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· Published 30.04.2020 · last updated 16.10.2021

Freerolls are the perfect bankroll boosters

Freeroll tournaments tend to be an underestimated but, in fact, very important part of online poker. These tournaments cost nothing to enter but nevertheless provide opportunities to win both real money and other worthwhile prizes and, as such, are an excellent means through which to build a bankroll. They are also useful (and free) training grounds – and not just for inexperienced players – as well as giving new players to a site a chance to get used to how the software both feels and works.

Fortunately for YPD players, our recommended partner online poker rooms are very generous in their Freeroll offerings and, despite the fact that these are either free-to-enter or require a nominal, player-friendly route to qualification, can feature some very juicy prize pools.

This YourPokerDream Guide to Freeroll Tournaments is aimed at providing a solid strategy that is specifically designed for this quite unique format. Feel free to also check out our comprehensive YPD Poker Guide that features countless articles on everything from Psychology to theory and useful strategies and tips.

Respect Starting Hand Selection

As in any poker game (whether it’s free to play or costs $100!), we need to remember to fully appreciate the importance of starting hands in Freeroll tournaments, too. Just because Freerolls tend to attract more new and inexperienced players, plus many more who for whatever (unjustified) reason simply can’t take Freerolls seriously and therefore play way too loosely and recklessly pre-flop – it doesn’t mean that we should be doing the same! On the contrary – it’s at the very beginning of a hand that we should be looking to be either sensibly cautious or trying to exploit others’ mistakes.

It might sound like a cliché when we say a proven course is to follow the tried and tested solid ABC Poker approach, but cliches tend to be cliches for a reason. And in this context it’s very appropriate. At least during the early stages it will pay to adhere to a tight range, and to be aggressive when deciding to contest a pot. For example, hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK can be brought in for a (re)raise from any position, while in late position it’s worth getting busy with JJ, 10 10, A 10 suited, KQ suited…

Generally, though, it’s not a good idea to play loosely with less than strong hands, nor out of position. When we do this, invariably we’ll find other players raising and reraising and suddenly our choices are either contributing way more chips than our hand/situation justifies in order to remain in contention, or folding and therefore wasting chips we didn’t need to part with in the first place.

A good policy is to avoid potentially troublesome/disastrous scenarios such as those where we’re up against several other players seeing the Flop and, because we lack hand strength or a positional advantage (which might anyway not count for much against multiple unpredictable opponents), have no realistic prospects – just more reasons to lose more chips.

Instead, we want to be stripping down the field, ideally isolating players on the flop when we have the better of them. And to do this we can improve our chance of maximising the gains garnered from such spots by focusing on getting involved only with premium hands.

Evaluating the Opposition

The above example of isolating players and then separating them from their chips might sound a bit simplistic and too good to be true, but it’s a totally feasible way to add to our stack, especially in a Freeroll. It’s what we should anyway be looking to do generally, but even more so in a Freeroll where the greater proportion of inexperienced players means more prospective targets to exploit. It’s a truism of online poker that weaker players will find a way to lose their chips – that’s why they’re weaker players! Some will be tight to the point of being debilitatingly passive, daring to enter pots only very rarely, and even then they’ll back down unless they hit a hand they consider big enough to justify continuing. We can bully such players, but the rewards tend to be relatively low, albeit still worth making an effort to pick up. However, as the blinds continue to increase to levels that mean the pots are getting juicier (and more so when Antes are introduced), there’s more at stake, and it’s even more useful to have identified this kind of target and to have learned more about their (bad) habits.

A more common type of exploitable player is seen even more often than usual in Freerolls, namely those who are footloose from the off. Whereas those in the previous example might take a while before donating their chips because their caution is an overriding factor, these players have no such reservations! From loose pre-flop calls to even looser all-ins, a surprisingly large number of our opponents will happily scatter their chips around. Interestingly, one reason why this point needs making and subsequently repeating is that we can find it difficult to believe people can indeed play so recklessly (and poorly), and it pays to be cognisant of the fact before we sit down in order to not miss out on potentially good spots when they present themselves. A common scenario is when we’re sitting with a reasonably strong hand against two opponents and, when one of them makes an ostensibly confident, powerful move, we give up the chase only for the remaining player to make a stand with a hand that’s not as good as ours but beats the aggressive player, who turns out to be a fish. Ironically, this happens to us all, and it’s not unusual to kick ourselves, having seen the chips head in the wrong direction across the virtual table, for having had that feeling what was going to happen but lacking the conviction to act accordingly. This is why it’s important to endeavour to evaluate the players at our table as soon as possible. Of course, we might like to listen to music or do whatever helps in feeling at ease and relaxed, or beating the urge to play too many hands out of boredom, but these shouldn’t be at the expense of not properly observing both the opposition and how they play.

Play to win!

