The Tournament Skill Curve

Some things are so bloody obvious that many people fail to notice them at all. This is one of those things. It’s probably not possible to boil a player’s skill level down to a single number, but if it was, those numbers could be averaged and graphed as a tournament progresses, and it would look something like this…

Obviously, the average skill level will be at it’s lowest when a tournament starts, and gradually rises as the tournament moves towards its conclusion. Yes, sometimes strong players bust out early, and yes, sometimes weaker players will make a deep run, but, in general, average skill goes from low to high. Well, duh!

But what does this mean?

If you develop a strategy that lets you do well in the early stages, don’t expect that same strategy to be effective in the later stages. It won’t be.

For example, one frequently used early strategy is to play super tight and just wait it out. This might let you survive the early game, but you will find that you will often get to the mid and late stages well behind the average chip count. This will force you to play catch-up against progressively tougher opponents… never an easy task, and you will be a short stack facing higher and higher blinds and antes. You simply won’t have enough gas in your tank to finish the race.

The conclusion is simple… you can’t have a tournament strategy. You need several strategies, each specifically tailored to the different stages of a tournament. I know, this is as basic as it is obvious, but I have seen so many people try to play one way from start to finish that I thought I would throw it out there.


Some guy had this wild theory that a tournament can be broken down into 7-stages, with a separate strategy for each stage. I know, crazy sounding right? Would you care to comment on this highly dubious claim?

I don’t know, it sounds crazy to me. :slight_smile:

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I’m gonna guess 1 of those steps is eliminated by the level 3 rule @ Replay.

What’s a level 3 rule?

SPG, you know this one… Anyone not participating by the end of level 3 will be eliminated and thier chips taken outta play. Since I learned without this rule, that was 1 of the “stages” or “bubbles”, I learned to deal with… here it doesn’t apply.

Warlock, I too have heard of these mythical 7 stages… :sunglasses:
We can make it a game, Guess the 7 stages , win a prize …

Stage 7: Final Table
Stage 6: Get to final table.
Stage 5: Make the “cash” bubble
Stage 4: Weed out the short stacks
Stage 3: Last No-Show dies, stack @ 3x prolly
Stage 2: Stay even or above mean ave stacks
Stage 1: Get past the Bingo players

Thats my guess… ( I have only 3-5 stages )

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A lot of things don’t apply here. So OK, let’s talk about my stage 1. The keyword here is “availability,” but more on that in a minute.

You will no doubt have heard that “tight is right” in the early part of a tournament. Professionals coined this term long ago, long before there was internet poker, and it makes perfect sense because it can help you “get past the bingo players.”

You have no doubt also heard “play opposite the table.” In the first few levels, there are a lot of loose players, so, as they say, “tight is right” because you will be playing opposite the table, and this is good, right?

Well, no. None of that applies here.

I say, stage 1… embrace your inner maniac. I get in the mud and go toe to toe with the bingo players. Yeah, I bust out of some tournaments, but in online poker, I would rather bust early than have to play catch-up and blind out later, and the reason why is… availability.

There’s always another tournament starting soon.

In effect, my stage 1 makes every tournament a rebuy tourney. Yes, I might have to wait 15 minutes or 1/2 an hour or whatever to get back in (a different tournament) but I’m in no great hurry, and I can easily afford the rebuys at the stakes I play.

I’m sure we have all seen people double, triple, or quadruple early, but we all know they won’t be at the final table. But there’s a good chance you’ll see me there. Why?

Because as soon as I make that early score, I immediately switch gears and enter my stage 2 strategy… stack preservation mode. I switch to small ball, uber tight/passive poker. I pick off a small pot here and there, but mostly try to see flops cheap with premium hands, and then it’s “fit or quit” on the flop because there’s no antes and the blinds just aren’t worth fighting over.

Of course, I’m over simplifying this. For example, you have to figure out who’s playing tight and avoid them, but you can usually do this within 2 or 3 orbits if you’re paying attention.

So there ya go. My stage 1 is what I call the boost stage, stage 2 is the coast stage, and stage 3 is, well… you can’t expect a fella to tell you everything, can you?

By the way, I developed this strategy in small-ish buy-in real money online tournies. Does it work? Well, it got me a free seat to the WSOP Main Event, so yeah, it does. :slight_smile:

Actually kind of interesting. A stage 0 - before the standard tight play stage. Would certainly be a huge benefit to essentially start the game with 2x+ the chips as the average and then shift over to conventional play. A good player, with an advantage like that, is going to be tough.

Wouldn’t even be a negative for a player competing on leaderboards because of the scoring system is only top finishes, not average.

Thankfully, most players don’t read the Forum or there would be a swarm of maniacs on the loose in the coming days.

There’s already a swarm of maniacs on the loose.


That is the most important level…