Go to Reddit, Quora, and other popular online forums and you’ll see people asking the question, ‘Why can’t I win poker tournaments?’ While we understand their frustrations, we have to point out they can win poker tournaments, only that it’s difficult to do so. So instead, the question you should be asking is ‘Why are poker tournaments so hard?’
The main reasons why you are finding it difficult to win poker tournaments are variance, increasing blinds, and coin flips. There is also a need to put your skill level into consideration as sometimes players just aren’t good enough.
Many beginners do not realize that poker isn’t purely a game of chance. It requires skill that you will only be able to acquire after being dedicated and committed. Bankroll management is another aspect most poker players do not have in-depth knowledge about.
Knowing how to properly manage your bankroll could be the difference between success and failure in poker tournaments.
The truth is that poker tournaments are hard, perhaps very hard. But with the right skill, you can be winning poker tournaments consistently. In fact, poker tournaments are one of the most profitable poker games.
We all know about the large pool prizes of poker tournaments, but big player pools, even if it is a soft field, brings in a lot of variance.
So whether you are new to poker or already have experience in the game, you’ll find something to learn in this article or at the very least be reminded of the things you already know. So keep reading.
3 Reasons Why You Can’t Win Poker Tournaments
We already established that you can win poker tournaments in the opening paragraph, amongst other things. We are still using the above question because that’s how most poker players put it. So what are the three reasons why poker tournaments are so difficult to win?
This is the main reason why it is so difficult to win poker tournaments, live or online.
The concept of variance focuses on how much a player will win or lose based on luck.
Let’s say you toss a coin a hundred times and you are expecting to win 50 times. If in the end, you are able to win 54, then you’ve experienced a positive variance. Mother luck is on your side. But if you could manage only 46 wins, then that’s negative variance.
There are poker players that believe in luck and would do almost anything to get it on their side. Others believe in mathematics and probabilities and would like to have some control over events. At the end of the day, they are both talking about the same thing – variance.
The problem with poker tournaments is that the variance is usually enormous and this is mainly because the size of big blinds is not equal. It’s possible for you to be earning 10 BB/100 at the early stages, but this won’t matter if you run poorly in deeper stages.
This is why experienced poker players keep their buy-ins low and their fields small. And they try to play more often in small tournaments in order to neutralize the effect of variance.
Smaller field tournaments mean smaller wins. But it also means more consistent winnings.
Let’s say, that you are playing a small $55 tournament. The first place gives you $1000. On the other hand, a bigger field tournament would give you $10.000, but rest assured you will be able to win it a lot less often. You will have more opponents to beat, need to win a few more coin flips. Because those payouts are so top-heavy finishing in anything but less than the top 5, won’t bring you that much money.
Blinds in poker tournaments generally start as very small bets and then increase over time. In regular type tournaments, blinds increase every 15 to 20 minutes. The time interval is even shorter for turbo tournaments where the blinds increase every 2-5 minutes. And this is because turbo tournaments are designed to be faster than regular tournaments. You’ll also be required to bet an ante at a certain level of the game. And if this makes you wonder how to play properly when blinds are increasing so fast, then check out our article on the turbo poker tournaments guide.
Imagine you start a tournament with a stack of 3,000 chips, and then the blinds start at 25/50. After 15 or 20 minutes, the blinds will rise to 50/100. And it will continue to rise every 15/20 minutes until the end of the tournament.
What this means is that you need to have a good understanding of bankroll management and a strategy to deal with the ever-increasing blinds. Many players don’t have this knowledge and thus, can’t win a poker tournament.
It is essential to learn the correct push/fold ranges. Often when deeper in the tournament you will either be forced in calling someone’s all-in, or go all-in yourself.
In multi-table tournaments, there are key moments called the coin flip. And these are moments when you have a 50/50 chance to win. A flip is seen as a last resort when players are running low on chips. They have the option to put everything on one last hand or exit the game.
When you are playing MTTs, a coin flip is a situation where you can win or lose a lot of chips. If you win a lot of chips, you replenish your stacks and have enough chips to continue in the tournament. However, you are just moments away from being forced to leave the tournament if you lose.
Losing leaves you with a small stack of chips that will be exhausted after paying a few big blinds.
How to decrease variance impact in poker?
Variance is part of poker and is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just something all poker players have to deal with. There are some ways you can reduce the impact of variance on your game. Doing this will help ensure you don’t destroy your bankroll. So let’s look at the ways you can reduce variance in poker.
Follow bankroll management rules
We’ll keep saying it, bankroll management is self-important in poker tournaments. You have to then believe in your skills and understand the variance factor. The presence of variance doesn’t make people stop playing poker.
You’ll find pool unions particularly useful for Spin and Go tournaments where the variance is extremely high. And the essence of this is to unite a team where the players have the general bankroll and also share their gains on chipEV. The goal of uniting the pools is to hopefully get the expected result from the game when getting the average of all results.
Playing small variance disciplines
If you don’t want to deal with variance, then it might be smart to focus on tournaments that have the lowest variance. Such tournaments include cash games, Sit&Go for 9 people or DoN tournaments.
So how should you see variance? Well, certainly not as your enemy though you may be tempted to consider it as such. Instead, variance just spreads your edge in the long run.
What to do to start winning poker tournaments?
We’ve talked about the reasons why it’s difficult to win tournaments so it’s only normal that we also talk about what you need to do to start winning. So here they are;
My chips, my precious
You can’t approach poker tournaments the same way you approach cash games.
The two of them require different strategies. Whatever type of strategy you are using in a poker tournament, your aim should be about survival. This is because you are out of the tournament the moment your chips finish.
