Poker Tournament

Tournament Poker Overview

Tournament poker is one of the world's hottest fads. While poker has been consistently played for over 100 years, the tournament circuit is still a relatively new thing. In 1972, the grand prize at the World Series of Poker (a $10k buy-in) was only $80,000. In 2005, Joseph Hachem took home $7.5 million. The reason for this drastic increase in prize money is the number of players that have entered tournaments. In 1972, only 8 players entered the world series of poker, while 839 entered in 2003.

I am not a fan of tournament poker. Television has made tournament poker look glamorous, and like a competition where skill prevails. However, the truth of the matter is that luck plays a much larger factor in tournaments than in ring games. Think about it this way: at a regular no-limit game, if you started with $2,000, what is the chance that you would end up with $2 million before the night was over? Zero. However, to win a tournament where each player has 2k starting chips and 1,000 people enter, you would need to win two million in chips to win the tournament. Not an easy feat to do unless lady luck truly smiled upon you that day!

In short, the reasons I prefer to make money at ring games rather than tournaments are:

  • I can consistently win at a ring game, whereas a tournament is feast or famine.
  • Luck plays a much smaller role in having a winning session at a ring game than at a tournament.
  • It is much easier to tell if you are a good ring game player than a good tournament player. Since the best tournament player can easily go ten sessions winning nothing, it is very difficult to tell if you are 'doing the right thing.'

  • Nevertheless, I play tournaments because they are fun, and because I hope to make some money at them. Winning at tournaments still requires sound poker strategy, but emphasizes several factors more so than ring games:

    1. Your chips have a different relative value. In a standard poker game, you should view each dollar as having equal value. This is not the case in a tournament. When you start off with an initial thousand in chips, that thousand is worth a lot more than the next thousand you make. Since you cannot buy back in, you always need to have chips in order to survive. At the beginning of the tournament, you should be more reluctant to go all-in because even if you win you are not in much better of a position. However, later in the tournament you must gamble, or else you risk just losing by being blinded away.

    2. Domination plays a much bigger factor. Later in the tournament, the blinds will be so high that most players in contested hands will be all-in preflop. Thus, you want hands that dominate other hands. High pocket pairs are good because they dominate lower pocket pairs, and ace with a good kicker is a good hand because it dominates many other hands. Many players make the mistake of betting very hard with a low pocket pair such as 55. In truth, these low pocket pairs are only good for stealing blinds. If someone calls you, you are at best a 50-50, while you are a 4.5:1 underdog if they have a higher pocket pair.

    Single-Table No-Limit Tournaments

    Single-table no-limit hold'em tournaments (also known as "sit and go" tournaments or SNGs) are incredibly popular. By far, the most popular place on the internet for single-table tournaments is Party Poker. They hold tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $5 to $1,000. Single-table tournaments are also often held in brick-and-mortar casinos. However, B&M single-table tournaments are usually satellites to multi-table tournaments and are most frequently played winner-take-all.

    The strategy for this article focuses on tournaments that are ten-handed, with the payout structure of 50% to first place, 30% to second place, and 20% to third place. If you are playing in a winner-take-all single table tournament, you will probably need to play a much more aggressive strategy than the one advocated in this article.

    At the beginning of the tournament, you should be more willing to see a flop. You can often limp in with speculative hands, such as [[cards 3c 3s]]. Obviously, raise when you hold very strong hands like [[cards Qs Qd]], but limp to see a lot of flops if you can with hands like [[cards Js 10s]].

    For the lower buy-in tournaments, there are a lot of bad players that will quickly lose their money in the first few rounds. If you happen to hit a really strong hand, there is a decent chance someone will pay you off with a lot of their stack.

    As the early stages progress, you should still attempt to see quite a few flops. However, if the pot is frequently raised, you will need to play tighter preflop.

    Once the middle stages of the tournament begin (when the big blind is around 10% of a player's starting stack), you need to start focusing more on stealing the blinds. Except for a few circumstances, you should almost always raise if you are the first to enter the pot (no one else has called or raised the big blind yet). A typical raise is 3 to 4 big blinds.

