Simple Strategy Tips for Beating "Double or Nothing" Tournaments

Chips 2 2
Big stack early is always good.

Double or Nothing tournaments are becoming increasingly popular in online poker - especially among casual or recreational players.

Fast, fun and (apparently) easier on the surface, if you dig a little deeper they do require specific strategies to make the most of them.

Below you'll find all the advice you need to play these tournaments efficiently.

One Goal: Double Your Buy-In

Double or Nothing, Fifty50, Double Thru... the names may differ slightly but the sit-and-go format stays the same: Be in the top half of the 6 or 10 players to survive and you'll double your stake.

Double or Nothing tournaments are among the most popular sit-and-go tournaments on most online poker sites. There are many reasons why, but mainly it's because they give you the impression that you are more likely to win money.

Three Handed Play
You don't have to win it. Just make the final 3.

There's no need to win the tournament or even to be one of the last 2 or 3 players: Half of the players will double their stake and the other half will get nothing.

Double or Nothing tournaments are particularly good for beginners because they don't require you to play very aggressively and they allow you to build a good bankroll relatively easily.

Moreover, these tournaments are generally very accessible with buy-ins starting at $1 or $2. For the same buy-in you will obviously win less than in a regular sit-and-go but – in theory – you will win more often.

In concrete terms, ''all'' you have to do to make a profit playing these tournaments is to cash a little more than half of the time (6 times out of 10), since you have to take into account the rake (50c for a $5 tournament for a 10% rake).

Let's have a look at what happens if you play 10 $5 tournaments:

  • Money invested: $5.50 x 10 = $55
  • Winning 6 tournaments: $10 x 6 = $60

There you go, you've won $5. If you'd cashed in half the tournaments you'd have made $50, which means you'd have lost $5 – less than a buy-in.

So what is the ideal strategy for these particular tournaments that are quite different from traditional sit-and-gos (where only the first 2 or 3 players make money)?

A Tale of Two Strategies

First of all, you have to know that things can be very different from one Double or Nothing to the other.

One you'll win easily, maybe even without playing a single hand(!). The next you'll be the first one out just as quickly (and yes, it's always very frustrating).

9096 Day 1A Chipleader Evan Panesis
Go hard or sit back?

There are two main strategies:

On the one hand you can choose to take a lot of risks right from the beginning. Play very aggressively to try and gather as many chips as possible.

You'll be taking advantage of your opponents' fear, since most people are usually pretty tight in these tournaments.

You can even try to double your chips quickly (usually by playing against people who have the same strategy) in order to secure your spot for the rest of the tournament – even though it might not always be enough.

On the flip side you can choose to be patient, play solidly at the beginning of the game and be more aggressive later.

This approach is far from foolproof if the other players are also playing tight, but it's the one that pays out most frequently.

More often than not you'll see a few players go crazy at the start of the tournament and put themselves in a very uncomfortable spot.

Don't Fall Asleep

Whichever strategy you pick, at the beginning of the tournament you may try to play a lot of pots for very little money and with hands that have potential.

If you have a great hand you can always be up against a bad player or one that is trying to double their chips very quickly. This way you could get a lot of chips early -- always a good start to a tournament.

Sleepy railbird
Don't fall asleep.

However, no matter how well it goes, you should never get too comfortable (well, except if you've tripled your chips for example, but that's pretty rare). Just because you're ahead doesn't mean you should just stop playing. Especially if they're not too far behind you.

Blinds go up and things can change very quickly – and there you are, from first to last in a blink.

If that happens, don't panic. Be patient. If the blinds are still moderate and your M is acceptable, keep playing tight-aggressive and be ready to go all-in if you get a good hand.

If your M is under 10, you'll have to go for the ''push or fold." 

Good news though: on average most players in these tournaments aren't very good and most will pay you with average hands like A-x or less (as well as low pairs of course).

Don't Be Overconfident

Even if you're a good player and you consider Double or Nothing tournaments ''easy'," never be overconfident. That's exactly the kind of thing that can make you bust early.

This is a common trap that you should also try to avoid if you're chipleader by a wide margin. Don't start playing hands you shouldn't be playing or your number of chips may go down significantly until you're at the same level as the other players or even the short stack.

Shannon Elizabeth
At the same time, don't get too confident.

