The Beginning Of A Tournament

The beginning of a tournament can set the tone for how well you do in that tournament. There are a few things you can do that can help you start a tournament well and can potentially set you up for success later on in the tournament:

Analyze your opponents - When you are first seated for your tournament take note of the competition your up against. If you have notes on a particular opponent that you haven’t played against in awhile, take a moment to review those notes.

Play Tight - I’ve seen a lot of players call with almost any hand at the beginning of a tournament. In my opinion it’s best to play fairly tight at the beginning of a tournament. A lot of those players who are calling with almost any hand usually won’t last that long in the tournament. It is important to pick your spots when you have a strong hand and make good bets. Don’t just go all in preflop with Aces because most of the time that scares everyone out of the hand. Bet just enough that your getting good value for your hand while not betting too high that causes everyone to fold.

Don’t Chase A Bingo Player - In freerolls and low buy in tournaments there will always be a bingo player (A player who goes all in every hand) It’s important to stay clam and not get frustrated. These players normally bust within the first few levels of a tournament. Just like playing tight you should pick your spots and only call against bingo players with strong hands like Aces or Kings. Don’t chase them with a bad hand and give them the satisfaction that going all in every hand worked for them.

If you pick your spots in a tournament you could potentially build up your chip stack for the later stages of a tournament. What strategies do you use at the beginning of a tournament?

-Marc

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This is a good list. Paying attention (aka analyzing your opponents) is a great first step. I often zone out and wait for the bingo players to go bust, while only getting involved with good hands. But paying attention could give you an advantage later on, although I do follow the other two points (play tight and don’t try to beat the bingo players).

I heard this advice somewhere: “you can’t win a tournament early on, but you can lose one”. If your starting hands are trash or the boards are missing you completely, just be patient. There’s value in building an early chip lead, but it is better to have a healthy stack later rather than double up or bust early. Especially here on Replay, players will go wild in the early stages, which means there are lots of chips to be won, but there have been plenty of times where I didn’t play a hand for the first three or four blind levels and still cashed or even won.

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Well said!!

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I agree with a lot of what you say, but I also disagree with some parts of it. You are leaving a lot of chips on the table if you don’t play against these terrible players in the beginning. If I get a good hand against a bingo player, I would not hesititate to go all-in.

I’ve also heard of that quote, but I think it isn’t great to go by. What does this quote mean? That you shouldn’t be willing to take chances because you can only lose the tournament? Technically, you can only win a tournament when heads up with the chip lead. Does that mean that is the only time in a tournament when you should start taking chances? The survivalist mentality I believe is outdated and bad. You should play normal poker, and if you end up against a terrible (bingo) player thats good! If they stink then you will beat them in the long run. Wouldn’t you rather knock out a bingo player rather than watch someone else do it?

I’m not saying be a lunatic and go crazy like some players do, I’m just saying that you should play poker similar to a ring game when stacks are deep. Much of the skill advantage good players like you have is when stacks are deep and skill decides who wins the pot rather than the cards. Its obviously a lot less skilled when its just an all-in feast at the final two tables of a tournament. It is not all luck, but a greater amount of it is.

You can obviously win a tournament if you are short. Two straight days I won the same 50k tourament where I was 14th out of 15 and in one of them I was the chip leader at the start of the final table! But just because you can win with a short stack doesn’t mean you should. With a bigger stack you have more capability to make moves rather than shove or fold.

Like every game I play, not only do I play my hand but I play the players !!

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It seems like I may have overstated my point (seems to happen a lot here) because I don’t think we really disagree on much. I’m not advocating sitting out the early rounds or just trying to survive. You do want to survive obviously, but the blinds will eat you eventually if you do nothing. My suggestion is to keep playing your game but to beware about getting sucked into high variance play. If you show up with a good hand and people are blasting off, you should get your whole stack in really good. Or if you get a decent price and flop a big hand, play it like you always would.

All I was saying is that you want to play the opposite way that the table is playing in general (if everyone it too loose tighten up and vice versa), and the beginning of tournaments here tend to be very splashy. Because there is so much high variance play, you can benefit from that by playing strong hands and avoiding marginal spots.

For example, in cash game I might open a pretty wide range of hands from the CO and BTN and miss and be forced to give up or make a bad bluff. In that case I could lose 20 big blinds and top up, no big deal and do it over again until I get paid off. But I would be hesitant to play those hands in a tournament where people are raising and re-raising all the time because my stack will be crippled if I miss or am forced to fold 3 times in a row. Early in tournaments I either want to have a massive edge preflop or only play big pots with strong made hands. Maybe in a venue with less of an egde, one has to mix things up, but on Replay, especially in tournaments where people struggle to adjust to changing stacks, you can pick your spots.