    One example of a situation where it may just be better to limp in is if you hold AA in early position and want to induce someone else to raise after you. Then, you can reraise him all-in when the action gets back to you.

    In the middle stages of the tournament and later, the "gap" concept comes into play more. There is a "gap" between the (lower) hand strength that is needed to open a pot and the (higher) hand strength that is needed to call someone who raised. This implies that blind stealing is effective.

    You should be more willing to enter a pot if no one else has already called or raised the pot. If someone has already entered the pot, they likely have a strong hand. Thus, stealing the blinds is much more difficult, and it is much more likely your hand will be challenged. So when someone else has already entered the pot, you need to be more selective with your hands.

    Later in the tournament, almost all the action will occur preflop. At this point in time, you will generally be in one of three situations:

    1. You have a short stack. You can only afford about 5 big blinds at the level, and those big blinds are just gonna get more expensive. The worst thing to do is to blind yourself to death. Stealing the blinds means a lot to you at this point, and the last thing you want to do is see a flop for half your stack and fold. Consider going all-in with Ace and a high card, or any pair preflop (provided another person hasn't bet for a lot already). In late position, you should consider just going all-in with two cards of ten or higher if no one has entered the pot. You want enough chips to survive and get into at least third place.

    2. You have a medium stack. Try to accumulate chips slowly, avoid a big confrontation unless you clearly have the best of it. Your goal should still be to win the tournament, not to just place. After all, winning one STT is better than placing third in two single-table tournaments.

    3. You have a large stack. If you are clearly one of the chip leaders at the table, you should use your power to bully other players around. For example, if you have 8,000 chips and other players have around 2,000 chips with blinds of 200-400, you should very aggressively steal blinds. Don't be stupid, but be aggressive. Opponents will be scared to call you because they will be trying to sneak into the money. Solidify your position and aim to win the tournament.

    If you intend to play STTs often, you should definitely keep track of your statistics. This way you can compare how well you are doing at different buy-ins.

    Advanced No-Limit STTs

    Mastering single-table tournaments is very difficult and takes a lot of learning and skill. Here are some tips:

    If you have the patience, choose the regular STTs over the speed STTs.

    Good players have a much higher edge at the regular events, since there is more post-flop play. At the regular STTs, the blinds increase slow enough that there is a fair amount of time before the tournament just devolves into a preflop "all-in or fold" fest. One's variance will be much lower at the regular STTs than the speed STTs. This reduced variance allows players to figure out faster how skilled they are at these types of tournaments as well.

    Don't be too liberal seeing the flop at the beginning of the tournament.

    While it is nice to see flops and to bust someone if you hit well, the blinds are still higher relative to players' stacks in single-table tourneys than in ring games. Unlike in a no-limit ring game, drawing hands still do not play well in the early rounds of sit-and-go tournaments.

    Don't play scared when the blinds get high

    Near the end stages of the tournaments, you need to be aggressive in order to win. A lot of intermediate players freeze up and just fold a lot, waiting for a premium hand to go all-in. In reality, players should be looking for as many opportunities as possible to steal the blinds. Since the blinds are so valuable, winning them without going to a showdown is very helpful.

    Make sure you have a threatening stack

    The previous tip illustrated the importance of stealing the blinds. It is almost impossible to steal the blinds if your stack is only twice the big blind since it is very likely that at least one of the blinds will call your all-in. People love to knock others out of the tournament, and much of the time the blinds will have pot odds to call you. To be able to have a good chance at stealing the blinds, your stack needs to be at least 3 big blinds, preferably at least 4 big blinds. Having a chip stack this large is almost as important as having any chips at all. So if your stack is about to be dwindled below the 4-big blind mark, consider making a last ditch attempt to steal the blinds, even if your hand is mediocre.

