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Unlike a cash game which can run indefinitely, a poker tournament begins at a predetermined start time with each player buying a ticket to the event at a set price and starting at the same time with the same number of chips. Players play until they are eliminated by losing all of their chips. A set number of finishers (typically around 10% of the total starting field) get paid on a descending scale from the winner down to the last paid finishing spot.

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  2. Step by Step Guide to Hitting that First Big Poker Tournament Win I often wonder how many of today’s poker pros would never have followed the poker path if it were not for a tournament win early on… or a hot run in the cash games. By the same logic there may well be people sitting in ‘regular’ careers who could and would have been poker pros but for losing one coin flip at a vital moment! This page gives you an overview of some of the main strategy and game selection skills needed to give you a better chance of hitting that first tournament win. Variance is huge in poker tournaments (too many crazy opponents only too happy to put a beat on you!), however with a structured approach you can improve your chances a lot. The first section below is about selecting the easiest tournaments (there are HUGE differences between the skill levels at different sites and buy-ins), and finding a game with the right setup and structure follows that. Underneath you’ll find some hints about strategy for the early, mid and end stages – outlining the major adjustments to make. Winning Your First Poker Tournament – Not All Sites Are Equal Certain large poker sites attract a lot of ‘pro grinders’, these are smaller stakes players who play 8+ tables / tournaments at once, and make a small profit from each – adding up to a side-income or even a full time wage. Other sites do not reward multi-table play through their loyalty scheme, or do not have the volume of games needed to make this profitable… so you’ll find more amateur players and regular players who just enjoy the games. For non-US players, 888 Poker is a great example of an amateur poker site – while PokerStars is where every aspiring pro and his dog end up! Things are easier for US players as far as selection goes, with the offshore sites not yet big enough to support pro grinding. America’s Cardroom stand out for their focus on tournaments (including events and their semi-regular $1 million guaranteed specials). A big advantage of choosing a smaller traffic site is that the fields for tournaments will be measured in the 100’s and not 1000’s. If you are hoping to win your first poker tournament, battling through fields of several thousand is not recommended. Even if you play well, the sheer size of the fields mean that you’ll struggle to reach the final stages. For those players with work to go to, staying with the smaller sites also means that you won’t still be playing at dawn! Check out this article for more on table selection. Selecting Poker Tournaments with Good Structures You’ll find a lot of variations of poker tournament structure online these days. These range from the slower deep-stacked events, to turbo and even super / hyper turbo structures. There are rebuy games, 2nd chance games and knockout games… and that is before we even get to the table size variations and poker type variations. If you are just learning the games, then I recommend you stick to the ‘regular’ blind structures. These will go up every 10 or 15 minutes depending on the site. Turbo games force you to make moves, and increase the variance – which increases the chance you’ll be that pro who never found out they were good enough! Deep stack games add to the post-flop skills required, for example hand-reading. These games are better later on when you have won your first poker tournament and developed your skills. While rebuys, knockouts and other formats are fun, they do involve strategy changes too. One more thing to keep in mind. Even at the softer sites, if you go above the $30 buy-in level, you are likely to find a lot of experienced opponents lining up against you. To Summarize the Site / Game Selection #1 – Find a site with a recreational player base www.888poker.com is ideal outside of the US. If you are US based then www.americascardroom.com are the number one pick. #2 – Find a tournament which does not have signs / icons next to it in the lobby saying Turbo, Deep Stack, Short-Handed or Knockout… #3 – When shooting for your first win, pick games with buy-ins under $30. Your opponents will be a lot less experienced here. How to Win Your First Poker Tournaments – Strategy Poker tournament strategy is a huge topic. Many books have been written on this (not to mention videos and articles). I have already gone into depth with 50+ articles over at my other site Sit and Go Planet. A good starting point for anyone looking to get into the details of strategy for tournaments