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The Poker Academy.com - WSOP Prep - Understanding Tournaments

by Rep Porter |  Published: Apr 27, 2016

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Recently, we ran a webinar at ThePokerAcademy.com to support our 12-week challenge. This webinar was for session eight in our no-limit tournament course. Session eight covers the stages a poker tournament goes through and the adjustments you need to make to your basic tournament strategy based on the various points in the tournament. People are starting to become more familiar with these ideas, things like bubble play and ICM at the final table. After the webinar, one of our students sent in a testimonial in which he talked about our approach to the stages of the tournament. In it, he made this statement: “The basic fact of tournament play is that it is a chip accumulation contest.”

This is a very different way to phrase something that all tournament players are aware of on some level. You have to win all the chips to win a tournament. Or that you have to win a lot of chips to make it to the money.

Poker tournaments are interesting animals. I am not sure most people realize that they are designed so that you are supposed to fail. Remember, they only pay ten percent of the field. So if all players are equal, you will fail ninety percent of the time you sit down to play. Let me say that again, because it is important. You go home with nothing ninety percent of the time.

This doesn’t stop people from playing though. Humans are inherently competitive. Poker tournaments start off on a level playing field. It is just you against them, in a battle of poker skill. You want to survive, outlast, outclaw, outwit all of those other people. You take pride in finishing in the last twenty-five percent of the field.

So these two ideas are inherently different from each other. The ninety percent that don’t cash all get the same amount of money. Zero. Your instincts as a human tell you that these spots are different from each other. If you are just able to survive deeper into the field, you will do better. This creates an interesting poker paradox.

There are winning professionals who take different paths toward approaching the problem. I will call them the survivors and the accumulators. Survivors have a higher cash percentage. Some approach a rate of cashing twenty percent of the time. However, they don’t run deep as often. Their final table percentages and win percentages lag. Accumulators tend to not have a huge cash percentage. Some winning players are as low as ten percent, or average. But when they do cash, it is usually for a more significant prize. Accumulators tend to outperform when it comes to making final tables and winning poker tournaments. Accumulators will usually have a higher ROI than survivors, but also higher variance.

I think the optimal point for cashing is about fifteen percent, or about one and a half times the payout percentage.

I think the biggest difference between accumulators and survivors is mindset. I also think that at various stages of a poker tournament both strategies are correct.

The mindset a lot of amateurs have when they play poker is something like this:

I really want to survive until after the dinner break today, or I really would like to get to come back on day 2 this time. What ends up happening is they become risk-averse because of the mini-goals. Then, even if they reach the mini-goal, they aren’t putting themselves in a position to succeed at that point.

Let’s look at the WSOP events. These are typically three-day events. Day one ends with play reaching or at least nearing the money. Day two will end as players approach the final table. And day three will usually crown a champion. So what does the average stack look like at the end of each of these days? Well, at the end of day one, it is usually about ten times the starting stack.

Some tournaments play faster and some play slower, but the average when you get to the money is usually close to ten starting stacks. The other averages (final table or winner) will vary based on the field size, but that first stack size step is the crucial one.

The goals players should have in poker tournaments should relate to the frequency with which they are able to get to ten times the chips they started with. You won’t make the money every time you get to ten or more stacking stacks, but you will most of the time. You will also find yourself in better positions to continue to compete deeper into the tournaments. To do this, players will have to give up the survivor mode and try to accumulate chips earlier in tournaments. This will feel strange if it is contrary to your usual style. You will find yourself on the rail earlier than you are used to sometimes at times, but that is okay. As long as your accumulating style allows you to get to ten times the starting stack more often, you will be money ahead in the long run. ♠

Rep Porter is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner and is the lead instructor at ThePokerAcademy.com, whose mission is to help poker players achieve better results through better decisions and that is done by teaching poker in a way that makes learning easy and enjoyable with high quality courses taught by professional players.

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