Lessons 11-15

With nearly half of our lessons already behind us, we can move on to some slightly more advanced topics. That is, we’re going to keep the level of instruction as simple as possible, but we’ll now assume that you’ve got some experience under your belt and you’d like to learn some more about intermediate, or even advanced, issues. In this section we’ll look at tournament play that wonderful and challenging monster of the Internet poker world that everybody seems to be participating in these days. One thing we’d like to stress is that you should never rush into a tournament just because you noticed that Chris Moneymaker won a couple million dollars that way. Instead, you should enter a tournament when you’d like some good competition and for the thrill of the event. In the next five lessons, we’ll give you a general overview of what tournaments are about, and we’ll touch on no-limit and pot-limit games as well. Read on.

Lesson 11

Online poker tournaments might best be described as the latest craze of online gambling. Most online poker rooms now offer some kind of tournament action, and they’re finding that these tournaments are wildly popular with all kinds of players. No matter what level of poker player you are, tournaments can be a fun and enriching experience that will leave you hungry for more. This lesson will take a look at the basics regarding tournament poker.

First of all, tournaments differ greatly from ring games in terms of the strategies and skills required to succeed. While ring-game play requires steadiness, precision and the ability to surrender a hand, tournament play requires the ability to win a high percentage of the pots you bet into. To be a successful tournament player you must understand these differences and adapt your game to suit them. Now we’ll take a look at the first steps to take when playing in a tournament:

In the beginning

Before you take your seat, make sure you’re aware of the blinds structure and how the prize pool is to be divided. This information is available in the FAQ section of most online casinos, or will be announced when you register for the tournament.

The next thing to consider about tournament play is that it is fast. The blinds go up every 10-15 minutes so you need to keep a close eye on how many blinds are left in your stack, and how long it is before the blinds increase again.

While the cost of the blinds is relatively low compared to your stack size, you can play much more marginal hands than normal. It can often be worth risking a small part of your stack to see the flop with small pairs, suited connectors and other marginal hands to have the chance to double your stack if you hit big on the flop.

By the same token, it can be right to play good hands relatively conservatively, pre-flop. If you hold A-K in late position and there are several callers, it’s often better just to call. This minimizes your loss if the flop is not to your liking and you have the added benefit of disguise if you hit a monster hand on the flop.

There are two ways to play the early stages. You can try to build a substantial stack by playing aggressively, or you could try for a steady accumulation of chips by playing more tightly. Both of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages; you should play the way that more closely fits your natural style.

Finally, in the early stages don’t be concerned with eliminating other players. You are too far from the prize list to worry about how many players are left, and it’s more important to concentrate on keeping your stack in good condition. You should also remember that players on the brink of elimination are bound to go all the way, so if you do have a good hand it’s an excellent opportunity to increase your stack.

Lesson 12

Hello there, class, and welcome to the continuation of our lesson on tournament poker! In the last lesson, we looked at the beginning stages of poker tournaments. Now we’ll take a look at the crucial middle stages, before moving on in our next lesson to the concluding stages of acing the tournament. Let’s get right to it:

The middle stages

In the middle stages of a poker tournament, the blinds will continue to increase and, therefore, will start to represent an increasing proportion of your stack. For this reason, simply winning the blinds becomes important. If you’re first into the pot, you should consider entering with a raise; quite often you can steal the blinds, since your opponents will be risking a large proportion of their stack by calling your raise.

The flip side of this is that you must tighten up your requirements for calling, and when you do bet into a pot you have to play aggressively. Unless you are winning pots with some regularity you will quickly find your stack shrinking, so try to win the blinds once per round. This way you can see another round of hands and increase your chances of hitting that premium hand.

Also, at this stage of the tournament, your stack size starts to become important. If your stack falls below roughly four times the upper limit, you can expect to be called a lot more often. That’s because your stack is not large enough to seriously damage the larger stacks at the table, and your opponents know that you are being forced into playing slightly more marginal hands. Combat this by raising only with premium hands and limping in with reasonable hands. You should also lower your calling requirements when you are short-stacked, since you never know if a better opportunity will come along.

If you have twice the average stack size or more, you are in a strong position. However, this can change rapidly as the blinds quickly add up, so don’t let your guard down. You need to keep playing aggressively, especially with the short stacks, but be careful of the other large stacks at the table as they can do you serious damage.

If you find yourself head-to-head with a player who is almost all-in, you should force the other player to commit their last few chips at the first opportunity. After they’ve made a bet, you should bet instead of call in order to prevent them from checking—knocking that player out will bring you one step closer to the money. However, as always, play with care as no matter how few chips a player has left, they can quickly regain a commanding position in just a few hands if they hit some fortunate draws.

Lesson 13

Well, class, it seems like we have some unfinished business. In the last two lessons, we looked at the beginning and middle stages of poker tournaments, respectively, so it’s finally time to focus our attention on the latter stages of the game. As poker tournaments progress to their final phases, the nature of the game continues to change as well, so let’s get down to business:

“Show me the money!” – The late stages

If you’ve been playing well and getting a little rub of the green (table cloth, that is!), you may well have survived to the point where you’re nearing the money-making places in the tournament. This is where you can move in for the kill.