    Pot odds are king at the end of the tournament

    You cannot expect to have huge edges against your opponents when you both go all-in. Having even a small positive expected value most often warrants a call. For example, suppose you are in the big blind with [[cards 10s 7s]]. The blinds are 200-400. Someone in mid-position raises all-in for 950, and it is folded to you. Should you call?

    Definitely. You are only putting in 550 chips in what will be a 2,100 chip pot. You only need a 26.1% chance of winning or more for this to be a good call. Even if your opponent has [[cards As Ks]], you have great odds to call.

    It is helpful if you know the general odds certain types of hands have against each other all-in preflop. For example, two overcards like [[cards Ah Kc]] generally have a 66% chance of winning against two undercards like [[cards 6s 5d]]. A small pocket pair has about a 55% chance of prevailing against two overcards.

    It may be almost impossible to turn a profit at STTs at higher levels

    For most people, this warning does not apply since few people play STTs higher than $100+$9 buy-ins. However, for some of the very high buy-ins, like $200+$15 or $500+$30, making a profit can be quite difficult, especially at the speed sit-n-go's. First, the competition just may be simply be too hard. Most of the people playing these high stakes are professionals, semi-professionals, or at the very least, serious players. Having any edge at all, let alone an edge that will beat the rake, is incredibly difficult.

    Second, unlike ring games, there is no cap on the entry fees. Players in a $5-$10 ring game pay almost the same amount of rake as players in a $50-$100 game, since most sites cap the rake at $3 a hand (sometimes it is increased to $5 a hand). Thus, people who play for nosebleed stakes in ring games at least have the benefit of a significant rake reduction percentage-wise. Having $3 taken out of a $1,000 pot just doesn't matter nearly as much as $3 taken out of a $100 pot.

    In contrast, the rake for SNGs continually increases by a large amount. Players in a $200 SNG pony up $15 in rake for each tournament, and players in a $500 donate $30 to the poker room every time they buy-in. The entry fee is still smaller percentage-wise than at the lower buy-in SNGs. However, the percentage discount players in high-stakes SNG get is much smaller than the percentage discount players in ring games receive. Since a person's edge is already greatly minimized by the increased quality of competition at those levels, the amount of rake poses a major hurdle to profitability in high-stakes SNGs for the vast majority of players.

    Multi-Table No-Limit Tournaments

    The popularity of no-limit hold'em tournaments is booming. Fueled by the WSOP (World Series of Poker) and the World Poker Tour, many people are intrigued by these competitions and enter for a chance to win a 'big score.' In fact, most no-limit hold'em is played in poker tournament form nowadays.

    No-limit hold'em tournaments have crazy variance, more than no-limit ring games. This is because all the money gets shoved in preflop on near coin-flip odds at the end of the tournament. For example, AK versus a pocket pair is a very, very common battle late in a no-limit tournament.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't play no-limit tournaments, but please don't think that these tournaments are all skill and no luck. The famous quote from the movie Rounders, "The same five guys make it to the final table every year at the WSOP," is the opposite of the truth. You must be lucky to win a no-limit tournament because you must win more than your fair share of coin-flip battles.

    Early Stages

    That's enough preaching about no-limit tournaments. In terms of strategy, no-limit tournaments are very different from no-limit ring games. You simply can't bluff as much because people's stacks tend to be smaller in relation to the size of the pot. Also, since the amount of chips you win from a bluff is worth less than the amount you stand to lose, bluffing loses a lot of 'value.'

    Now, many of you may be confused. Suppose you bluff 1,000 chips at a 1,000 pot and figure you have a 50-60% chance of taking it down. Many of you would think it's worth it to take that risk. However, those 1,000 chips you win are worth less than those 1,000 chips you stand to lose. If you have a 2,000 stack, getting knocked down to 1,000 has much more negative value than the positive value of getting up to 3,000. The 1,000 chips do not represent money. The only monetary value in the tournament is either losing all of your chips or winning them all (and losing them all is more important because you do get a prize if you lose them all in the late stages of the tournament). Losing those 1,000 chips knocks you half the way out, but winning those 1,000 doesn't do squat for winning.

