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Early Stages Tournament Strategy
The early stages of multi-table poker tournaments present us with an interesting strategic dilemma. The need to accumulate chips for the later stages is made difficult by the larger proportion of less experienced opponents. This article discusses how to adjust your play during the early stages of a multi-table tournament to maximize your poker profits.
We will begin by looking at the advice of some well know poker professionals and asking whether this advice is appropriate for smaller buy-in online tournaments. Next we look at the early stages of tournaments in the context of your objectives for the tournament as a whole. Finally hand selection and adjustments for the higher proportion of weak opponents will be covered.
Both Doyle Brunson (in ‘Super System 2’) and David Sklansky (in ‘Tournament Poker for Advanced Players’) have recommended staying tight during the early stages of poker tournaments. Their logic is that, with a higher proportion of bad players around during the early stages, the skilled player should avoid close gambles – since skill differences need time to become apparent.
This advice is for big buy-in live tournaments which may be played over several days. Our question is whether this would also relate to smaller buy-in tournaments that are regularly found in online poker rooms?
Online we have the advantage of being able to start a new tournament quickly (often within minutes) and to play in several games at the same time. In online tournaments the fast blinds and relatively shallow stacks (compared, for example, with WPT events) mean there is less time to play tight patient poker without being ‘left behind’. It would appear that there are more arguments in favor of trying to accumulate chips early in online multi-table tournaments.
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It is important to adjust your early game multi-table tournament strategy in terms of your objective for the whole tournament. With payout structures heavily weighted towards the final few positions it makes sense that you should play to win and not just to cash. For every time you reach the final table you could cash several times and still not receive the same payout.
This is an argument for positive aggressive play during the early stages. You are trying to build a stack that will enable you to ‘chip-up’ further as the blinds increase – to maintain the flexibility to play post-flop poker at a time when many opponents are becoming desperate. The combination of ‘playing to win’ and the ability to join other tournaments if required would appear to indicate that the risks involved in playing less-experienced opponents during the early stages are worthwhile.
Hand selection during the early stages of a poker tournament is heavily influenced by implied-odds concepts. There will be many opportunities to see the flop for a small initial investment and hope for a big pay-off when you hit a monster hand. Good hands to play include small pairs and suited connectors. Hitting a set or hidden straight for a small bet pre-flop can easily get the reward of an opponent’s entire stack.
Many of the inexperienced opponents in the early stages will call too much and over play easily dominated hands. These include unsuited high cards and aces with small kickers. This means you can adjust your strategy to win chips from these players. Bluff less during the early stages as weak opponents are likely to call with any kind of hand. Conversely you should ‘value bet’ more, top pair hands go up in value against opponents who are likely to call you with 2nd or 3rd pair hands (or even worse!).
In summary, staying tight in the early stages, as recommended by some pro players, does not apply to online multi-table tournaments. The fast structure, along with the ability to join a new tournament quickly, means that you should play with the objective of making the final table. The danger of playing against inexperienced opponents can be largely overcome by adjusting your starting hand selection, bluffing less and value betting more with top-pair and better holdings.
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