During the EPT San Remo of last year I was asked by PokerNews to write an article about tournaments. A nice informative article in which I share my views on poker tournaments, how I play a tournament and what I watch out for. This sounded like a nice idea so I immediately got to work.
First of all I would like to introduce myself, as many of you will not know who I am. My name is Joep van den Bijgaart, I play online under the name 'Pappe_Ruk' and I've been playing poker for about four years now.
A couple of months ago I won the $55 Single-Rebuy tournament on Full Tilt, and this is the tournament I will be basing this article on, also using some of the hand histories to help clarify some of the points I'm trying to make.
I won't use this article to discuss the basics of tournament play as this has already been done by numerous other people. This is part 1 of a three-part series.
Before starting to play a tournament you always need to make sure you are up for the task at hand. If you make it deep into the tournament you will often have to play for many hours and stay concentrated for a long time. Therefore, don't go playing the Sunday tournaments while you're still suffering from your hangover from the night before and all you really want to do is sleep. In the long run this will just cost you a lot of money and is simply a waste. When planning on playing poker tournaments (and cash games as well for that matter) you need to be fresh an able to think clearly.
Make sure that you ca play in a comfortable surrounding. I myself have two 24-inch screens at home because I often play several tables at the same time. When playing on my laptop I try to never play more than six tables at a time because you can easily lose track and find it hard to concentrate on all your tables.
There are several programs you can use to find out and analyse some statistics from your opponents. At the moment I am using HoldemManager (HM), but you can also use software such as PokerOffice (PO) and TourneyManager (TM). The advantage of these programs is that you have additional information on your opponents, what they do, in which position etc.
In various books/articles you can read that during the early stages of a tournament you need to play tight in order to create a good image for yourself to then later have the respect of your opponents when the blinds are bigger. I don't fully agree with this.
I usually adjust my game based on the players at my table. I have a standard strategy that I use to play. If the field is very strong and I have five good players at my table, I will automatically play fewer hands compared to when I have seven weak players sitting at my table. A perfect way to spot the fish is by using a program such as HM, as they use colour-coding to represent the strength of a player, which is a great advantage during a multi-table tournament.
One disadvantage of tournaments with large fields is that you often get moved to another table. If, therefore, you only played two hands after the first four levels of the tournament, this tight image you created won't help you very much if you get moved to another table shortly after.
Isolating the weaker players
I believe this is a very important concept for the early stages of a tournament. Thanks to the stats I have available I can easily spot the weaker players at the table. The site http://www.officialpokerrankings.com can also be very helpful for this.
When you are able to spot the weaker players at your table, this will make it easier to figure out which hands to play and which hands to fold.
During the early stages of this tournament I didn't play any hands that I can use as an example, therefore I will just make up a situation.
Blinds are 15/30 and a player with 40/3 stats over 25 hands limps in MP. You are in the hijack with . If the table allows you to, meaning that I don't face a lot of resistance and I have no players sitting behind me that will play back at me aggressively, this is usually always a raise for me when playing with starting stacks. A standard raise of +/- 3,5-4,5 BB is fine. Often the fish will call here and you can pick up the pot with a continuation bet on the flop. If that is not the case you still have a hand with a lot of potential that plays nicely in position.
Even if this doesn't always work, try to keep it up. Situations like these are so +EV that you will make profit from them in the long run.
During the first three levels of a tournament I tend to open with quite a wide range of hands. As mentioned above, however, this does greatly depend on my table. My openings-range before the flop includes a lot of suited connectors (SC's), Pocket pairs and suited aces. Calling raises is a different matter and I tend to be very tight when it comes to this. I would, for example, never call a raise with AT/AJ unless the situation allows it. Another mistake I often see players make (and that I myself have made as well) is 3-betting a raise from an EP player with JJ or QQ. This is often the wrong move because you are likely to only get action from better hands and force worse hands to fold.
A mistake that is often made in tournaments, but especially during the early stages, is calling re-raises. Many players call re-raises during the first 2-3 levels with close to anything. Lets say you raise AQ UTG and a player UTG+2 calls your raise. In middle position a player 3-bets and everyone folds around to you. For me this is usually an insta-fold, for the following reasons:
1. You are playing the hand out of position against two players
2. You don't know what UTG+2 is going to do. This player could re-raise again after you call.
3. Often the range of MP is very tight. You are raising UTG, which is usually a clear sign of strength. UTG+2 also knows this, so he will also need to have a hand that validates a call here. The range of MP in this situation is often QQ+ and AK+
Something I also do very rarely is call with low pocket pairs like 55 in these situations. At this point you will often have to invest at least 10% of your effective stack, and although some books say that you can call here because you will hit your set 1 in 8 times, this also implies that you will stack your opponent every time you hit, which is very unlikely to happen.
I hope I was able to help some of you with this article. It might be a bit standard, but then again, so is the early stage of a poker tournament most of the time. There are still two parts to come in which I will also use some more hand-examples and try to explain my thought processes on every street.