Stages of the Poker Tournament

It's convenient to think of a tournament as consisting of three distinct stages. The strategic considerations differ according to the stage of the event. The beginning stages usually involve players aggressively trying to achieve an early advantage. At the middle stages, players are focusing more on a consolidation, it's much slower paced. The final stage pick up speed somewhat when the size of the blinds grows to be significant in relation to the chips.

The Early Stage - Rebuy Period In most small tournaments, in the early stage of the event, the blinds start low and increase every twenty or thirty minutes. Even in events with large initial blinds, the small tournaments allow for rebuys in the early stages of the event, and your effective stack size is more than its actual size during this stage. It is important to be aware of the tournament stage and when the blinds will increase.

Early in the tournament, the blinds are low enough so that you can play good drawing hands, small pocket pairs, and other more speculative hands, just like in a live game. You really don't need to be making any adjustments for the tournament structure in this early stage.

The Middle Stage - Consolidation After the rebuy period, things are different. The blinds will increase, making it sometimes as much as 25 percent of an average stack to just see the flop. Most of the players will be playing much tighter and more cautious than they had been in the early stage. You have to wait for the big pairs or high cards of the power hands. You won't be getting enough odds to support playing drawing hands.

Your weaker opponents will not make this adjustment and will continue to play hands like Jack-10 suited, which can be a strong hand in a limit game with many callers. You can take advantage of this selectively.

If the game becomes head-to-head and your opponent has a short stack and you are planning on calling, you should raise so your opponent has to put them all in. That way he has to make a call or fold decision. If he loses, you have knocked him out of the tournament. However, because he was short stacked, the loss should not hurt you too much if he wins.

If, however, your opponent has a much larger stack than you, you need to consider what you know about the player and play accordingly. Keep in mind, good tournament players will also be aware of your stack size, and they will play you accordingly. If possible, avoid getting into a head-to-head situation with a strong tournament player who also has a larger stack than you have.

I would not suggest trying this with some of the weaker opponents. Let's assume you have played well, luck has been with you, and you make it to the final table. As play continues, all of a sudden, it is down to the final four. This is a short-handed game, and most of your opponents are not very skilled in this area. This is the best way to eliminate an opponent.

The Late Stage - Final Table Toward the end of the tournament, there will usually be a large mismatch among stack sizes. There will be a few players without many chips, and a few with large stacks of chips. At the late stages, most players will be picking their spots, as you should be doing. Pick your spots aggressively. Don't get involved in multiplayer situations, but play aggressive heads-up poker. This is particularly true if you have a large stack and your opponent has a small stack.

When the game gets short-handed, play it as a short-handed game. Play aggressively, but be cautious. You should be betting, not calling, unless you're trapping someone. Any two big cards are gold. Any one big card has value. The blinds are so high that on any hand you and/or your opponent are in jeopardy of being eliminated. Lots of blind stealing goes on here. You better get your share. Pick your spots where your opponents are showing weakness. But also watch out and don't get caught in a trap. With a huge hand, A-A, K-K, and so on, be the trapper. Don't be afraid to slow play here because you are not likely to get drawn out like in a low-limit game.

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