[Tournament Basics] [Tips on Position] [ Player MO] [Early Rounds] [Mid Game]
[End Game] [Multi-Table Notes]
"I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, 'I am going to bury you."
Tournament strategy for poker is very technical. Tournament play is the ultimate test of all of your skills as a 7 card stud player. Adjustment, timing and position is crucial. In later rounds, bluffing becomes almost a 'responsibility' as the blinds and antes go up, as well as the starting hand combinations for tournament play must get looser. Raising and re-raising also becomes more aggressive. Throughout the game, playing in position, knowing when to fold and when to re-raise is of absolute importance, on top of counting cards and suits, reading your opponents and keeping note of the chip stacks.
For 7 card stud tournament play, the general rules are usually as follows:
For multi-table tournaments, usually only the players seated at the final table will collect any type of prize. Again, the number of players that started in the tournament will determine up to which places are paid a fraction of the prize pool at the final table.
Round levels determine the ante, and min/max table bets. These levels raise depending on the rules of the card room. They may be on a timer (e.g., levels raised every 15 minutes). Often they are raised every 10th hand. A rough example of the levels is as follows:
|Level||Chip Ante||Chip Bet|
For online play the screen will usually tell you which level and which round/hand the table is at. (e.g., Level III, Hand #8). In this case you know that there are two more hands that will be dealt before the level moves to Level IV where the ante and bet minimums will increase.
Especially for tournament play where the prize pools or the buy-ins are large and you are not necessarily there to test the water or kill time, be well rested, 100% focused and clear with the ability to count the cards and suits, and get an early read on players. Play to win.
The position you have with the cards in your hand is crucial at all times when determining whether to go in on a hand.
Do not be fooled into thinking that your hand is the best hand because it is pocket or split Kings, Queens, or Jacks. Especially if your three-of-a-kind is dead, if your other kicker card is dead, and especially if the type of stud you are playing is hi-low. (If you are playing hi-low, please read the article on Deadly Cowboys.)
In tournament play, (especially hi-low) there is no real reason to play Kings with more than one Ace behind you if you are drawing dead and you have no outs to a flush and are not likely to catch a straight. If your kicker is an Ace in your hand as well, or all Aces are out on the table, by all means, play the hand, as Aces can be considered dead.
If you are in early position from the bring in and you have two other Aces behind you that may call and it is likely that your opponents will be playing them, it is not worth the risk of having the second best hand and chasing it to the river for proof that it was second best, or that maybe by some miracle neither of them really had aces, or the person that may end up turning another ace now has three aces or aces-up.
On a rare occasion yes, you may catch your third king, a backdoor flush, and possibly a late straight however, in early position with Aces behind you it's perfectly alright to fold a pair of Kings. Pat yourself on the back for making a good lay-down. You'd probably end up stressing out over flushes showing. If you decide to play this hand either raise or fold in early position with Aces behind you. If they lay down, great. You probably now have the best hand. If either of them calls, you are only in danger from here on of chasing to the river to catch the better hand.
In any case, in tournament play, your position in relation to the bring-in and the cards behind you play an especially important when deciding to play the hand. Don't let the value of the face cards fool you. A pair of 9s can have just as much ammunition if they are live and you have plenty of other outs to a straight, flush, three of a kind, or even a full house.
In the early rounds of the tournament when the fun is just beginning there may very well be these personalities at the table. It will be important to identify these types of players to adjust your play right away. Some tables are very laid back, everyone focused and playing patiently and competitively, while other tables may be incredibly aggressive.
The 'now or never' player will begin the first level aggressively with the mindset that if they are not going to have a significant lead in the first three or so levels, it will not be worth their time to continue lingering in the tournament. Usually the player will call many hands, either legitimately or in the hopes that they will end up catching great hands with questionable combinations, or raise very aggressively to steal pots, bluff, or raise better hands out with mediocre hands.
Unfortunately, in the early rounds this player may be difficult to identify because the player may very well be on a rush with excellent starting hand combinations. However, if the player is re-raising in early rounds, it is an obvious tell that the player wants an early and significant chip lead, and doesn't want to bother with hanging out for several hours to find out that they will end up in 6th place. One of the pros of having or being this type of player at a table is certainly the cost of time spent. It also knocks the weaker players out earlier, and can significantly raise the amount of chips in the stack if the hands are won. This also either causes the table to play tighter, or tilt players into playing looser with questionable combinations with reluctance to fold. They will usually mellow out their play after they are comfortable with their chip stack. The goal of this player is to have an early and strong lead.
