How to Play Poker – Guide to Poker Tournaments
Tip 4 Know when to change gear
Tip 6 Don’t bet too low
Tip 10 Watch an Internet game
Tip 1 – Check the Game length and blind levels.
Sometimes you can enter a tournament game and happily play along, sometimes you do well, sometimes you cant get started. Its important though to measure exactly how long it would take to get to the final table for this game.
This should be in the back of your mind as you get going so you can play the long game. Often to win a decent cash prize in a tournament format it can take about 5hrs.
Tip 2 – Keeping an eye on what your opponents are doing.
So long as you don’t keep getting moved tables you can keep a close eye on what the other players are up to. By doing this it will open up more times where you can make plays. If you don’t do this, you’re missing out on an advantage. It’s a fine line, but also something that becomes more useful the more you notice it. You would have to be playing for a while before you see what you’re opponents are doing so taking it slow at first and then opening up your creativity is a normal pattern.
When you first start out at this game you get into a rhythm and a belief that if I play in this certain style then I have the best chance. A more experienced player after seeing your style for a while may take a decent interest in what you may or may not be doing and react accordingly.
OK, so one great way to keep an eye on what other players are up to is to use Phil Hellmuths system of labeling players as animals. Don’t think that all players think the same way as you, you can clearly see people doing seemingly ridiculous things in any given game.
Personally I don’t take this system too seriously, I mean you can’t under estimate people in poker because people will be changing the way they play constantly. But I think this is a bit of fun and worth writing about. It also helps you to understand different styles that you can try. I’ve put my own take on all of this but as far as I know its Phil Hellmuth who created this.
The Poker Animals
Mouse - The mouse is a very tight player. If a mouse puts chips in the pot then they have the cards to back it up. The mouse just sits there all quiet and plays chips in all the most analytically correct places. The weakness of a mouse is that they don’t raise much and when they play, the other players will be more wary and are more likely to fold. They win the pot but it’s not a big pot because everyone believes their bets and folds to them. A mouse can be considered to be very predictable. Once you see the mouse, you can watch out for them and probably consider that folding is for the best. I’m often playing like a mouse but I do mix it up. The beauty of this style is that playing patiently in this manner catches out many bluffs and aggressive styles in the earlier stages because you would be mostly slow playing good hands. Its a tight playing strategy.
Jackal - The opposite to a mouse that throws chips around a lot. In this style you play chips left right and center with seemingly no regard to the cards or the flop.These kinds of players can be very annoying because they just don’t seem to be playing the same game. If you notice these players it can often be very tempting to call them down when you don’t have all that much. A typical Jackal could be the a player who keeps going all in all the time pre flop. How annoying. Of course a good player may trick you into thinking they are playing with rubbish just to catch you out.
Elephants – You could label a player an elephant that plays a lot of hands and like to get involved in flops. They don’t raise much, they prefer to call and see how the flop goes for them. Trying to bluff against an elephant before the river might be a bit tricky because they may want to be sure they don’t hold the best cards at the end. It is in their nature to call you (not raise you) on small bluffs, but playing an elephant all the way to the river with good cards and small bets can be very rewarding. I suppose an Elephant can be considered someone playing a decent patient game but lacking in ability to bluff and basically lacking all round skills.
Lions - The lions of the game are the good players and deserve to be respected. They have good starting hands normally when they play but they are more than willing to think outside the box and value call anything, bluff you, double bluff you, re-raise you and generally trick the hell out of you. A Lion is basically just someone to be very careful of and these players can stand out.
Tip 3 – Be aware of how you are being perceived by the other players.
A lot if not most players will be watching what you do too, so simply use that to your advantage at your discretion to bluff them. Simple as that. This is often the way that I play. I like to play quite quite tight for a while and then start bluffing a lot more once I think people are satisfied that I’m playing only good cards. Probably a common strategy.
Tip 4 – Know when to change gear.