    This is not to imply that you can simply fold your way into the money. The blinds will eat you alive. You must win pots so you don't get knocked out most of the time. Towards the end of the tournament, you can think of winning pots to win the whole tournament. However, most of the time you must win pots simply so you don't lose!

    Thus, in the early stages of the tournament, you should avoid gambling much. Generally, the amount you win isn't worth the gamble. If you can see the flop for cheap with a suited connector or someone goes all-in preflop and you have [[cards As Ah]], by all means go for it. However, I wouldn't suggest bluffing all-in. In the early stages, you want to win a huge pot here and there because you hold the nuts. Target a bad player and make him pay you off.

    Middle Stages

    Towards the middle of the tournament, you need to switch gears. Since the blinds get bigger, stealing the blinds will help you stay alive. Here, the 'gap' concept becomes more important. It takes a much weaker hand than usual to raise to steal the blind, but a stronger hand than usual to call a raise. The middle rounds introduce the 'survival mode' concept.

    Again, most of the time you will be looking just to survive and increase your stack bit by bit in the middle rounds. You want to avoid confrontation without the nuts and just take down some small pots without controversy.

    However, if you are a large chip stack, you should take advantage of this survival mode. Take control of the game by raising and frequently putting other people at a decision for all of their chips. After all, if they go all-in, they're risking it all but you aren't because you can lose the pot and still keep on fighting. However, don't do this too much. Steal some pots, but don't be so obvious that people will call you all-in with top or even second pair. Also, don't do this against very bad players. They will call everything.

    End Stages

    Towards the end of the tournament is when the coin-flip decisions become very important. Frequently, the blinds are so high it makes sense for a player with a low or moderate stack to go all-in preflop. Generally, when you go all-in you want to have Ace and good kicker or a pocket pair. If you have Ace and good kicker you are an advantage against all unpaired hands and may even have someone dominated. If you have a pocket pair, you are a small advantage against all unpaired hands and at a huge advantage or disadvantage against other pocket pairs (depending on who has the bigger one).

    Generally, if you have one of these marginal hands, it's best to just shove all of your chips in preflop. When you are a low stack, you cannot afford to be blinded away anymore. Once the flop comes, chances are it's not going to be perfect. By shoving in all of your chips preflop, you have the added chance of stealing the blinds and can avoid being bluffed out.

    Multi-Table Limit Tournaments

    I'm not a huge fan of multi-table limit tournaments; I personally think there is too much luck involved. Nevertheless, tournmanets like the Party Poker Million have increased the popularity of these tournaments. To succeed at these tournaments requires a slight change in strategy from your usual limit game.

    The most fundamental change to your gameplay involves the 'gap' concept. Mid-way and later through limit tournaments, you must change your style of play from simply trying to get the best of it (winning money in the long run) to just winning pots. Instead of pot odds being your guiding force, you just want to straight up win the pots you play. Since the blinds are so large, you do not want much competition, as a simple blind steal will help your position tremendously.

    You should begin playing hands that will just likely win. Flush draws and straight draws lose a tremendous amount in value and high and mid pocket pairs soar. AK and AQ also go up in value because they have most other hands dominated (e.g. AK vs. AT or AQ vs. KQ). Late in limit tournaments, you want to avoid heavy conflicts with dominated hands (i.e. you don't want to have AJ against his AK even though he will pay off nicely if AJ is on board).

    In order to conform to this strategy, you must do two things. First, if the mood is tight, you should be more willing to go in on marginal hands just in order to steal the blinds. Always, always raise preflop with these hands. If you are two off the button with [[cards Ah 9c]], you should consider raising to steal the blinds. However, the second change you should make is to avoid conflict. If someone has already raised, you certainly should chunk that A9 if you are one off the button. The underlying concept here again is dominating hands: you want your opponents to fold because they are afraid they are dominated and you want to fold if you may be dominated. If you raise with [[cards Ah 9c]], someone with AT certainly will consider folding because they are afraid you have AJ, AQ, or AK and thus have them dominated.

