Multi-Table No-Limit Tournaments

The popularity of no-limit Hold’em tournaments is booming. Fueled by the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the World Poker Tour, many people are intrigued by these competitions and enter for a chance to win a “big score.” In fact, most no-limit Hold’em is played in tournament form nowadays.

While no-limit Hold’em ring games offer the lowest variation for a consistent winner (it’s normal for good players to win 80%-90% of the no-limit ring games they enter), no-limit Hold’em tournaments have crazy variance. That’s because all the money gets shoved in pre-flop on near coin-flip odds at the end of the tournament. For example, A-K versus a pocket pair is a very, very common battle late in a no-limit tournament.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t play no-limit tournaments, but we don’t want you to think that these tournaments are all skill and no luck. The famous quote from Rounders is far from the truth: “The same five guys make it to the final table every year at the WSOP.” You MUST be lucky to win a no-limit tournament because you must win more than your fair share of coin-flip battles.

Getting down to business

That’s enough preaching about no-limit tournaments. In terms of strategy, no-limit tournaments are very different from no-limit ring games. You simply can’t bluff as much because people’s stacks tend to be smaller in relation to the size of the pot. Also, since the amount of chips you win from a bluff is worth less than the amount you stand to lose, bluffing loses a lot of “value.”

Now, many of you may be confused. Suppose you bluff 1,000 in chips at a 1,000 pot and figure you have a 50%-60% chance of taking it down. Many of you would think it’s worth it to take that risk. However, those 1,000 chips you win are worth less than the 1,000 chips you stand to lose. If you have a 2,000 stack, getting knocked down to 1,000 has much more negative value than the positive value of getting up to 3,000. The 1,000 chips do not represent money. The only monetary value in the tournament is either losing all of your chips or winning them all (and losing them all is more important because you do get a prize if you lose them all in the late stages of the tournament). Losing those 1,000 chips knocks you halfway out, but winning those 1,000 doesn’t do anything for winning.

That’s not to imply that you can simply fold your way into the money. The blinds will eat you alive. You must win pots so you don’t get knocked out most of the time. Towards the end of the tournament, you can think of winning pots to win the whole tournament. Most of the time, however, you must win pots simply so you don’t lose!

Thus, in the early stages of the tournament, you should avoid gambling much. Generally, the amount you win isn’t worth the gamble. If you can see the flop for cheap with a suited connector or someone goes all-in pre-flop and you have A-A, by all means go for it. However, I wouldn’t suggest bluffing all-in as a wise move. In the early stages, you want to win a huge pot here and there because you hold the nuts. Target a bad player and make him pay you off.

Towards the middle of the tournament, you need to switch gears. Since the blinds get bigger, stealing the blinds will help you stay alive. Here, the “gap” concept becomes more important. It takes a much weaker hand than usual to raise to steal the blind, but a stronger hand than usual to call a raise. The middle rounds introduce the “survival mode” concept.

Again, most of the time you’ll be looking just to survive and increase your stack bit-by-bit in the middle rounds. You want to avoid confrontation without the nuts and just take down some small pots without controversy.

However, if you have a large chip stack (or even just a medium one), you may want to take advantage of this survival mode. Take control of the game by raising and frequently putting other people at a decision for all of their chips. After all, if they go all in, they’re risking it all but you aren’t because you can lose the pot and still keep on fighting. However, don’t do this too much. Steal some pots, but don’t be so obvious that people will call you all-in with top or even second pair. Also, don’t do this against very bad players. They will call everything.

Towards the end of the tournament is when the coin-flip decisions become very important. Frequently, the blinds are so high it makes sense for a player with a low or moderate stack to go all-in pre-flop. Generally, when you go all-in you want to have A-(good kicker) or a pocket pair. If you have A-(good kicker) you’re an advantage to all non-pocket pairs and may even have someone dominated. If you have a pocket pair, you’re at a small advantage against all non-pocket pairs and at a huge advantage/disadvantage against other pocket pairs (depending on their size).

Generally, if you have one of these marginal hands, it’s best to just shove all of your chips in pre-flop. When you have a low stack, you can’t afford to be blinded away anymore. Once the flop comes, chances are it’s not going to be perfect. By shoving in all of your chips pre-flop, you have the added chance of stealing the blinds and can avoid being bluffed out.

Multi-Table Limit Tournaments

We’re not huge fans of multi-table limit tournaments. We’ll admit it. We personally think that there’s too much luck involved. Nevertheless, the Party Poker Million and Empire Poker Crown Tournament have increased the popularity of these tournaments. To succeed at these tournaments requires a slight change in strategy from your usual limit game.

The most fundamental change to your game play involves the “gap” concept. Midway and later through limit tournaments, you must change your style of play from simply trying to get the best of it (winning money in the long run) to just winning pots. Instead of pot odds being your guiding force, you simply need to try to win the pots you play. Since the blinds are so high, you don’t want much competition, as a simple blind steal will help your position tremendously.

You should begin playing hands that are likely to win. Flush draws and straight draws lose a tremendous amount in value and high and mid-pocket pairs soar. A-K and A-Q also go up in value because they have most other hands dominated (e.g. A-K vs. A-10 or A-Q vs. K-Q). Late in limit tournaments, you want to avoid heavy conflicts with dominated hands (i.e. you don’t want to have A-J against his A-K even though he will pay off nicely if A-J is on board).

In order to conform to this strategy, you’ll have to do two things. First, if the mood is tight, you should be more willing to go in on marginal hands just in order to steal the blinds. Always, always raise pre-flop with these hands. If you are two off the button with A-9, you should consider raising to steal the blinds. However, the second change you should make is to avoid conflict. If someone has already raised, you certainly should chunk that A-9 if you’re one off the button. The underlying concept here again is dominating hands—you want your opponents to fold because they are afraid they are dominated and you want to fold if you may be dominated. If you raise with A-9, someone with A-10 certainly will consider folding because they’re afraid you have A-J, A-Q, or A-K, and thus have them dominated.

Now, what if you are dealt a premium hand like K-K and someone has raised? There’s no way you can chunk this hand pre-flop; what are the chances your opponent has A-A? In this situation, you should re-raise to knock people out. Raising and lots of re-raising is the key; you want to send your opponent a message that you are challenging him for all of his chips if he plays against you in this hand. When you are dealt a big gun like K-K, you want to make your stand.

Obviously, throughout all of this, you should take into consideration the strength of your opponents. Good players understand the “gap” concept and will fold if they have borderline hands like A-10. However, bad players will simply call. Bad players play their hand; good players play their hand relative to other people’s hands. If you see the flop with a bad player, he will most likely fold if you bet and he hasn’t hit and will call you to the river if he has. A good player knows that if he has A-10 and there’s an ace on the flop, he may be finished because of a kicker. A bad player is just happy he’s got top pair.