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Tips For Running Deep In Tournaments

by Rory Corrigan |  Published: Jul 18, 2018


When searching the term, “poker tournament tips” online, none of the results are particularly fruitful, with most information being wrong or outdated. So, we’ve decided to try to tackle this subject by creating the ultimate list of three poker tournament strategy tips for players of all skill levels.

Tip 1: Steal a Lot, But Don’t Go Overboard

“Open small and often.”

With antes in play, a 2.25 big blind (BB) open has to pick up the pot less than half of the time to show an immediate profit. And that’s not including the hand’s post-flop potential.

Example: Nine-Handed Tournament Table, Blinds 500-1,000 with a 100 ante

If there is 2,400 in the pot from blinds and antes, you are risking 2,200 to take it down. That means your open only has to work 47.8 percent of the time to make an immediate profit.

Unless the blinds are aggressive, there’s a reasonable chance they aren’t collectively playing back with 52.2 percent of hands.

If the big blind is tight enough to be folding hands like Q-5 suited or K-7 offsuit to your opens, raising 7-2 offsuit would show an immediate profit. Heck, raising with two napkins you picked up on the floor would show an immediate profit.

(And once again, all of this isn’t even accounting for the pots you’ll win post-flop.)
Against weaker opposition, raising small and often still really works, especially in late position.

When there are only few opponents left behind, you really want to widen your opening range. In these spots it’s essential to have a good idea of how the math works and what types of hands you’re expecting your opponents to call with.

Tip 2: Defend Your Big Blind A Lot

In tournaments, you have to defend a lot from the big blind.

We just learned that a small open raise only has to work around half of the time to profit. As the big blind, the burden is mostly on us to stop people from raising too often.

One factor that allows us to defend more often is the big blind’s always extremely generous pot odds.

In the previous example, there is 4,600 in the pot (2,400 from blinds and antes, and the 2,200 open) and the big blind needs to call 1,200 more to see the flop. This works out to 20.6 percent equity needed to call.

That’s very little. Even 7-2 offsuit has more than that against a standard button range (it has 29.45 percent). Does this mean we should call with every hand when our pot odds are this good? No, definitely not.

If there was no such thing as post-flop, yes, we would defend every hand with raw equity higher than our given price. But raw equity isn’t a number we can rely on because in order to realize our equity, we need to reach showdown.

Reaching showdown is not easy with hands like 7-2 offsuit.

A good way to estimate is to defend with a range that’s at least close to stopping the open-raiser from making an automatic profit.

In most cases, this means defending (by three-betting or calling) at least 40 percent of hands against late position opens. If you’re a strong player, or if the opener is a weak player, you’ll be better off defending way more.

As a good rule of thumb, especially if you aren’t particularly seasoned, it’s a good idea to flat with hands that have some sort of post-flop playability.

Hands like 9-7 suited are a no-brainer, but even the weakest suited hands usually profit as flats against late position opens.

If playing this wide of a range makes you uncomfortable, there’s no shame in defending a little less often until you are. But at least make sure to never fold a hand like 8-6 suited or Q-9 offsuit to a single open.

Tip 3: Be Wary of Four-Bet Shoves When 25-40 BBs Deep

Typical tournament stack sizes are generally around 25-40 big blinds. With these stacks, you want to three-bet bluff with hands slightly worse than your flat hands in the same situation. Example:

Poker Tournament, 35 BB Effective Stacks

Hero is in the cutoff

MP opens to 2.2 BB, Hero three-bets to 6.2 BB

Good three-bets in this spot include hands like KSpade Suit 9Spade Suit, KDiamond Suit JSpade Suit and ADiamond Suit 7Diamond Suit. These have great blockers (making it less likely that your opponent has a hand that can continue), and flatting them might be a bit on the loose side.

If you end up being forced to fold to a four-bet with a hand like KSpade Suit 9Spade Suit here, it’s no big deal. But if you are forced to fold a hand like KHeart Suit QHeart Suit, that’s boatloads of equity hitting the muck.

This strategy is particularly effective against regulars due to the threat a four-bet shove poses. Using hands with high card blockers is extremely important as it makes a shove by the opener less likely.

Against fishy players, specifically ones that call a lot and rarely four-bet, hands like KHeart Suit QHeart Suit make great three-bets. If they’re going to continue with silly hands, but never four-bet without a monster, we can three-bet for value with little fear of being blown off our equity.

So, in a nutshell: Choose blocker hands just below your calling range as three-bet bluffs against good and aggressive players. Three-bet a more value-heavy range against passive fish.


These tips should help you take on whatever tournament you plan on playing. However, you should always remember that the variance factor in tournaments is huge, and you should also always practice good bankroll management. ♠

Rory is an online no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha grinder and poker writer for Upswing Poker. The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course taught by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee. The Lab is updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos, and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player. Learn more at