I’m not playing much these days, but tonight I played a 1 million chip buy-in tournament and finished in second place, so have not lost too much mojo, I hope.
It is often said that you need to take risks early on to eliminate weaker players and build a big stack, but I think this theory is a bit of a fallacy.
Obviously you would rather have a bigger stack than a small one, but I think that as long as you are in a position where you could get into the top 10 by doubling up, then you are in with a very good chance.
In the final stages of tournaments when the blinds are very high, relative stack sizes can change very quickly, so having a huge lead early on is not as much as an advantage as it might seem.
What you do need to do in the early stages WHEN THE BLINDS ARE LOW is size your bets correctly, and by that I mean not paying too much attention to the blinds at lower levels, but to the stack sizes.
Any time you plan to win a pot, whether by force of good starting cards or by a bluff, you need to have a pot big enough to be worth playing for. So you need a good raise preflop even if it is 10 or 20 big blinds, because those players with QT suited will still call from out of position regardless of the preflop raise.
And then when betting on the flop, or continuation betting from position on the flop, you need to look at opponents’ stack sizes and size bets according to your purpose, which is presumably either to build the pot or to take it right now.
If you want to take the pot right now your continuation bet needs to be big enough to do real damage to the stack of the caller who wants to persist with a flush or straight draw. If you just limp in or put in a small raise, then the pot will be so small that even a pot size bet will be no deterrent to calling on the flop. And an oversize continuation bet is just risking too many chips if you are being slow played.
So remember, making the pots big preflop makes it much harder to drawing hands to get to the river without putting their whole stack at risk.
Of course, sometimes you can just get in cheaply, and it will pay off. For example tonight I held 8 5 offsuit in the big blind with the BB at 40 and had a raiser with 90 and a caller with 90, so I only needed to add another 50 chips to have a shot at a pot with 220 chips. As it happened I flopped a boat and won a large pot when an opponent rivered a nice second-best hand. But on the whole, the “hope for a great flop” strategy is inferior to the pot stealing strategy that I prefer.
One of the most simple strategies in this: There is an early limper, and you are in position. You put in a 10 BB raise and knock out the blinds and the limper calls. The flop comes Ace high and he checks back to you. Usually he is scared of the Ace, unless he is actually playing a suited Ace and has flopped two pairs and is slow playing you. In this case you do not need a very big bet to make him give up, and a 2/3 pot bet should do the trick.If he fights back, you probably need to give up.
In any case, it is best not to enter a pot at all unless you have a plan to win it, preferably even if the flop misses you.
What is really important is to be aware of all the stack sizes on your table and the playing style of opponents. If you are up against a huge stack early in a tournament, probably no continuation bet is going to knock him off the pot, so you might as well leave him alone and pick on nervous middle-sized stacks that will fold if they miss the flop.
Let’s say that you start a tournament with 5000 chips–if you still have 5000 chips at the end of the first hour, you are playing winning poker, staying ahead of the blinds, but you will be in the bottom third of the survivors. At this point you need to start looking for places to double up. For example, you shove preflop to steal the blinds or get called and try to double up, or you can attack limpers from the blinds forcing them to fold mediocre hands or risk a 5000 chip hole in their stack.
Even if you have 22, you are a favorite against AK, which could put your right back in the tournament.
Conversely, if you have AK or AQ, or AJ with a decent size stack, you should probably fold them preflop rather than take on small stacks that shove preflop and can blow a big whole in your own stack. Just look for better, safer ways to steal chips and build your stack. These hands are second favorite to any pocket pair, and while these are often called horse-races as if the chances are even, the odds of winning two times in a row against a pocket pair are surprisingly poor.
If your stack is much greater than that of an opponent, and you can afford to lose, then calling with these hands will make better sense as eliminating small stacks gets you closer to the prize money.