On the contrary, the investment of chips and the loss of a couple of hands will severely handicap the player's ability to use the chip stack as leverage on any hand they call. By the time this has occurred other players will have identified the aggressive player and adjust to that players game by playing just as aggressively to knock the player off of the table.
The Lawn Chair player will sit back and watch for perhaps the first two levels, carefully identifying which players call few or many hands, and identifying where their opponents weaknesses are in relation to their position against them at the table. This type of player is usually identified when you have not seen them call a hand in 20-30 hands. They are not necessarily asleep at the wheel and they are not necessarily tight players.
By the time they come into a hand and are betting out, they will win pots mostly because, since they haven't called any hands previously, players at the table will believe that the player must have an excellent combination. This player is dangerous, in that, by the time they come in at Level III, the player has an excellent read on most of the table, and yet still a competitive chip stack. The pot wins beginning at Level III for this player in addition to their current un-played chip stack will significantly increase their stack. Investment of chips is, in most cases, to their advantage. The player has an excellent read on opponents and will use this as ammunition when they come in for a hand.
Having or being this type of player at the table is mostly advantageous, however, if the player waits too many rounds to come in, or suffers only a few beats, the chip leader(s) may already be significantly ahead enough that staying competitive with their own chip stack becomes a challenge.
This player comes in for few hands with a high win percentage at or before the showdown. This type of player is fairly obvious. Watching the (few) amount of hands they play, how often they check, and their ability to fold, has most likely kept their chip stack even, or slightly up. This type of player is patient and is not usually worried about the amount of chips they have in the early rounds as long as they remain even or have a decent stack that averages the rest of the table. They will generally limp in, and not raise the bring-in, they will wait for someone else to do it for them and simply call. This player will also normally not re-raise any raises. They will either check, call, or fold. (Unless of course they are toting a flush or a full house.)
Being this type of player at a table, other players will often fold down knowing that you have an excellent combination of cards. It will keep you in the game hopefully until other players have busted out. It also keeps the chip stack competitive.
On the contrary, the pots are not big for this type of player, because when this player is in a hand, others will know that they are competing against a good hand. This player's chip stack will, for the most part, remain constantly even. For a player that is hoping just to get to the seat that has the prize pool money regardless of whether it is 4th place, this is probably the type of player that will make it there. Before long this type of player will adjust their strategy in later levels to increase their chip stack potential, but really only after a few players have busted out already.
The 'Honest Abe' player is much like the tightwad; playing good combinations, and playing by the book with calling, raising, and folding. Not necessarily playing tight combinations or being tight with their chips as the tightwad would, this player will play competitive hands by betting and calling. This player will show the table many of the hands that they were in on, to let the table know that they were calling or have just raised with something very strong, even if they lost the showdown on the river.
Rarely mucking their cards without feeling like they have to show them to everyone, works both for and against this player. By showing the hand, the results become similar to that of the tightwad; players know when they are dealing with a competitive hand. They benefit a small pot to maintain an even or average chip stack. This type of player rarely ever bluffs, if they know how to, or can ever bring themselves to at all.
The detriment of this type of play is that the rest of the players see the type of combinations that Honest Abe opens with, and get a feel for what it takes to get them to fold. Especially if the player slow plays aces and kings, few people will stay in the hand to increase the pot for them. Mostly, and I'll say this for myself from experience, most other players don't really care, except that now they are developing a good read on the player. They wouldn't be playing if they didn't think their hand was just as competitive or had draws to hands that were superior.
In the long run, showing hands except to show courtesy to someone who has just shown a very tough lay-down is not recommended. If you are ever going to show a hand, show the bluffs you just won to tilt other players into playing recklessly with bad combinations.
Regardless of the personalities playing at the tables, the most important thing is adjustment. When up against the players you must adjust your strategy to out play the other player, especially if the hand is heads-up. Know their combo's, when they raise, and what will get them to fold down.
