This guide is designed to allow any player to consistently beat long-handed sit-and-go tournaments.
I will forewarn you though, this will require some strong mental discipline. Eventually, you should be winning 1/3-2/3 of all sit-and-go's.
But remember, when I say 2/3 of all sit-and-go's, we're talking over a long period of time (preferably a month). Sometimes you will encounter cold runs of cards that could allow you to lose 5-10 tournaments in a row. This is perfectly normal.
In this guide you will find:
1.) The Mental Side of Tournament Play - A pre-requisite for good tournament play.
2.) The Basic Tournament Formula - Used for beating long-handed sit-and-go tournaments.
3.) Specific Situations - Throughout the guide you will notice sections with a "Specific Situations" headline. This will provide the reader with great examples of the topics covered and answer any questions one might have.
The Mental Side of Tournament Play
You may be wondering why this section came first. The answer is because it presents the most important information to help you throughout your Hold'em journey. Having the mental patience and the bankroll to sit at any given table can be tough.
Many of my friends have told me how impatient they are at the poker table and how I seem to have a gift for waiting on certain hands. I wouldn't call it a gift so much as my mental outlook is the same during every game. I would strongly consider viewing each game you play as being equivalent to one particular "hand" in a regular game. Also, view each month of poker as a single "game." This will help you to develop a long-term outlook of poker in general. Always remember, poker is a long-term game. You are looking to win over the course of a 1-2 months time, not to win every single game you play.
If you can develop this mind set, you will pick your spots better each game and wait for better hands as well. I have many friends who are great players for 30 minutes but simply cannot wait for hands after that. Poker is like the stock market, each day will either be a win or a loss, but we are shooting to make a profit over a period of months. If you can't understand this principle or refuse to use it, you must play poker for fun. If that is the case, then this article is not for you.
Let's get started.
The Basic Tournament Formula
If you were to go out right now and purchase any decent poker book about holdem tournaments, I'm sure you would find a lot of general tips and maybe even the same strategy I am proposing. You might find some different variables, but every consistent tournament winner knows and employs what I like to call "The Basic Tournament Formula." It's a proven winner. Seriously, I am not being cocky here. You will see that the results it produces are outstanding.
While I am not guaranteeing that you will win every tournament, you will definitely find yourself placing in many more. True, some poker players play differently at certain points throughout the tournament, but this formula will give you a good base to work with. We will deal with advanced theories later because I believe it is important that one master this formula before attempting to change anything.
It goes something like this:
Early Rounds: Super-Tight
Middle Rounds: Tight
Out-of-the-Money Rounds: Super-Aggressive
Late Rounds (In the Money): Aggressive
Many players will play differently and that's fine. Every player has his own style. But before attempting to create a style, realize that most tournament players who win consistently play this way. We can't all be maniacs who play hand after hand and demolish the entire table. I don't consider myself to be that lucky.
Let me explain the basic idea of each blind level and why we play it a certain way.
The early rounds are good for analyzing the table and creating an image. The idea here is to wait on premium hands and let people chop each other up. It's kind of like old war movies. Both sides rush forward and the people in the front with the swords usually get slaughtered while the ones in the back survive, usually shooting arrows or something along those lines. Wouldn't you rather be in the back and survive? I would.
The early rounds should be simple to play. If you find yourself losing a lot of hands early, then you probably need to narrow down your hand selection. Remember that with 10 people at a table, anything can happen. I have seen more AA to KK pre-flop all-ins at 10-person tables than at any other table. Ten person tables are dangerous, and for that reason we will sit back and let them chop. In the meantime, we are also creating a great table image which will come in handy when we steal the blinds later.
I'll go over it again. We are accomplishing 3 very important things:
1.) Table Analysis: We are learning a few things about the players in general. Is there a maniac at the table? Have we noticed the guy over in the corner who is sitting back waiting on a monster?
2.) Table Image: We are showing the table how tight we are. This is good because even if we are not catching any hands, we have the option to steal the blinds as much as we want later on. Aggressive players must catch the cards or else eventually someone will bust them. Also, if they bluff the blinds many people will call them because they have played a lot of hands.
3.) Chop-Chop-Chop: We also get the added benefit of people knocking each other out. This is great because a normal 10-player tournament now turns into a 6- or 7-player tournament.
As you can see, there are many advantages to playing the early rounds super-tight.
Here are the starting hands you should play:
1.) AA, KK, QQ - Push them hard or go home. With pocket queens you may want to call a raise or raise if in late position. With pocket aces or kings, always call an all-in, obviously.
Specific Situation: What if I have queens in late position and someone went all-in before me?
Fold. There will be many more opportunities to be all-in. In the early rounds, if someone is willing to risk all of their chips for the 15/30 blinds, then we should probably put them on a good hand and call it quits.
2.) AK, AQ - Raise from a late position. I put these in a separate category because they are mere drawing hands. 2-2 is a favorite over AK so I would choose not to gamble that much early on.
3.) JJ and All Pairs Lower - I would simply call with these hands, regardless of what position I was sitting in. The idea here is to survive, not to gamble. We are looking to hit three-of-a-kind on the flop - if it doesn't hit, fold.
4.) A-x Suited - Give them a call from any position if it's cheap. We are looking to flop a flush, three-of-a-kind or maybe get good odds on a flush draw. Make sure you know pot odds before calling any bets for a flush draw. There are many articles discussing pot odds so search the web for one and learn it.
Also, note that the early rounds require extreme discipline. If you are not bored during the early rounds then something is wrong. If you have to, listen to music or watch television. Many people disagree with this but if you can multi-task, do it. You will play far fewer hands and that is the goal here.
Phew. We are past the hard part. The middle rounds are easy. When the blinds get a little higher loosen up just a tad. Maybe play ace-queen and queen-queen a little harder, but stay tight overall. You can throw in ace-jack and jack-jack if you know your opponents well.
This is my favorite part. Now we are allowed to play like a maniac. Here are a few things to consider first before going on a killing spree:
1.) Chip Stack: How big is your stack?
A. Big Stack: If the blinds are really high, put pressure on the short stacks by doubling their blinds as much as possible. I would raise a short stack with any decent hand. The key here is to stay away from the other big stack(s) as they are the only ones who can hurt us.
B. Middle Stack: Here is where our tight table image comes in. If you need the blinds then steal them at your leisure. Nobody should call you if you have played tight all game. Now if you run into AA or KK with a decent hand, well, that is poker, my friend. Take a lot of risks here, we are looking to win this tournament, not place. If you are a short stack I recommend going crazy. But since we have a decent stack size, don't raise with trash hands. Make sure you have a semi-decent hand.
C. Short Stack (a.k.a. Shorty): Time to go crazy. Our tight table image should help a little bit here. Pick your spot and raise them blinds! Always remember the philosophy of the short stack: "It takes a better hand to call a raise with than to raise with in the first place." This motto should ring true while you struggle to get into the money. Time to go nuts!
2.) Your Opponents: What table images do they have?
A. Tight Player: Lean on this guy as much as possible. This guy is practically giving away his money. When the game becomes short-handed (5 players or less), hands like king-jack and even A-x suited go way up in value. This guy is playing totally wrong for the current blind level.
B. Maniac: This guy can really hurt you. Stay away from him if you can. These guys are pretty cool because a lot of times they will clean up the whole table and get you into the money. Let this guy chop people up.
Late Rounds (In the Money)
Congratulations! You are now in the money. It's pretty simple from here on. Continue using your big stack as an advantage over the smaller stacks. If you are short stacked then by all means, make a move! The goal is to win the tournament rather than place second. Be aggressive and take first place.