Tips for Winning Online Poker Tournaments

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Although poker has been played in its current form for well over a century, organized tournament poker is still a relatively new phenomenon, sparked by the introduction of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) began in Las Vegas in 1970. CBS Sports started televising the event three years later and its popularity grew, and Internet gave poker an even more widespread audience in the late 1990s.

But the real breakthrough came when online Poker tournaments were launched as the new millennium began. That’s when an amateur player named Chris Moneymaker turned a $39 entry in a web-based satellite tournament into a seat at the final table of the WSOP Main Event. By winning Poker’s top prize in 2003—a championship bracelet and $2.5 million in cash—he became the Internet’s first Poker superstar, encouraging players all over the world to give online tournaments a try.

Replicating Moneymaker’s success is the Holy Grail of online Poker players. But winning a tournament, much less the WSOP Finals, is quite a challenge in and of itself. How does one gain an edge against dozens and dozens of opponents and find ways to eliminate them from contention before getting knocked out? Here are some tips from those who have accomplished just that.

  • Start out with one-table tournaments, such as Sit & Go events, before attempting multi-table play; experience is a huge asset that must be earned through the investment of time; play in freerolls as often as possible.
  • Put time on your side; schedule sufficient time to play so that it is not necessary to make foolhardy moves in the later stages tournament play.
  • Check out the competition; familiarity with the “big fish” on poker web site will help you avoid them when you see their names on the tournament entry list—it is very easy to go elsewhere.
  • Don’t get distracted; never multitask while playing in an online tournament. Instead, shut down all other browsers, and create an environment where it is possible to concentrate away from phone calls, tweets, pop-ups, etc.
  • Become a speedster at reading the flop; online tournaments move at a faster pace than their land-based counterparts, so it is an advantage to be able to identify quickly what the nuts are and recognize relative hand strengths just as soon as community cards appear on the board.
  • Keep in mind that cash games and online tournaments are different; it is necessary to win ALL of the chips, so a waiting strategy is rarely successful—a good mix of tight and loose play usually wins.
  • Let others make mistakes; when the blinds are low, tight play protects a player from an early elimination and allows more aggressive action after the field has narrowed.
  • Always consider position; an unraised pot that may be played from a late position requires a stronger hand from an early position. Vary aggressiveness accordingly.
  • Be cautious with suited hole cards; they occur 23% of he time, so assume that one out of four opponents will have them. Low suited cards may easily lose to higher ones even if a flush is made.
  • Similarly, low pocket pairs can be dangerous, especially when the table is still full; they gain in relative strength only as the field narrows and blinds become more expensive.
  • Raise the same amount every time, typically three to four times the big blind; this keeps others from knowing when a big hand has been caught or a bluff is being attempted.
  • Observe opponents carefully for “tells,” which online means changes in timing or betting amounts that give away the strength of their hands; fast play may mean use of autoplay checklists and weak hands, whereas a long pause can be a sign of extra consideration being given to a stronger hand.
  • Use written notes, charts, calculators, and other tools; because the tournament is online, it is possible to do things that prohibited in real live play, so take advantage of all resources available.
  • Survival is crucial; it only takes one error in timing to lose everything, so pick and choose the battles to fight—don’t play too many hands.
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