Multi-Table No-Limit Texas Hold’em Tournaments
The Popularity of Texas Hold’em tournaments continues to grow and grow. This is to a large extent due to the increasing popularity of the WSOP (World Series of Poker) and also the WPT (World Poker Tour) and EPT (European Poker Tour) etc. These tournaments are now regularly shown on TV and a lot of people watch these high money tournaments and reckon that since they are OK poker players they’ll give it a go themselves, playing through the satellites. In fact these days most Texas Hold’em is actually played in tournaments instead of the more traditional single table games, "ring" games.
No-Limit Texas Hold’em has a truly exceptional amount of variance in terms of the size of the players stacks. The stacks go up and down far more than they would in a standard ring game and the reason for this is that the bets are so large preflop especially towards the end of the tournament. It is very common to see a battle between for example Ace King and a high pocket pair later on in a tournament.
Now I’m not suggesting that you don’t play in Poker Tournaments, in fact I encourage you to as they are great fun. The thing to bear in mind though is that effect of luck is far more pronounced in a Poker tournament than it is in a traditional single table ring game. The reason for this is that you have to take big risks and win plenty of 50-50 hands to have any chance of winning the tournament, if you play conservatively it will not work!
Beginning of the poker tournament
The strategy of Texas Hold’em tournaments is quite different form a standard Texas Hold’em ring game. For one thing there is far less value in bluffing, mainly because the other players stacks are smaller compared to the size of the pot. Another reason is that loosing chips hurts you far more than winning chips in a poker tournament.
This can seem quite a confusing concept so let me explain further. Lets say you try to bluff your way to 1000 chips in a 2000 chip pot and you expect that you have a 50-60% chance of success. Now in a ring game this would be fairly good odds but not so in a tournament. The reason is that the 1000 chips you can win are worth much less than the 1000 chips you stand to loose if it all goes wrong. If your stack is 2000 and it falls down to 1000 it will seriously affect your game whereas if it grows to 3000 it won’t really make all that much difference. Another way of looking at this is that chips in a poker tournament don’t equate to money, you can’t cash in your chips whenever you like, the only way chips count are either if you loose them all or win them all. If you loose half of your chips then you are halfway out of the tournament, whereas winning 1000 only moves you a little bit closer towards winning and isn’t worth these type of big risks, at least not in the early stages!
This doesn’t mean that you should play overly tight just that you should avoid any unnecessary risks. In a poker tournament the blinds go up very quickly so if you don’t regularly win pots, at least one every rotation, you will wind your chip stack reducing very rapidly and eventually you will get knocked out. Towards the end of the tournament you can maybe consider winning pots to win the whole poker tournament but in the early stages you just want to win pots to stay in the game.
To sum up, in the beginning of a Texas Hold’em Poker tournament you should avoid taking any unnecessary risk, in the majority of cases the potential win will not justify the risk. Of course if it is cheap to see a flop with decent pocket cards then do it or if someone goes all in preflop when you are sitting with AA then call but otherwise caution is the watchword. I would also strongly advice against bluffing in a poker tournament, the other players will quickly figure this out and in any case players naturally play more aggressive in a poker tournament so the chance of being called and beaten is to large, in other words it is far too risky.
Middle of the Poker Tournament
As you approach the middle of the poker tournament you will need to increase the tempo a little bit and start taking a few more risks. The blinds at this point will be larger which makes it easier to steal a few of them and it is here that the "GAP" concept comes into play. It takes a much weaker hand than usual to do a raise and steal the pot and a much better hand than usual from another player to call that raise. The middle of the tournament also introduces a kind of survival mode in most players where they think that because they have gotten this far they don’t want to get knocked out now.
The majority of the time in the middle part of the poker tournament you are just trying to survive as before and increase your stack where possible. You should shy away from situations where you have to go all-in except if you are fairly certain that you are sitting with the best hand, the "nuts". The majority of the time you should play consistently and just try to occasionally steal the pot and try and get as much money as possible from your opponents when you do get a good hand.
If you have managed to build up a large stack in this middle portion of the poker tournament then you can start putting some big pressure on your opponents and exploit the "survival mode" instinct. You should take control of the play and put the other players into all-in situations through your raises, where they risk getting knocked out compared to you just loosing a few chips. You should be careful of doing this too often though as players will soon get fed up and you might end up with several players going all-in in which case there is a good chance of one of them winning and increasing their stack at your expense. There is also a risk in this middle part that you will have a few maniacs left, more through good fortune than good play, and they will call everything so beware!
Towards the end of the poker tournament
Towards the end of the Texas Hold’em poker tournament is where you are going to have to start taking some bigger chances if you are to have any chance of winning the whole thing. At this stage the blinds are usually so large that short stacked players often go all-in preflop. In general if you want to go all in or see these all-ins you should have an Ace with a good kicker or a pocket pair. If you have an Ace with a good kicker you will have a small advantage over most hands which are smallish pairs and dominate hands which are not pairs. If you yourself have a pair you will have a small advantage over hands which are not pair, except Ace King etc, and a big advantage over smaller pocket pairs.
Generally if you have a decent hand towards the end of the poker tournament you should play and just push all your chips in to the pot preflop. This is especially true if you find yourself short stacked where the blinds will very quickly drain the rest of your stack anyway. There is a good chance that the flop won’t help you but because of the survival mode there is a good chance that you can steal the blinds anyway and you avoid the chance of someone bullying you off the pot after the flop.
If you do all of these things and have a very generous amount of luck on your side then you might win the Texas Hold’em tournament. In any case you will get much further than you would otherwise and in a poker tournament the taking part really is fun.