Poker Tournament Strategy for All Skill Levels

If you’re looking to up your poker game, a tournament might be the next step for you. Tournaments can be a lot of fun, but they can also be challenging – especially if you’re new to them. In this guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about poker tournament strategy. We’ll cover topics like starting hands, position play, and bank.

Poker Tournament Strategy: 7 Strategy Tips for Running Deeper More Often

Poker tournament strategy tips appear to be a very common search term on Google. I believe the searchers are looking to quickly review the rules before they play a tournament and tips on how to tip the dealers after a big win.

I was unable to find any useful information when I searched for “poker tournament tip” online. Most of the info was outdated or incorrect.

Here I created the ultimate list with 7 poker tournament strategy tips that will appeal to tournament players of all skill levels.

Tip 1: Steal A Lot, But Don’t Go Too Exaggerated

“Open small but often.”

This phrase was the pre-flop strategy for almost all tournaments over the years and still holds some merit.

An ante is in play so a 2.25BB open must pick up the pot in less than half the time to make an immediate profit. This does not include the hand’s potential post-flop. Take this example:

9-Handed Table, Blinds 500/1,000/100
Gary is at the button with
folds at btn; Gary raises to 2,200…

Gary is taking on 2,200 risks to take down the pot of blinds and antes, which leaves 2,400 in the pot. Gary’s open must only work 47.8% to make an immediate profit.

If the blinds aren’t aggressive, it’s possible they won’t be playing back together with 52.2%.

It varies from table to table. However, you can expect the small blind with around 10-15% of hands to playback (usually by 3-betting), leaving the remaining 40% to the BB.

If the big blind is not tight enough to allow you to fold hands like Q-5s or to your opens, 7-2o would be a quick profit. Even raising two napkins from the floor would result in an immediate profit.

(And again, this doesn’t even account for the pots that you’ll win after the flop.)

To overcome weaker opposition, raising small amounts often still works, especially in late positions.

Most hands in the middle and early position are easy to fold or open. Every halfway competent player will fold 7-5o and open A-Q in any position.

This is when there are few opponents left to pass. It’s also when you want to increase your opening range. In these spots, it’s important to understand how math works and what kind of hands your opponents will call with.

I would advise you to ignore opening charts in late positions and to instead focus on your competitors.

For some blinds, it is legal to open any two buttons on the button. However, for others blinds, you need to be tight and only allow hands to be somewhat playable.

Tip 2: Protect Your Big Blind a Lot

If you don’t already know it, the following line will be your most important take-away from this article:

You must defend in tournaments from the big blind.

We have just discovered that a small open raise can only make half the profit. We are the big blind and we have to stop people raising too often.

One factor that allows us more often to defend is the large blind’s extremely generous pot odds.

Gary’s hand has 4,600. (2,400 blinds and antes and Gary’s 2,200 open). The big blind must call 1,200 more to see the flip. This is 20.6% equity required to call.

This little is a good example. Even 7-2 offsuit is better than a standard button range with 29.45%. Does this mean that we should call every hand if our pot odds are so high? Absolutely not.

If there were no post-flop, we would defend any hand with raw equity greater than our given price. But raw equity is not something we can rely upon because to realize our equity we must reach a showdown

Showdowns are not easy when you have 7-2 offsuit.

It’s almost impossible to create a perfect defense range due to the sheer number of post-flop scenarios and board runouts. We don’t have to be perfect. A rough estimate is sufficient.

It’s a good idea to estimate by using a range that is at least close to stopping an open-raiser from making an automatic profit.

This means that you must defend (by calling or 3-betting) at least 40% against late position openings. You’ll be more successful defending if you’re a strong or weak player.

Doug Polk is known for defending 100% of hands in tournaments from the big blind.

It’s a good rule to flat with poker hands that are playable after the flop, especially if your skill level isn’t high. It’s easy to flat with hands like 9-7 suited, but even the most weakly suited hands can benefit from flats against late-position opens.

If you feel uncomfortable playing such a wide range of games, you can always defend a little more until you feel comfortable. You should at least not fold a hand like 8-6 suited, Q-T offsuit to one open.

I can flat nearly any two cards against weak opponents. Fedor Holz’s open could not get me to fold Q-7o and 3-2s.

Multi-Way Defense of the Big Blind

Multi-way pots can be a challenge. Multi-way pots offer greater pot odds, but it can be harder to realize your equity when there are multiple poker players.

