Texas Holdem Tournament Strategy

Since the World Series of Poker is taking place now, I thought a column about poker tourney strategy was in order. Enjoy!

It seems that everybody plays in no-limit Texas holdem tournaments. Of course the exploding television coverage brings new players into the no limit texas holdem game daily, which leads to better ratings and even more poker tournaments on television. When will it end? Not anytime soon. With all these new players, I am often asked about how to play tournaments correctly.

Texas Holdem Tournaments

To determine correct Texas holdem tournament strategy you need to start with some self-analysis. You have to ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my ultimate goal in the poker tournament?
  • Will I be satisfied if I place in the money, make the final table or do I have to win to be happy?
  • Am I willing to take the chances of exiting early to put me in a winning position by going all-in?

If you have just gotten started playing tournaments, you should aim to place in the money. Obviously, all of us always want to win, but a Texas holdem strategy designed to win in any case means you have to take many calculated risks with little or no advantage. You need to gather up a large chip stack in order to place high in a tournament.

If your goal is to place as high as you can, hopefully in the money, then you ought to play extremely tight, especially earlyon in the tourney. Just do not enter any pots if you aren’t certain you have the winning hand. Most tournaments structure the blinds so you can go a long time early without playing a hand until the blinds get too big.

The largest difference between a normal ring game and a poker tournament is that once your chips are gone, you are out of the tourney. In a regular ring game you can buy more chips whenever you like. That is what makes tournament strategy different. Some people simply want to place in the money while others play to win. That begs the question: Why doesn’t everyone play to win? Well, it has to do with the variance associated with two different playing styles.

Often players who are playing to win will get their money in with even the slightest advantage, sometimes even though they have only a 52% or 53% chance to win any given hand. If they are lucky, they can accumulate a big stack of chips, which they need in order to win. If you get all of your money in the pot in such marginal situations you run the great risk of busting out of a tourney early.

If you just want to get into the money you need to play much tighter. You need to try to get better odds before you get your money in the pot, many times as high as 80% or 85%. This approach has the problem that the blinds generally eat a large part of your stack between these opportunities.

Texas Holdem Tournament Strategy

The proper strategy to being a successful tournament player likely lies somewhere in between these two styles. As usual, you should try to bet when you are a favorite to win (have the best poker hand), but in tight situations in a tournament it may be better to hold back unless you are getting short stacked. If your stack gets too short you will have to pick a good starting hand and bet all of your chips and hope that nobody else has a better hand.

Early on, before the blinds get too high, I recommend playing very tightly and only entering the pot with your very best poker hands. Should you have the opportunity to get all of your money in with at least one other person, and you have AA, KK or even QQ, - take it! If you can double-up early on in a poker tournament, that not only gives you extra chips, it also can be a tremendous psychological advantage. If you have a tall stack it works for you on a psychological level! As you continue into the tournament, the bigger your stack, the easier you may be able to force your opponents with fewer chips to fold their hands instead of taking a risk with all their chips.

Usually you find no-limit Hold'em poker tournaments to move along pretty fast. We should discuss a few important points here. If you make just one mistake, it can end your tournament. At any time all of your chips can end up in the pot. Therefore it is important to always play just as well as you can.

You have to learn as much about your opponents play as you possibly can. Take your time if you have to and always pay attention. Do your very best not to lose concentration, even for a second.

Good luck in your Texas Hold'em tournament adventures.