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How to Play a Tournament

Many online poker players ask that how they should change their play for a poker tournament. Assuming they are good players, the answer is small. It is a mistake to think that there should be severe changes just because you are playing a tournament. There are few changes, however, that you should take into account. These changes are based on a few factors that distinguish tournaments from other normal poker games.

•  The other players are likely playing differently than usual.

•  You can win the second or third prize with only a few chips.

•  If you lose your chip, you should leave the game.

•  You can't choose your rivals but you can usually count on going to a different table as players get knocked out and tables combine.

Let us see how the above four factors affect your strategy.

•  Whereas the fact that you are playing a tournament should precisely not change your strategy so much, the fact is that most players do change their strategy a great deal. This in turn must affect your poker strategy concept. You will find that several rivals are playing much tighter than they normally do. This means you must also tighten up, especially tightening up your calls and value bets. Conversely, you should be inclined to bluff as your rival will be more inclined to fold than the normal.

•  Most of the tournament pay prizes for second and third place (some pay down to the ninth place). A standard prize structure is sixty percent and ten percent for third. Because of this, your strategy should change during the last stage of a tournament when there are only few players left. This is true if you have very few chips. If you have, suppose, a very short stack and there are four players left, you should play very tightly in the expectation that one of the other players will get knocked out. Now you fall into third place. (This strategy is not applicable to tournaments in which you only keep the value of the chips you have in front of you when the tournament ends.)

However, if you find yourself with a lot of chips against two or three short stacks, you can steal the blind as they keep folding, expecting that some other player will go broke.

If you find yourself with few chips near the end and notice that the other players are anteing off their money waiting for you to go broke then you should change the poker strategies and gamble.

•  If you are the best player at your table you should try to prevent risking your chips on any one hand unless you are a big favorite. In a regular game, you can buy more chips if you go broke with the expectation of getting even. In a tournament, as the best player, you are better off not pushing small edges if this risk going you broke. Instead, make sure you have chips to play another hand (This rule does not apply if you are allowed an additional buy-in if you go broke.)

•  If you are at a very tough table that figures to be broken up immediately play very conventionally so that you can be sure you will have chips when you go to an easier table. However, if there are only tough tables left, go ahead and play your normal game as things don't figure to get better.

A Tournament Anomaly

This essay relates a mathematical paradox that occurs in restricted tournaments that play down to one player but player but pay prize money to the last few players eliminated. To explain this, let's say there is a tournament that pays sixty percent for first place, thirty percent for second place, and ten percent for third place.

Suppose there are only three players left in the tournament and each one has exactly $1000 in front of him. With $3000 in the tournament this means that the first place is worth $1800 second is worth $900 and the third place poker winner receives $300.

1800 = 3000 * 60/100

900 = 3000 * 30/100

300 = 3000 * 10/100

However, if they are all equal players, then each player in this spot should expect to win an average of $1000.

1000 = (1/3) *(1800) + (1/3) * (900) + (1/3) * (300)

Suppose here that the players A and B get all in against each other while player C sits out. Suppose also that before the last card it is ascertained that it is exactly 50-50 as far as which of the two hands will win.

Let's examine player A's expectation for the tournament. He will lose the pot one half of the time and thus get the $300 third prize. The other half of the time he will win the pot and thus be a 2-to-1 favorite (since he now has $2000) to beat player C heads-up. He will thus come in third one-half of the time, second one-sixth of the time, and first one-third of the time.

His expectation is $900.

900 = (1/2) * (300) + (1/6) * (900) + (1/3) * (1800)

The same estimation is true for player B. But how can this be? Both players A and B started their hand with an expectation of $1000. They are now gambling on a dead-even proposition. Yet this gamble seems to be costing both of them money in the long run.

Where has this extra $200 gone? Has player C got that by sitting out the pot? Well, let's figure it out.

Irrespective of the outcome of the tournament between A and B, player C with find himself a 2-1 underdog to the winner. Therefore, his expectation is

(1/3)(1800) + (2/3)(900)

This comes out to $1200. He does perhaps pick up $200 "equity" by simply watching the poker games.

Freeze-Out Prices

While playing in poker tournaments, it occurs that there is much more betting on the outcome when it gets down to two or three players. It also occurs that the players themselves may make some decision so as not to be gambling for the full prize. (To put other words, it is agreed that the final winner will pay the final loser final loser something. This is called as a saver.)

The difficulty is how to figure the chances of each of the players winning. Apparently with the equal chips the best player has the best opportunity. But what if the chips are not equal?

To determine this, we will assume that the players are equally skillful. We shall also assume that there are just two players, though the method will work for any number.

For instance the two players are playing some sort of gambling game (it does not have to be poker). One player has twelve chips and the other player has four chips and they are betting a chip one at a time. They agree to play until one of them is broke. What are the chances the first player will win the freeze-out?

To answer this, just imagine that these two players play 1000 such freeze outs. How many of these freeze-outs should each player win?

The significance to this problem is the fact that it is decent game (such as flipping coins for one chip at a time). Because it is a decent game it means that the players must break even in the long run. Neither can show a long run profit if there is no advantage to it. Now, if they play 1000 freeze outs, how is it that the players would break even chip-wise? It can happen only if the player with the twelve chips busts the player with the four chips 750 times while he gets busted himself 250 times. This outcome breaks them even. Therefore, we see that in a freeze out of a decent game between players with unequal chips, the chances of each player winning are same in proportion to the number of chips he has. If he has twice the chips of his rival, he has twice the chance of winning. This simplifies to more than two players also as long as they play until one player gets all the money. Each player's chance of poker winning is the exactly same that as that fraction of the total chips that he has in front of him. (In a real poker game, there is little deviation from this outcome because players with short stacks can go all in but the effect is insignificant.)

Now that we see how to develop the odds in a freeze-out among two or more equal players, how do we adjust them if the players are not equal? The answer is to adjust for the ability of the players by taking the decent game implied odds as the base and then adding something to the best player's chances while subtracting from the others. For example, with equal chips with the best player may be sixty percent to win. Similarly, he may win money with forty percent of the chips.

When you actually make adjustments, it is significant to remember one thing: The higher they are playing in proportion to the chips, the smaller the edge for the better player and therefore the smaller the adjustment. The more the hands they get to play, the better is for the best player. However, if they are playing $500-$1000 and have only $10000 between them, you'd better not go far from the chips ratio if you are betting the favorite.

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