In the early rounds of the game while developing a read on the players, the game will usually start one of two ways. In some respects, as a tournament begins, it's as if the green light at the Drag Races just turned and everyone is racing to the finish line. Many people are calling, few people are folding, pots are seemingly large. Alternatively, you could be at a table where, at first, few people are calling just to get their feet wet and do not want to risk losing too many chips too early.
My advice for beginning a tournament is to play as if your entire bankroll were on the line, whatever that means to you. This will hopefully help to ground your processes of thinking when deciding to go in on a hand. If at that time your entire bankroll means to play tight, play tight. If it means to play aggressively, play aggressively as if to double it up.
Go with whatever playing your bankroll would mean to you at the time, AND always play intelligently. Do not play shyly, and do not play defensively. If your frame of mind is to play either of these ways, your odds for being in the tournament to get to one of the money seats is not very probable.
The early rounds of a tournament should be spent studying your opponents and playing good combinations with little concern for the stack of chips in front of you or in front of anyone else. Do not forget that your position in relation to the bring-in and the cards behind you at this stage is crucial.
Getting over the mid-game hump in 7 card stud is the most difficult and technical part of the tournament. By mid-game, if you have been attentive and focused you should have a very good read on most or all of your opponents. By now, a couple of players at your table have already busted out.
Mid game is the most crucial part of the game to determine advancement to the final table or the top 4 at a single table. Most players tighten up significantly or loosen up significantly with their combinations. Middle of the road callers will quickly be eliminated. Coming in for a hand becomes a great expense of chips, pot wins are significantly high, and pot plays are mostly three way or heads-up. Bluffing becomes more and more of a key strategy.
During mid game play the chip stacks are now relevant to the hands you will play, (whereas, before they did not hold very much weight). This is in addition to taking note of the cards behind you and your position in relation to the bring-in when deciding to go in.
During mid game with less people in a multiway pot, the biggest hand threats become three of a kind, straights, and full houses. Because there are less people in the pot to aid with odds to a flush (there needs to be approximately 4-5 people in the hand usually for odds to achieve your flush).
My advice for mid game strategy adjustment is as follows:
Getting out of the way is often taken for granted in tournament play because players get myopic (tunnel vision) on the greatness of their own hand. Unless you know that your hand is absolutely the top hand (you will usually know if it is) get out of the way so that you do not add to the short stack's pot if they win. Their win in the mid game rounds will usually end up doubling their stack.
Often, short stacks will linger going all-in and winning at the end, however the pots will be small enough that eventually they should peel off of the table.
In a 3 way pot against a short stack, raising to put them all-in risks doubling them up or at best, busting them off of the table. If you know that your hand is not the top hand or are unsure, check to the other player. They will usually check back and forth on each turn to the river as to not protect the all-in with adding any more money to the pot. This also works as insurance that there is another player in the hand who will add additional odds for knocking the player out in case their hand is not strong enough to what is turning in the all-in caller's hand.
If the other player places a bet when you check against an all-in, it is usually a signal that they already have a made hand that will most likely beat the all-in player and they are willing to take the responsibility for it (as well as the chips, however it does bust one more player off of the table).
This does not mean however to automatically fold your hand. They may be testing your hand strength in an attempt to steal the pot that the all-in has placed. If you feel that your hand is competitive, call with caution. At any cards that are of no help to you, get out of the hand immediately. Unless you know that your hand is the better hand get out of the way in a pot where a player makes a bet against you with an all-in at the table.
You also do not want to be in the middle of two short stacks fighting for place position. Although you may have the opportunity to bust both players off of the table, it is also an opportunity to double up an opponents chip stack while losing half of your own. Letting the short stacks fight it out will usually not double them up, as most likely one or both of them will be going all-in.
Although it may seem silly, people really actually forget when they are betting against another player in a multi way pot that there is an all-in at the table who's cards may very well be the best of them all. I've seen multi-way bets continuing against all-in players showing high straights and flushes, which protects the all-in player from busting out, especially if the flush and straight was completely live.
The percentage of the pot they may win will keep them in the tournament possibly twice as long as they should have been, and probably give them enough chips to make a recovery where they could have just as easily busted out the next hand if they were not protected by the betting going on in the first place. Do not forget about the all-in. They may have decided to go all in for a very good reason and not just because they were keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the best.