Bad news, especially if it happens around the bubble.

Also, don't limp too much, even though there are players who have less chips than you do. Whether someone raises or you just lose the flop money, you might eventually regret these wasted chips.

If your opponents play very tight and respect your raises – which happens a lot when they all have small stacks and wait for someone to bust – don't hesitate to steal blinds to strengthen your position.

However, never take too much risk and fold a strong hand if there's a chance it's not a top hand and it may make a significant dent in your stack.

Generally, if you're the chip leader, you should target tight players with small stacks who are too passive (unless they're trying to double their stack). If you're the short stack, try to put pressure on players with medium stacks who are not taking any risks.

Of course, just like in any sit-and-go, you'll need to analyze your opponents and spot the weakest/most passives ones. They should be your main targets around the bubble alogn with the players who won't take risks.

At the beginning of the tournament you should try to gauge things a little bit. Once you see the dynamic of the game and your opponents' profiles you'll be able to pick a strategy – playing loose and aggressive right from the start/middle or playing tight-aggressive and waiting for a good hand.

Dealing with the Bubble

Once you reach the bubble (4 players out for a 10-seater, 2 players out for a 6-seater), which could happen in a couple of minutes or after a long time, things get serious.

At this point one player will miss out on the money and win nothing while all the others will double their money.

Depending on how the game has gone until now either you'll be able to just sit back and enjoy the show or you'll have to deal with a bit of fear and work for it.

Here's how you should navigate the bubble considering three possible scenarios.

If you're the chipleader:

Most of the time (that is, unless you're only leading by a few chips or everyone has got more or less the same stack), you can just let everyone else fight and watch from afar.

Chip stack
If you're chipleader, it could be as easy as sitting back and waiting.

As long as the short stack doesn't double his chips, victory is close. If there are two small stacks or more you should be pretty safe unless there's an incredible bad beat – yet, keep paying attention.

You'll notice that sometimes they simply stop playing until one of them busts. As long as you're not officially part of those who'll double their stake, don't miss out on stealing some blinds. And play some cheap hands in the hopes of maybe busting a player yourself.

Still, this is not your priority. If you're ahead, your absolute priority is to remain there as long as you don't need to do anything more.

Don't hesitate to fold big hands, particularly pre-flop -- even sometimes if they're pocket aces. If another player with a reasonable stack goes all-in he could seriously damage your stack – unless of course you'd remain chip leader even if you lost. In this case, go ahead!

If you're in the pack:

Keep playing tight-aggressive, stealing blinds when you can and being more aggressive when you get good hands.

If another player pushes you to go all-in, consider the situation before you make a decision: is the chip leader trying to bluff? Is he playing it safe with a good hand like he has since the beginning of the game?

Is the short stack trying to scare you? Has he got a great hand and is he trying to double his stack?

The strength of your own hand is also to be considered, obviously. If you're still not sure whether you should pay or not, see if losing would put you in dire straits or if you'd be able to rebound.

If the short stack is still way behind you, it's also important not to give them an opportunity to get back in the game.

Now, if you do decide to fold, make sure you don't do it too often or you'll seem weak and scared. The chip leader and the other players might take advantage.

If you're the little stack, stay calm.

If you're the short stack: 

Easy: you're everyone else's target and they'll want to see you bust sooner rather than later.

You should stay calm and composed and wait for a good hand or an opportunity to steal the blinds or the pot.

Try to catch up with the other players progressively or wait for a really big hand to go all-in. However, be careful not to waste too many chips paying blinds or you'll have to double your stack multiple times.


Double or Nothing tournaments are so specific that there are no ready-made instructions to play ''perfectly."

Your game should depend on the dynamic you'll observe at the start of the game.

In general a typical sit-and-go strategy will work as long as you keep in mind that you are not trying to win the tournament.

This is kind of a ''satellite'' and you're fighting for one of the tickets.

Playing safer than usual might work better than in a traditional sit-and-go. But you'll have to play more aggressively when the blinds go up – without taking too many risks, especially if some others players are having a hard time close to the bubble.

Last but not least: keep track of your results (on Excel for example). It's always useful to see how you've fared, if you're on a good streak or if you need to make changes.

The longer the period of time, the more significant your results will be.

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