By Eelis Pärssinen of Beasts of Poker
Every weekend, players from all over the world login to their favorite poker site to play tournaments. Some achieve a life-changing score by winning big, and some get excitement well worth their money spent on buy-ins. There are entertaining Twitch streamers, replays of major live events with hole cards shown and a great selection of live event satellites. No wonder tournament poker is so popular!
While you might hit it big in tournaments by sheer luck, the consistent winners have a different approach to the game. MTTs are one of the softest poker formats as they involve many factors that most players fail to properly adjust to. To name a few, these include different stack sizes at the table, progressive payouts and antes in play. If you want to crush your competition consistently, you need the right tools and knowledge on how to use those tools. That’s why we asked the expert players of BeastsOfPoker for their advice on how to crush tournaments. Here’s what they had to share with us on the topic:
Steal Like a Thief
In short, we want to steal the blinds & antes and avoid getting caught while doing it with speculative hands. The math of tournament poker supports this move: You can print chips by opening to 2.2BB if you win the pot outright close to half the time. This doesn’t even include the post-flop potential of your hand!
If the blinds fail to fight back at least half the time, you have a pretty easy stealing opportunity when you’re on the button. Now, if the button player is a tight one and you’re on the cut-off, you know what to do: Steal more than your fair share of the pots!
Hand charts are quite useful for early positions. You’ll miss a ton of easy chips though if you robotically follow them at late positions without considering the tendencies of your opponents. Stealing blinds is such a simple yet overlooked strategy. Winning the pot without seeing the flop can be much easier than making the best hand. Even if one of the players calls your steal, you can still try to either make the best hand or bluff them off their hand post-flop.
Get Familiar with ICM
In poker, the term ICM means Independent Chip Model. It’s a mathematical model for calculating the overall equity of a player’s stack in a tournament. In this model, it’s assumed that all players are equally skillful. ICM determines the probabilities of a player finishing in each position. Players also talk about ICM pressure when they refer to the considerations of ICM on which hands are playable in a certain spot.
The basic idea of ICM is that the fewer chips you have, the more valuable each chip is in monetary terms. As a consequence, you need to get a significant overlay to risk your chips approaching the bubble or during final table play. A mere coin flip against a bigger stack is a disaster in these situations!
The closer the money bubble is, the less willing you should be to call all-ins with a big portion of your stack. On the other hand, if you have a medium or a big stack, you can start putting some pressure on other stacks by 3-betting them light.
What if a big stack on your right seems to open any two cards a few spots before the money bubble? There’s dead money in the pot as soon as he opens, since he will only have a premium hand a small percentage of the time. In this case, your best counter play as a short stack is to re-steal aggressively by 3-bet shoving. In your shoes, timid players will most likely tighten up their play here – when you know better, you can make the exact opposite adjustment!
Defend Your BB with a Wide Range
With modern tournament poker dynamics, most of the open raise sizes are between 2-2.4x BB. You will get the correct odds to call with a much wider range on the BB than most players think! This holds true especially once antes are in play.
Against late positions opens, you should be looking to defend at least 40% of your hands by calling or 3-betting. This means you have to play all your pairs, suited aces, broadway hands, suited connectors, many A-high & K-high hands as well as decent suited hands like Q7s. Many tournament players target their steals against weak players at the blinds who are folding too frequently. Once you start defending wide, they no longer have the incentive to steal that often against your BB.
Improve Your Skills in a Mastermind Group
While it’s important to read poker strategy articles and watch training videos, having a poker study group can take your game to the next level. When you’re studying the game with fellow players, you learn much faster and also get motivated to constantly improve your strategies. Look for groups where all members hold themselves accountable for following a studying schedule. Besides the obvious benefits for your game, you might make new friends if you join a poker study group online!
Over the years, I’ve learned so much from all the people I’ve met through poker. I’ve found the best way to get better at this game, is to discuss hands and strategies with your friends. I would have never achieved all the success if it wasn’t for studying the game with like-minded players!
– Joni Jouhkimainen, Beasts Of Poker Ambassador & partypoker Team Pro
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