The best way to survive a tournament is to base your decisions on how many big blinds you have left in your chip stack. In the following articles I'm going to give you the key numbers to know what to do at every point in a tournament based on this knowledge.
Calculating Big Blinds -
Calculating the number of big blinds you have left is easy: simply count how many chips in your stack and divide by how much the big blinds are. If you have 10,000 chips and the blinds are 50-100, then you have 100 big blinds.
Blind-Based Decisions -
Once you know how big your stack is, you can start making decisions on what hands to play and how to play them. As you'll see, some of this stuff is a little counterintuitive, but if you can master these numbers, it will go a long way toward improving your tournament success.
100+ Big Blinds (Beginning of the tournament, usually) -
Having over 100 big blinds in your stack usually means you're at the start of the tournament and most everyone has a deep stack. When you have over 100 bigs and nobody else does is a very different situation, but comes up so rarely that I won't cover it today. Instead, I will talk exclusively about the the opening rounds of a tournament where everyone is deepstacked.
The beginning of a tournament is actually a very interesting time, and one that a lot of novice players misplay badly. There are two competing factors:
- There is very little to be gained and a lot to lose when entering a hand.
- There is a lot of dead money (bad players) out there, and you need to play pots with them and get their money before someone else does.
So how do we reconcile these two factors?
Reverse Implied Odds -
Reverse implied odds are, as the name suggests, the opposite of implied odds. It can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but at its core it means that on a certain wager, you stand to lose more later in the hand if you lose than you're going to win if you prevail. In early tournament play, this means that if you enter a pot with a pair of Aces, the blinds are so small that is difficult to make any money on them if they win. But when you lose, it is a hand that is very difficult to get away from, so you usually end up paying people off when it gets beat.
"So, don't play Aces?" you ask, looking at me like I'm some kind of bug. No, of course, you play Aces. But I want you to follow a little rule that has served me very well in deep stack situations:
Never play a big pot without a big hand. One pair is not a big hand.
This means that with unimproved Aces, make sure that play small pot. Bet reasonably to protect your hand, but don't get trapped. Use position to check behind possible trappers. Give up the hand if the board gets scary and your opponent wants to play for their whole stack. Very few people are going to make huge bluffs this early in the tournament, so watch out for sets. Remember, when all the money goes in, one pair rarely comes out with a win.
Big Stacks = Speculative Hands -
One of the ways to get at the dead money is to play speculative hands in position. The "in position" part is very key. If you hit a speculative hand out of position it is very hard to get it paid off, but in position it becomes much easier.
Hope Your Opponent Has a Big Hand -
That's the counter-intuitive part: if you're calling a raise in position with a small pair (my favorite speculative hand and the easiest one to play) you want your opponent to have Aces. If you hit your set, he'll have trouble believing you, and you might get a huge portion of his stack, compared to the small percentage of yours that you had to put in to play. If your opponent has a weaker hand (but one that is still ahead of yours) and they miss while you hit, then you don't get the payoff that justified the preflop call.
Proceed with Caution
Early tournament play, though sometimes tedious, is still important. Chips gained from bad players here grow exponentially as you double up and can help you survive when the field gets winnowed down to a higher ratio of good players to bad.
Next up: 31-100 Big Blinds