Oh, and as far as that quote goes, I believe in it, but maybe not as strongly as you seem to be interpreting it. It just means you can double from 100bbs to 200bs and not be a favorite to win, while on the other hand I have been card dead until dwindling really low and still managed to come back. I take it to mean not that you shouldn’t risk your tournament life, but just to pick your spots. No sense flipping your whole stack with a 51% edge where you will double half the time and be out half the time while avoiding the spot you have a good shot both times (and doubling isn’t always a huge advantage in the long run). There will be better spots.

And just a tangible example, I’ve cashed in 7 out of my last 11 tournaments (100k+ sngs and mtts) since I came back after leaving the site for a while. If you offered me a 55% edge in a flip right at the beginning of each of those tournaments I would have (on average, by chance) lost the flip 5 times and therefore cashed fewer times by getting stacks in ahead than I would by playing tighter even if it means losing EV in some spots. Maybe that logic is wrong? What do you think?

I agree with everything that you say in your first few paragraphs, when it comes to that situation I think you should still take the flip. A double up is a big deal and it gives you a great chance to be in a good spot to cash, all though you might not always do so. You say that you cashed in 7 out of 11 MTTs, but I’m guessing that you probably mint cashed on some of those and didn’t win them all (maybe I’m wrong and your on an insane upswing) but if this is true 55% equity is hard to pass up. These doubled up chips may have been the difference between 5th and 1st in that tournament. You are going to play more than 11 tournaments so you need to make sure you are maximizing equity in the long run. A lot of times also, if you fold in these scenarios, not only are you giving up a big hand, but you often lose chips, weather you raise and he shoves or he raises you reraise and he shoves you usually have already put money in so the pot odds will always lead to a call. You also don’t know your exact equity when you go all in most of the time, so you may have a higher edge but folded it in fear that you were a small favorite if you choose to fold, but your argument brings up good points, I may be wrong in my thinking.

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I’m not sure either. Part of the question is how all of this applies to Replay, although maybe it’s just math. Doug Polk always says you have to win your flips to advance in a tournament, and I do believe that is true for relatively high level real-money tournaments. If you shy away from spots where you have an edge, you might not be able to get that edge back elsewhere, and so you have to gamble.

On Replay, I don’t think that is the case. For example, if I shove with AA knowing I will get 3 callers, I may win 1/3 of the time (which is about the equity of AA versus 3 random hands), but I will be eliminated from 2/3 tournaments and even with quadrupling up I am not guaranteed to win or even cash the other. That is an extreme example, and I am not just talking about shoving, just that early on you can opt out of playing some high variance hands and tighten up when people are splashing around. Also, another point to clarify is that my definition of tightening up is more loose than most people on Replay. I don’t mean only open KK+/AK, which is some people’s standard range. I mean, maybe don’t open 86s from the CO, just in some particular situations based on table dynamics. Or if you flop an open-ender maybe try to play small ball and see if you can get a free card instead of going for stacks as a semi-bluff against someone who doesn’t know how to fold.

Just aiming to cut down on variance a bit so you can have a healthy stack to work with. If you end up short stacked, then you have no choice but to shove sometimes and people will often double you up with worse hands. And for the record, just to look at my tourney stats:
SnG 250k: 2 out of 9
SnG 250k: 6 out of 9 (no cash)
MTT 1M: 5 out of 33
SnG 250k: 1 out of 9
SnG 250k: 5 out of 6 (no cash)
MTT 1M: 3 out of 24
SnG 250k: 3 out of 6 (no cash)
SnG 250k: 2 out of 9
MTT 250k: 17 out of 43 (no cash)
SnG 250k: 2 out of 6
SnG 100k: 2 out of 9

So, this may support your point about the value of trying to accumulate chips early, since I only won 1 out of 11 and finished 2nd 4 times. Also, I think our discussion most applies to MTTs and most of these are SnGs. I would also point out that I am generally under time pressure (don’t have time to play a whole SnG or MTT), so for at least one of the 2nd place finishes I had to leave early and just got blinded out, for others I had to go and started shoving, and I may have had to walk away from at least one other. This goes back to October, so I don’t really remember.

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Yeah, if its not guaranteed that you will not finish the tournament I think that shifts your strategy it would not be smart to go for the win if you can’t win the tournament, a tighter, more passive strategy would be better as you will cash more often, but rarely get first. Your scenario where you go all in with aces against 3 people seems almost impossible to guess but thats besides the point, I think aces is still a call. Most players who shove will have Ax or lower pairs which aces dominate. Those players might just have AKo, AJs, and 88s. If I give them a range of A8s+ A10o+ KQ and 55+ (Not counting aces) Aces has 61% equity. Against two random cards for all 3 opponents its a lot worse, but thats so rare in 100k+ tournaments. I get what you are trying to say, but its just so rare for that extreme passive strategy to be correct in tournaments.

