OK; so you just registered for a tournament on your favorite online poker site. In the first hand you get dealt pocket aces; there's a raise under the gun and it comes around to you.
Time for a reraise, you figure; let's jack it up to 6x the BB. Wait - you can only min-raise?! What is this??
Uh-oh... by mistake you signed up for a Limit Holdem tournament!
I'm sure we've all done this at one point. How do you react? Desperately: try and dump all your chips asap.
Just kidding (kind of). Not everyone joins Limit tournaments by accident. Some really do like to play them. Hard to believe, I know, but true.
Why? Well, it's simple: whereas some players are unable to last past the first few blind levels in a No-Limit tourney, in Limit it's almost impossible not to make the first break!
All facetiousness aside, what follows is a look at the adjustments you have to make to play in a Limit tournament. If you need more info on the rules and game play of Limit Hold'em, see our page here:
How to Play a Limit Holdem Tournament
The early stages of a Limit tournament play almost the same as that of a Limit Hold'em cash game.
As in No-Limit tournaments, you should be playing tight in the early stages. You don't want to give away chips needlessly.
In fact, you should be playing even tighter than you would in a regular Limit cash game. This is because, as in all tournaments, your chip stack is finite. That is, you cannot rebuy when your chips are all gone.
Your chips are your livelihood. Lose them and you're out. So you must protect these chips at all times.
You protect your chips by playing in position and by playing premium hands. Do not mess around with marginal hands out of position. It will only lead to you bleeding chips.
Avoid popular trap hands like K-J, A-T, Q-T, etc. Although they look nice, you run the risk with them of making a hand that's second-best at showdown. The chips you lose at that juncture may be the difference between cashing and bubbling.
Loosen Up and Steal Pots
Just as they do in a No-Limit tournament, the blinds will go up. They usually increase every 10-60 minutes, depending on the tournament.
As the blinds rise, players' stack-to-blinds ratios become worse. Some players tighten up, just trying to make it to the next level.
You should do the opposite. You should loosen up and attempt to steal pots off these tight players. You must not allow yourself to be blinded out.
As the blinds increase, you should begin to mix in blind steals from late position. Unfortunately, blind steals don't work the same way they do in regular tournaments. The big blind is far more likely to defend his blind against a single raise because of the odds he will be getting.
It's because of this that you'll have to play poker on the flop. Blind battles are often won by middle pair and up but sometimes as little as ace-high will take it. Blind battles are situationally dependent. You must look at your image, what you know about the other player and how he reacts to blind steal attempts, what your previous history is, etc., to gauge how strong your hand is.
How to Defend Your Blinds
Because stealing blinds is a part of everyone's tournament strategy, you will not only have to steal, you'll have to defend your blinds.
The best defense against steals is usually aggression rather than a more reactive strategy. By smooth-calling and hoping to hit the flop, you're going to be giving up too often when the flop doesn't cooperate.
It's often better to play back by three-betting. Three-betting gives you the initiative in the hand. You can often win pots on the flop just by betting.
Let's look at a blind-steal hand. You're dealt KJ in the big blind.
The blinds are $50/$100 and you have a stack of $2,500.
It's folded around to the button, who makes a raise.
The small blind folds and you three-bet. (Note: Generally this hand should be folded to a raise. But since this is a blind-steal situation, your hand beats his steal range.)
He smooth-calls and the flop comes:
You bet $100 and he raises.
Now whatever you do, do not fold. If you have history in blind-battle pots, you can three-bet him. His hand range is still fairly wide. You can also call him and then check-call the next couple streets.
At showdown in such cases you'll often find yourself with the best hand. Hand strength has to be evaluated on a sliding scale; what may be a weak hand in a full-ring cash game against an EP raise is often a strong hand against a steal attempt with second pair, good kicker.
Limit Holdem Tournaments Can Be ... Fun?
In fact, the above scenario underlines how important it is to think outside the box and see how hand values change.
If you don't adjust, you'll be bluffed out of many pots. However, if you adjust too much, you will be paying off with second best on the river too much. It's a slippery slope so always make sure you are paying attention to the table flow.
Limit tournaments can actually be kind of fun once you get into them. Just try not to overthink them. They are really the same concept as No-Limit tournaments.
They play until there is one person remaining. You can apply everything you know about Limit Hold'em and everything you know about No-Limit tournaments.
You must be able to adapt to different blind levels and know when to steal and when to defend and when not to do these things. Your goal, just as in a No-Limit tournament, is to build your stack. You do this by value betting your good hands, folding your bad ones, getting your money in good and mixing in the right amount of steals.
If you can successfully juggle all these elements of strategy, you'll find yourself doing quite well in Limit tournaments.
More intermediate strategy articles from Dan Skolovy: