Tips For Playing the Early Stages of a Poker Tournament

Check out these tips for playing in the early stages of a poker tournament.

Poker tournaments are like books in they have early stages, a definite middle section, and a distinct end. Knowing how to correctly approach each tournament section is vital to your success. We’ll cover all three parts over the next couple of weeks starting with the early stages.

The Early Stages of an MTT Matter!

It is almost fashionable for players to turn up to a poker tournament late. This happens in online poker tournaments, not only in the live arena. More and more players wait until the dying stages of late registration to take their seats. Why? Because they don’t think the early stages matter.

Modern poker tournaments start deep-stacked so players can’t be bothered with the early stages when the blinds are small. They’re making a huge mistake by doing so.

The early stages of a poker tournament is where all of the weak players are competing. Most won’t make it to the middle stages. Those that do are probably just running hotter than the sun and catching more than their fair share of cards.

Being able to identify who the weak players are from the very beginning gives you an advantage. You’ll know if a weak player has got lucky and now has a big stack when you cross paths in the middle or late stages. You may tag them as danger if you didn’t notice how bad they were during the early stages of the event.

Tight Is Right During the Early Stages

Playing far too loose is a common mistake made by tournament players. They take unnecessary risks and splash around in pots because they have plenty of chips at their disposal. While you can’t win a tournament in the early stages, you can certainly lose one.

There’s no pressure on you to make any moves while you’re deep stacked. Leave that until later in the tournament when you need to accumulate chips.

Keep things tight, for the most part. Refrain from making big three and four-bets, even with powerhouse hands such as aces and pocket kings. You want to win pots with these big hands because they don’t come around very often, but the reverse implied odds are huge in the early stages. Do you really want to get into a spot for 250 big blind with nothing but top pair?

Trap Your Opponents But Don’t Get Trapped

We said you shouldn’t splash around in pots needlessly but you should play a few speculative hands. Remember how we said the early stages are ripe for spotting weaker players? These are your intended targets.

Weaker players overvalue hands such as top pair or overpair and you should take advantage of this. Suited connectors and small-to-medium pairs are great hands to see flops with against weak players. The mean reason being your implied odds are massive because they pay you off.

Imagine the damage you could do with someone prepare to get their stack into the middle with top pair when you’re sat with a set.

It’s a similar scenario when it comes to aggressive players. Just let them punt their chips at you when you’re strong, there’s no need to get tricky.

Take Time To Profile Your Opponents

The players you start a tournament with are the ones you’ll likely spend the most time with. This is unless your table is high on the breaking list. It should be obvious that it’s worth profiling as many of these early stages opponents as you can.

Make a note, either physically or mentally, of the hands that reach showdown. There’s no shame in jotting down your notes on a piece of paper if you’re not playing online. Gus Hansen did similar when he won the 2007 Aussie Millions Main Event and wrote a book from them!

Any information you obtain now stands you in good stead later in the tournament. Pay the most attention to the two players either side of you if you can’t profile the entire table. Do this because they’ll either be in the blinds when you have the button, or you’ll be in the blinds when they have it.

Matthew Pitt

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.


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