We all know tournament play calls for significantly different strategies than cash-game play.
Which strategies it calls for, though, is the question.
In this article we'll detail a few of them them with a focus on tournament situations where you have a mid-range M value of 8-15.
(Coined by Dan Harrington, M is the "zone" represented by the size of your chip stack in comparison to the blinds and antes).
Avoid Losing Your Fold Equity
One of the key points to keep in mind to improve your tournament results is that you must avoid letting your stack dwindle to the point where you have little or no fold equity.
M = <8
With an M of less than eight, you really only have one move.
You simply try to pick the best possible spot you can, cross your fingers and move your remaining chips into the pot.
You can try to choose your spots well, but let's be honest: the amount of skill you can bring to the situation is really limited.
At this point, you're at the mercy of Lady Luck.
M = >15
With an M above 15, you're in decent shape and have time to be somewhat more selective.
However, the one phase where you need to be able to adapt your play is when you find yourself below the average stack size and with an M between 8 and 15.
M = 8-15
This is the critical medium-stack area.
Your tournament fortune depends on your ability to skillfully negotiate these tricky waters and return to the more comfortable zone (with an M of 15+).
There are two primary situations to focus on when you need to chip up - namely "button, small blind, big blind" play (B-SB-BB) and re-stealing against a single late-position raiser.
Let's take a closer look at the first situation.
Waiting for the "Right" Hand ... and Why It's the Wrong Strategy
Many players, when they become short-stacked, start looking for one good hand.
They decide to wait until they get the "right" hand and then try and double-up. If they are successful, they tighten up again and slowly begin to revert to the same position they were in before.
This type of strategy can be summarized by the familiar phrase: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
The limitation of this strategy is that, in order to succeed, you need three things to occur.
Specifically, you need to find a suitably strong hand in the time frame required. Then when you do find such a hand, you must get action (get all of your chips in).
And finally when you do get all of your chips in, you actually still need to win the showdown.
An alternative strategy and, in my opinion, one likely to be more successful in the long run is to identify situations that may be favorable or conducive to accumulating chips and try to focus more on them.
Button-Small Blind-Big Blind Play
Obviously, one of the most common of these situations is B-SB-BB play.
Generally speaking, most players play too cautiously (and too passively as well) when they are in a B-SB-BB situation.
An extremely important element to successful poker tournament play is the ability to quickly and accurately assess the play (ability) of the players immediately around you.
Meaning specifically the players to your immediate left, who'll be in the blinds when you're on the button, and the players to your immediate right, who will be in the small blind or on the button when you are in the big blind (small blind).
If you're unable to pay attention to anyone else at the table, try to at least determine what these players are capable of and how they tend to react to various situations.
They are your bread and butter.
If you can dominate the action against your neighbors, you have a good chance of making it deep into the money.
The Bubble Approacheth: Raise Away
When you're involved in a B-SB-BB situation and your M is in that critical 8-15 range, it is important to be as aggressive as you can.
This is even more critical as you approach the money.
Despite the fact many players know intellectually to remain aggressive (or become even more aggressive) as the bubble approaches, the simple reality is they become preoccupied with the potential to finish in the money and tend to play significantly more cautiously.
You must be able to identify these players and when you do, be absolutely ruthless.
If they are willing to regularly give away their blinds (and the chips), it's your constitutional obligation to take them.
Against many of these players, simply pushing any two cards is the correct approach.
You may wish to fold every once in a while though - just so it doesn't become totally obvious to your opponent(s) what you're doing.
After all, you don't want them to change their behavior.
The Limp Re-Raise: Another Useful Tool
In addition to simply raising far more often (which you should definitely be doing), another powerful technique to attempt against slightly more aggressive opponents is the limp re-raise.
If you attempt to limp re-raise and your opponent simply checks behind you, you get to see a flop.
On the flop, you can still make a move at the pot (assuming you don't actually hit your hand).
Remember, many opponents will be looking for a way to get away from the hand cheaply.
If you miss the flop, you still have a good chance to take down the pot and you cannot afford to leave this dead money on the table.
Remember, you need to chip up if you want to win this thing.
Probe Bet on the Flop
To attempt this, make a probe bet on the flop. Or, if you're feeling cheeky, attempt to check-raise the flop.
This will cause most players to fold everything but top pair.
Finally, you need to know who on your right is capable of trying to open light in an attempt to steal the blinds, but is also able to lay the hand down to a re-raise.
Against players like this you should be quite aggressive.
If you're able to successfully re-steal against a button or small blind raise, you'll pick up between 30-40% of your stack without seeing a flop - a fantastic result for you.
Words of Wisdom
Remember, in B-SB-BB confrontations, players will open the pot with a much wider range.
Don't be afraid to move your chips into the middle.
You have to be willing to commit all of your chips to the pot with hands that under more normal circumstances would be marginal at best.
If you think there's a reasonable chance your opponent will fold, or if you believe you're ahead of your opponent's range, be aggressive.