    Now, what if you are dealt a premium hand like [[cards Kh Kc]] and someone has raised? There's no way you can chunk this hand preflop; what are the chances he has AA? In this situation, you should reraise to knock people out. Raising and lots of reraising is the key; you want to send the opposition the message that you are challenging him for all of his chips if he plays against you in this hand. When you are dealt a big gun like [[cards Kh Kc]], you want to make your stand.

    Obviously throughout all of this, you should take into consideration the strength of your opponents. Good players understand the 'gap' concept and will fold if they have borderline hands like [[cards Ad 10s]]. However, bad players will simply call. Bad players play their hand; good players play their hand relative to other people's hands. If you see the flop with a bad player, he will most likely fold if you bet and he has not hit and will call you to the river if he has. A good player knows that if he has [[cards Ad 10s]] and there is an Ace on the flop, he may be finished because of the kicker. A bad player is just happy he has top pair.

    Tournament Variants

    A poker tournament is typically played in the following manner: players start with a standard amount of chips, the blinds gradually escalate, and players are gradually eliminated. The prize pool of these tournaments is heavily weighted to the top finishers, but about 10% of the entrants place in the money. These tournaments are generally played as freezeouts, meaning that once a player loses all of his chips, he is not allowed back into the tournament.

    While many people enjoy this tournament structure, there are other types of tournaments as well. Most tournaments start with the basic premise of everyone receiving an equal amount of chips and having play continue until one person possesses all of the tournament chips. However, some tournaments have a spin on the typical freezeout structure. These tournaments may escalate the blinds more quickly, introduce re-buys, have a winner-take-all structure, etc. Each of these types of variants alters the basic strategy of the tournament. Here is a list of common tournament variants, as well as some ideas about how to adapt your strategy to them.

    Re-buy and Add-on Tournaments

    This is a very common type of tournament. A re-buy allows a player to buy back into the tournament. If a player busts out or his stack dwindles to a low point, a re-buy would allow a player to purchase the initial amount of chips again.

    For example, suppose a tournament is $50+$5. All players start with 1,000 chips. You bust out on the second hand of the tournament and want to continue to play. For a re-buy event, you can generally purchase another 1,000 chips for $50 to continue playing.

    A re-buy tournament generally will allow re-buys for a set period of time before it becomes a standard freezeout tournament. When this period ends, players have the option to add-on. For a set price (usually equal to the buy-in of the tournament), players can add a certain amount of chips to their stack. The amount of chips generally depends on the tournament, but it is often equal to the amount of chips to which players started the tournament.

    For these types of tournaments, you can generally afford to play a little looser at the beginning. Since you are able to re-buy, there is less reason to be risk-averse when playing. There is not a need to potentially sacrifice expected value just to stay in the tournament.

    If you do bust out, the decision to re-buy is largely dependent on your circumstances. How tough are the players in the tournament? Do you think you will make more money in the tournament, or is there a more profitable ring game you can play?

    When it is time to add-on, it is almost always advisable to purchase the add-on. All of the money in a tournament is at the top, so building one's stack (whether through play or adding on chips) is very important.

    Players should generally default to purchasing the add-on. However, there may be reasons a player shouldn't add-on. The main one is if a player isn't skilled at the event. If the event is -EV for the person, buying more chips may likely be -EV as well. This type of player probably shouldn't be playing this type of event anyway.

    Turbo Tournaments

    A turbo or speed tournament is one where the blinds rise very quickly. Often, the blinds will escalate every 5 minutes. In fact, it is not unheard of to have the blinds increase every two minutes!

    These types of tournament have a higher luck factor than typical tournaments. There is very little postflop play because people tend to be forced to go all-in preflop or fold. For this type of tournament, aggression is important. The blinds will quickly eat away your stack if you play passively. Steal the blinds a lot and hope luck is on your side.

    Satellite Tournaments

    Instead of offering a cash prize, a satellite tournament rewards an entry into a higher buy-in tournament to its winners. Most notable are the World Series of Poker satellites.

