Tournament poker strategy is a complex animal. The first step in understanding how to dominate poker tournaments is learning about the fundamentals required to beat the early stages of a tournament. After all, what good is learning about the middle or late stages of tournament play if you never get there? Luckily the early stages of a tournament are the easiest to master. There is little thinking beyond ABC poker when you are playing the early stages of a tournament. This is what makes tournament play so attractive to amateur poker players.
Proper hand selection is one of the keys to success in tournament poker. Do not play too loose in the early stages of a tournament as this is often a recipe for disaster. One of the best phrases that can be applied to poker is “You must first finish to finish first.” This means that there is no use in playing over aggressively as you can’t win a tournament if you are knocked out of it. As a general guideline for hand selection in the early stages of a tournament, never play hands much weaker than AJ and pocket pairs. There will certainly be exceptions to this rule, but if you adhere to this general range you will be well on your way to playing solid tournament poker. If you are looking to steal the blinds with weaker hands you will be able to widen your range a little bit, but another key to early tournament poker play is not stealing the blinds. Poker players often preach the value in stealing the blinds in tournaments, but they are typically referring to the later stages of the tournament. Early on in a tournament the blinds will be too small for it to be worth stealing the blinds. Stick to AJ+ and pocket pairs in the early stages of a tournament and you will be adhering to a strategy that is undoubtedly better than most of the players you will be facing.
Playing Your Hands
Over playing a hand is one of the worst things that a poker player can ever do, but it is particularly destructive in the early stages of a tournament. You should be cautious when a tournament is starting out, but you can’t abandon the aggressive play that is rewarded in poker. It can be a challenge to find the right balance between aggressive and cautious play, and this will come with time, but there are steps that you can take to improve your current play. Never make raises pre flop that are excessively large. For example, some players will get excited when they are dealt pocket aces, in reaction to this they might make a raise to ten times the big blind. This doesn’t make any sense though. If you get called the odds are that the other player will slow down on the flop due to your extreme aggression, and if you force a fold you will have missed out on a ton of value. The alternative to massive raises are small and concise raises.
Be consistent in your pre flop moves. If you raise to four times the big blind with AQ, raise to four times the big blind with AK. You don’t want your hand to be transparent when you are playing poker. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t make larger raises against looser players, but don’t knock them out of the hand. A tight and aggressive style of play is ideal for early tournament play, if you are able to work this strategy into your game you will enjoy tournament poker success.