In a heads-up pot, hitting one pair will usually win you the pot. K-6 against a button open on a flop 8-6-2 is a monster. Imagine K-6o in a 4-way Pot – it becomes a debate if you can call a

Multi-way pots have a higher chance of winning, but you should be more careful about how you defend your hands. Choose multi-way pots that are good for your defending hands.

You can still call with any suited hand, as well as a J-T offsuit. You should avoid hands that don’t flop well like the Q-7 offsuit. These hands can often result in weak pairs that have little chance of reaching showdown, which is not what you want for multi-way pots.

In multi-way pots, your decision should be simple. It is not a good idea to defend suit hands with large gaps.

Tip 3: Beware of 4-Bet Shoes When 25-40BBs Deep

The best way to 3-bet bluff non-all-in is dependent on the stack sizes available. I have divided it into tips 3 and 4.

Let’s first talk about tournament stack sizes, which are typically between 25-40 big blinds. These stacks are ideal for 3-betting bluffing with hands slightly worse than your flat hands in the same situation. Example:

Tournament, 35BB Effective Stacked

Hero is dealt two cards during the cutoff
Middle Position is open to 2.2BB, Hero 3-bets up to 6.2BB

Hands like A7, KJ, and K9 are good 3-bets for this spot. These hands are great blockers, making it less likely that your opponent will have a hand that can continue. Flatting them might be a little too loose.

It’s not a big deal if you are forced to fold to a 4-bet using a hand like K9. If you have to fold a hand such as KQ, it’s a huge loss of equity.

This poker tournament strategy is especially effective against regulars because of the threat a 4-bet shove presents. It is important to use hands with high-card blockers as it makes a shove from the opener less likely.

Hands like KQ are great 3-bets against fishy players, especially those that call a lot but rarely 4-bet. We can 3-bet for value if they continue to play silly hands but never 4-bet with a monster.

In a nutshell, choose blocker hands below your calling range to 3-bet bluff against aggressive and good poker players. 3-bet a higher value range against passive fish.

Tip 4: Deep Stacks 3-Bet like it’s a cash game

As stacks approach 100 big blinds, things change dramatically. The correct approach to 3-betting is similar to a cash game.

Deeper stacks encourage your opponents to continue against your 3-bets. This can lead to difficult situations with marginal hands.

You don’t have to worry about difficult situations when you are 3-bet with QJ 35 deep because you only have two pot-sized bets left. If you flop top pair you should go with it as worse hands will likely pay you off.

But if you three-bet the same hand 100 large blinds deep and your bets start flying in on J-high flops, you will most likely be in serious trouble against KJ or better.

This is why you should 3-better with a polarized range and eliminate hands like Q-Jo, Q-To, etc. from your 3-betting area with a large stack to-pot ratio. These hands are not likely to play for stacks on any flop.

It is better to place a 3-bet with a narrow range against fishy players — fewer bluffs and more thin value bets.

You don’t have to distinguish your hands between value and bluff when playing against a fish 100 BBs in depth. Instead, try to get into as many pots as possible against the fish. Only 3-betting shamelessly with hands with good playability like 8-7s, J-Ts, and Q-9s. You should eliminate weak hands like Q-Jo and 5-3s from your range.

With super-deep stacks, you want a linear, high-card-heavy 3-betting range to beat fish and a polarized range to beat regulars.

Tip 5: Don’t place a Continuation bet on every hand

A few years back, poker players didn’t think as much about which boards would connect with which player. Because a half-pot C-bet must work 33.3% of the time to make a profit, they would c-bet almost every flop.

Today’s players are more aware of the workings of the game and check-raise bluffing is more common. People aren’t prone to blindly trying to bluff in bad spots anymore. They can think about what they’re representing.

These are the 4 questions to ask yourself when you see a flop.

  • Which range is the best for a flop?
  • Who is the most knowledgeable on this board?
  • What is my range to my competitors?
  • What is my opponent’s range?

We don’t need to know the answers (it’s impossible to do that while we’re playing). This can be done in a very straightforward, logical manner. Example:

Poker Tournament. Blinds 50/100, 15,000 Effective Stacked

Hero is dealt two cards, UTG
Hero raises to 300 Only BB calls

Flop (650) T 6
BB checks…

The typical thinking of a tournament player will be related to their actual holding.

If they have aces they will probably think that they need to protect their overpair and get some worth, so they’ll just bet. If they have A-K they either give in or fire once because it’s cheaper than they thought.

No matter what your situation is, you should review the following questions (I’ll answer each one for the T 8 6 flip):

Q1 – Whose range does a flop hit the most?