Changing gear/adapting in tournament poker is the most crucial advice. In the early stages partially you have to take your chances. If you don’t and you play incredibly tight you will often regret it. It is the nature of the game that people will make bets that look like they have the best cards.
Sometimes you are holding a good hand and someone bets into you and you can get very tempted to then fold it. Really you need to have more confidence in the cards you are holding sometimes and take a chance. This bet the other player made is not necessarily to be considered a bluff but just believe that you could still very likely win anyway. Take the chance when it comes – especially in the early stages. You are not going to get ahead by folding good hands because someone else bets strong, in fact the opposite applies because if you do win it, you’ll win a lot when someone is betting into you. This is something that I’ve developed a lot over the years.
Often in the past in finals, because so much money is at stake and I’ve waited so long to play in this game, I play so ridiculously tight that I simply lose. I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way. This I’ve changed and no matter what the stakes are, I play much more freely, especially at first until I’ve got some chips. Playing super tight can be recommenced but my advice is to take risks to win pots so that you are ahead before you start playing so tight.
You play differently according to your chip stack; others chip stacks and the amount of people in the game. Adapting to the conditions as you go along in a tournament will help you develop a game plan and not just waiting to win with good cards. Good tournament play is adapting to the conditions that you find yourself in.
With Internet tournaments and any poker game, from my experience this is true:
It is not when you are dealt the right cards and you lose that matters/hurts, it is the times when the opportunities come and they aren’t taken that can often be the difference between winning and losing. Only by playing a lot will you start to notice more and more and more when these opportunities are and you have to take them when they come.
This is not the same as feeling gutted because you just folded a hand that came up roses on the flop, it is I suppose spotting a place to bully people away. Of course you can never tell for sure when someone is bluffing but you need to be able to take a risk and go for it.
Know when its time to take a risk and try your luck. Sometimes it’s better to throw caution to the wind and start really going wild. If you’ve not had too much success and you are behind, it is perhaps better to start taking big risks to catch up than wait.
Also, people will just bully you out when you are short stacked. Bullying the short stacks can be very irritating when its happening to you but its just part of the game. You go all in with AK and get beat by a 2 6. Classically irritating but perfectly plausible really.
If you imagine you have 2000 chips only and many players have 20,000 on your table. If you play tight, when you go all in to fight back, the other players expect you to have a good hand. But for only 2000, many players will just call you with all kinds of rubbish because they know full well that they could get lucky and take you out. If they didn’t win, it would only cost them 2000. If other players come into the pot, this 2000 which you anticipated to be a decent enough raise just becomes another 2000 in a 12000 chip pot.
When players get lots of chips they feel a lot more cocky and confident and so even if the blinds are still only at 200/400, if you make an all in raise it’s not very threatening. Just don’t expect that big stacks will fear an all in raise from a short stack, they probably wont.
Even with that said, a well timed all in bluff can be effective here so long as you time it right. Because you’ve folded loads of rubbish hands you are naturally waiting for a good one, a pair or an ace or something. Its always a risk but a good bluff with a 5 2 could well get you out of trouble so long as you time it correctly.
The timing of it can be more important than the cards you’re holding. Even if you get called, those 5′s and 2′s could still come and say hello in the flop. Of course I’m not recommending playing lots of rubbish hands but paying more attention to the timing rather than the cards you’re dealt is advised.
Tip 5 – Let a few things be set in stone – win or lose.
Sometimes if you play a hand in one way you win, other times not. Its impossible to say how to play each hand your dealt as the circumstances will always be different. But there are a few things I decided I will always do, they don’t always work, but I always do them anyway because you often find yourself thinking ooo I dunno what to do so I made a few ground rules for myself. I’ve watched a few tutorials by Phil Helmuth and two golden nuggets of poker advice that I took from it are these:
1. Grind, grind, grind.. Loosely meaning play your chips when you’re holding the good cards. This I would say is more for Internet play but it just means be patient and wait for the right time to strike, getting impatient and making big bluffs is a quick way to lose. (Mouse it up)
2. When you have AK always raise, raise, re-raise – you don’t want to go all in, but get your opponent on the back foot if you can.