    There are several different types of satellite tournaments. Generally, most require a more aggressive strategy at the beginning of the tournament and then a more selectively aggressive strategy towards the end. This is because there tends to be only a few prizes awarded relative to the number of people who buy-in. However, since first place is awarded the same prize as the person who receives the lowest winning spot, there is no reason to be overly aggressive in accumulating vast amounts of chips.

    A more complete strategy guide to satellite tournaments can be found in our WSOP Satellite Strategy article.

    Steps Tournaments

    The steps tournament is the brainchild of Party Poker. A steps tournament acts as a series of single-table satellite tournaments of increasingly larger buy-ins, culminating in large cash prizes at the final step.

    A steps tournament generally consists of five steps. Winners of the first step win an entry into the second step and then compete for an entry into the third step and so on. Generally, players can buy into the tournament at any step (the buy-in at the higher steps is much larger than at the lower steps). However, only at the final step are the major prizes awarded.

    For these steps tournaments, the first thing to take notice of is the prize structure. Often, the poker rooms are sneaky and extract far too much in the way of entry fees from these steps tournaments. This is because they will often frame the prize structure to keep people forever playing in the same steps tournaments, forcing them to continuously pay more entry fees to the poker room. This news article illustrates how the prize structures of the "step higher" and "step lower" tournaments at Party Poker result in an incredibly large entry fees.

    To avoid paying too much rake, you want to play in a steps tournament that tends to result in either: 1) seats to higher steps tournament or 2) a player's elimination. When a lot of prizes give an entry to a lower step or the same step, this means that you will likely end up paying large amounts of rake to work your way up the steps.

    Otherwise, strategy for a steps tournament is similar to strategy for single-table tournaments and satellite tournaments. When about 30% of players receive a step to the next level, you will want to play a selectively aggressive game. Aim to steal the blinds and keep your stack above average. You do not need to amass the most chips to win. However, you want to keep your stack relatively large, so people do not attack you and try to knock you out. By frequently stealing the blinds, you will possess a larger than average stack, resulting in fewer confrontations.

    When you arrive at the final step, you will want to play your standard single-table tournament strategy. With the exception of WSOP steps tournaments, most steps tournaments have a typical prize structure at the final step. First place receives a large share, but players in second, third, and fourth receive a decent prize as well.


    Like a steps tournament, a shootout is a series of single-table tournaments. However, players never win seats to the same step or lower steps. A player advances to the next round of the shootout or goes home.

    Furthermore, a shootout is a single event. In a steps tournament, a player can play each individual step whenever he or she pleases. For example, if someone wins step one and receives a buy-in to step two, that player can play the step two tournament that same day, the next day, or even two weeks later.

    Shootout events have different structures. Some award only one seat to the next round per table, while others award multiple seats. Nevertheless, almost all shootouts have a flattened prize structure at the final table. This means that shootouts are usually not played as winner-take-all tournaments. The prize pool tends to be distributed widely among the final table finishers.

    For example, suppose 100 players enter a shootout event. There are ten players at each of ten tables. One way to structure this tournament is to have only one player per table advance to the next round. At the final table, there will be a winner from each table, and they will compete in a single-table tournament. Generally, all players at this final table will receive a prize; however, first and second place will receive much larger prizes than the other players.

    However, a shootout event could also have three players per table advance to the next round. In the round of 30, three players from each table may still advance to the final table (making only nine players at the final table). A shootout can be structured in a number of ways.

    The structure of a shootout should determine your strategy. If only one player per table advances to the next round, you must play very aggressively. You will have to gamble a lot and hope to win all of the chips at the table.

    However, if several players advance to the next round, a more selective aggressive approach is in order. You want to keep a fairly decent-sized stack, so your opponents do not go after you. Avoiding confrontation is important because you want to advance to the next round with as little gambling as possible. Again, stealing the blinds frequently is a good strategy to keep your stack above average.

