Early stage tournament strategy, by Vicky Coren

vicky-coren-pokersstars.jpgThe forthcoming Manchester UKIPT event will be the first tournament I play on this exciting new British and Irish tour, and I'll be very interested to look at the style of play. The buy-in (£500) is sized to make it possible for recreational players to try a significant tournament - plus of course there will be Stars qualifiers who come in for much smaller amounts - and I'm wondering how much they'll want to gamble.

Historically, recreational players always played tighter than pros in chunky live events. They have paid proper money - or won a great opportunity to make proper money - and don't want to go out too early. People used to say this made them soft targets, but not necessarily. It's absolutely fine to play tournaments tight at the beginning, while the blinds are too small to be worth stealing, then gradually loosen up as the field reduces and the pre-deal pots get bigger.


Recently, players of all kinds have got in the habit of playing super-aggressive right from the off, even in the biggest events. They make oversized raises, they re-raise with suited connectors, they bluff hard when they miss the flop. It's an excellent way to play in the later stages of a tournament, but dangerous and often pointless at the beginning. You'd be amazed how fast some players knock themselves out of the $10,000 PCA tournament in the Bahamas.

If your table features super-aggressive players like this, you need to be even more disciplined and determined to get their chips. It's too easy to start calling raises with anything, just because you're bored of passing while everyone else has fun. I favour keeping it solid. But what you can do is upgrade hands like 99 or AJ: if others are playing rubbish, medium hands become stronger.


When you find a strong starting hand, re-raise heavily to isolate one maniac, rather than risk seeing a flop with five of them. Conversely, with little pairs and suited connectors, you WANT several runners to give you good odds on hitting, so (if you want to play these hands early), limp in to keep the pot small. When you hit the flop, trap-check to use the maniacs' own strength against them. Be prepared to make big, difficult calls on the river. Let them hang themselves.

In other words, I don't mind tight play in the early stages of a tournament at all (assuming you're doing it for strategic reasons, rather than because you're scared of getting knocked out) but it must be focussed and committed as well as tight. Be disciplined, but don't miss valuable opportunities to increase aggression and mop up the loose chips. It's absolutely fine to wait for a hand, as long as you make sure to get paid when it comes.

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Brad Willis
@BradWillis in PokerStars news