No wasting time on introductions! We’re gonna dive straight into things this week. If you haven’t read the Basic Tournament Theory article out a couple weeks ago, I strongly suggest you do that before continuing as this article will build directly off that without much recap at all. Onwards and upwards!
So let’s give some more practical advice to play poker tournaments.
As discussed previously, the scaling payout structure and chips not having a direct cash value strongly impacts how we should play tournaments/sngs (excepting husngs) as opposed to cash games.
Namely, early game, when stacks are deep, we should be playing extremely tight. This holds true whether we’re playing 6 man sngs or a multiple thousand person 10 handed tournament.
This is mainly for the reason that we can’t win a tournament in the first hand, or even first 10, 20, or 50 hands. In the case of larger online MTTs’, it can take hundreds of hands to make it Heads Up for the victory.
But just one bad decision can end your tournament, even if you’ve been playing incredible poker for hours. The vast majority of the time, there will be someone with a bigger stack who can bust you, or with a relatively similar stack which can severely cripple you.
While later in the game we need to loosen up to account for chipping up for a deep run, the rising blinds, and changing table dynamics (6 handed vs 9 handed play, for example), early in tournaments this is not much of a factor at all, and we shouldn’t risk our tournament life by exposing ourselves to possibility of coolers (in addition to slowly losing chips by playing lots of weaker hands) or in relatively close spots where we’re flipping or slightly ahead of our opponents.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but in a cash game we should be taking 52/48 edges allin preflop (vs our opponent’s range) just about all the time.
Early in a tournament, however, we should pass in these spots to preserve our equity. There is significant (although relatively simple) math behind this, which I’ll get into either later this article or in a 3rd (and probably final) tournament theory article if it proves necessary.
I did promise some more practical advice, so I’ll do something I rarely do and provide some example ranges which I believe are quite reasonable.
> UTG – UTG+2: JJ+ AKo AQs+
> UTG+3 – CO: TT+ AQo+ AJs+
> BTN: 77+ ATo+ A9s+ KQo KJs+
> SB: 55+ AX+ KTo+ K8s+
This is approximately from effective stacks ~100bb all the way down to ~25bb, which covers early game play.
As you can see, these ranges are quite tight (and they only apply to unopened pots).
The one thing which could be added are joining in limpedes with suited connector type hands and smaller pocket pairs. Of course, as you become more solid in your postflop decision making you can definitely widen these ranges a little bit, but it really is true that tight is right in these games early and we should just be avoiding marginal spots.
When we do have one of these hands, we want to play it hard.
Stack off with your high pocket pairs preflop, and at lowstakes (probably any NPP free poker online game, and games on Stars through $3s at least) always stack off with AK (just trust me), and it’s also probably reasonable to stack of with AQ all the time as well.
When we hit tp+ postflop on all but the wettest boards, we want to be betting and raising and generally playing for stacks except against other solid players and nits. Anyway, even if you don’t follow these ranges hand-for-hand (and face it, you should be thinking for yourselves and modifying things to fit your games!), they should give you a general sense for just how tight we should be in early game spots.
Play few hands, but play them fast and hard, and we should be in a generally decent position come mid and endgame, which is what’s important in MTT and SNG play.
So let’s take a short at play from ~12-~20bbs deep, which is an approximation of stacks during the standard middle game of SNGs, and is also relatively common to see in quicker-paced large field tournaments (the slower ones frequently stay deeper wire-to-wire).
Come middle game, our priorities start to shift a little bit.
We still care about survival, because all the money in tournaments comes at the end. But we need to stay on top of the rising blinds or we risk losing the value of our stack by playing too tight.
The goal here isn’t just to survive til endgame, it’s to reach endgame with a playable stack and a chance at victory, although we still do need to attempt to minimize risk. The most sensible way to do this is by widening up in unopened pots from late position.
While we should still be relatively tight from EP, our btn (button) and sb ranges should widen substantially.
A reasonable btn range is something like:
BTN: 22+ A7o+ A5s+ K9o+ K8s+ QJo QTs+
Which is significantly wider than our btn range deep. Our sb range should be substantially widened as well, but I’ll let you guys figure out exactly how to craft your ranges.
Another key difference is our opening size.
While during early game phases opening to 3x+1bb per limper is generally good sizing, in middle game we should probably be opening closer to 2.5x+1bb per limper.
The sizing effectively accomplishes the same thing (at these depths; raising to 2.5x at 100bb deep will get less folds). There’s less incentive to join limpedes here unless there are many limpers in front of you, and you generally shouldn’t be getting involved in opened pots without a relatively strong hand.
When you do, you should not be calling much; be more inclined to jam over to try and utilize the fold equity you have.
This is where I’ll cut this article. I know it’s not nearly as lengthy as some of the previous, but I really want you guys to internalize and really grasp these concepts before getting into the endgame portion, because it’s pretty dense stuff.
As always, leave a message on npp, a comment on the article or on facebook, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments, concerns etc. I don’t bite, you’ll stay anonymous, and I’ll try to help with anything you come to me with (even if it’s a completely different poker problem unrelated to one of my articles).
I haven’t had many messages, but I think the few I have had have definitely helped people understand the content better as well as helping me learn to relay my thoughts better, so definitely feel free to contact me with anything. Until next time, I hope you play solid and run well!
Other articles in the free online poker From The Ground Up series by pro online poker player Gloves.
Part 4 – Poker math – Outs and Odds
Part 5 - Basic poker tournament theory