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Mind Over Poker

Staying Ahead of the Curve

by David Apostolico |  Published: Nov 30, 2008


The single most important adjustment when making the transition from a cash game to a tournament is the ability to stay ahead of the curve. A cash game is static, in that the blinds never change. The game is still dynamic, in that many other factors change, but a solid player can beat the game by sticking to a fundamental strategy of being patient and choosing spots.

That's not a luxury available to tournament players. With ever-increasing blinds and antes, the action is forced. Adjustments are mandatory. Remain static in your thinking and you are sure to be headed to the rail. Of course, this is nothing revelatory. In fact, it is quite elementary. Yet, so many players still fall victim to not acting quick enough. The time to act is before the blinds get too high.

Many players wait for the blinds and antes to increase to a level that makes it worthwhile for them to get aggressive and try to steal. The problem with this strategy is that others will be thinking the same way, from both a defensive and offensive viewpoint. That is, they will be making attempts at the pot as well preventing you from doing so. Additionally, others will be more cynical and may recognize your aggressiveness as stealing. Finally, if you haven't been accumulating chips prior to this, you run the risk of having to play for your entire stack. It's never a good idea to be flipping coins for your tournament life.

If any of this sounds familiar, here is one simple phrase to keep in mind: Stay ahead of the curve. The first to act is often the winner in many aspects of life and business. Those who can spot trends and be the early adopter reap the biggest gains. The beauty of playing a poker tournament is that you already know the trend. There is no secret or hidden formula. Study the blinds structure ahead of time and stay abreast of how much time is left in each level. As obvious as this information is, many players still play consistently and helplessly behind the curve.

Take a moment and reflect on your latest tournament outings. Think of the first time that you were all in. Were you covered at that time, so that you were risking your entire stack? Forget the outcome of that hand. If more often than not you were, you are not staying ahead of the curve. In the next tournament you play, try increasing your aggressiveness two levels earlier than you normally would.

A great training ground is to play some sit-and-gos either online or in a brick-and-mortar casino. These tournaments move fast and will force you to be proactive, whether you want to or not. You'll still have to deal with a great amount of variance, just as you would in any tournament. However, by taking more chances early on, you actually will be lowering your risk rather than raising it. Those early stabs won't likely be for your entire stack, and while they won't always be successful, they'll work enough to put you in better position for the later rounds - so that you won't have to play for your entire stack then.

Good luck, and remember - stay ahead of the curve!

David Apostolico is the author of a number of poker books, including Lessons From the Pro Poker Tour and Tournament Poker and The Art of War. He is available for poker lessons, and you can contact him at