Resources for playing in my first Hold'em tourney?
June 3, 2010 7:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm playing in my first Texas Hold'em tournament next week. It's pretty low-key (charity fundraiser, $100 buy-in, $1,000 first prize, ~40 players). I've played in a monthly limit game for a few years, doing reasonably well. Any advice/websites/books that could help me with basic strategies for this type of tournament play?
posted by ericbop to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are there other prizes for second, third, fourth, final table - or is it just the one prize for final player?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:11 AM on June 3, 2010

Are you new to hold 'em poker in general, or just to no limit hold 'em? [I.e. what do you play at your home game?]

Also, if you win anything, it's good form to donate a chunk of it back to the charity that benefits from the tournament.
posted by catlet at 7:17 AM on June 3, 2010

Response by poster: Smaller prizes (some cash, some not) for everyone at the final table. I've played lots
of limit hold'em, but never no-limit. And I will certainly donate some money back if I can make it to the final table (maybe I'll make a little donation to Metafilter, too!)
posted by ericbop at 7:25 AM on June 3, 2010

Best answer: In tournament play, you've got to watch the blinds move and it should affect how you play.

If you start with 1500 chips, and the blinds are 10-20, you really don't have a sense of urgency of the blinds simply eating at your stack. If the blinds make it to 100-200, every turn cuts about 1/5 of your stack at that level and it becomes imperative to steal blinds (i.e., if you see weakness, bet to have the blind-holders fold so you can sustain yourself) and to play a little more aggressive.

Watch out for kamikazee style players early who will make big moves at large amounts of chips early. If you don't have the best hand and have no chance of betting the other player off, it's best to play safe early and give yourself a chance to survive a little longer.

Oh, and have fun. Charity tournaments are great; you're gambling and helping people at once!
posted by Hiker at 7:27 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Try to get a copy of Harringdon on Hold'Em. He has great advice for tournament NLHE.

Check the tournament forums at and

(Or if you get desperate, play the Sklansky method for novice tourney players: go all-in with any pair, AK, AQ or any suited Ace, unless someone has already raised. If someone has already raised, fold, unless you have AK, AA or KK, in which case re-raise all-in).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:34 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Being aggressive in limit hold 'em works a little differently from aggression in NLHE. I know that when I switched games, I felt intimidated by standard opening bets of 3x the big blind - "wow, he must have GREAT cards!" - but also wondered why reraises were less frequent.

Seconding Infinite Jest's recommendation of the Harrington book (you'll only need Volume I unless you go crazy for NLHE tournament play). I found this article in a brief search for "switching from LHE to NLHE". If you have an online poker account, you might want to play a couple of play money NLHE tournaments to get a feel for how it works. Good luck!
posted by catlet at 7:48 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Betting strategy in no-limit is sufficiently different from limit that it might be helpful to begin by forgetting basically everything you know about playing hold'em, and reading all of the NLHE advice above as if you had never played before.

The tournament context increases this effect further. Assuming you are playing for the prizes, not just for your own ego, embrace risk--there is no difference between going out first and going out twentieth, but there is a big return to doubling your stakes very early on.
posted by willbaude at 7:52 AM on June 3, 2010

Best answer: An obvious difference is that you can bet people off of draws and marginal hands, or charge them a lot to draw out on you. Proper bet sizing is important. You should often be betting somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of the pot when you bet as that discourages people from calling down light to see the next card.

Along the same line, you can bet big to bluff people. Raising in limit hold'em is almost exclusively for value whereas NLHE introduces a lot more bluffing and semi-bluffing. Semi-bluffing is playing a drawing hand aggressively. You win either by getting the other guy to fold, or as a backup by hitting your draw.

In limit hold'em you can limp around half of your hands preflop. In no limit it is generally agreed upon that limping is a mistake and you should always come in for a raise. Good players do not limp. However, in a live tournament plenty of people will limp not play all that aggressively preflop, so limping is discouraged but acceptable.

Stack sizes are crucial in no limit tournament poker. When you have 50 or 100 big blinds you can see flops with speculative cards, try to hit some disguised hands, and stack people. When you are at 25 big blinds or lower you can't really do that any more. At that point you should switch to a straightforward tight/aggressive preflop game. Wait for big face cards and pocket pairs and then come in for a raise. When you are down to 10 big blinds or less instead of limping or raising you should just shove all in preflop. This puts maximum pressure on your opponents to give up their blinds, which are really valuable to you so shortstacked. It feels crazy and risky but when you're shortstacked you simply can't afford to try to see a flop and hit something any more. It costs too much to see flops.

And finally, a couple of general poker principles:
  • play tight
  • be aggressive
  • don't bluff calling stations

posted by Khalad at 8:14 AM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would suggest taking some time between now and the tournament to play some online NL games. In my experience, the dynamic in NL tournaments is very different from limit games. Try a site like Bodog or PokerStars where you can get into tournaments with play money. While you will encounter a lot of people who have no idea how to play, it's definitely helpful to get a feel for how NL tournaments are typically played out.
posted by tryniti at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2010

The big difference in NL is more fold equity. You almost always want to be the raiser and the aggressor. Almost never call preflop unless you think your opponent is going to put in a ton of money postflop and you're specifically trying to win huge pots by, e.g., flopping a set vs. his AA/KK/QQ.

