2 Simple Strategy Tips to Beat "Double or Nothing" Tournaments

Chips 2 2
Big stack early is always good.

Double or Nothing tournaments are 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 poker 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.

double or nothing poker strategy
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)?

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2 Effective Double or Nothing Strategies

First of all, you have to know that things can be very different from one Double or Nothing tournament 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)
double or nothing poker tournaments
Go hard or sit back?

There are two main Double or Nothing poker strategies:

1) 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.

2) 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.

double thru poker strategy
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).

Related Reading:

Don't Be Overconfident in Double or Nothings!

Even if you're a good player and you consider Double or Nothing poker 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 chip leader 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.

double or nothing poker strategy
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 along 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.

Related Reading:

How to Play the Bubble in Double or Nothing Tournaments

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.

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If You're the Chip Leader

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.

double or nothing online poker
Sit back and wait works too.

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.

online poker double or nothing strategy
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.

Related Reading:

How to Beat Double or Nothing Tournaments

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.

Related Poker Strategy Articles

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Miguel Pelletier 2016-04-18 07:25:11

Once in a while I lose this tournament when I get JJ, QQ or KK which is hard to fold all-in pre-flop and the others have a better premium hand or a bad beat happens -_-

I can win 7-9 out of 10 double or nothing then I get a bad streak (lose 2-3 in a row) after 30-50 sit & go's.

Early Game:

Pocket T or better is the only hands I will play aggressively early on (I will limp in with medium pocket pair and AK,AQ,AJ but will fold any other hands).

Mid-Late game:

Like this article mentions, the most important thing is what happens if I lose this all-in ? I never call an all-in that has more stacks then I do unless I have JJ,QQ,KK or AA (TT or lower is to much of a gamble... even if your 55-60% to win its not worth it, you need to put your opponent on a very strong hand each and every time or else you're just gambling).

Of course its a different story if your the first one to raise (not under the gun, but everyone before you folded), mid-late game I will play medium pocket pairs and AK,AQ,AJ & the premium hands (I never play A rag or Kx its a disaster waiting to happen, even if you have 20 chips left).... Yesterday, I won with 25 chips left blinded out and the big blind was also all-in with big blind with 200 chips left as well as the chip leader, I won that hand to eliminate the bubble player... I folded the previous hand pre-flop against the chip leader which I was extremely pot commited...)


Also I like to bet the same amount when I raise pre-flop that way they never know what I have (1/2 pot)... post flop is different.. is there a flush or str8 draw ? I will bet usually POT so they fold (I reduce my risk of them calling thus reducing any risk to be eliminated).


1. Take your time & play smart!! Every decision you make should be to reduce risk of being eliminated! (if you play too much hands the risk becomes overwhelming, your going to be in a hand where you limped in and have a very good flop, where do you stand? your opponent can HAVE ANYTHING and sometimes your sooo behind but you don't even know it... DON'T DO IT)

2. Do NOT call a bet EVER if it puts YOU ALL-IN exception is if you have JJ,QQ,KK,AA

3. Look at the chip size of everyone at all times, your play & strategy depends on it! Follow this article for tips & strategies

4. Only play the sit & go double or nothing that YOU CAN DOMINATE! Do not play $20 games if you feel they are pro's compared to you... go down to $5 or less if you have too.. you can make alot of profit on a daily basis playing 2 tournaments at a time if you DOMINATE YOUR OPPONENT'S... be smart and not greedy.

daniel 2014-11-27 11:18:17

My apologies, I was clearly acting irrationally. I'll have to check one out at a different poker roon

Fred - PokerListings 2014-11-24 13:34:16

@daniel : PokerStars recently changed the way their Fifty50 works indeed. But the article wasn't focusing on PokerStars, and you can actually find some of the "regular" Double or Nothing on other rooms like 888Poker or PKR, just to name a few.

Strategy-wise, the Fifty50 you describe on PokerStars are then a complete different thing, as the goal is not only to survive half the field but to really build a stack if you want to win something which really worth it (and the time spent into play). The dynamic of those games is then quite different, and they would probably need another strategy piece just for them.

PokerListings 2014-11-24 00:08:50

@daniel None of your comments have been deleted. They just weren't automatically approved by the system. The first one was not accepted because it used the name "satan." The other had an invalid email. We're checking with the author of the article on your questions

daniel 2014-11-23 14:27:57

why does my comment about how the pay structure of a fifty50 actually works on pokerstars keep getting deleted? Egomania maybe? At least you've shown how worthless this site is at this point

daniel 2014-11-23 03:17:58

where do I find a tourney like this? I went to a fifty50 on poker stars and the payout was not at all what you describe. Once the first half of players are gone, you get your buy in back and then X$/100 chips. Any thoughts on how that will change strategy? Just surviving isnt that profitable, you need to double your stack at least to double your money

satan 2014-11-22 12:52:58

Fifty fifty tournaments on pokerstars have a very different pay structure. You get your buying X/100 chips. I have heard of one where all winners got paid the same till right now.

Gazi 2014-11-17 23:21:13

I don't like this kind of tournaments.

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