is the Online Poker Tournaments main page. For now, here is an overview of the key factors to think about at the different stages of a game. #1 – Early Stages There are two complimentary factors affecting your strategy when the your tournament first starts. First the chip stacks are many times the big blind / small blind. This means you have plenty of room to raise, call and play after the flop – poker skills are involved! Second, the number of terrible (inexperienced) opponents is at its peak. These ‘fish’ will be giving away chips. Calling bets when they do not have the right odds, calling with 1 pair when an experienced player would know that this is ‘suicide’ (in the long run at least) and so on. Your task is to get chips from bad players before the other decent players get them. Think of it this way, it will be a lot harder to get those same chips later in the game when they belong in the stack of a reasonable player! Hands that work well in the early stages are small pairs (when you flop a set and find a fish who can’t fold an overpair is the classic double-up situation), and suited connectors – for example 7-8 of spades, which can flop a straight or a flush, or more frequently a strong draw. During the early stages you should bet for value (when you believe you have the best hand) relentlessly, bluff less often when your continuation bets fail, and be more cautious with unsuited broadway type hands that you might get aggressive with later on in the game. Pick your spots and raise to isolate the very worst players… and with some luck you’ll have a decent chip stack to go into the mid-stages with. #2 – Middle Stages With the blinds climbing relative to the average chip-stacks, you’ll eventually find yourself losing the ability to play post-flop over multiple streets. There is no hard and fast rule as to when the middle stages begin – though this is often marked by the smallest stacks having 10 to 15 big blinds and the average stacks between 40 and 60. Stack sizes make a big difference to whether you play hands. You will not be able to call a raise with a small pair hoping to hit a set if you do not have enough chips in your stack to make up for all the times that you miss. You will also find that the smallest stacks are starting to get desperate. For example, you might raise a hand and find yourself re-raised all-in by a small stack. Pot odds alone can mean you must call with whatever mid-strength hand you opened with… though you would prefer not to. Look out for these spots, if you have short stacks behind you then why not shove all-in to give them the tricky decision instead? The bubble occurs when just a few players need to bust before the prizes. Here players with mid size and small stacks will tighten up. Players with big stacks (if they know what they are doing) will now relentlessly steal pots. Remember that you might find spots to get your chips in good against a big stack here. Even if you sometimes bust before the money, those extra chips could see you go on a deep run. #3 – Later Stages Expect things to go crazy in many tournaments after the bubble bursts. The small and mid-stacks who were staying out of trouble before the prize money will now desperately try to double up. You can take advantage of their weaker starting hands if you keep an eye for who is the most desperate. Before the final table starts, you’ll find another bubble-like situation – where the mid-stacks in particular tighten up so as not to blow their chances. Take advantage of this by stealing their chips! Once the final table begins, some advanced concepts come into play. For your first poker tournament the biggest factor will be to spot which players are trying to climb the money places and those which are going for the win. You can steal from the cautious players. You can then find profitable spots against the ‘going for the win’ types who will often be putting pressure on you with weaker holdings. Again, I can only scratch the surface here – check out Sit and Go Planet for many more poker strategy articles covering each stage in depth, as well as a dedicated strategy guide for the final table. Summing it up / Next Steps to Winning Your First Poker Tournament Once you start to play, the different stages and adjusting your strategy will become second nature. The key from there is to find profitable games which suit your style and your schedule. For me 888 Poker has the softest games of any large site – and their fish-themed tournament schedule is perfect for beginning and recreational players. If you are brand new to this site, you will get up to $88 free (no deposit or credit card info required) to try the games. Get ready to win your first poker tournament and check out www.888poker.com for yourself now. US Readers: I strongly recommend the #1 offshore tournament site, ACR poker, you can read my detailed review here, or check out the schedule for yourself over at www.americascardroom.com