As a result, you should always know the number of your remaining chips at all times as it’ll play a big part in your strategy. When the tournament progresses and the blinds keep increasing, your chips will become progressively fewer. Your aim here should be to focus on keeping your stack at a healthy level.
Poker tournaments are like a State fair
There are some similarities between poker tournaments and a State fair. You arrive at a State fair with a lot of money and can decide to do whatever you want. You could ride the Ferris wheel, throw a baseball at some milk can, hit the bumper cars, or find a place to sit and just enjoy the view/atmosphere.
As the fair goes on, you begin to have less money and can’t spend as you did at the beginning of the fair. It’s also possible for you to make a few hasty decisions towards the end of the fair.
This is basically what happens in poker tournaments. You have lots of chips at the beginning but you’ll slowly bleed them away as time goes on. Therefore, you have to be wise about how you spend your chips and don’t make wrong moves at the start of the tournament.
Be patient, Young Warlock
Patience is a virtue you need to have in poker tournaments. Calm down, don’t rush things. One of the problems many tournament players have is that they are too overexcited in the early stages of the tournament and risk losing too many chips.
Your approach to tournaments should be to play as tight as possible in the early stages, then loosen up in the later stages. You’ll have to put the size of your stack into consideration of course but you should always take things nice and slow at the beginning of a tournament.
Don’t Get Whamboozled on the Bubble
You are said to be in a bubble in poker tournaments when you are just a few spots away from the prize pools.
You are very close to the money on the bubble. This phase is one of the most exciting and fun in poker tournaments if you still have a sizeable stack. But if you have a shallow stack, the bubble time can be really frustrating and even stressful for you.
Getting eliminated in the bubble time is always hard on players. This is because the few players that are eliminated in this phase wins nothing while the remaining are guaranteed to receive some money. Just think about how frustrating it will be for you to get eliminated at the last second when you are just a few spots away from receiving a good payout. And you’ve been playing for hours!
This is why you must be very careful in bubble time especially if your stack is already low. Don’t make hasty decisions and everything you should be doing here is to survive.
On the other hand, if you manage to reach the bubble with a big stack, it’s time for you to be aggressive. Use every opportunity you have to punish players with small stacks and make them fold. Do this right and you’ll be going home with something.
Don’t get too picky shorthanded or you’ll end up whittled away
You are said to play shorthanded in tournaments when there are less than nine or eight opponents remaining at the tables and this occurs in the latter stages of the tournament.
There is a need for you to become more aggressive with your play at this stage. Any hand that has a big card at this stage goes up in value. You should still be aggressive even when you think that your hand isn’t that strong. There are fewer players on the table now and chances are they have a weaker hand than you.
So you don’t have the luxury of being picky about your hand at this stage. If you don’t play aggressively with your hands, your stack will reduce dramatically after a few blinds. And you’ll be closer to leaving the tournament than progressing to the next stage.
Don’t Get Ripped Off
During the final stage of a tournament, it’s common to see the remaining players striking a deal to split the remaining prize cash.
Very often during the final table, the remaining players will try to make a deal to split the remaining prize money. Your opponents will attempt to make you an offer that’s way below the value of your chips if they perceive that you are an inexperienced player.
Reject any offer that’s way below the value of your chips. You could make a counteroffer, which they will most likely agree to if you are not demanding for a lot more than the worth of your chips.
But if only good players are remaining and you are by far the weakest one left, then you can forget about the deal. Good players are far more likely to agree to a deal if they think of you as an equally good player.
Heads-up is when you are playing against only one person in a tournament. You’ve survived all the other players and are already guaranteed to go home with something. But you still have to battle it with the last player so a winner can emerge.
It’s the clash of the titans at this stage as you should be trying to put pressure on your opponent. At the same time, your opponent will also try to grind you out. And any hand can be a monster at this stage.
If you are very serious about poker tournaments, you could read our article on how to make a living playing poker tournament.
How long does it take to become a winning poker player?
‘Poker is a game that takes a short time to learn but a lifetime to master.’
You might have probably heard of this saying before. You can learn the basics of poker within a few days or even a few hours. But it takes time to become an expert at the game. And even when you become a good player, you need to keep trying to improve your game.
There is no fixed time for how long it will take you to become a winning player. It depends on the knowledge you’ve acquired, the type of game you are playing, and your commitment to improving your game.
That said, you could become a winning player within six months of learning poker. And it could even take longer than for you to become a player that wins consistently.
If your goal is to become a winner on NL2, which is the smallest stakes online, then you can become a winner in a month if not a week.
You will need to join one of the training sites, or hire a poker coach for a few hours to do it in such a short period of time.
These best poker training sites have plenty of material available for free or you can take their paid membership for a month. RunItOnce has thousands of videos, from highly successful players, available from $25/month.
You have to take steps to become a winning poker player. And we’ll talk about some of those steps below.
Study the game
Thanks to the internet, there are several educational resources like books, forums, coaching, and more for you to learn from. Older poker players usually remark on how lucky the current generation is as most of these resources were not available when they were learning poker. Use a mixture of the resource below;
Books are invaluable tools for learning and improving your skill in poker. Some books are free while you need to pay a small fee to get some. Most of these books are written by poker pros that have in-depth knowledge and extensive experience playing the game.
There are several training sites that provide you with resources and materials to learn the game. Some are free while some require a subscription fee. These training sites are usually owned by poker experts and usually provide you with videos to make the learning process easier.
You can check out our article on the best poker training sites.
Review your play
You have to review your play to get better at poker. Unfortunately, this is only possible or at least easier with online poker where you can review your hand history.
Learning from your mistakes will help you become a better poker player.