A is the big blind. Although you have overpairs, he (mostly), doesn’t. However, you have infinite combinations of overcards that have been missed, and very few tops, middle, and so forth.

The big blind has a piece with most of his flatting range and has an overall advantage.

Q2 – Who has the most nutted fingers on this board?

A: Your opponent. Both of you have the same number of sets, but he has all of the straights and two pairs while you have none.

An overpair here isn’t necessarily a nutted hand since you won’t want to stack with A-A for 14.7k less into a pot of 650.

Q3 – What is my range to my competitors?

A – This is a pretty straightforward area since your range consists primarily of pocket pairs and high-card combinations (suited broadways or A-Ts+, et al.)

Q4 – What is my opponent’s range?

A – This is the most difficult question to answer if you don’t have reads. Some people defend their big blind ways too often. It’s reasonable to assume that he will have many hands that are one-plus-gutshot, lots of top pairs, and fewer hands than us that have completely whiffed.

Based on our answers, there are a few notable conclusions.

The big blind has all the nutted combinations, but we don’t. This leaves us vulnerable to a check-raise or barrels from our opponent. Smart players will see this and punish us with check-raising with a variety of hands.

We should therefore consider checking back a few strong hands. Although we don’t want a huge pot, it is possible to call a turn-and-river bet.

Most of the big blind’s range will call for at least one bet. This is so 2011. We should just check back any hands that we missed and bluff with hands capable of firing multiple barrels on a variety of runouts such as QJ.

We are also constantly checking back medium-strength hands like T9 and 98, so our check back range can be protected and our opponent cannot punish us by over-bluffing.

We have a valid poker tournament strategy that works without requiring any range work. No software required!

Once you have mastered the art of identifying a flop every time, it will take you only seconds to come up with a poker tournament strategy.

It’s a good idea to play with sims and range software between sessions to fine-tune your game. However, it is possible to solve most practical problems in real time by repeating the above steps over and over.

Tip 6: Have a plan for future streets

This is in line with tip 5. This goes hand in hand with tip #5.

This doesn’t mean you have to simulate every possible outcome ahead of your time. That’s impractical. A rough idea is more than enough for the game.

Let’s return to the T 8 6 flop and say that your hand is QJ. Two questions should be asked before you place your bets:

  • What should I do if my opponent raises a question?
  • What are my turn cards?

These two questions will help you plan and avoid any tricky spots.

This is the minimum. World-class players also plan to avoid rivers. Think about how each run affects both players’ ranges, and much more.

In this case, my plan would likely be something along the following lines:

Q1 – What should I do if my opponent raises a question?

A. I’ll fold unless my opponent raises enough to allow me to profitably continue.

This is not a flop text I would c-bet on often, as it hits my opponent more than it hits me. This is a hand I chose to play in my (semi-)bluffing range. It’s just a part of poker that I have to bet-fold at times — I must choose a good hand to do so.

Q2 Which turn cards will you use to barrel?

A I’ll barrel any heart, ace, or king as semi-bluff and naturally every 9 and a jack for value.

I’ll take a card on total bricks knowing that my opponent won’t fold a hand like 9-8 and that I still have a lot of outs to hit the river.

Tip 7: Learn how to play Heads-Up

Although I cannot teach you how to head-up play, I feel obliged. It’s how you win big poker tournaments.

Although tournament payout structures can vary depending on the poker site or organizer of the tournament, the winner will always receive the largest chunk of the prize pool.

A $20 buy-in, $10k guaranteed tournament online will award the winner $2,500, while the winner will receive approximately $2,500, and the runner-up will take home $1,500. There is a 50-buy-in swing between the first and second places.

Although it may seem pointless to practice heads-up, it’s rare to be head-up in a tournament. Once you are there, you’re already half satisfied because you have a guaranteed score. It’s almost impossible to win the long-term if you don’t have a chance to win the first-place prize money.

The one heads-up fight you enter in every few hundred tournaments can often decide your monthly profit margin.

This is a crucial point that I cannot stress enough. You can also improve your post-flop skills by practicing head-up and studying. As you get used to playing with a wide range of options, it is important to practice heads-up.

You will be able to play well with a wide range of hands in poker tournaments, such as when you are playing against late position openings. I recommend that you study the rules head-up and practice it at stakes that are low enough that the money doesn’t matter, so you can concentrate on making the best play possible.


Thanks for reading! We hope you found this guide helpful when you sign up for tournament poker. If you’re looking to learn more about poker tournament strategy, be sure to check out our other posts on the topic.