More good news for those seeking to make the most of Freerolls is that there are other reasons why players tend to perform much less well with this format. The ‘it’s free, and the prizes aren’t fantastic so there’s not much point wasting time and effort’ approach is a common one, and results in a carefree willingness to waste chips hand after hand and gamble them all in a risky shove. Many are happy to go all-in very early, with tiny blinds and tiny pots in relation to stack size. Others use Freerolls to literally have some poker entertainment during a break in a more ‘important’ tournament. It’s our responsibility as serious poker fans to oblige these players and let them contribute to our quest if they lack the necessary inspiration to have one of their own. Note also that we’re not necessarily limited to accumulating modest chunks of chips here and there as we identify and hunt down potential targets – we can also see our stacks boosted considerably at their expense. This is because not only are these players going to avoid losing sometimes, they can also amass big stacks however risky their play might be. Instead of envying them, we should be ready to pounce. Unless they’ve conspicuously tightened up, their continuing in the same vane changes nothing other than the size of the reward on offer. It’s true that there’s an increased and quite real danger of our going out of the Freeroll in striving to win their chips, but that’s poker.

Which brings us on to our next Freeroll Strategy consideration…

Don’t Hold Back Post-Flop

Poker is the perfect example of the saying ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’ in that – unless we’re dealt the stone cold, unassailable nuts on the flop, for example – we’re often not guaranteed the poker gods will always treat us fairly. We will lose chips, or entire stacks, when we don’t ‘deserve’ such bad luck. But it’s imperative we don’t let negative outcomes hold us back by being too cautious – we need to be bold because timidity does not lead to big stacks. Moreover, if we’re going to err on one side of the scale when it comes to betting, it’s a good idea when playing against less experienced/skilled opponents to overbet. This is especially true in Freerolls. Here’s a typical example of how not holding back can make a significant difference when it comes to accumulating chips. We’re dealt AK and duly raise, three callers come along for the ride and the Flop delivers with A-4-9. The Big Blind bets, someone calls and it’s our turn to act. This isn’t how we envisaged play to develop because we were the pre-flop aggressor and, as such, we expected it to be checked to us, especially with the Flop bringing an Ace. Both these players seem to have connected in some way, which could mean we might put the brakes on. However, here we have an excellent opportunity to collect a lot of chips – the question is how bold should we be? Given the context – a Freeroll which very likely features considerably more weak/loose/casual players than other tournaments – we should be looking to be more proactive than a standard 3x raise, for instance, and instead be willing to commit our entire stack. Apart from ruling out any tricky business that might lead to our undoing in a multi-way scenario with two more potentially troublesome rounds of betting to come, the two possible outcomes are either our taking down the now worthwhile pot there and then, or an all-in showdown armed with our top pair and top kicker. Of course we could be up against a set and on our way to the rail, but the nature of Freerolls is that it helps enormously to acquire (by whatever means possible) a chunky stack. It’s important to remember that, with rather quick blind structures there tends to be little room for manouevre, so we should make the most of potentially crucial spots when they do materialise. Consequently, unless there are indicators otherwise, we should be happy to shove, while the alternative would anyway be to bet bigger than convention suggests – perhaps a 10x raise. Whichever we choose, in a Freeroll there’s a good chance we’ll find ourselves fully committed – if we adopt a solid, aggressive strategy we need not be afraid to get aggressive when such promising possibilities crop up.

To Bluff or not to Bluff?

Shakespeare might have added, ‘that is the question’ but, as it happens, it’s not really a mystery because it’s rarely a good idea to bluff in Freerolls. It’s a difficult enough decision to make on a good day, never mind when every man and his dog seems so eager to get involved pot after pot. It’s simply not worth trying, the potential complications and downside being too big a factor than the upside.

Don’t get tricky

The same warning applies to attempting to get too clever for ourselves when straightforward play would get the job done. The opposition in Freerolls isn’t the kind that is sufficiently sophisticated to have the analytical mindset that would allows us to manipulate them and steer them down a path of our choosing. Instead, what usually happens when we make things more complicated than they should be is that nobody falls for any cunning plan we might have conjured up. The best policy is to limit ourselves to quality hands and play them in a no-nonsense fashion, preferably in position, and be willing to commit should we hit.

Conclusion

Nobody is too good for Freerolls! They offer new and inexperienced players a chance to learn the ropes, as well as a practice ground for everyone – from beginner to expert – to try out new strategies and ideas. And, of course, there are prizes (including cash) to be won – and it doesn’t cost a penny. In order to make the most of these opportunities it’s a good idea to keep tabs on which Freerolls are coming up and to take a serious, determined approach. There are so many players who have the wrong attitude when it comes to Freerolls, so it’s surprisingly easy to at least consistently put ourselves in contention for the prizes and, with good management, turn Freerolls into bankroll boosters.

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