Tournament poker is one of the world’s hottest fads. While poker has been consistently played for over 100 years, the tournament circuit is still a relatively new thing. In 1972, the grand prize at the World Series of Poker (a $10,000 buy-in) was only $80,000. In 2003, Chris Moneymaker took home a cool $2.5 million. The reason for this drastic increase in prize money is the number of players that have entered tournaments. In 1972, only 8 players entered the World Series of Poker, while 839 entered in 2003.

This will come as a big surprise to our readers, but we are NOT big fans of tournament poker. How can we say that?! Well, keep reading.

Television has made tournament poker look glamorous competition where skill prevails. But the truth of the matter is that luck plays a much bigger factor in tournaments than in ring games. Think of it this way: if you start with $2,000 in a regular no-limit game, what’s the chance that you’ll end up with $2 million before the night is over? Zero. But to win a tournament where each player has starting chips valuing $2,000 and 1,000 people enter, you’d need to win $2 million in chips to win the tournament! Not an easy feat to do unless lady luck is truly smiling on you that day.

In short, the reasons we prefer to make money at ring games instead of tournaments are:

  1. You can consistently win at ring games, whereas tournaments are feast or famine.
  2. Luck plays a much smaller role in having a winning session in ring games than it does in tournaments.
  3. It’s much easier to tell if you’re a good ring game player than a good tournament player. Since the best tournament player can easily go 10 sessions without winning anything, it’s very difficult to tell if you are doing the right thing.

Nevertheless, we don’t want to suggest that all tournaments are evil. We’re not that biased. We just think that the common perception of tournaments is a bit distorted.

A lot of times, tournaments can still be worthwhile, simply because they’re fun to play and you do have the chance to make some money. But you should realize that winning in tournaments requires not only sound poker strategy, but also some adjustment from regular ring games. The following points are emphasized in tournament poker:

  1. Your chips have a different relative value. In a standard poker game, you should view each dollar as having equal value. That’s not the case in a tournament. When you start off with an initial thousand in chips, that thousand is worth a lot more than the next thousand you make. Since you cannot buy back in, you always need to have chips in order to survive. At the beginning of the tournament, you should be more reticent to go all-in because even if you win you’re not in much better of a position. Later in the tournament, however, you must gamble, or else you risk losing by being blinded away.
  2. Domination plays a much bigger factor. Later in the tournament, the blinds will be so high that most players in contested hands will be all-in, pre-flop. Thus, you want hands that dominate other hands. High pocket pairs are good because they dominate lower pocket pairs, and an ace with a good kicker is a good hand because it dominates many other hands. Many players make the mistake of betting very hard with a low pocket pair such as 5-5. In truth, these low pockets are only good for stealing blinds. If someone calls you, you’re at best a 50-50, while you’re a 4.5:1 underdog if they have a higher pocket pair.