I am really just trying to create the distinction between high variance situations and lower variance situations. I am not saying I’d fold AA preflop in any circumstances, just that especially at the beginning of tournaments increasing your stack isn’t as valuable as preserving your stack (at a healthy level, not gambling half of it and being crippled either). I believe ICM supports this idea in general, that the value of increasing your chip stack increases as you get closer to the money/end. You can be a massive chip leader and still not cash, but you can only get eliminated once (apart from rebuys).

Basically, my strategy is to not gamble as much when stacks are deeper. Later on it becomes necessary to take more risks to apply pressure, consolidate a chip lead, or to survive. Tightening up too much early on would be a mistake, just like gambling too much would be a mistake.

I agree that you can be too tight or too loose in the beginning of the tournament, but I would like to say that ICM warrants tightness at or near the final table, not in the beginning. In the beginning of the tournament I would play poker as I would in a ring game. As stack depth changes, I adjust my strategy from there.

Yes, earlier in a tournament is more similar to a ring game, but there are key differences. You cannot walk away with your winnings or rebuy (most of the time on Replay). Also in ring games players have sat for different intervals of time without the dynamics shifting, so play is more predictable, while early stages of tournaments on replay include lots of players doing some weird crazy stuff (at all stake levels but especially at lower stakes).

In a ring game I might be happy to check raise semi bluff with an open ender on a board where I have a range advantage and barrel off my whole stack, but I cannot imagine doing that early in a tournament. In ring I can just top up my stack and try again, while in a tournament I’m just done. And if my bluff works in a ring game those are my chips to play or keep as I choose while in the tourney I just risked my stack and am forced to keep risking those chips. There doesn’t seem to be the same benefit of winning versus losing chips between the two situations.

Another factor for me at least is that in tourneys other players have to adjust to the changing blinds and table, and I count on that being my advantage. In ring games the math and ranges stay fairly static so people know what hands to play and how they want to play them. In tourneys people start to fold way too much as tables get smaller and initial bingo players go bust, so it’s easy to take advantage of dead money in pots to build a stack. And later in tourneys I’m happy to shove when the blinds get huge and people will still call with too wide a range or fold too much.

I guess we just have different opinions, while there is some value to holding onto your chips early in a tournament if your edge is really that big, but for myself at least, I feel like the edge I am losing in a lot of these spots hurts me in the long run. It is not like a replay tournament is the wsop main event. There will be another tournament just like it in usually 3 hours or less so losing your stack even though you made a +EV play is not necessarily a bad thing.

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Yeah, I don’t know exactly either, but it is related to ICM. Maybe this article does a better job of explaining it (Poker ICM 101: What is ICM Poker? ICM Poker Term Explained)

This part in particular seems relevant: 3 players enter a tournament with a $100 buy-in (ignoring the rake), they each get 100 chips at 5/10 blinds, and play for a prize pool of $300 split $195 for 1st place, $105 for 2nd, and $0 for 3rd.
In the first hand Player 1 folds the button, Players 2 shoves all-in, Player 3 calls, loses the hand, and is out of the tournament.

Before the game each player paid $100 for their 100 chips, and all things being equal, obviously has an equal 1/3rd chance to finish in any of the 3 positions. You might think that those 100 chip stacks are worth $100 and by that logic each 1 chip is worth $1, but let’s think about what happened here.

Player 3 lost his 100 chips, and the $100 he used to buy in, and Player 2 doubled his starting stack, but did he double his equity in the tournament? No . Player 2 has secured a 2nd place finish, and the $105 that goes with it, and given himself a 2:1 chip lead setting himself up as the favorite to win the match. But notice that even if he does win the entire tournament he would not have even doubled his buy-in equity of $100, as first place only pays $195 and he is still not guaranteed to win.

So, my interpretation of that is that while the player who went out lost $100, the player who doubled up did not actually double their money, so in a sense there is more value to not going out than there is to doubling up. In practical terms, this shouldn’t necessarily inform how you play, but going back to my previous example, if you flip with a 55% edge 100 times, you will be out of 45 tournaments right away (on average) and not necessarily cashing in the other 55. I’d rather take my chances avoiding big pots that eliminate or cripple me and try to win all 100 rather than having double stacks 55/100 and being out of the rest. But the practical implications for how that informs play are complicated, so it probably isn’t even worth worrying about. My suggestion is just to tighten up slightly early on unless you are already super tight. But do what works for you.

