By Priscilla Ford
Multi table tournaments are, and always have been, the most popular form of poker. But their popularity has exploded to create some of the biggest prize pools in poker history. The year before last at the WSOP there was over 800 players which was an unprecedented amount and many said would not be equalled again but last year over 2,500 players put their chips to the felt and this years event is expected to be full with over 7,000 seats and with each player putting in $10,000 that creates a prizepool with more zero's than it is prudent to type!!
Obviously the WSOP is an exceptional circumstance but in every tournament you play you can help improve your game in preparation for big events like this. The best way to learn about anything is by your own experience so when you play in any tournament whether you are successful or not you need to analyze your own play. You must learn to be honest with yourself. It is easy to be knocked out of a tournament and leave the table moaning becasue the very last hand you played happened to be a bad beat. Look at all stages of your tournament. Were you aggressive enough or maybe over aggressive at the wrong time causing you to overplay or underplay a big hand to cost you a big pot. Did you really win the maximum and lose the minimum with your winning/losing hands?
At the risk of sounding like a Chinese prophet consider freezeout tournaments like a journey, that as they progress become faster and more dangerous, where only the quick and the lucky survive. Numerous decisions will have to be made on this journey based on so many factors, unique to that moment that the only person who can make the right decision that is necessary at the time is you and never be afraid to trust your gut instincts it is surprising how often they are right.
At the beginning the pace of the play is slow. There is no need to steal blinds early with over aggressive play unless you have a genuine hand, the blinds are minimal compared to your starting chips. This is a feeling out stage that gives you time to assess yur opponents. However, as the blinds start to increase it is time to "move up the gears" on your journey. Start to play hands more aggressively and try to accumulate some chips and avoid weak play. I often hear players say " I knew they were weak pre flop, so I called them" Their gripe being they were subsequently out flopped and are now propping up the bar telling anyone who'll listen how unlucky they were. What they fail to realise is that they have played the hand the weakest of all. If you sense weakness re raise . This kind of play not only wins you the pot without the risk of being outflopped it also sends a clear message of strength to the table.
Another common hurdle on your journey to the final is the infamous coin flip situation ie an underpair against two over cards. If you are fairly certain that this is the situation that you are in your decision as to whether to gamble is really based on your stack size and your gut instinct. In tournaments you must accumulate chips and therefore gambles must be taken but they must be well timed and accurately assessed. If you are running lowish a chance to double up must clearly be seized. if, on the other hand, you and your opponent are deeply stacked and they have reraised you most or all of your chips it is not a bad decision to pass your high overcards or middle pair, you can probably afford to find a better opportunity to get your chips in with a higher percentage chance of winning.
If you do find that your stack starts to run low in a tournament you need to get aggressive. Your chips are the fuel which carry you on your journey and you can't keep up with the increasing pace if you are running low on fuel. But remember your chips are precious so get aggressive without being reckless and never give up hope of winning. The expression " a chip and a chair" is not a cliche for nothing!! Pick spots where you think you are winning or if you believe that they will pass your reraise. When you are running low it is the best time to take advantage of good position in a hand. If you move all in the your opponents must have a hand to defend their blind as they can't reraise you out of the pot! If you do get called hope that you have two live cards as you need to double up anyway!
Similarly you may find that you accumulating chips ok but that you seem to be blowing a big stack. This is usually because you have been in too many pots, the opposite reason to why you might find yourself running low. Yes, bully with a big stack but don't call reraises when you think you are behind just because you have alot of chips, as you won't for very long!
As the tournament progresses and the blinds and antes get very big, the game is not so much about hitting cards as representing them. Fewer flops are seen and alot of play is preflop so if this is the stage you seem to becoming unstuck you may want to look at the strength of your preflop play. Really it is hard to give players advice on how best to approach a tournament as we all have different and unique styles. The best advice I can give is to play to your strengths and try and hone your style to a successful one as your natural style is always the way you will feel most comfortable playing. This is probably best achieved by keeping accurate records of your tournament results wins/losses and how , when and why you went out. You will find that patterns start to emerge and you will be able to address the problems that seem to be recurring. If you look at your own personal mistakes you will be able to improve your game beyond what most other people can tell you. We all make mistakes but the good players recognize them for what they are and do not repeat them! Treat all time at the table as a learning process, you can NEVER know enough and you can always improve!!