In any poker tournament, the objective is to be the last player at the table with all of the chips. Big or small, tournaments of all sizes also normally award points (or cash) for second place and sometimes third, fourth and even fifth place. The larger the tournament, the more players are paid out. When in one of these larger tournaments, the objective is to just make it to the final table. The player is therefore “in the money”, or in a position that they will be awarded something no matter the outcome of the tournament.
To make it to the final table in a large tournament, a poker player must utilize all of their available tricks and strategies. A good strategy is to play very tight at the beginning of a tournament, only raising before the flop with a premium hand. A premium hand is one of four combinations of cards. These are: AA, KK, QQ, and AK suited. When you have one of these hands raising as soon as you can is normally well advised, as your hand is probably the best at the table. Get your money in while you have the best hands.
Good hands, like any pocket pair, AK off suit or J 10 suited, can also be played early in a tournament, but with more caution than is necessary when playing premium hands. Calling a small to medium bet before the flop may be warranted if the player has a good hand, but betting should be avoided until after the flop. Waiting until the flop comes and then assessing the strength of ones hand is a good strategy to make sure you get the most from these hands, while still protecting your chips in the event of a horrible flop.
All other hands should probably be folded right away during the early stages of a tournament. Build a sizable chip stack by playing smart and maximizing the return on premium and good hands. After a stack had been built, loosen up your play a bit. Play six-seven off suit or hands that you get a gut feeling about. Mixing up the hands played can make a player seem unpredictable, an attribute that can be very advantageous in a poker game.
Using position is also important in the beginning stages of a tournament. Being aware of where the button is and who pays the blinds can give a player additional advantages. Playing loose should be done, when necessary, in late position. This will give you an opportunity to see the bets, calls and checks of many opponents before making a decision yourself. If the pot gets too high, fold and wait for another hand.
Folding is also very important when a player is trying to survive until the final table of a Texas Hold’em tournament. All to often players are eliminated because they didn’t know when to fold their aces. Just because you get dealt a premium hand does not mean you will win. The other five cards on the community board can make or break your hand. Watch the players. If many people called a large bet before the flop than it is safe to say that some of them have good hands. If the flop and subsequent turn reveal a ten, jack, queen and ace than pocket aces should probably fold. Chances are that one of the opponents has a king and now holds a straight, beating three aces.
If one can master these basic techniques then advancing in a poker tournament can become much easier. Playing the cards and sticking to ones strategies can mean the difference between getting paid and walking away with nothing. Bet the big hands, but don’t chase them down only to be beaten by a lucky five-three full house. Make use of your position at the table and establish yourself as a chip leader before the final table even starts.