Getting into the Tournament Mind Set

The Tournament MindsetMany successful No Limit Hold'em cash players have a tough time making the transition to successful tournament play. The skills players use to win at the cash tables don't necessary apply to the tournament tables, so you have to get into a new mind set and rethink your strategies and beliefs. In fact, many positive plays at cash tables are negative plays at tournament tables!

This article is going to examine some of the structural differences between tournaments and cash tables, and discuss how those differences lead the player to be put in unique situations. We also will discuss how you need to change your frame of mind to become a successful tournament player.

Tournament Chip Value

Each player in a tournament starts with the same number of chips (usually 1,500 or 3,000 chips). These chips have no cash value whatsoever (except in the Cashout Tournaments at Full Tilt Poker), but if you lose all of your chips you are eliminated from the tournament. If you are eliminated early in the tournament you receive no cash at all, but if you make it far enough into the tournament you will receive a cash prize. The prizes get bigger and bigger as first place receives the most.

The fact that tournament chips have no cash value really changes the required strategy for tournament play. Tournaments are all about survival, while cash tables are all about accumulation.

Payout Structure

Another structural difference between cash games and tournaments is the fact that the deeper you go in a tournament, the more money you win. Most tournaments award the first place finisher with 15-20% of the prize pool, and pay out the top 10-15% of finishers. The higher you finish, the more money you get.

The tournament payout structure really changes your poker tournament strategy, because you have to focus on going deep to win the big payouts. You cannot play conservatively in tournaments.

The Tournament Bubble

The "bubble" of a poker tournament occurs when one more player needs to be eliminated before the remaining players make the money. When you reach the bubble, many players tighten up so they can increase their chances of making the money. No one wants to be the guy who goes the deepest, but still goes home with nothing.

While everyone else tightens up, you should be opening it up to win chips from the passive players and increase your chances for a deep finish. Focus on stealing blinds and antes on the bubble, and you will be able to pad your stack for the later stages of the poker tournament.

Rising Blinds

Another structural consideration with poker tournaments is the increasing blinds. In tournaments, blinds increase every ten-fifteen minutes, which forces players to make moves or be blinded away. If the blinds never raised, the tournament would never end, because players could continue to play conservatively without concern.

While in the middle and later stages of a poker tournament, be very conscious of when you can steal blinds and antes. As long as you can take the blinds/antes once per round, you will be in good shape.

Your Own Playing Style

Generally, cash tables will tend to consist of less aggressive players and tournaments will include much more aggressive play. It is a widely held belief that aggressive players win the most money at poker, so we suggest adopting a tight aggressive approach to improve your tournament play.

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