Online Poker Tournament Strategy

Sit and Go Poker Strategy

Online Poker Tournaments Strategy and Winning Tips February 24, 2020 Poker tournaments are not the same as they were 10 years ago; in fact, the modern tourney does involve more strategic fundamentals, which is why we are sharing our go-to online Poker tournaments strategy and winning tips to help players reach the final table. Poker Tournament Strategy FAQ How do poker tournaments work? You can participate in a poker tournament by paying a set amount called buy-in. Buy-ins for poker tournaments can range from anything between $1 to $100,000. If you lose all your poker chips, you're eliminated from the poker tournament.

  1. The best tournament poker strategy is to recognize the three stages of any poker tournament and to have a distinct tournament poker strategy for each of the vital crunch times during a poker tournament. There are two approaches you can use when playing the early stages of a poker tournament. The first is the conservative approach.
  2. Jan 13, 2021 Tournament poker strategy has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past decade. And an 'old-school' style will no longer cut it at the poker tournament tables. In modern tournament poker playing styles, bet-sizing and the general approach to specific situations have all changed drastically.

Although sit and go (SNG) games are relatively short, they undergo numerous stages that will modify how you should play.

With faster blinds increases than multi-table tournaments, consistently succeeding in SNG games require a very aggressive style of play. Psychologically, SNGs make people feel like they're close to the bubble right away, which means you will experience a ton of passivity and maniacal behavior.

Use your poker software to tag various opponents for their styles, there's a chance you'll run into them in future SNGs.

Stealing: Prime Times for Thievery


During the course of a sit 'n' go, you will, at a very minimum, want to win back your blinds at least once every time the button goes around the table. You have two prime moments to steal blinds when there still six or more players at the table.

  1. On the button and only one or two players have called before you.
  2. Your chip stack is large enough that other players would be risking losing all their chips to go against you.

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Make it Easy on Yourself

If you raise against a passive player and get countered with an all-in, drop out of the hand immediately. If you get re-raised by a manic player, simply make the call and see how the cards play out. Conversely, minimize game time against other aggressive players as they're your biggest threat through the entire SNG.

Multi-Table Tournaments

During a multi-table tournament (MTT), there are three stages that should dictate how you play, and each centers around managing your bankroll or chip stack.

Early Stages

In the early stages, you will have a good number of chips compared to the blinds, but most players are simply looking to progress further into the tournament so you'll have a hard time landing large pots (unless you have a manic or two at your table). During this point in MTT play, play tight and aggressive. Fold more than you bet and bet more than you call.

Pocket pairs and suited face cards are obvious hands to play in any situation, but be prepared to shift to a more aggressive stance when you're on or just before the button.

Middle Stage

After getting through the early stages, you will find that your chips are more valuable than before as the blinds rapidly increase.

You will have to become more flexible with your hands, which goes against all human nature. What that means, though, is that other players will be getting tighter and tighter as they're just trying to make it past the bubble, so you can more often gamble to steal blinds. Don’t allow yourself to be chipped away at by blinds in the hopes to make it to the payout stages: You're going to have a much better cash out in the long run if you use the middle stages to posture for winning the tournament rather than simply earning back your buy in.

Your playable hands during the middle stage should be wider than in the early stage, and should include hands like A♥4♣, J♠Q♥, 5♦6♦ or anything better. Nevertheless, you will still only want to call all-ins when holding strong pocket pairs and high suited connectors.

Late Stage - After the Bubble

After you've busted the bubble and have made it into the payout portion of the tournament, you're in the late stages. At this point, you're going to want to pick off anyone who was just holding out and call small stack all-ins when you have merely marginal hands.

If you're risking around 10 percent of your stack or less to call an all-in and have a hand like 8♣9♣ or K♥T♠, your percentage to win pre-flop is still around the upper 40% range. If you take the short-stacked player's desperation into account, there's a strong possibility that your odds are closer to 50-50.

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Unless taking a loss from one of these players will mean practically breaking you, there's not much at risk during each hand but, after knocking out a few opponents, you can quickly become the big stack at the table. However, you have to become more comfortable with gambling during the late stages; luck starts to make a bit of a difference since so many people are in a fold or all-in scenario.

On Deep-Stack Tournaments

On the other hand, deep-stack poker tournament strategy lets you gamble a bit more in the early stages of the competition. By having a larger bankroll to begin with, your chips' value is substantially less in regards to the number of blinds you can afford. However, once the blinds start to get the game to the middle and into the late stages, your strategy should simply switch over to how you normally play during MTTs.

Poker Tournament Strategy Books

To learn more about poker tournament strategy, check out these editor’s picks from top poker tournament pros:

Daniel Negreanu Power Hold'em Strategy

Gus Hansen Every Hand Revealed

Dan Harrington Harrington on Hold'em

Avoiding Passive and Manic Behavior

Two of the fastest ways to lose all your chips in a poker tournament is through making plays easily described as either passive or manic.


