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Keys to Success Playing Tournaments
Tournament Poker
by Mike Sexton

Tournament poker has expanded considerably in the last twenty years. In the ’70s, the only tournament was the World Series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas. Today, there are major tournaments every week throughout the world and daily tournaments for local customers in most card rooms. The reason for this is simple: poker players love tournaments.

Tournaments are exciting, challenging, and fun. Players play tournaments for various reasons, but primarily because one can take a small amount of money and win a lot. As poker legend Amarillo Slim says, “You can take a toothpick and turn it into a lumberyard.” Another reason is that most people like the thrill of competing. Poker is a game that everyone can compete at on an equal level. Age, sex, race, and religion are not factors at the poker table. Finally, players like the recognition factor and feeling of accomplishment that comes with winning poker tournaments.

There are differences in playing tournament poker as opposed to cash games. The first thing to recognize when you play tournaments is that once you lose the chips you start with, you are eliminated (unlike a cash game where you can go back to your pocket and get out more money). This means that your chips become more valuable when you get short-stacked. Guarding your chips and staying alive is critical if you are to succeed in a tournament. Protect them like a lion does her cubs. Remember this: You can’t win a tournament in the first few levels but you sure can lose it then. You have to get to the final table before you can win.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aggressive. It means that being aggressive and picking up chips early in a tournament is not nearly as valuable to you as surviving the early rounds. The best place to get aggressive during a tournament is when you get close to making the money. This is where the antes and blinds are high and where most people just sit back and wait for others to be eliminated in hopes they can make the money. This is the time the top tournament players shine. Being aggressive here allows them to build up their chips so they will have them where they count—at the final table. And the top players know how to get to the one-hole when they have chips at a final table.

The most important thing to know when playing a tournament is that the real money is at the top—first, second, and third place. The great players all recognize this. They are playing to win when they leave the starting gate (unlike the vast majority of players who are just trying to get to the money). Yes, they may get knocked out more often than others, but they also win more often, and winning is what it’s all about.

If you play a tournament, borrow the motto from the Boy Scouts and “Be Prepared.” You should never play a tournament when you are tired or in a bad frame of mind. To do well in a tournament, it is a necessity that you play a long session. You must be focused and concentrate throughout. It takes good preparation and good effort to win a tournament.

Playing tournament poker is exciting, challenging, and fun. Try one.

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