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How To Get A Big Stack In Tournaments

by Alex Fitzgerald |  Published: Sep 20, 2023

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Alex Fitzgerald credit: PokerGO Get a Free Training Package at PokerHeadRush.com

I constantly get asked a variation of this question from my students.

“Why do I always have a short stack at the money bubble? Why am I always barely surviving? What am I doing wrong?”

I always tell them, “You missed your move a few hours back. You needed to get chips when the table was weaker.”

In tournament poker, you get a number of recreational players joining you at the table. Tournaments attract casual fans. You can invest a small amount in a tournament and possibly win a large amount. This is enticing for many weaker poker players.

But these players usually do not have the skills to last deep into the tournament. They are mostly gone halfway through, so you need to find a way to get their chips as soon as you can.

So how do you do it? How do you assemble a big stack? How do you make sure you have some chip firepower as you go deep into an event?

Attack Limpers

Early in the tournament it is not uncommon to see a number of people limping in. They will do it with anything somewhat connected or suited. It is your job to get as much money from these weak players as possible when you are in position.

You want to consider isolation raising versus these weak players with hands you would normally not raise. Do you have a suited ace? Do you have some Broadway cards? That might be enough versus them.

Don’t raise small either. That’s a great way to get four callers. If that happens, you don’t want a big card hand that only makes pairs. If the pot gets big multiway it is extremely likely your pair is no longer good.

You want to raise larger preflop. You want to do this to get the recreational player all to yourself. You can even raise to two times the size of pot with deep stacks. If your opponent is an amateur, it is unlikely they will see that as a large raise, anyway.

You might find that surprising. But remember how you felt when you played your first tournaments. You wanted to see the flop badly. Your preflop cards intrigued you. Your chip stack didn’t feel like real money. It felt like Monopoly money. You were willing to call off 10% of your stack to see what flopped out there.

Once you draw these weaker players into pots out of position with their lackluster limping ranges, then you will be able to execute. You will have created a big pot in position versus an inferior range. That is a massive edge.

And what should you do if they limp-reraise you? That’s usually a trap with a premium. Take your time to act like you raised something legitimate, but then give them the pot.
Attack Weak Big Blind Flatters

It’s easy to move up in position live. Your opponents to your left will grip their cards differently if they are intending to fold. They will look visibly disinterested in the hand.

If you can reasonably move up in position, then you should open more liberally.

When you do this the most likely consequence will be that the big blind calls you. This is a great opportunity. The big blind is calling with a wide range that is difficult to defend. They often don’t have their best hands because they would have reraised with those hands.

What this means is if you flop second pair with a good kicker, or any kind of top pair, you should start thinking about three streets. You don’t have to bomb the pot. Just bet something. They will be tempted to call with all their awkward pairs. 40% pot is fine. 33% pot is fine. Just don’t let them take a street off.

Also, remember they’re going to miss most flops. Pepper them with continuation bets and pick up these small pots.

Attack Weak Openers

At any tournament table there is going to be someone who is raising anything halfway decent that they want to see the flop with.

Suited? Connected? Big card of some sort? They don’t need much of an excuse to raise. They just want to get in the action.

If you see one of these players, it is your responsibility to three-bet them constantly. Watch the showdowns. If they are opening 6-4 suited your three-bet of J-10 offsuit is actually for value.

You want to draw this player out. Make them call a large reraise out of position. If the flop comes with two cards nine or higher, that tends to be in their wheelhouse. If there is only one card nine or higher, then go ahead and fire. If the one high card is an ace, remember that is the most likely hand they raised with. You can try a smaller bet, but don’t go bananas.

If you hit something, then do your best to set up three streets of value. The average player cannot fold once they connect. Since you started with a better range it is much more likely that you hit a better hand than them.

Attack Multiway Pots

Another potential point of exploitation is multiway pots.

Let’s say you call more in the cutoff and button because you’re getting more implied odds at the beginning of the tournament. That is fine. Especially if the pot is going to go four ways or five ways preflop. That gives you access to a lot of different stacks.

If you flop something that is two pair or better, do not be afraid to fire large into the multiway pot. Your recreational opposition has never flopped a pair and folded to the first bet in their life. This will make the pot much larger on the turn and river. This will set you up for bigger value bets.

You will be stunned at what people call down with, especially live. It always feels goofy to flop top two pair and then fire out large on the flop. But then you will get a recreational player calling off their tournament by the river with top pair.

This will give you the stack to punish your opposition going into the later stages of the tournament. This is how you set yourself up for a deep run. ♠

Learn how to play A-K when it misses the flop!

Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He is a WPT and EPT final tablist, and has WCOOP and SCOOP wins online. His most recent win was the $250,000 Guaranteed on ACR Poker. He currently enjoys blasting bums away in Ignition tournaments while he listens to death metal. Free training packages of his are provided to new newsletter subscribers who sign up at PokerHeadRush.com