    Winner-take-all Tournaments

    A lot of home games are played as winner-take-all single-table tournaments. If you have read the rest of this article, you can probably guess what my advice is for these tournaments: Be aggressive! You need to win all of the chips, so you should not sacrifice any expected value to remain in the tournament. Exploit every edge, bully, and go after those chips. Placing second out of ten is worth just as much as placing tenth in this sort of tournament. Go for the gold and attack the pot.

    Knockout Tournament Strategy

    Knockout tournaments, or "bounty" tournaments, are becoming increasingly popular in online poker. The premise is simple, your buy-in is divided three ways: prize pool, bounty, and, of course, rake. The prize pool and rake portions of the buy-in should be pretty easy to understand since every tournament has them. What makes a Knockout Tournament different is the bounty money. This is money that is "put on your head", so to speak, and awarded to the player who knocks you out of the tournament.

    For example, a popular online tournament at Full Tilt Poker has a buy-in of $24+$2. Of the $24 buy-in, $20 is placed in the prize pool and $4 is used as a bounty. This means you'll receive $4 for every player you knock out of the tournament and whoever knocks you out of the tournament will receive $4. If you happen to win the whole tournament, you'll get the 2nd place finisher's bounty as well as retain your own bounty money. After all, no one knocked you out.

    The introduction of the bounty presents some necessary strategy adjustments that I want to talk about in this article. In general, I observe players allowing the presence of the bounty affect their decisions too much. In other words, when a player moves all-in, they will call them with very marginal holdings in hopes of busting them out and receiving their bounty money. But remember, in almost all cases, the prize pool of the tournament is far larger than the bounties. This means you should essentially play the tournament like a normal tournament with a few small strategy adjustments.

    It is important to realize how the bounty affects your decisions throughout the tournament. In the early stages of the tournament, knocking a player out and receiving a bounty carries more value than it does later in the tournament. This is because at the start of the tournament, you're really not worth that much. For example, if I buy into a $24+$2 bounty tournament, I might estimate that I am worth $35 in that tournament. In other words, right when I take my seat in that event, I expect to win an average of $9 off of my initial tournament buy-in. So if I played the event 10,000 times, I would expect to cash for a gross total of $350,000 (including bounties), make sense? That's my "expected value".

    In any tournament, your "value" in the event changes as the tournament drags on. So if I am "worth" $35 when I first take my seat, how would my value change if I doubled-up or busted out on the first hand? Well, if I busted out, I would obviously be worth $0 in the tournament. If I doubled-up, I might estimate that I'm worth more like $70. Are you still with me?

    As you get deeper and deeper in a tournament and accumulate more and more chips, your "worth" in the tournament continues to increase. Suppose you make the final table. Now your "worth" in the tournament is going to be way more than the $35 it was at the beginning of the tournament. It might now be worth a few thousand depending on how large the prize pool is. A good way to determine how much you think you're worth in any tournament is to ask yourself, "how much money would I need right now to leave this tournament?" Then subtract like 10% since you're probably overestimating how much you would want due to the entertainment value and crack-like addiction that comes from going deep in a tournament.

    Alright, back to how bounties affect your decisions. Suppose you start with 3,000 chips. If the bounty is 1/6th of the buy-in, then you should consider a bounty to be worth 500 chips (3,000/6). In any bounty tournament, calculate how many chips a bounty is worth by multiplying the total number of starting chips with the bounty:total buy-in ratio. So if a $100 buy-in tournament is $80 prize pool and $20 bounty and you receive 5,000 starting chips, you would take 5,000 and multiply it by 0.2 (2/10).

    Once you have established how many chips a bounty is worth, you can use this number to make decisions at the poker table. Suppose the blinds are 50/100. You have 2,000 chips in the big blind. It folds to the small blind who moves all-in for 1,500 chips. When weighing whether or not to call, don't view the pot as having 1,600 chips, view the pot as having 2,100 chips (add 500 chips for the value of the bounty) and make your decision based on those pot odds. It's really as simple as that.

