible. Put them all-in if you have a decent hand. They will be folding very often, giving you free chips to increase your stack.
Hammer-Time! – When you’re ‘in the money’, i.e. you are guaranteed to win money, it’s time for you to hammer your opponents. The value of all hands go-up. Start playing a little aggressively irrespective of your stack. This doesn’t mean you go all in with 72, but you increase your range of starting hands and raise with suited connectors or even low pockets. If you wait a few hands for a monster, the size of the blinds would have already depleted your stack to a level where you won’t get enough value.
In a nutshell, start by playing tight, adjust during the bubble phase (depending on the size of your stack) and then go all-out once you’re in the money. Go Stack Up!