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Poker Tournament Strategy

Live Tournaments and Freezeouts

“Freezeout” is a term used in online poker rooms for events where you have one stack of chips, with no re-buy or add-on option. When a player loses all their chips, they are out of the tournament. Freezeout events work just like most land-based poker tournaments do, including most televised poker shows. The World Series of Poker Main Event is the world’s most famous freezeout event, but the term is used in online card rooms, too.

Early in Tournaments

The WSOP Is the Most Famous Poker Tournament in the WorldIt’s best to play a tighter style in the early stages of these events. A lot of weak players are going to be in the field. Many of these players are going to be on draws. If you tighten up your game, you increase the chances you survive into the middle phase of the tournament, when it’s time to make your move.

A fine line exists between tight and too tight, so remember you have to survive, but also build a chip stack for later. Even playing tight/aggressive, you’ll need some luck to move on. That means you’ll have to put your neck on the line a few times. Pick your spots and hope your opponents don’t draw what they need.

Middle Phase

In the middle stages of the event, you’ll want to loosen your play style. Most of the bad players are going to be eliminated by now, though some move into this stage by sheer weight of numbers. Most of what’s left are good players, so bluffs and especially semi-bluffs have a chance of working.

Find a spot to steal on average every one time around the table. This preserves your chip stack. Try to find spots you can increase your chip stack, too. Being the low stack is dangerous in this stage.

If you become the low stack on the table (or close to it), when you have a good hand, so all-in and try to double up. Someone is likely to sense weakness and call that all-in bet, so understand when you go all-in that your tournament life is likely to be at stake.

Late Phase

Towards the middle-to-late stage, players are going to tighten up considerably. At a point, finishing in the money is going to become more important to many competitors than building up their chip stack (depending on circumstances). If you have a solid chance to finish in the money, play aggressively and take advantage of these player’s tightness to build up your chip stack.

Aggression is important in this late stage. The blinds become enormous and many players are just hoping to survive. The longer many stay in the tournament, they more money they make. For many, survival is most important to them.

Observe and try to figure out which players you can push around. Stealing the blinds is important at this stage. When making the final table becomes a possibility, many players become even tighter. Use this against them.

Unlimited Rebuys

Rebuy tournaments are much different than freezeouts. Players don’t worry about surviving in the rebuy period (at the start). They know they can pay for a new set of chips, so they play with aggression.

Many players play loosely, hoping to get lucky and build up a big chip stack for the middle part of the tournament. Unlimited rebuys take this to its logical conclusion. Players are known to see 80% of the flops, hoping to catch a flop. Daniel Negreanu is known to have used 48 rebuys in one WSOP unlimited rebuy event back in 2006.

Many players don’t have that money to spend, so they play a semi-loose style. They want to have a decent hand, but they may not be as selective as they would be in a freeze-out event. Don’t play the hand you have almost no chance of winning. Don’t make massive overbids.

Play like you might in a cash game where you know you can buy more chips, but you’d just as soon not. Add-on events have similar strategy, because players know they have a chance to refill and replenish their chip count.

Freeroll Strategy

When you play a freeroll tournament, you’re certain to see a lot of fish. Bluffing has no effect. They got into the tournament for free and they’re willing to take the chance they’ll double up and have the big chip stack at the table.

In this situation, it’s better to play tight and only get into the action when you have confidence you’re ahead. Let the fish eat one another and try to catch the surviving big fish later.

Sound Strategy Decisions

The one strategy which is always in fashion is to play the odds and make sound decisions. When players are ahead most of the time as they bet into the pot, they’re going to be successful poker players. Learn strong and weak poker hands, then learn everything in between.

Know the pot odds when you decide to call or, better yet, raise. Individual tournaments and single hands may not go your way, but when you put yourself in the best position to win on a consistent basis, you’ll succeed over the long term. Playing intelligently doesn’t assure you’re win any given hand, but smart players are winning players.

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