  3. The strategies required to win poker at tournament level differ significantly from those used to win ring games. The key for all players is to adapt to the different approaches needed to win at both forms of poker. In an online poker tournament, the stakes are constantly raised, forcing players to make quick and accurate decisions. Tables are broken up and new tables formed when players fold or lose all their chips. Therefore different types of strategy are called for and must be adapted to whether a player's stack is short, medium or large. To succeed at an online poker tournament, it is useful to understand what a gap concept is. This concept bases itself on the presumption that a player will need a stronger hand than usual to play against an opponent who has opened the betting. The difference between a poker hand required to call an opening bet with and the hand a player can open with is known as the gap. This gap changes when players play a tight game or a loose game of poker. For example, if a player has a weak hand, he would normally fold in a ring game. However in a poker tournament, if the player is playing in a late position and his opponents have not yet raised the stakes in the pot, he can raise with a weak hand. The size of a player's stack of chips should influence how many weak hands he can afford to play. The gap between strong hands decreases when playing with a smaller stack. However, a player can still use this to his advantage. His opponents may believe that he is less likely to bluff in a game with a smaller stack and less likely to raise bets without a reasonably strong hand. This increases the likelihood that the player can bluff successfully without being caught out. In the early stages of a tournament, most players wait to obtain strong hands before attempting to manipulate the pot. A recommended strategy is to exercise patience and play to trap weaker opponents into revealing their poker hands. In the middle stages, most players start to play more aggressively. Knowing the game plan of some opponents is a distinct advantage at this stage of an online poker tournament. Protecting the stack of chips is also important; risks should be calculated if a player wants to progress into the final stages. Towards the end of the tournament, players with medium to large stacks are recommended to raise and bet as much as possible. Stealing pots is made easier as less experienced players are weeded out from the pack. Players with small stacks and strong hands should try to double up. Even with a small stack, a player can make it through to the final table if he is prepared to gamble and risk more. If a player is lucky enough to make it to the final table, he needs to concentrate on basic strategy to win the poker game. Players with medium to large stacks should try to manipulate the game plans of those with smaller stacks. Most players opt for the most aggressive play at the final table regardless of stack size in an attempt to finish in the final three. Even those players with small stacks are encouraged to finish and play their poker hand strongly to avoid being anted out. The best way to gain valuable poker tournament experience is to play poker online. These games move quickly because there is no shuffling and counting chips and hands are played much faster. Buy-ins are generally much lower than in live poker tournaments, which gives players the opportunity to play several tournaments and increase their skill level against multiple opponents.
  4. Small stakes online poker tournaments are fantastic fun. They can be frustrating at times — I’ll give you that — but for the most part, it is difficult not to enjoy yourself while competing in one. They are also potentially lucrative beasts, not least because they tend to attract players in droves. On some sites — in particular PokerStars — tournaments with buy-ins as small as $1-$10 may see several thousand hopefuls take to the virtual felt in the hope of turning their tiny investments into much more meaningful sums. As you can imagine, the majority of these huge fields are populated with recreational players and therefore the standard of play is, as a rule, very poor. That’s not to say navigating your way through the crowds and winning one of these things is an easy task, because it isn’t. In other words, don’t think you’re going to deposit $200 online, play a bunch of these tournaments, and suddenly be rolling in cash like Scrooge McDuck in Ducktails. It’s not going to happen. What is going to happen, or what should happen, is that you continue reading this article — and others you find in the Strategy section — and once you’ve armed yourself with the weapons of knowledge, you go out there and apply that learning to do more than just enjoy these tournaments, but to profit from them as well. Here are five tips designed to help you both prepare for and find success in small stakes online tourneys. 