Online poker tournaments can be a contradiction. We find ourselves in a jungle in which it can seem so difficult to navigate our way around, the challenge being to increase our stack while simultaneously trying to avoid elimination. This can be a very frustrating experience, and it can feel like the poker gods are having a great laugh conspiring against us. Meanwhile, as we struggle along, seemingly unable to catch a cold, never mind a strong hand, we seem surrounded by players who apparently are having a much easier route through the tournament than we are, picking up chips here and there at an annoyingly rapid rate. We tend to get a bit jealous of such players but, in the vast majority of cases, they deserve to be in possession of their bigger stacks. This is because they seek out those chips that are in the (very temporary) possession of weak(er) players, or take advantage of specific situations that present them with opportunities we fail to exploit.
Here are a few of the weapons they use…
Poker tournaments have player pools that inevitably include a range of skills, from beginner to expert. We’re bound to have a mix of abilities at our table, leaving us better than some and worse than others. The trick is to (generally) avoid skirmishes with the stronger players while looking to isolate the weaker ones. This is what the better player is trying to do at every opportunity. And they do so from the very first hand because this particular window of opportunity won’t be open for too long. That’s because the fish are going to be donating their chips and their entire stacks very early, and the buffet is going to get smaller and smaller as each fish departs the virtual arena. (Do you wonder how to define a fish at the poker table? The article “Tournament tips: how to find a fish” is for your attention).
Strong players will find a way of separating fish from their chips, whether via an accumulation of small pots in which they outplay their targets, or getting the better of them in all-in stand-offs. Of course, the chips don’t come without effort, so it might be necessary to get creative, but the theme here is to identify the fish as soon as possible and relentlessly attack them to build our stack for when the going gets progressively tougher.
Again, this tactic doesn’t require any special mental wizardry, rather a simple exploitation of those players who show their inexperience and naivety by limping too much and subsequently folding to aggression when they don’t hit. Note that while these weak limpers are perfect targets on whom to concentrate and single out, this is another source of chips with a limited shelf-life, as such players tend to see their stacks decrease early on. Furthermore, as the blinds rise, their leaky strategy leaks even more, so the rewards are higher, and it’s all the more important to be in the hunt for their chips. Of course, other observant players will also be trying to do exactly the same, so with the potential pitfalls increasing we need – while not allowing ourselves to be bullied – to tread carefully as we strive to get involved with limpers.
The ‘trouble’ here refers to other players, not us! Quite the contrary, in fact. When we’re approaching the phase of the tournament at which players finally start to get paid, many suddenly become way too risk-averse in their desire to make the money. Too many are afraid of leaving the tournament with nothing by being eliminated on the Bubble.
This gives us a fresh pool of players to target and exploit. We don’t even have to exert too much pressure to see them fold and retreat to their temporary bunker, but at the same time, we shouldn’t be afraid to make big bets and generally throw our proverbial weight around. This should include stealing and re-stealing pots and – against short(er) stacks – all-ins.
By making a concerted effort to find fish, exploit limpers and take advantage of the Bubble we give ourselves a good chance of building a healthy stack and going deep into tournaments. It’s a tried and tested foundation on which to build a gameplan, and ambitious players would do well to incorporate these tactics into their armoury.