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How to "Step" Your Way to the Main Event
The World Series of Poker is just around the corner and if you haven't begun trying to qualify, it's high time to start thinking about it. One of the best places to start - "steps" tournaments.
Steps tournaments are essentially a series of sit-and-gos. You win your way from the first level to the last, where eventually the winner of the final sit-and-go takes a WSOP Main Event prize package.
If you want to cut the process short, you can also choose to buy in directly at any step along the way, including the final tournament.
Here's the setup of the full tilt Steps tournaments:
Step 1 $3.30: 1st and 2nd advance to Step 2, 3rd through 5th remain on Step 1, and the rest receive nothing.
Step 2 $8.70: 1st and 2nd advance to Step 3, 3rd and 4th remain on Step 2, and 5th gets sent back to Step 1.
Step 3 $26: 1st and 2nd advance to Step 4, 3rd to 4th remain on Step 3, 5th is sent back to step 2, and 6th and 7th are sent all the way back to step 1.
Step 4 $75: 1st and 2nd advance to Step 5, 3rd and 4th stay on Step 4, 5th and 6th go back to Step 3.
Step 5 $216: 1st and 2nd advance to Step 6, 3rd and 4th remain on Step 5, and 5th and 6th return to Step 4.
Step 6 $640: 1st and 2nd move on to step 7, 3rd stays on step 6, 4th and 5th go back to step 5, and 6th and 7th go back to step 4.
Step 7 $2,100: 1st place wins a $12,000 WSOP Main Event Package, 2nd and 3rd stay on step 7 and 4th to 6th are sent back to step 6.
Optimal Steps Strategy
With the unique setup of steps tournaments, you must employ a particular strategy to succeed.
First and foremost, you must be familiar with proper sit-and-go strategy. You should be playing tight early and avoiding confrontation, and when the blinds increase you should open your game up.
If you're not confident in your sit-and-go game, the steps tournaments may pose a challenge. If multi-table tournaments are your game, you should probably instead go for the $620 super-satellites.
The key to success in this tournament format is being aggressive. As you can see above, there are sometimes as many as four bubbles. You must always be cognizant of how many players are left and how your opponents react to the different bubbles.
Players naturally tighten up at each bubble. At the first bubble, they do so because they don't want to leave with nothing. At the next bubble, they want to at least stay on this level. Then on the final bubble, they don't want to be the one who doesn't advance.
This dynamic makes these steps tourneys the perfect environment for blind stealing. When the other players tighten up, you loosen up and exploit them. You must be looking to steal frequently.
You should be able to win these tournaments with or without cards just by looking for the right opportunities. Here is an example of solid steal attempts where you do not even need a hand:
You are playing a Step 4 tournament. There are five players left. Blinds are $250/$500 with a $25 ante. The player under the gun has $600 chips and folds. You are next on the button.
You have a stack of $4,800. Your hand = xx. The small blind has $3,200 and the big blind has $2,900.
You should shove practically any two in this spot. The blinds know that the under-the-gun player is about to be blinded out completely. They're not going to look you up unless they have an absolute monster.
The blinds will likely only call with AA, KK, QQ, and maybe A-K. They do not want to risk busting when there is a super-short under-the-gun player. Opportunities like this allow you to supplement your stack just by playing the situation.
This works for resteals as well. If you've noticed another player raising a number of pots and you can resteal where he simply cannot call because of another stack about to bust, that too will yield you free chips.
Aggression: A Double-Edged Sword
Advancing to the next round is the goal. You do this by knocking players out of the tournament. You must never bet a dry side pot, especially in the steps tournament format.
You would like the small stacks eliminated, so bluffing out their competition is not a good plan. If a small stack gets all-in with you and another live player, just check it down and hope to eliminate him - unless you have a monster.
Play aggressive but smart poker. If you have a healthy stack and the other guy is steamrolling that last short stack, you don't need to stand up to him. Instead, let him eliminate the short stack and you can just coast to that top-two finish.
Note though that this is a less common situation. Usually you'll need to be the aggressor.
It's generally accepted that one should have at least 10 tickets at each level before moving on to the next level. The reason being, if you're playing optimal strategy you're going to be getting all-in quite a bit. You will want to have some sort of cushion so you're not playing with scared money.
If you eventually win, it will be because of your aggressive play. But that aggressive play will also get you knocked out of some tournaments. It is a double-edged sword; hence the need to have more than one ticket for whichever level you're working on.
If you are already a winning sit-and-go player and you have the kind of roll that allows you to take a shot at a few of these tournaments, by all means do it.
Like I said, the steps tournaments are probably the best bet on the Internet to win your way to the Main Event. Just make sure you are aware of the bubbles and who tightens up, and then exploit those players.
That's the only secret to these tournaments. Follow this strategy and you'll have a very good chance at getting yourself a seat.
Note: If steps tournaments don't sound like your thing, check our WSOP How to Qualify page for a varied list of WSOP freerolls and satellites.
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