    As you can see, making calls for the purpose of receiving a bounty becomes a moot point later in the tournament. When you're weighing whether or not to make a call in a pot of 43,000 chips, the extra 500 added for the bounty value matters only marginally. By the time you reach the final table, the bounties should not even be a thought on your mind.

    Ante Up Tournaments

    A new type of online poker tournament has been gaining some popularity lately. "Ante up" tournaments maintain a fixed blind-level throughout the entire tournament while only increasing the antes, which start from the very first level. For example, level one might be 5/5 blinds with a 10 ante. Level two would be 5/5 blinds with a 20 ante. Level three, 5/5 blinds with a 30 ante, and so on.

    This new format of tournament requires some significant strategy adjustments than a regular no-limit hold'em tournament. As such, the games tend to be quite soft right now, which is a welcome relief to regular poker players who have grown tired of the typical no-limit action only getting tougher and tougher.


    In regular no-limit tournaments, limping is generally considered an ill-advised, weak move. In Ante Up tournaments, it is correct to limp virtually every hand. Since it costs next to nothing to limp in, a limp is basically just a check. You've already committed so much to the pot in the form of your ante that you should basically never fold if you have the option to limp for the minimum. If you limp with garbage and someone raises, that's fine. You can fold and really not be out much at all. As long as you have even the tiniest chance of winning the pot after you limp in, a limp can be justified.


    In a regular no-limit tournament, one must typically commit the size of the pot, or often substantially more in order to have a chance at stealing the pot preflop. In Ante Up tournaments, a steal can sometimes be successful even after investing as little as 1/4th the size of the pot with a raise.

    Suppose the blinds are 5/5 with an ante of 50. On a nine player table, that creates a pot of 460 before the flop. If it folds to you in late position, it is advisable to make a raise with any two cards. If you raise to 115, you only need to win the pot 20% of the time in order for that to be a profitable raise! As you can see, Ante Up tournaments not only price you in to limping every hand preflop, they also price you in to raising a lot preflop in hopes of stealing the blinds.

    Many players have yet to catch on to these above-two concepts, so there's a lot of equity to be gained by coming at them with relentless aggression until everyone realizes that Ante Up tournaments are nothing like regular hold'em tournaments.

    Post Flop Skills Crucial

    Since you are limping a lot, raising a lot, and calling a lot of raises from savvy players that know they should be raising with a very wide range, post-flop hand-reading skills become crucially important. While regular no-limit tournaments are predominantly a pre-flop game, Ante Up tournaments are more of a post-flop game.

    If post-flop poker is not your strong suit, consider reading some of our no-limit cash game strategy articles to acquaint yourself with some valuable concepts regarding how to play deep-stacked, post-flop hold'em.

    An important tip to remember regarding post-flop play in Ante Up tournaments is 'to the aggressor go the spoils'. If you limp into a pot with 3-4 players, don't be afraid to make a small bet to try to win the pot outright. Remember, a 1/3rd pot sized bet only needs to work 1/4th of the time in order to be profitable. So even if you miss the flop, consider taking a stab at the pot in hopes that your opponents fold.

    When to Shove

    In regular no-limit tournaments, most players are acquainted with the idea that once their stack becomes short, they should look to move all-in preflop. This is a skill that should be applied in the Ante Up tournaments as well. So, when do you know when it's a good time to start moving all-in preflop?

    I recommend dividing your stack size by the size of the pot after blinds and antes are posted. Dan Harrington refers to this number as your "M" in his books Harrington on Hold'em. When your "M" starts to dip below 5, you should start to consider moving all-in preflop with your stronger hands. Of course, you don't need quite as strong of a hand to move all-in when there are fewer players left to act in the hand. In this way, Ante Up tournaments are no different than regular no-limit tournaments.

    Yet another way to determine whether or not to move all-in preflop is to envision the money in the pot as the small and big blind. For instance, suppose there is 3,600 in the pot after blinds and antes are posted. You can basically pretend that there is a small blind of 1,200 and a big blind of 2,400 so when it folds to you, just ask yourself, "would I shove this stack with this hand if the blinds were $1,200/$2,400 right now?"

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