Just to make it relevant, I learned early on here in tourneys I can shove every time I have A9s+ or 88+ and I will be ahead of my opponent’s calling ranges. People will make terrible calls (many players will call big shoves with hands like A3o or QTo), and I will frequently double up. But then I realized I was getting eliminated a lot. Even though I was ahead in my flips something like 60/40 range versus range on average, I would still getting eliminated a lot. By avoiding blasting off preflop, there is more room to maneuver and use the postflop edge to get chips in with a more secure lead in hands. But, I am not advocating folding hands that are ahead, ever. I am just advocating pot control while other people are going nuts at the beginning of tournaments like they do here. Doubling up doesn’t guarantee you a win, but even with an edge you will get knocked out a lot playing big pots.

Also, yes it’s not WSOP, which is exactly why people take the approach of building a huge chip lead early or getting eliminated, which makes the action so wild early on. So, if you want to win against that approach, be patient and make sure you have the best hand when you bet or call, and you will win. And when the blinds get bigger (like ~40bb deep) make min-raises (the only situation where I advocate min-raises) and then cbet with a reasonable range. People starting folding too much, and you will eat up those dead money pots. And if you are completely card dead just keep folding. You will pick up TT with 25bbs left and open shove over a limper and get called by someone with A7o, giving you a 71.6% chance to double. Massive +EV opportunities are everywhere on Replay.

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Play a sound strategy for your stack size at every stage of the tournament. Adjust for population tendencies but stick with solid fundamentals and you’ll do fine. When players have lots of chips at the start of MTT’s, they tend to be loose. Middle stages as the bubble approaches, populations tend to tighten up. After the bubble breaks, players loosen up again playing for the win. Those are all exploitable behaviors.

Learn the proper strategy for 50bb, 40bb, 30bb … play and go with it. Adjust that sound strategy to what the field is doing wrong. Do not worry about your “tournament life” for the most part. At some point you’ll need to learn ICM implications but for most of the tournament, just know the strategy and execute on it. Do not be afraid to go broke - be afraid to miss profitable spots.

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I only play in tournaments and have not been on Replay much over the last few months, but played a few games recently and managed a win and a 2nd place out of my last four tournaments, for 1m buy-in and 50K buy-in, as I just play whatever is available when I want to play.

I have had quite a bit of success over 2 1/2 years and have gone from 1000 chips to over 250 million just from tournaments, nearly all MTTs.

I think the key to tournaments on RP is to be aware of everything, position, stack sizes, blinds sizes, how long to next blind increase, number of players on the table at any one time (constantly changing), the style of play of the opponents, and so on. And then also hope for luck with the cards, but don’t depend on it.

Remember that if you have enough chips so that doubling up will put you back in the tournament, then you can still win, whereas an early lead is nice to have but can tempt you into getting overcommitted and losing a lot of chips on draws.

In the very early rounds you can sit it out and wait for a decent hand without putting much at risk, but as the blinds increase you need to win some pots.

Two easy ways to win pots are to raise from the button when it is folded to you, and then take the pot if the blinds check back to you. If BB holds an ace and an ace comes on the flop, then he will almost always lead out, so conversely if an ace comes on the flop and he checks back to you, the pot is probably yours, but if he calls your bet, then he most likely has a draw,s so you may still be able to grab a large pot if all draws miss.
Another good way to pick up blinds is when everyone folds until the SB limps. Often by raising here you can knock him off the pot. Obviously for these ploys to work you will need to be aware of the playing style of your neighbors.

In the tournament last nights I was very nearly knocked out early on when I hit top pair with a straight flush draw with KQs only to be beaten by ATs who eventually made the nut flush.on the river, although of course I was already beaten.

I was down to 60 chips, but managed to come back and eventually seized the lead just before the final table. When down to the final pairing nothing went my way, and I finished 2nd.

There was an interesting situation on the bubble where I was in 6th position with 5 players getting prize money, and was able to win pot after pot by raising preflop and everyone folded until I had half the chips on the table, whereupon the bubble burst. However even having a big lead with 5 players left and stratospheric blinds is no guarantee of victory as the other players are likely to merge their stacks by eliminating each other.

I find that one of the biggest dangers in tournaments is playing AK. I will often limp the hand preflop or call a small raise preflop, then dump the hand if the flop offers nothing and the opponent is aggressive. AK is not much use against a medium pair if there is only the turn and the river to go. On the other hand, if the flop comes with an A or K or with an A and a K, your hand is nearly always disguised and in good position to stack an opponent who triumphantly shoves the flop.

Of course, towards the end of a tournament, AK is a preflop raising hand and if someone wants to take you on, stack sizes should be considered. Obviously you dominate AQ, but AA and KK are very dangerous, and to any pocket pair you are a second favorite.

If you are a small stack on the final table, you have very little choice but to shove AK and hope for the best.

This is a solid advance for anyone wishing to be successful in poker. As a professional poker player (I do not play much lately because of Covid 19 and I am 80 years old and in my state it is illegal to gamble, I think this site is good to practice on.

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