Most of the time you have a strong draw, you should be betting or raising big to maximize your fold equity. (You only have fold equity if your opponent is the kind of player who will fold when he should think he's beat. Lots of amateurs won't, so you don't have fold equity against them.) When he folds, you win. When he calls, you have a decent, although usually less than 50% chance of winning even bigger.

It's helpful to take some big risks early so that you have a larger stack. (E.g. getting all in when you think you have QQ vs. AK.) With the larger stack, you can bully other players because while if they lose the pot they're out of the tournament, but if you lose it, it's just a portion of your stack. This is especially true when the first place prize is so much better than the others. You can't just hope to survive long enough to make the money -- you've gotta end up with all the chips.
posted by callmejay at 9:19 AM on June 3, 2010

Best answer: I've played lots of limit hold'em, but never no-limit

In a limit game, it's a lot more by the numbers and it's harder to make huge mistakes or capitalize on bad play from someone else. As others have said, you'll probably need to play a lot of NL games to get a feel for it, but here is my advice to someone who is playing a no limit tournament like the one you described for the first time:

Play overly cautious early on, compared to your opponents. The tournament you described sounds like it has a lot of weak players, and weak players can get you in trouble early in a tournament. If you play a lot of hands, you can get into a situation where you make huge bets compared to the blinds, and your opponent might catch a lucky card to beat you on a big hand. Don't worry about the blinds too much, because against weak players you are probably going to get most of your chips early on in a few big hands rather than by stealing the blinds. When you do have good cards, be completely obvious about it (raise big pre-flop, bet the pot or reraise if you think your post-flop hand is good enough), you'll want to win those hands without a showdown if possible because if they fold they can't beat you on the river. Weak players will not recognize that you are a tight player and stop calling you, like better players would, and weak players are the ones that give up their chips early on.

When the blinds actually start to become an issue and most of the weakest players have been eliminated, you'll want to start playing more hands and get into bluffing. This is most important around the bubble before the final table or the first spot that gets paid. Good but not great players will realize that you are a tight/aggressive player, and will fold to your pre-flop bets or the first bet after the flop. To an outside observer, your play should look exactly like your play early on (when you really obviously had great cards when you bet), except that you are suddenly getting great cards a lot more often, even though you are really just bluffing more. You'll want to target people who have few enough chips that they don't feel like they can call everything, but not so few chips that they feel like they need to play one big hand. Basically you need to use your ability to read people to figure out who is going to fold more often than they should late in a tournament, because those are the ones that are going to give up the most chips at that point. Also, when you get down to around 10x the big blind, start waiting for any decent starting hand to go all in with, because you won't have enough to bluff at that point and you'll get blinded out if you just sit there.

Try a site like Bodog or PokerStars where you can get into tournaments with play money.

Also, be aware if you do this that the play at a real life $100 buy-in charity game will not be at the level of a $100 buy-in game online. You should be able to get around that level of play for only $10 online, those low stakes games don't tend to exist in real life because it is expensive to physically host a game and pay dealers.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:55 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try a site like Bodog or PokerStars where you can get into tournaments with play money.

Actually I missed the play money part. Play money no limit holdem is nothing like actual no limit holdem, and will only help you play against complete idiots.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2010

burnmp3s: I think the only reason for OP to play play-money NLHE online is to get a practical feel for the way betting in NLHE actually works, and to understand the thought process of determining how much to bet without the constraints of limit. I found it useful in the transition between thinking "I can't lose more than $X in this hand" to "holy crap, it will take ALL MY CHIPS to call that guy! Ack!" It was not very good for teaching me how to play real-money NLHE online, however, and it was utter rubbish for teaching me how to play NLHE live.

And, it should be said, since yesterday was the day that enforcement for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act went into effect, it may be quite difficult for OP to get money onto an online poker room at this point. Playing on the .net side may be his best option for practice.
posted by catlet at 11:31 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a charity tournament, most folks will be playing for fun. You need to figure out whether their sense of fun is a) last as long as possible or b) play wild. The first group is going to play too tight and you'll be able to push them off a lot of hands by betting aggressively. The second group is going to play too loose and you won't be able to push them off anything - they'll call any raise. In fact, I think the dynamic will be very similar to what you see at the play money tables online - a handful of nits and a bunch of crazies who will go all-in at the drop of a hat. So definitely - play online first to get a feel for the different personalities involved.
posted by zanni at 5:15 AM on June 4, 2010

I am a professional Texas hold'em player ( have been for 8 years ).
There are now good training sites online, where professional players do video screen captures and add commentary on their own play. I think these sites would be the best for you. There are several of them out there, here's one here's a second here's a third

Also, the best thing you can do is get hours in at the table, experience trumps everything.

And clearly is the gold standard for advanced (and beginner) poker theory discussion.
posted by crawltopslow at 6:31 PM on April 4, 2011

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