The popular idea that the early events in poker tournaments are insignificant is wrong. In a way, this approach is similar to the time-worn saying in golf, “Drive for show; putt for dough.” While there is a kernel of truth in this statement, driving in the fairway makes your approach shots easier and, therefore, your putts typically more makeable.
How does this relate to poker tournaments? You cannot win any money if you don’t go deep in these tournaments. Early round strategies must be effective to allow you to reach deeper into tournaments. You cannot execute your final table strategies if you don’t make it to the final rounds.
Early Round Strategies
- Focus on implied odds. Protecting your large starting chip pile is more important than targeting individual small pots. When your hole cards are not strong, just fold and wait for better starts. You’ll often be unaware of your opponents’ strength, weaknesses or behavior patterns, which increases your odds of failure. Play the potential odds, whether in your favor or not. This is not overly conservative play; it’s smart.
- Wait for hands that might win larger pots. This strategy is vital for early round success in no-limit games, where your entire chip stack is always at risk. Although a bit less important in bet-limit Texas Hold’em tournaments, protecting your chips remains critical to surviving early rounds and going deep. Target straights, flushes and full houses to improve your survival odds.
- Play aggressively when you have strong hands. Your early round strategies should not be overly conservative or overly predictable. Become a tougher opponent by playing aggressively, when you’ve got the cards to back it up, and don’t be afraid to bluff, when you’ve got hands within your defined bluffing range. Even a few losing hands will give you insight on your opponents’ playing patterns. Adding a little “mystery” or unpredictability to your game in early rounds may confuse less experienced opponents, taking them out of their game.
These few strategy suggestions are but the tip of the early round iceberg. The more tournaments you play, the more respect you will develop for the importance of early stage tournament strategies. Once you accept the importance of early round play, you will develop additional strategy plans to keep you in the game.
Going deep in poker tournaments is critical to making them profitable for you. Yet, you must get through the early stages unscathed to have a chance at walking away from the final table with dollars.
Unless you’re playing against a table full of newbies, you will need to exercise just as much strategic thinking in the early stages of a tournament, you must in the final rounds. Should you treat early round navigation as unimportant, you will seldom have the opportunity to sit at the final table.
Early stage strategies should neither be reckless nor overly conservative and predictable. Playing recklessly at any stage results in diminishing stacks. Employing drastically conservative behavior also typically results in early tournament exits.
Protecting your original chip pile, flavoring it with aggression, when warranted, will help you succeed in and survive early stages of tournaments, particularly large ones. Playing just as strategically in early rounds often allows you to “play on the big stage” in the final rounds.