This next one is all my own work
3. Aces – flat call. Hopefully you will get raised.
I took this screenshot the day after I wrote that. Worked perfectly. Tripled up to 9000.
That’s a few solid things that I live by, and if you’re asking me, do those things.
oops, im playing a game and updating my guide and just got really exited that I have pocket aces. No its just the screenshot above..q2, fold.
Tip 6 – Don’t bet too low.
When the blinds are high and you hit a good hand pre flop, you want to raise at least twice the big blind minimum. Probably 2 ½ or 3 times at least. It’s not just to get the whole table to fold so you can take down the juicy blinds for an easy steal but you want to be cautious that the BIG BLIND wont call you for a cheeky flop (value call) as most good players would.
If BB is 12,000 and you raise to 24,000 and the big blind is already in for 12,000, then the BB only needs to risk another 12,000 to potentially win about 40,000 so it makes very good sense for them to try it on and call this with a mediocre hand. This is simply making things harder for the other players.
A prime example of a mistake that happened recently is when I flat called with AK.(I should have raised!!!!) At the end of tournaments I can start to get a lot of adrenaline pumping and make mistakes like this. I often even do it and immediately regret it even before the reaction is made. Toward the end, every single move you make becomes crucial.
As a big stack, with such big blinds and a very tight game being played by me, it’s obvious that only the very best hands such as high pairs etc. would call let alone raise. Experience was shouting at me dumbass! as I watched most of the table fold to my relief.
Everyone folds except the big blind who checks. He has 10 5 offsuit, hits a 5 on the flop and goes all in. I called and lost the hand with ace high. Even though I had him easily covered in chips, to call was silly. I lost the hand and ended up finishing out of qualifying position.
I only should have folded here because I made the mistake of not raising in the first place. I will never flat call in this scenario again. Even with pocket aces it could be advised to make a small raise because your opponents will likely expect you raise anyway no matter what hand your deciding to go with.
Tip 7 – Make a few strong plays with absolutely nothing.
Waiting to win with good cards can be considered a good and patient strategy for tournament poker from my experience but you have to incorporate other plays in there as well to have an edge on other players. If your super patient and you get all the nice cards then you have a good chance to win. But if you wait and wait and then you don’t ever get a good hand and lose then it makes you think that you didn’t play right.
If your in a tournament and 50% of the players are just waiting to bet when then they practically cant lose then getting into the top 10% to get paid or advance to next round, you would struggle to do well if you didn’t have some other plays in your game.
Depending on the speed of the blinds, you have to incorporate a patient game. There’s usually 9 other hands on your table, regardless of what they bet, or what your have, the odds of you holding the winning hand when all cards are turned over are not necessarily what is going to make you money.
Finding the balance between playing the cards and playing the chips and is something which you just get the feel of as you go along. You judge this along with all other factors like the bet size according to your and others chips stack, the way the other players played, the blind up times, etc.
Making a strong play and re-raising with nothing is very satisfying when it works. Just pick a time, allocate yourself an amount of chips to use and then spread that over a couple of bets in a total bluff. It works more often than not in my experience. It also works best if you’ve played quite tight to that point.
This is an extra play I’ve added into my game. Ill raise pre flop to represent a good hand when I have something pathetic and then try and take down the pot soon as the flop is dealt.
Tip 8 – Playing your position and playing the end game.
When you approach the end or qualifying stages of a tournament and the blinds are very high as mentioned this is the crucial time. You’ll most likely have to play all your chips in one hand and win to continue..
The hands consist mainly of one person making a large raise or an all in move that forces everyone else to fold. At this point most players will be raising to steal the blinds because they are so high.
While this is something that is true throughout the game, it becomes much more apparent and important toward the end. Many players will just power play the correct cards and many other players will be of the mentality that in winning this one hand, I can fold everything else afterwards then and ill win so they’ll “go for it”.