Passive players will often call bets and raises and just limp into a hand by matching the big blind. They will often go all-in pre flop if they have a pair of jacks or better as they would rather scare opposition away than face a difficult decision later on.

If you find yourself going against a passive player, he or she will often fold to bets the size of the pot or larger. So, if you end up in a showdown with one of these players and hold the nuts, make your bets between 1/4 and 3/4 of the pot to keep him or her in the hand as long as possible. These players are painfully predictable, but they also make it into the money pool of multi-table tournaments quite often due to cautiousness. Still, you will likely never see a passive player make the final table in a multi-table tournament, much less win one.

Maniacal Antics

On the other hand, manic players seem to have little or no control over their betting and are so wildly unpredictable that they might as well not even look at their cards. Sometimes, you'll encounter players like this who actually believe it's a viable strategy because they once saw someone go all in on every hand during a sit 'n' go and won.

Still, most manic betters you run into will just be on tilt, probably from an unlucky string of games or they're dealing with something in real life that's too much to handle. The reality of this play style is that these players will very often be the first players knocked out of a tournament.

Playing against a manic or tilting opponent is ill advised unless you're holding a very strong hand. Their irregularity and willingness to keep a hand until they see the river in the off chance they get a backdoor straight with the 4♠6♥ they're holding.

Likewise, if you're feeling angry or particularly emotional about something in your life or you've experienced a bad run that day, stop playing and get some rest. When tilting or feeling agitated in some way, you might as well throw money away - at least you wouldn't have to deal with the inevitable that you might call a 'bad beat' but in reality was likely easily avoided.

Being Aggressive

To make the most of your of your life in online poker, you need to be as aggressive as possible while not allowing emotion to have an impact on your choices. Whether playing online, cash games, SNGs, MTTs or any combination of those, being an aggressive player is the number one determining factor on whether or not you will be a successful player.

There are two actions considered aggressive in poker: raising and folding.

As you may have surmised, there's only one other action in poker to be considered passive, and that's calling. The more often you get away from an aggressive style and call bets, the more likely your poker tournament strategy will fall flat. You'll minimize your winnings while losing more hands.

At first, being aggressive will feel like it goes against a beginner's nature as it means going against one's nature of wanting to test the waters. However, the earlier you get away from this habit, the sooner you will find yourself breaking the bubble in more multi-table tournaments and winning more SNGs.

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Similarly, don't be afraid to bluff. Every once in a while, you should be betting like you have the best hand at the table even if you're holding 2♦7♥. It may cost you some chips, but if you're 'caught' bluffing, other players will be more likely to call your aggression, which will net you a larger stack in the long run.


Stay Relaxed and Focused

Being an aggressive player, though, does not mean that you have to be emotionally invested in the tournament. You have to make peace with your losses and don't get overexcited from winning large hands. Winning or losing too much can push a player to making terrible missteps during the tournament.

Try to see each movement, whether good or bad, as a mere stepping stone in a long path, otherwise you'll find yourself trying to sprint and end up broke. Breathe deep after a big hand won or lost and take another logical look at the table and your current position. Be Zen with your decisions and become a better player at all times.

Poker Tournaments vs Cash Games

Contrary to tournaments, cash games neither have increasing blinds nor do players have to be knocked out to stop playing. This allows for a more singular playing style.

Beyond this, there are other basic differences:

  • Cash games usually have minimum and maximum buy-in amount, but players can choose how much to use. In MTTs and SNGs, every player pays the exact same entrance fee.
  • When losing all your chips in a tournament, you're out of the game for good (in most cases). In a cash game, you can simply buy in again.
  • Cash can accommodate more risk-taking styles, whereas gambling too much in tournaments can negatively affect your ROI.

Notes on Cash Game Poker Strategy

Buy in for more than the minimum. Don't start your cash game with so few chips that you're already facing an all-in or fold scenario. Try to buy in at 100 times the amount of the table's big blind. In a $1/$2 game, spend $200. In a $0.05/$0.10 table, buy in for $10.

Play tight. With blinds staying constant and having the ability to re-buy your way in, there's much less pressure for players to have the largest chip stack or make foolish risks in an attempt to double up.

You can move. If you find yourself in a bad spot like to the right of a hyper-aggressive or tilting player, simply leave the table. If there's a fish at the table that you can profit off of, just change seats and only go against the manic player when you have better positioning than him or her.

Table Of Contents

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Small stakes online poker tournaments are fantastic fun. They can be frustrating at times — I'll give you that — but for the most part, it is difficult not to enjoy yourself while competing in one.

They are also potentially lucrative beasts, not least because they tend to attract players in droves.

On some sites — in particular GGPoker and partypoker — tournaments with buy-ins as small as $1-$10 may see several thousand hopefuls take to the virtual felt in the hope of turning their tiny investments into much more meaningful sums.

