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Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

February 12, 2006

The Ten Commandments of Tournament Poker

by Luckbox

I've virtually given up on ring games, except in a live setting. Online ring games just don't hold any appeal to me. I can win money there if I'm committed, but, for some reason, I don't seem to have the consistent focus needed to succeed like Otis.

And so I play tournaments. Occasionally, I'll mix in a single-table SNG, but for the most part, I'm playing the MTT's with guaranteed prize pools. Pacific has nightly 15K and 10K tourneys. Full Tilt Poker has a nightly 10.5K, 16K and 8K (if i remember correctly). And at PokerStars, the 180 SNG's have a first prize of $1080. On the weekends, you can find guarantees ranging from 50K to 750K.

Over that time, I've developed a few rules for myself, and I call them the Ten Commandments of Tournament Poker.

X. Thou shalt not be scared money. Don't buy an entry into a tournament in which the buy-in is a significant part of your bankroll. You can't be afraid to lose money in a tournament setting (or a cash game, for that matter). Once you pay for that buy-in, that money is gone! Focus on winning, not on getting your buy-in back.

IX. Thou shalt have time to play. Why even bother with a tourney if you've got somewhere to go or if it's past your bed time? Just because you want it to go faster doesn't mean everyone else does. You'll end up taking chances you wouldn't otherwise.

VIII. Thou shalt concentrate. I know, this one sounds obvious, but is it? Today I played a big tourney while mutli-tabling two others, watching a couple of friends in the big one, chatting with a few people on IM and monitoring the IRC chat room. At the same time, I was watching the Olympics. I'd like to say it didn't affect my play, but it wasn't ideal either. It's something I need to be careful of.

VII. Thou shalt be prepared to lose. Face it, cashing in big MTT's is tough. If you can't handle losing consistently, then tournament play is not for you. This is not a grind! This is a string of losses highlighted by occasional wins and rare big cashes. Every now and then, you might hit a rush that will make you think it's easy. And every now and then, I guarantee, you'll hit a run that makes you think you'll never win again.

VI. Thou shalt try to win the pot with (almost) every bet. Unless you are holding an absolute monster, every bet you make should be designed to win the pot in front of you. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but, in general, if you make a bet you hope gets called, you merely invite someone to take the pot from you. If you're holding the nuts, or close to it, feel free to get tricky, but beware, if the board starts to get dangerous, bet to win.

V. Thou shalt continuation bet. Again, this should be another obvious rule, but it is absolutely essential to playing well in tourneys. When you raise before the flop, you give the impression of strength. There is NO reason to give the other players any other impression until it becomes too expensive for you. Take a stab at the pot, if you get re-raised, let it go, but take the stab nonetheless. Those stack building bets will help keep your head above water until the big hands come.

IV. Play big hands for all they are worth! Sometimes you're going to go bust with a big hand. Here's two examples from today: At Pacific, I flopped the nut straight but lost to a full house on the river. It's a hand I want to get a lot of money into the pot. At PokerStars, I held Pocket Rockets and lost to a flopped set of 5s (K65 rainbow flop). In both cases, I was more than happy to get my money in. In both cases, I lost. It happens.

III. Thou shalt not get blinded out. When you get shortstacked (and it will happen), you can NOT be afraid to die. That is actually a time when you can get more aggressive. Start pushing with enough chips that it's worth it for people to fold. If you get too short, the big stacks will call you with anything. Winning blinds and antes is important when you're short stacked.

II. Thou shalt be aware of the bubble. There are three situations you'll be in when the bubble approaches. First, you'll be a short stack on the brink of elimination. If you can, try to fold your way to the cash. If you can't, pick your best hand in your best shot and push. Second, you'll be around average, just ahead of the bubble. If that's the case, be selectively aggressive. It's no time to get crazy, because one bad pot, and you'll see your bubble bursting. But there will be plenty of scared stacks to go after. Third, you'll be a big stack. This is a great place to be near the bubble because most players will be afraid to fight with you.

I. Thou shalt play to win. There's nothing like winning a big tourney. Go into every tourney with a plan to win. My plan is to chip up early, winning small pots but avoiding big confrontations unless I'm very confident in my hand. I want to stay at or above average as long as I can. Hopefully, I'll hit a rush to make me a big stack. If not, staying around average will guarantee me a cash. After I make the money, it's all about climbing the ladder. Let players bust and pick my spots. When I get near the final table, I turn up the aggression. When I make the final table, I dial it back down. That's my plan. Yours may be different, but always have a plan to win.

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