1. Be Prepared For a Long Session Most of these low buy-in, big field tournaments take several hours to complete, so you need to be prepared to play for a long time. Be patient as always, but also be ready for a lengthy grind should you go deep in the event. I’ve been fortunate enough to chop the $3.30 rebuy on PokerStars twice. On both occasions the tournament started at around 7:00 p.m and we finished at 6:30 a.m. This is all well and good if you are a poker pro who can sleep the next day, but you have to take into consideration work commitments if you have a job. Know what you’re potentially getting yourself into when registering for these events. 2. Be Prepared For Some Crazy Swings The variance in small stakes poker tournaments is huge because of the sheer number of opponents you have to get through and the fact many of these opponents can be nearly impossible to put on a hand. Also of significance when playing against a large field full of recreational players is the possibility of players calling your raises — even your all-in ones — with some ridiculous holdings, adding further to the unpredictability of outcomes. While this situation is very favorable in the long run, over the short term you can often find yourself running worse than you ever thought possible. Make sure therefore you have an ample bankroll to fall back on when times are hard — something in the range of 200-300 times of your average buy-in (I’d recommend). 3. Keep it Simple and Value Bet Your Hands to the Max DO NOT try to run an elaborate bluff at any stage of the tournament because it will only lead to tears of sorrow. A lot of your opponents only care what cards they have in their hand and won’t realize from your actions that you’re representing a specific hand — they just want to get to showdown and hopefully win. More often than not in these events you will want to keep matters simple, playing “ABC poker” and letting the cards fall how they will. Along the same lines, make sure you get the maximum value from your made hands. Higher-stakes tournament grinders may routinely fire 1/3 pot-sized bets at their opponents, but that’s because it is more difficult to get paid off at those stakes. At the lower end of the spectrum, you can get away with betting more. Because so many of your opponents will love to call your bets, you may as well take advantage with your strong holdings. 4. Listen to the Betting / Prepare to Lay Down Some Big Hands How often have you heard poker players bemoan their luck and come out with some rubbish such as “I can’t beat these donkeys, they always hit the nuts on the river.” What they don’t tell you is that “these donkeys” often play their hands in a manner that allows you to get away from pots should you need to. For example, if a weak player has limp-called preflop, called the flop, called on the turn, and then leads into you on the river when the flush comes in, guess what? That player almost certainly has the flush. The same is often true for raises on the river. Even if the only hand that beats you is {7-Clubs}{4-Spades}, if an obviously weak player raises you on the river, you have to consider that he or she probably has {7-Clubs}{4-Spades}! 5. Don’t Worry About Playing a “Balanced Style” If someone tells you that you have to play a “balanced style” of poker inlarge-field small stakes poker tournaments, laugh and walk away. While you have to do this higher up the poker food chain, you are highly unlikely to come up against the same players ever again in a field of 3,000-10,000 foes, so you can be as unbalanced as you wish. That means not worrying so much about not revealing certain patterns with your play, such as always betting big with strong hands. While against stronger opponents you should balance your play by varying your bets and actions so as not to be read so easily, against large fields of less skilled opponents this isn’t as great of a concern. Obviously, the five tips above are not all you need to be successful in small stakes online tourneys, but they should at least help you in your quest to turn a little into a lot!
  5. The three major regulated online poker sites that offer the best online poker tournaments are PokerStars, Partypoker and 888 Poker. PokerStars has by far the most traffic and offers a weekly flagship tournament called the Sunday Million ($200+$15 buy-in). The event boasts a $1 million guarantee with numerous satellites running throughout the week. Partypoker has established itself as a competitive online poker tournament force in recent years due to its pro-friendly rakeback rewards and rising popularity through marquee live events. Although the player fields are typically smaller than its main competitor, Partypoker hosts several events on a weekly basis that guarantee six figures USD. 888 Poker has improved its brand recognition among casual poker fans thanks to its presence in televised live events such as the World Series of Poker and Poker Night in America. The big Sunday tournaments at 888 include the $500+$30 buy-in WHALE, $300+$20 BABY WHALE and the $200+$15 “Mega Deep” tournament, which often has a prize pool eclipsing $100,000.