By this time the blinds will be so high that almost everyone remaining in the tournament will have stacks around or below the critical size (roughly four times the upper limit for those of you who were messing around at the back last lesson!). In addition, the game will become increasingly short-handed, so you’ll be able to see fewer hands before your stack starts to dwindle due to the blinds.

Keep a close eye on the tournament lobby to see exactly how many players are left on the other tables and how many chips they have. At many of the bigger online poker rooms, it’s roughly the top 10% of tournament players who receive a share of the prize pool, so hanging in there a little longer can increase your share dramatically.

If you have an average or large stack, the correct strategy is still to be extremely aggressive when raising but conservative when calling. However, when you have fewer than average chips, it can be smart to adopt a tighter strategy for two important reasons:

First, let’s assume there’s only one more player to knock out before you increase your winnings and there’s another player at your table without the chips to survive the next round of blinds. At this point, you may well be correct to fold any hand other than genuine premium hands, to try to last longer than the other poor guy. In general, this extends to playing tight if you can survive longer than one or more of the other players left in the game. This will force them to try to win a pot before you—and if they lose, you are one step further up the ladder. If they win, on the other hand, you’ll have the chance to win a later pot and be back in the same relative position as them.

Second, provided that you have enough chips to see the next few hands, playing tight also avoids the chance of immediate elimination, and forces the other players to eliminate each other, which of course is also to your advantage.

For a more detailed look at poker tournaments, with more advanced options, check our strategy pages. In the meantime, keep playing and good luck!

Lesson 14

Hello class! Now that we’ve got some tournament talk out of the way, and you’re quickly moving up in your poker intelligence, we can look at no-limit and pot-limit poker, which are popular variations you’ll find at most online poker rooms. It’s better to keep up with all the trends, so we hope you find the following intro useful:

No-limit poker

The range of skills involved in no-limit games can be so eclectic and varied that even battle-hardened professionals admit that they still have a lot to learn about no-limit Hold’em. However, don’t let this scare you; no-limit Hold’em is still the most fun of all poker games as well as being potentially profitable even for absolute beginners.

The key to winning no-limit games is not only your own knowledge of the game but your ability to adapt to your opponents knowledge. Learn just how honed your own skills are and what your weak points are, and then apply this to how badly others at your table are playing no-limit. See our strategy (ADD LINK) section for much more.

Pot-limit poker

Pot-limit is a popular offline game in Europe and in online gambling in general. It is very similar to no-limit poker, where the minimum bet is structured as in limit poker and the maximum bet is simply the amount of money in the pot.

Many people play pot-limit because they find this sort of poker the most fun but think that pot-limit is less dangerous than no-limit. This is true in that it’s slightly less dangerous because another player can’t put you all-in unless the pot has been building.

However, in reality, you are at a huge disadvantage if you’re playing pot-limit scared. For example, if you fold because you don’t want the pot to build, then you will fold winners!

And if you refuse to go in big when you have a good hand, you’re not being aggressive enough on your big winners. Ultimately, if you want a slightly less risky game than no-limit, then playing pot-limit is fine, but you need to realize that you must still be prepared to bet your entire stack or you could lose it all. Check out our strategy section for a deeper look at pot-limit poker.

Lesson 15

No-limit Hold’Em is a strategic game that utilizes basic tactical skills found in all forms of poker, and it’s a game of intense pyschology to boot. As you progress as a poker player, you’re almost guaranteed to be interested in no-limit, so here are some very brief tips to consider before you start:

General no-limit Hold’em tips

First of all, learning what the implied odds are as well as the odds for catching draws (straights, flushes, etc) will really help you to play no-limit Hold’em well. Be sure to check out our huge strategy section for everything you need to know about odds and numbers.

Always try to be aware of how obvious your hand is when making calculations in no-limit poker. A flush draw, for example, is quite transparent, so your opponent will need a very good hand, or be a bad player, to call all those raises.

It also helps to vary your play, since playing in a predictable fashion will make you easier to read and you won’t get any action when you do hit the good hands. Don’t only raise pre-flop with A-A, K-K, A-K, etc mix it up a little and keep your opponents guessing. Varying your play also means that you can find out how tough your table is. For example, is it a tough game that requires you to play good cards, or a weak passive game that allows you to play lower valued hands pre-flop?

Another essential skill is to avoid traps. Always bear in mind that after the flop, anything can win, and there’s no need to chase those pocket aces all the way to the river. One thing you’ll notice is that better players are very unlikely to give lots of action after the flop with only one pair. They will call you, but to raise, re-raise and go all-in is rare (and if they do this often you’ll be able to pick up on it). If you have A-A and you have a player going all-in against you after you’ve raised pre-flop, it’s likely that you are beat. That doesn’t mean fold every time, but it does mean that you shouldn’t consider A-A or K-K a hand that you’ll always go to the showdown with.

As confusing as it all sounds, no-limit Hold’em will become much easier the more you play, so get out there and give it a shot!