A lot of your effort often comes down to this 20-40 minute period (or more – depending on the format). Its here where the blinds take out the short stacks and also will catch out the big stacks that either get carried away or try to strong play average hands to steal small pots and get their fingers burned.
Importantly it is better to be the one who makes the play rather than the call. You can consider folding good hands at this point if you are out of position, rather than risk a draw. Just because pot bluffing will be going on, doesn’t mean that great hands won’t be dealt to other players. In raising you will have position on the other players.
You “should” have a good hand to raise here and even if another player calls you, you shouldn’t be too scared. If you are raised and you have a good hand, it is no longer a value call to play the hand because you’re up against another good hand and the bets are likely to be very strong in order to force the other player out. If the blinds are that high then you would rather raise with a good hand than call with a good hand against what probably is another good hand.
This becomes a very fine line – an absolute tightrope walk from my experience in Internet play especially. Also if you were to call someone’s raise, you wont have position, so if the player bets after the flop you need to be prepared to go all the way really, i.e. all in.
I have to confess that I don’t always play in a disciplined fashion and it’s easy to say you played it right when you win. If you have a chip advantage then you can play tight because the blinds won’t hurt you as much as the lesser stacked players and you will advance up the rankings naturally as people lose while you’re not playing.
You can call with good hands and fold them later if the flop isn’t kind. But that’s not necessarily right either; you have to find the balance. When the blinds are seriously high, chip advantage or not, you will have to play your position because playing tight in this scenario is perhaps more risky than not.
Tip 9 – Some Example bad plays made by me – learn from my/your mistakes.
I was leading a tournament (highest chip stack of anyone) and flat called (blinds were very big by this point) with pocket queens. I didn’t really want to risk an all in play pre flop because I was a big stack and it seemed silly to bother risking all in with any hand. With only cards lower than queens on the flop, with position I went all in and lost to pocket aces.
When the blinds are that high, then only the very best hands are calling and this can catch you out. You fold maybe hundreds of rubbish hands and then a good one lands in your lap and the temptation is to make a big play – naturally. But why play it if you ultimately win the tournament or get to final table by just throwing down the hand. In tournament play, folding really good hands that likely WILL win is good advice in some phases of the game. Why take the risk?
When someone is betting at you, often they WILL have good cards and do you want to RISK losing chips at this point in the game? This one was perhaps a bit unlucky but it wasn’t really necessary to take the risk even though I was confident I would win. So long as you can survive the blind levels, sometimes it a great strategy to watch TV for a bit, keep you eye on the game but just step back and let other people play. Fold everything; perhaps jump back to the computer for a high pair but always be cautious.
Tip 10 – Watch an Internet game.
If you’ve got some time on your hands then I would recommend watching a game on the Internet, not on the TV and watch it all the way through if you can. You can learn a lot from watching betting patterns when you can’t see the cards.
Of course whenever you are playing you are seeing betting patterns and watching Internet games isn’t all that much fun – however it can teach you a thing or two. Take a note on how many hands you see coming to a showdown i.e., how many hands are the cards actually turned over? It’s surprising when you see so many hands are folded to bets and not won by the best cards.
Tip 11 – Raise more than you call – pay for information.
If you are going to play a mediocre hand, rather than flat call it, min raise it or just raise it a bit in any way you feel like. If another player were to min raise the betting you would probably call it would you not so why not get the chips in first. This also gives you a chance to see how other people react.
Paying for information could be explained in many many scenarios but its worth baring this tactic in mind and just using it as much as you can. When you get used to doing this you realize that often, making small raises is cheaper than not doing it. It also makes your opponents less likely to try bluffing you.
It’s a complicated game, which is what makes it so amazing and so popular. You can only learn the game as you go along, which is why I would advise watching games and of course playing a lot.
Why I like tournament play is because while the odds are high in that there is a lot of players, the initial stake is normally very relatively low in comparison to what you ultimately could win. When you get good at tournament play it’s the only way to go really, for me at least.
Also check: How to play 3 card poker
How to Play Poker