  6. Tournaments have been a mainstay of the online poker scene for more than a decade. Every weekend, players find their way to marquee final tables with aspirations of adding a significant amount of money to their poker bankroll. And in a few cases, they achieve a life-changing score. Here are 6 reasons why online poker tournaments are popular. (We’ve included a separate section near the end if you’d like to learn more about the best poker sites for online tournaments.) #1: Live Streams on Twitch Poker Online poker tournaments are all the rage on Twitch Poker, where big name personalities compete for huge cash prizes with thousands of viewers watching in real time. Some of the most popular poker players in the world have entertained fans around the globe on Twitch, including our very own Doug Polk who set the Twitch Poker live stream MTT cash record in 2016 when he finished runner-up in the WCOOP High Roller event on PokerStars for $455,000 USD. Viewers have been able to learn more about online poker tournaments and the poker world in general thanks to the quality, real money poker entertainment provided by live streamers. This has led to more fans signing up for online poker sites and trying out the MTT format, which in turn has made online events a popular choice among casual players. Some of the top personalities who attract large audiences when they live stream online MTTs include Upswing Lab Coach Parker Talbot, Lex “RaSZi” Veldhuis and German high roller Fedor Holz. #2: Potential for Big Return on Small Investment While many consider successful cash game pros to be at the top of the online poker hierarchy, recreational players are attracted to online tournaments because of the relatively low monetary investment necessary to enter compared to the potentially enormous payoff. This applies to live tournaments as well, however major online poker sites host flagship events every week that offer players with small bankrolls a chance to ladder up to a meaningful final table — which could result in a prize far exceeding what would be attainable through a similar cash game buy-in. The allure of outlasting a large field of competitors and suddenly having one’s biggest career poker score is what attracts so many players to online multi-table tournaments (MTTs). If you play Internet poker, there are actually free poker tournaments online — aka “freerolls” — that can help new players with real money bankroll building as they learn the ropes. #3: Consistent Rake Rates (Tournament Fees) Online poker tournaments, at least in their traditional format, continue to offer easy-to-understand rake rates that have remained unchanged over the years. This in turn has allowed players of all skill levels to become familiar with the tournament fee percentages charged by poker sites, and easily understand how much of their investment will be allocated to the actual prize pool. MTTs on many poker sites charge players a 10% fee to enter low stakes events — such as $10+$1 tournaments — and take a smaller percentage as buy-ins increase (for example: $100+$9, $500+$30, and $1,000+$50). Unfortunately this is not the case when compared to price hikes in online poker cash games, which in many cases have made those formats unattractive as they have become much more expensive in recent years. Reduction in cashback rewards by sites such as PokerStars have affected tournament players as well, yet the base fees for non-gimmick MTTs have remained largely unchanged since the mid-2000s. #4: Satellite Tournaments into Live Events Online poker sites represent a great opportunity for recreational players to qualify for showcase live events that would otherwise be outside their bankroll. Twitter Ads info and privacy A greater focus on televised poker has prompted some sites to offer huge overlays to players in order to boost overall attendance at marquee live tournaments… keeping the dream alive for many aspiring poker players. Travel and lodging costs are typically covered within the live event packages, and some sites are altering their policies to ensure more casual players have an opportunity to qualify. Although this move has not been popular among some pro MTT grinders, it should in theory make online satellite tournaments more attractive to recreational players. #5: For-Profit Opportunities According to a number of longtime poker pros, online MTTs are one of the softest poker formats in existence. Tournaments demand different strategies based on chip counts, approaching bubbles, and escalating cash prizes — which many players do not adjust properly to. This leads for-profit players to seek out quality strategy content — including poker tips and tricks — here at Upswing Poker from our pros and coaches who have years of experience extracting value while competing in online events. #6: Online Poker Tournaments Are Convenient There’s really no replacing the Internet when it comes to convenience, and poker tournaments are no exception. Whereas most live events rely on local attendance to fill seats, poker aficionados can fire up multiple events from their laptop or mobile device and compete for huge prizes from the comfort of their own homes. Convenience is one of the most important contributing factors to online poker’s popularity throughout the years, especially since many sites accept deposits from online wallets, major credit cards and even virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. If you’re looking to try out poker tournaments and don’t have time to drive several hours to the nearest land-based casino, then online poker sites are your best option.
