Poker strategy has come a long way over the past 20 years. Computers have figured out how to beat people heads-up in No-Limit Hold’em. But that was heads-up, and that was cash poker. It could be a while before tournament poker is “solved.” Although this form of poker is considered easier than playing at the cash tables, tournaments feature multiple opponents and varying stack sizes, forcing you to make different decisions than most cash players are used to.

One of the most important differences with your tournament poker strategy comes with bet-sizing. In general, tournaments reward more passive play, putting the emphasis on survival rather than accumulating chips. You’ll often see players open-raise for the 2X minimum, rather than 2.25X or 2.5X or any of the other popular sizes in cash poker. You’ll also see more open-limping from the small blind and even the button. But what about post-flop?

 

Poker Tournament Strategy

Again, the tendency is to bet smaller than usual. In a cash game, a standard continuation bet on the flop would be somewhere around two-thirds pot – maybe smaller if the board is dry/static or the c-bettor is out of position. In a tournament, that same c-bet might be half-pot, or even a third of the pot.

By committing fewer chips to the pot, the bettor assumes less risk, but in theory, this gives his opponent the right price to continue with a wider range of hands. The logic here is that the opponent will also be more risk-averse, and will fold hands that she would have continued with at the cash tables. For example, if you have a gutshot draw on the flop and your opponent c-bets, that might be a good spot to raise in a cash game, but would you be willing to put in that same raise during a tournament, and fire two more barrels on the turn and river?

This bet-sizing dynamic gets even more pronounced at the final table when ICM (Independent Chip Model) considerations start coming into play. If you have an opportunity to win a large amount of money just by playing conservatively, you’re much more likely to put in very small bets and fold if you meet any resistance. How much does the big money mean to you? Probably a lot more than it means to the computers.

You can see all of our available online poker tournaments at Bodog