C8C #11 – Tournament Poker

The other day I was playing some cash and struck up a conversation with another player. We were discussing tournaments and the profitability and playability within them. It ended up being a very interesting talk. That will be the topic of discussion for this week.

I ask my readers, if you have poker questions about hands, general strategy, or anything else poker you’d like answered, send me an e-mail and I will incorporate those inquiries into future newsletters. I look forward to the responses.

Today’s Poker Advice:

Tournament poker is a fascinating thing. There are a myriad of variables to digest every single hand. From the starting positions, stack sizes, stage of the tournament, to the players you are playing, and so on. It is almost impossible to master the decision making skills it takes to be elite in the tournament world. Every hand is a new problem and every decision comes with different information.

One of the most important factors of a tournament is how they are structured. They are designed to increase the blinds, reduce the stack sizes, and force players to make decisions for all of their chips. This makes the variance in tournament poker very high. Some people might argue that because of this we will never have the data to determine who the best player in the world is, since the ones performing the best could be statistical outliers. Regardless of that theory, how can one survive in the tournament world?

First things first, capital is needed to play tournaments. If someone plans on giving it a go as a tournament player, a lot of disposal income or savings is needed. I would say, at a minimum, a tournament player should have 25 to 50 buyins available. If you would rather take a chance once in a while at a tournament, that is okay as well. Make sure you can afford the loss though. It is realistic that even a good player playing in 50 tournaments, might not get the return on investment they hope for, or be profitable. That is why I believe it is imperative to have other income that will support your tournament habits.

The next vital characteristic of a successful tournament player is a positive mindset. You will lose. You will lose often. You will get bad beat. It will STING! Keeping perspective, focusing on the decision making aspect and not on the results, is how one can find themselves in a good mental space. There will always be something to learn. If we bemoan our bad luck and never took anything from the experience, we wouldn’t get better at our craft. Learn and move on. This is a great lesson at the poker tables and in life. The poker world is continuously getting tougher, so you must study to stay ahead of the curve.

Finding the right tournament to play is also an important decision. The buyin should be within your bankroll. The rake of the event should be under 20% (some small to medium events are raked closed to this figure, such as 18%. This is about my threshold for supporting an event. Beware of the rake being too high as the structure is likely fast and higher rake removes money from the prize pool and from your pocket. I think 15% is appropriate, and smaller for bigger buyins.) You should feel comfortable playing the tournament. Don’t jump right into the deep end without feeling confident to give it your best shot. Know the structure of the event. Is it a one day tournament? How many chips do you start with? How long are the levels? When will play end for the night? How often will I get a break? When can I eat dinner? These are all important aspects so you can plan your day and plan for success in the event.

The last and most important thing to remember when playing a tournament is to HAVE FUN!!! If you aren’t enjoying the experience then what are you doing it for?!? The tournament scene is a competitive one, but it is also a social setting where you are around people all day. Take some time off in-between hands to relax a little, socialize, and take in the moment. When you find yourself deep in an event, all in as a coin flip, you should remember that the result is not that serious. We are gambling after all. Enjoy the ride.

With all of that said, tournaments can be a great place to win money and prove your poker knowledge. It might take a long time and a lot of money to realize this. Be prepared for the journey. From my experience, it took eight years to win six figures in a tournament. Eight years!! I was playing hundreds of tournaments online a month, and forty plus live events a year. Deep in big tournaments I would lose a key coinflip, take a bad beat, or be on the wrong end of a cooler. I couldn’t get past the hump. I’m still searching for the tournament success I desire.

The only way to succeed is to never quit. Get better, continue to grow, never stop fighting. Good luck!