  7. Betting in tournaments can take one of three forms: In a structured (fixed limit) betting system, bets and raises are restricted to specific amounts, though these amounts typically increase throughout the tournament. For example, for a seven-card stud tournament with the stakes at 10/20, raises would be $10 in the first three rounds of betting, and $20 in the latter rounds. Semi-structured betting provides ranges for allowed raises. Usually, in this format, one may not raise less than a previous player has raised. For example, if one player raises $20, it would be illegal for another player to raise an additional $5. Pot limit is a semi-structured format in which raises cannot exceed the current size of the pot. Spread limit is a semi-structured format in which bets (and subsequent raises) must be between a minimum and maximum amount. Unstructured betting, usually called no limit. While blinds, antes, or bring-ins are fixed, players are free to bet as much as they wish, even early in a round of betting. To bet all of one's chips (risking one's tournament life, in the event of losing the hand) is to go all-in. In no-limit tournaments, players will sometimes take this risk even early in the betting; for example, in some no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournaments, it is not uncommon for players to bet "all-in" before the flop. The betting structure is one of the most defining elements of the game; even if other aspects are equivalent, a fixed-limit version and its no-limit counterpart are considered to be very different games, because the strategies and play styles are very different. For instance, it is much easier to bluff in a no-limit game, which allows aggressive betting, than in a fixed-limit game. No-limit games also vary widely according to the proclivities of the players; an informal, emergent, betting structure is developed by the players' personal strategies and personalities. The stakes of each round, as well as blinds, bring-ins, and antes as appropriate per game, typically escalate according either to the time elapsed or the number of hands played.
  8. The most common playing format for poker tournaments is the "freezeout" format. All players still playing in a tournament constitute a dynamic pool. Whenever a player loses all his chips and gets eliminated, his table shrinks. To combat the constant shrinking of tables and avoid having tables play with varying numbers of players, players are moved between tables, with unnecessary tables getting closed as the tournament progresses. In the end, all remaining players are seated on just one table, known as the "final table". Most sit and go tournaments are freezeouts. In some tournaments, known as “rebuy tournaments”, players have the ability to re-buy into the game in case they lost all their chips and avoid elimination for a specific period of time (usually ranging from one to two hours). After this so-called “rebuy period”, the play resumes as in a standard freezeout tournament and eliminated players do not have the option of returning to the game any more. Rebuy tournaments often allow players to rebuy even if they have not lost all their chips, in which case the rebuy amount is simply added to their stack. A player is not allowed to rebuy in-game if he has too many chips (usually the amount of the starting stack or half of it). At the end of the rebuy period remaining players are typically given the option to purchase an “add-on”, an additional amount of chips, which is usually similar to the starting stack. Another playing format is the "shootout" tournament. A shootout tournament divides play in rounds. In a standard shootout tournament, 2-10 players sit on each table and the table roster remains the same until everyone but one player is eliminated. The table winners progress to the final table where the tournament winner is determined. In a shootout tournament players are usually awarded places in tiers based on how many rounds they lasted and in which place they were eliminated. Shootouts can include multiple rounds (triple, quadruple or quintuple shootout) or feature several players from each table progressing (usually up to three). Shootouts are also a common format for large heads-up multi-table tournaments, although these may feature double or triple elimination instead of the standard single knockout method. A recent innovation is the "mix-max" or "mixed max" tournament, in which the table sizes vary during the course of the event. A typical example is the mix-max event held at the 2012 World Series of Poker, in which the first day of play was nine-handed, the second day six-handed, and the rest of the tournament heads-up. This effectively made it a hybrid freezeout–shootout tournament, with freezeout play at larger tables and shootout play in the heads-up phase.

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