If you were playing well enough and catching great cards to make it through the mid game section of the tournament, congratulations and best of success on your end game.
End game forces an entire shift in strategy, and adjustment to the number of players at the table. For the purposes of explanation, end game is considered here to consist of a table of three players or less. Most hands are played heads up, and hand bluffing becomes a good percentage of the hands being played.
Anything can happen short-handed. The biggest threats heads up are higher two pair and three of a kind, as flushes are still unlikely to show at a short-handed table. Odds to completing a straight also decrease, however they are still a strong possibility, especially if the pot has all three players in the hand.
The pressure to take pots increases as the ante's and bet limits become overwhelming and the loss of only one hand can severely handicap any leverage that a player may have. Any player to win a pot at the higher levels will usually be doubled up, or close to doubled up on their chip stack.
Counting cards and suits has little relevance as there are not enough players in hands to get an accurate estimate of anything.
My recommendation for end game strategy is as follows:
If you are playing with the short stack, play as few hands as possible except with powerful combinations or you feel you have an excellent opportunity to bluff. Depending on just how short your stack is, by playing fewer hands, you may be buying time, allowing the two larger stacks to battle it out for a short while. If you have a very short stack, you have little or no leverage or credibility against the chip leaders and they will most likely call you all the way if they have any kind of hand at the hope of eliminating you from the tournament. Your short stack is tempting to re-raise with the hopes of putting you all-in on a hand, or getting you to fold down which will impair your ability to stay in the game, eventually knocking you off of the table.
If the other players have not been accustomed to you raising or re-raising, now is the perfect time to do it with strong combinations. Raise with every hand. Raise any bets. Re-raise any raises when you've turned overcards. Do not cut any slack. Do not be consistent with raise or fold strategy. For a short period of time this will afford you a nice stack of chips usually scaring them out of the hand. Once they are on to your strategy, however, tighten up the game once again. In one sense this also speeds up the amount of time the tournament lasts.
The final three is really survival of the fittest and who is able to adapt and outplay other players based on the cards that are turning and not necessarily what the actual hand consists of. Do not be careless with raising and re-raising. Sometimes this strategy will fail at the cost of many chips. Acknowledge when bluff attempts have failed while in a hand and fold down gracefully.
If you end up heads up at a table battling for first place. Cut no slack. Raise or fold. Again, if you are the bring-in and want to play the hand and your opponent raises, re-raise if your combination is strong, and acknowledge to them that your hand is legitimately competitive, and any scare cards that turn will hopefully get them to fold down. Fold if your combination is weak.
Do not play against a hand that has a door card ace showing unless you have a three flush with all face cards in your hand, or a suited ace in the pocket with high kickers. If you are both showing Aces, fold down if you are the bring-in and do not have a pair. Call if the other person calls, fold if the other player raises.
At a multi-table tournament, being moved to a new table can seriously affect your chip stack, just as well as you can be affected by other players being moved to your table.
Keep in mind that with the ever-changing adjustments you are making during play, you must re-evaluate any new players that move to your table, just as you would evaluate an entire table if you have moved to a new one. You may be now playing with opponents who have come from an aggressive table and will continue to play aggressively. If you were at a more mild and tactical table you may have just been moved to an aggressive table where you are folding down great hands needlessly.
The pressure of time is heavy when antes and bet limits are increasing, so there is not a lot of time to determine what type of player(s) you are now sitting with. Hopefully you will have a few hands to observe them play and see a few showdowns before getting into a hand with them. If not, assume that any raises and re-raises that come from new players at a table is simply that they are playing aggressive strategy.
On another note, when moving to a new table, using an aggressive strategy to open with your first hands will often win you a nice pot or two before they determine that you may have probably come from an aggressive table. Make re-adjustments to the table accordingly after taking a few hands that you've scared people out of, so that they are not able to read you right away.
For each new table determine as quickly as possible which strategy will fit best. Play as you would in the early rounds while early at the table. When 2-3 players have busted off of the table, switch to mid-game strategy.
Play end game strategy when there are 4 players at the final table, or there are 2 tables left and there are 4 people left at the table you are at. When you move to the final table with 8 players, play mid game strategy until there are 4 players left.