Poker tournament strategies and tips

Poker tournament strategies and tips

Imagine it: the flash, the glamour, the sheer excitement as you take your seat at the table of the World Series of Poker. The crowd can’t wait to see what you’ll do. Your opponents are quaking in their boots. You have arrived… in the magnificent world of poker tournaments!

Of course, there are all kinds and sizes of poker tournaments that don’t require you to be at the very top of your game or at professional level – there are plenty of tournaments for amateurs. In this guide, we’re taking a look at the multiplayer, multi-round games that can launch you into the stratosphere of casino game play.

The very first World Series of Poker was held back in 1970, when the Horseshoe casino – the sponsor – didn’t even have a poker room. Nonetheless, about 30 players showed up, played around small tables in a tiny alcove and set the stage for what would become the world’s greatest poker tourney less than fifty years later.

It didn’t take too long for the WSOP to make it to TV screens. By 1973, CBS was televising the tournament and, until 1979, this was the only real high-stakes, high-value tournament around.

The next big tournament to make the scene debuted in 1979. This was Amarillo Slim’s SBOP – Super Bowl of Poker! – and it followed a similar format to the WSOP. Unfortunately, this tournament wouldn’t last nearly as long, suffering under venue difficulties and instability. The 1991 SBOP only hosted 12 players for its main event, and not long after, the tournament stopped entirely.

Major global tournaments

Among the biggest tourneys that still run each year are:

  • The World Series of Poker (USA)
  • European Poker Tour (tour, no fixed location)
  • World Series of Poker Europe (London 2007, Cannes 2011, Paris since 2013)
  • Asia Pacific Poker Tour (Macau)
  • Latin American Poker Tour (Argentina)
  • The Crown Australian Poker Championship/Aussie Millions (Australia)
  • World Series of Poker Asia Pacific (Australia)
  • World Poker Tour (tour, no fixed location)
  • All Africa Poker Tournament (Swaziland)
  • The National Heads-up Poker Championship (USA)

Online tournaments

Some of the major online tournaments include:

  • The World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP)
  • Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS)
  • World Poker Tour (WTP)

To join a tournament, you first need to establish what kind you wish to join: online or live.

Live tournaments

To join one of the biggest tourneys, you will need to pay a buy-in. These can be prohibitively expensive for all but the most prolific players. Tournaments like the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour usually kick off with several small tourneys at various locations around the world. They then move on to a main event that requires buy-in and pays winners millions.

Buy-in can be a huge stumbling block, though. The European Poker Tour, for example, requires €5300 to buy into, while the WSOP buy-in for the highest level events can be as high as $50,000.

This is where satellite tournaments come in, making reaching the pinnacle of poker godhood attainable for ordinary players. Many of the online poker sites and casinos offer satellite tournaments that players can participate in. The prizes for these, however, are not cash; rather, they are a buy-in to one of the big tournaments.

Online tournaments

Besides these satellite competitions, many online casinos offer their own in-house tournaments that offer various money and gift prizes. The entry criteria for these can vary. For example, some might offer them to loyalty scheme members, while others might be open to all comers with a smaller buy-in. Online tournaments are a great way to get used to the pressure of competition, in preparation for a big deal.

Once you have reached the level of entering tournaments, you can no longer be considered a beginner player. By now, you should have a fairly solid grip on the game of poker and its intricacies. The following tips are designed to help you maximise your opportunities at competition level.

Don’t enter unless you’re ready to commit

Tournament players are there for the long haul. Once you’ve entered, there are only two ways to leave the game, besides forfeiting. First, if you run out of chips, you are eliminated from the competition. Second, you can be the final player standing and win the entire tournament.

Watch the stacks

Each player starts the tournament with a stack of chips issued to them on buy-in. When those run out, so does your place in the game, unless the specific tourney offers a chance to buy back in. You can learn a lot about your fellow players by how quickly or slowly the size of their stack grows or shrinks throughout each game and the tournament. It can also be a useful indicator of who, literally, has more to lose, and therefore may be more susceptible to a bluff.

Don’t rush into things

You, too, have a limited number of chips for the duration of this event, and you should try to avoid blowing them all right out of the gate. There’s nothing wrong with taking the early stages of competition conservatively. Focus on playing only your stronger hands and maintaining your stack as far as possible.

Consider the overall strategy

When you make it to the late stages of the competition, it’s time to consider the possible outcomes. Some tournaments operate on a winner-takes-all basis, while others may have smaller prize pools for the top several places. In this case, you might consider it prudent to simply try to occupy one of those places, instead of chasing the big win.

Stealing blind

In hold ‘em style games like Texas and Omaha, there is no set ante to play. To prevent each hand from being a penniless fold-fest, blinds are introduced to the table. These chips ensure there is a minimum bet on the table, regardless of what happens next. A savvy player can score these extra chips for themselves without too much fuss if they raise pre-flop, and all other players fold. You then automatically win the blinds, thereby increasing your stack.


When your stack is running low and you can’t see more than about ten hands into the future, it may be time to try a somewhat aggressive push/fold strategy. This is where you go all in, pre-flop, with every last chip in your stack, hoping to encourage all other players to fold in the face of your extreme confidence. This way, you may not win much or anything from your opponents, but you do get your hands on those blinds.

Don’t back down when you’re in the lead

When it’s getting close to the late stages of the tournament, you may find yourself in a strong chip position. This is when it becomes important to leverage that strong position to eliminate some of the short and medium-stack players. By adopting a somewhat aggressive game style, you can push them to either make hasty decisions or fold more easily.


Once you’ve reached the point where you are participating in online or live poker tournaments, it’s official: you are playing like a pro! Well done. Getting to these levels of poker greatness can be challenging and takes a commitment of time and money. If you feel you are ready to enter this rarefied air, we can only say, congratulations, and we wish you all the best in your poker career.