9 Poker Tournament Lessons

Posted on Oct 19, 2008 by Gugel in Tournaments

Lesson 1
Like Amir Vahedi said about a million times at the 2003 WSOP, “In order to live, you have to be willing to die.” It sounds a little ridiculous, but I really believe in it. I am just as ready to go broke on the first hand, as I am on the bubble.

Lesson 2
Everything in moderation. When I first started becoming more and more aggressive in tournaments after reading a lot of posts by the MTT regulars (you know who you are), I started going nuts open raising 100% of the time from the button, CO, CO-1, CO-2, if I had the chance. Obviously players picked up on this, and I would get my raises abused. Stealing blinds is only +EV if well, if it works. Don’t open raise if you are going to get picked off every time by the big blind. I have been at incredibly aggressive tables where I rarely button raised, because I didn’t think it would work

Lesson 3
No fear, and make sure they know it. Let the players to your right know that your blind is like your first born child. Resteal with 72o (thanks for the PM lesson Woodguy) and if the circumstances are right, show it. If you don’t like restealing, you can call the raise, and lead out on any flop.

Lesson 4
Watch the action, always. I have stopped playing more than 2 tables when I’m in a tournament, because every hand that you are not involved in is like a goldmine of information waiting to be exploited. Even online, there are tells. Recognize what every hesitation means, and remember it. One important note that I like to take on players is, can they fold top pair or not. Some players are incapable of folding top pair. They just can’t do it. Others can fold the 2nd nuts. Always know who they are.

Lesson 5
Don’t berate the fish. I was once in a sit and go with Augie00, when I ‘lol-ed’ someone for open pushing J9o for 40 big blinds. Augie00 went nuts on me, and taught me my lesson. It’s really a general poker thing, but it’s a good lesson. Although I never would abuse them, I always would playfully joke at the fish for doing dumb things. There really is no point. Make them feel comfortable playing like a jackass.

Lesson 6
You don’t have to win every pot. I think there was a post where MLG basically wrote. “I raise 86s in MP, I get called by the button, flop comes T9A. I check, the button bets out, what’s my line?” Basically the post was a joke and the point he was trying to make, is that it’s ok sometimes to check/fold. If you bet 100% of the time on the flop, well, it will get picked up on.

Lesson 7
Think everything through. This has probably been the biggest improvement in my game lately. Take all the time you need to fully assess a situation, and make the educated decision. Like I said before, sometimes I would act immediately without really knowing why I was making a decision. Never again will I just click call without at least trying to put my opponent on a hand. Your reasoning behind every decision is just as important as the decision itself.

Lesson 8
Be able to judge yourself. A few weeks ago, I made a big all in call with a crappy hand that was clearly no good on the flop. Afterwards, I looked at myself and couldn’t figure out what I was thinking when I called it. I relapsed back to my old self where I just clicked call or fold without thinking it through. I knew if I was playing that way it was time to take a break. Always be able to assess your current mental state. Know when you won’t be able to play well and don’t play. You can’t just play like a machine in tournaments, the way you sometimes can in cash games. You really have to be in the right state of mind.

Lesson 9
Maximum value, every time. You always want to get every chip you can get when you have the best hand, as it can and will come in handy when it gets late and 1 big blind can make a big difference. This means knowing your opponents’ tendencies, knowing how much you can get out of his TPTK when you have a set, your TPTK vs his TPWK etc. I am really not a fan of slowplaying very often. So many times people just think “wow I flopped trips/straight/etc, I can’t bet.” Well often times one of three things can happen that are bad. 1) You let your opponent improve to a better hand. 2) You let a scare card fall, which kills your action. 3) Despite trying to appear weak, you in fact appear strong and lose all deceptive value.

Some Applied Concepts
A prime example of that is during a hand in the $300 that I came in 3rd in. With relatively deep stacks, I defended my big blind to a small button raise by a very aggressive player with 52s. Flop came down, 22T. I led out for half the pot, I didn’t even think of check-raising. Why?

Lets think about it. Suppose he has an overpair, the money is going in either way. But let’s say he has something like 33-99. It’s pretty hard for him to put me on any kind of a hand by the way I played it, so it’s unlikely he’ll fold, whereas if I check raise him he may fear that I have a ten. But there is also a 3rd possibility, that he completely missed with overs, or a total steal like 87o. He is an aggressive player, so if I check to him he will most certainly bet, I will raise and he will fold. So I probably get a half pot sized bet out of it. What a waste. However, by leading out I think a lot of aggressive players will play back at that with any 2 about 75% of the time. As it turned out I led out for half the pot, he reraised 3x my raise and I smooth called, figuring that he still had nothing, and it is unlikely that I would lose action from him if he did in fact have a hand. By just calling I now give him a chance to bluff a 2nd barrel.

The turn was a jack, I checked to him and he went all in for about a pot sized bet, I insta-called, and he turned over AK. River blanked and I doubled through. Had I check raised there, he folds on the flop. Another thing this does, is it allows you to lead out at flops from the BB, and your opponents who were paying attention, know that you can have a very strong hand doing this.

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