As you can imagine, the majority of these huge fields are populated with recreational players and therefore the standard of play is, as a rule, very poor.

That's not to say navigating your way through the crowds and winning one of these things is an easy task, because it isn't.

In other words, don't think you're going to deposit $200 online, play a bunch of these online poker tournaments, and suddenly be rolling in cash like Scrooge McDuck in Ducktails.

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It's not going to happen.

What is going to happen, or what should happen, is that you continue reading this article — and others you find in the Strategy section — and once you've armed yourself with the weapons of knowledge, you go out there and apply that learning to do more than just enjoy these tournaments, but to profit from them as well.

Here are five tips designed to help you both prepare for and find success in small stakes online tourneys.

1. Be Prepared for a Long Session

Most of these low buy-in, big field tournaments take several hours to complete, so you need to be prepared to play for a long time.

Be patient as always, but also be ready for a lengthy grind should you go deep in the event.

I've been fortunate enough to chop the $3.30 rebuy on PokerStars twice. On both occasions, the tournament started at around 7:00 p.m and we finished at 6:30 a.m.

This is all well and good if you are a poker pro who can sleep the next day, but you have to take into consideration work commitments if you have a job.

Know what you're potentially getting yourself into when registering for these events.

This tip to beat online poke tournaments does not apply only to low-stake events. As you can see on our Sunday Million strategy guide, also pros like Arlie Shaban and Felix Schneiders advise all players to master the art of being patient.

That said, not every tournament is a 12-hour commitment. All poker sites have a calendar that features also much quicker online tournaments where you can have fun and win meaningful sums.

These are the top sites to play online poker tournaments in 2020:

Poker SiteUS PlayersSee Tournament Schedule
WSOP PokerYesSee Tournament Schedule
PokerStars NJNJ OnlySee Tournament Schedule
GGpokerNoSee Tournament Schedule
PartypokerNoSee Tournament Schedule
Unibet PokerNoSee Tournament Schedule
PokerStarsNoSee Tournament Schedule
888pokerNoSee Tournament Schedule

2. Be Prepared For Some Crazy Swings

The variance in small stakes poker tournaments is huge because of the sheer number of opponents you have to get through and the fact many of these opponents can be nearly impossible to put on a hand.

Also of significance when playing against a large field full of recreational players is the possibility of players calling your raises — even your all-in ones — with some ridiculous holdings, adding further to the unpredictability of outcomes.

While this situation is very favorable in the long run, over the short term you can often find yourself running worse than you ever thought possible.

Make sure therefore you have an ample bankroll to fall back on when times are hard — something in the range of 200-300 times of your average buy-in (I'd recommend).

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3. Keep it Simple and Value Bet Your Hands to the Max

DO NOT try to run an elaborate bluff at any stage of the tournament because it will only lead to tears of sorrow.

A lot of your opponents only care what cards they have in their hand and won't realize from your actions that you're representing a specific hand — they just want to get to showdown and hopefully win.

More often than not in these events you will want to keep matters simple, playing 'ABC poker' and letting the cards fall how they will.

Along the same lines, make sure you get the maximum value from your made hands.

Higher-stakes tournament grinders may routinely fire 1/3 pot-sized bets at their opponents, but that's because it is more difficult to get paid off at those stakes.

At the lower end of the spectrum, you can get away with betting more. Because so many of your opponents will love to call your bets, you may as well take advantage with your strong holdings.

4. Listen to the Betting / Prepare to Lay Down Some Big Hands

How often have you heard poker players bemoan their luck and come out with some rubbish such as 'I can't beat these donkeys, they always hit the nuts on the river.'

What they don't tell you is that 'these donkeys' often play their hands in a manner that allows you to get away from pots should you need to.

For example, if a weak player has limp-called preflop, called the flop, called on the turn, and then leads into you on the river when the flush comes in, guess what?

That player almost certainly has the flush.

The same is often true for raises on the river. Even if the only hand that beats you is , if an obviously weak player raises you on the river, you have to consider that he or she probably has !

5. Don't Worry About Playing a 'Balanced Style'

Poker Tournament Strategy

If someone tells you that you have to play a 'balanced style' of poker in large-field small stakes poker tournaments, laugh and walk away.

While you have to do this higher up the poker food chain, you are highly unlikely to come up against the same players ever again in a field of 3,000-10,000 foes, so you can be as unbalanced as you wish.

That means not worrying so much about not revealing certain patterns with your play, such as always betting big with strong hands.

While against stronger opponents you should balance your play by varying your bets and actions so as not to be read so easily, against large fields of less skilled opponents this isn't as great of a concern.

Obviously, the five tips above are not all you need to be successful in small stakes online tourneys, but they should at least help you in your quest to turn a little into a lot!

WHAT NEXT? Check out the best real money poker games to play in 2020!

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