Playing in online poker tournaments, as offered at places like partypoker.com takes a certain amount of discipline. You must make certain strategic moves to preserve your chips and reach the final table. No one wants to be the "bubble" and be eliminated from a poker tournament just before the money position. You have to change your poker play strategy at particular junctures in an online poker tournament so you can cash out and increase your bankroll. The goal is to reach the final table.
Online poker tournaments have structure. The first period of time is from the start of the tournament until the first break. There are several opportunities available to a player in the early rounds of an online poker tournament. Limp in on as many hands as possible. See the flop when the blinds are low and you can afford to call. Play your mid level hands more aggressively in the early rounds. This is especially true in re-buy tournaments. Players are more likely to call raises and all-ins in a re-buy structured poker tournament. When you do get a superior hand, go all in to avoid suck outs. A player with a mediocre hand may call an average raise, but is more unlikely to call your raise as the risk to their chip stack increases. If the tournament structure offers add-ons to tournament players, definitely take advantage of this chip bonus. Always add on at the end of the first period of play if given the opportunity. These chips will come in handy for the next time period of the poker tournament and help you advance to the final table.
The second critical period of time in a poker tournament is from the end of the first break until the second break. During this time period, play your poker hands much more conservatively. The blinds have increased significantly from the early stage of the tournament and it is getting more expensive to call. Only play superior poker hands during this period of the tournament. Be aggressive when you do get a solid poker hand to eliminate a mediocre hand calling you. Let the other players in the tournament eliminate one another and watch closely to the style of play at your table. Although you may be moved from table to table in a poker tournament, you will gain valuable information about your opponents simply by watching how they bet. Keep notes on other players. You may not see the player again until the final table and will have forgotten valuable information on the player. You can always refer to your player notes at any time of the poker tournament to get updated on another players style of play.
As you near the final stages of the poker tournament, a phenomenon called the "gap" will begin to become apparent. Players will tighten up on their play significantly as the final stage of the tournament approaches. Take advantage of this by playing your mediocre hands more aggressively. Of course, if you raise with a mediocre hand a another player re-raises you, fold your hand immediately. You must preserve your chip stack and position at this point of the tournament. You will usually cash out for something if you reach a final table in a Texas hold em poker tournament. Be patient in the final rounds, and maximize your return by letting other players be eliminated before you. If this means that you have to fold an ace, king if an opposing player raises you all in, then fold your hand. It is not worth the risk of elimination from the tournament at this stage. You have come way too far at this point in the tournament to risk all of your chips. Remember that the prize awarded for first place is usually more than double second, and second place is usually double third, so your final position for the tournament will be the determining factor to how much money you can win. Take this fact very seriously when you play online poker tournaments. It could literally mean the difference between hundreds or thousands of dollars for your bankroll.
As you play more online Texas holdem poker tournaments, you will become more aware of how people tend to play differently at different stages of the tournament. Pay attention to the game and follow these simple guidelines to improve your chances of cashing out in an online poker tournament. As your skills develop, you will be cashing out more often in the future. Be patient, do not get frustrated, and learn from your mistakes. This will make you a better tournament poker player.
Anthony Sangenito is an Accountant and avid, everyday poker player who plays online & live cash games and tournaments.