Adjustments to make when playing in small, fast, local tournaments

By Davin Anderson

This article appeared previously in The Cardroom’s September/October 2007 edition. Due to the continued popularity of these tournaments, we thought the information was still relevant and it was time to share it again.

The popularity of no-limit tournaments has pushed most local poker rooms to offer several small buy-in no-limit tournaments to their local clientele. These tournaments are structured to trim the fields quickly, and are usually over in 4–5 hours.

When you play in these tournaments, you are really playing in a “turbo” or “speed” tournament. For those trying to apply normal tournament strategies to these quick tournaments, the experience can be futile and frustrating.

The first thing you should do when entering such a tournament is to evaluate the blind structure and the prize structure. Don’t be fooled by the larger starting stacks in many of these tournaments—the key factor is the blind structure.

There are two easy ways to reveal the true nature of the blind schedule of tournaments. One is to compare the size of the blinds at the end of each hour or break, the other is to see how many times the blinds double throughout the tournament.

The prize structure for most quick tournaments is extremely top heavy. In larger tournaments the standard is to pay approximately 20 percent of the field, while most local tournaments pay no more than 10 percent of the field.

This type of prize structure benefits the players that are aggressive gamblers who border on maniacal. Their willingness to gamble in big pots gives them a huge advantage over their opponents when they win these pots. If everyone waits for premium hands in the later rounds, it truly becomes just a game of chance.

If your favorite local tournament follows this format, then you should adjust your play and strategy accordingly. Here are some tips for playing in these quick, small, local tournaments.

  • The standard action will be to raise, push or fold for 95 percent of the tournament, so preflop hand selection should be either very tight or very aggressive. Limping and folding, or calling and folding, will be very costly in the long run.

  • Don’t play small or middle suited connectors. Raised multiway pots will be too big to fold a middle pair or good drawing hand postflop. The best way to avoid these tough decisions and traps is to simply fold preflop.

  • In the middle to late stages, hands like A-K, A-Q, J-J, and Q-Q are automatic preflop pushing hands with two or more limpers in front of you. Standard-size raises rarely win the pot after people have limped and seldom work in these situations.

  • I often look for major confrontations early and often with the goal of doubling or tripling my stack early, with this thought in mind: “Go big or go home.” If I can achieve big stack status (80 or more big blinds), I sit back and wait for the field to thin itself out before looking for more confrontations.

  • Observe the 20 percent rule. If the pot size is already equal to 20 percent of your stack and you believe you have the best hand, push!

  • Become an aggressive blind stealer prior to the bubble in order to gather chips, but use raises just large enough to win without risking more chips than you need to (2 to 2.5 times the big blind is ideal). Use the average bubble stack as a goal in the middle stages. By using small, blind-stealing raises, you leave yourself the option to fold. Use this option often.

When you’re a regular at a weekly tournaments, choose a strategy geared to long term goals and gauge success in the long term. By using a more aggressive approach there will be many weeks when you go home early, but you will also give yourself more opportunities to win. And with the top-heavy and limited prize structures, success is at the top 10 percent.