Each of us is guilty of making huge errors in judgment from time to time while playing poker tournaments. However, with experience you avoid many of the major errors that beginners often repeat with frequency.
These “deadly sins,” as we will call them, are why some players can never seem to make money in a tournament or they barely squeak into the money and seldom make a final table. If you’re looking to improve your poker tournament player, here are seven deadly sins to avoid in poker tournaments.
Playing too Many Big Pots Early
You can’t win a poker tournament in the early levels but you can certainly get yourself knocked out. Some players get it in their minds that they need to amass a huge stack early and push too hard to accomplish this goal. This leads some to play in too many big pots in the early levels.
Some big pot confrontations are unavoidable, such as you picking up aces and kings decides to get into a raising war. However, there’s no real reason for you to be four and five-betting with A-9 in the early levels.
The early levels are all about pot control and winning many small pots while avoiding big confrontations that put your stack at risk.
Failing to Adjust Your Play Once Ante’s Kick In
Up until the ante’s kick in, the only chips in the pot pre-flop are the blinds and in most tournaments, they are very small relative to the blinds. However, once the ante’s kick in the dynamic changes a bit.
The blinds are now a more significant portion of the starting stack. Also, keep in mind that antes are the equivalent of going through the blinds a second time. Therefore, every round you play after the antes is equal to passing through the blinds twice.
Knowing this, it is time to start going after some of these pots in order to stay ahead of the antes. Every pot you steal outside of the blinds adds another round of chips to your stack for that level. Fail to adjust your play and your stack will shrink quickly unless you start getting lucky and picking up hands that hold up.
Playing to “Make the Money” on the Bubble
As the money bubble approaches, you can tell which players are looking just to cash in the tournament and which ones are looking to win. Those looking to “make the money” will tighten up their play and only get involved in pots when they have big hands.
Those looking to win will actually loosen up their play and take advantage of the “cashers.” You will see them raise much more frequently and some of the larger stack may play every hand.
Tightening up your play is detrimental to your endgame as you’re missing out on free chips that players are willingly passing up in order to cash. Also, you’re risking your tournament life as a prolonged bubble can really cut into your stack.
Waiting for a Big Hand with a Short Stack
Often you will see players that start getting short and rather than looking for a spot to get their stack in good with some potential fold equity, they wait for a big hand. Once you drop down to 20 big blinds and under, this is the point you want to start looking for hands to push.
If you’re still in the 13 to 20 big blind range, you still have a good shot to get some fold equity and pick up at least one M (blinds plus antes) for your stack. When you drop down to 12 big blinds and fewer, you typically don’t have enough of a stack to consistently force the larger stacks to fold.
Not Stealing Enough Later in Tournaments
If you watch the players who are steadily growing their stack later in tournaments, they are the players who are more active and stealing blinds and antes on a regular basis. If you’re not stealing enough blinds and antes, then you’re treading water at best in relation to the blinds and antes.
Stealing blinds also allows you to keep enough chips for when the big pots come along where you either double-up or add a significant number of chips to your stack.
Failing to Adjust for Short-Handed Play
As players are eliminated and tables get down to seven or even six-handed, some players fail to realize that the dynamic of the game has changed. Starting hand values change and you need to open up your range to compete competently.
A good rule of thumb for those that struggle with short-handed play is to adjust your standard game and move your range up by one level for each position. By this, we mean that hands that you would normally reserve for middle and late position are now hands you can open with in early position.
Also, hands that you would reserve exclusively for late position or the blinds are now hands you can open with more from middle position. Short-handed is also when you can start three and even four-bet a bit light as it is tougher to pick up monster hands.
If you stick to a standard game plan during short-handed play, you’re going to find yourself outplayed and your chip dwindling unless you start running hot.
Tangling Unnecessarily with Other Big Stacks Late
A big mistake you will see on occasion is when a big stack decides to get into a massive confrontation late in a poker tournament with a similar or larger stack. The ultimate example of this was at the final table of the 2010 WSOP Main Event when chip leader Joseph Cheong decides to go nuts with Ac-7h against Jonathan Duhamel. Ultimately, he shoved for 95 million and Duhamel called for less with pocket queens and the queens held.
At the time, John Racener was third in chips and looked destined to go out third. Cheong’s misstep ultimately resulted in his finishing 3rd, which cost him $1.4 million in prize money.
When you’re late in a tournament with a big stack, you want to avoid marginal confrontations with other big stacks. You can quickly go from being a chip leader or a larger stack to a short stack or eliminated. Also, you risk physical equity with such a play.
While it is not recommended to ladder at a final table, when you have shorter stacks you should take advantage of the potential to move up in pay. Obviously you are going to play big pots when you have big hands but trying to “outplay” a large stack with a marginal hand is a blowup waiting to happen.