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How to Win Poker Tournaments with PokerStars School
Tournaments are high variance games; you can play perfect poker and still be eliminated before the money. For this reason, you must always stick to a solid bankroll strategy and only play tournaments you're comfortable playing. Bankroll strategy for tournaments is player dependent, but you should only ever risk what you can afford to lose.

A good rule of thumb for a beginning player is to not risk more than 2% of your bankroll on a tournament. Here's a guide to illustrate that rule:
 
Bankroll Risk Max Tournament Buy-in
$100 2% $2
$500 2% $10
$1,000 2% $20
$2,000 2% $40

If you have a small bankroll, but want to play in bigger tournaments, play satellites. For example, a player with a $100 bankroll could not sensibly play in the $22 Mini Sunday Million tournament. However, they could play in a $1.10 Mini Sunday Million Mega Satellite to win a $22 seat.
 

Pre-Tournament


Make sure you set aside enough time to play the tournament. If you know a tournament is going to last eight hours, make sure you are free for eight hours. Try some light exercise beforehand, prepare some drinks and snacks to keep up your energy, and make sure you are comfortable with no distractions.
 

"Turn off your TV, close social media, and put your phone on silent, it's time to play some poker!"


While it's always great to see a return on your investment, min-cashing is not a great long-term strategy. The biggest tournament winners take calculated risks, accumulate chips and play for first place at all times. This means they will bust tournaments more regularly than tighter players, but the 1st place finishes will more than make up for this.
 

Stack Sizes


Master how to play different stack sizes within a tournament, so that you are prepared for all stages.
 
Stack Size Shove or Fold Zone Steal Zone
<10BB Shove or Fold Zone Wait for the right spots and shove. Big hands in early, weaker hands in late. Only call all-ins with big hands.
<20BB Re-Shove Zone Look for spots to re-shove on loose aggressive players. Put pressure on players who like to fold to all-ins.
<40BB Steal Zone If on a tight table, look to steal as many pots as possible. Small preflop and postflop raises should do the trick.
>50BB Deep Zone Look for the players trying to steal small pots whilst avoiding big pots and 3-bet them to take down medium pots preflop.
 

Start – Early Levels


During non-ante levels play tighter than usual. You can't win the tournament during the early levels so avoid playing big pots unless you have a big hand. Spend your time focussing on your opponents and gaining reads at this stage. Try to see flops with small pairs and suited connectors to make big hands and bust big pocket pairs. With your big pairs try to play smaller pots, and avoid going broke with Aces and Kings because if you see a big pot with these hands during the early levels, it's likely you're already beat.
 

Middle


You should loosen up slightly once the antes kick in because the pots are now much bigger and worth trying to steal.

Players generally don't like to call all-ins, so make a note of players who regularly fold to all-ins during these levels and use this to your advantage with middle pairs. With the antes and blinds you'll start building up a big stack quickly.

Be aware of your table image because it's likely you've played a lot of hands against your opponents by this stage. If you've been playing tight, use this to your advantage to loosen up against players who you know are paying attention. If you've been playing loose and opponents are starting to play back at you, tighten up your game.

Don't give up with a short stack either. When you have 15 or less big blinds, simply use one move; ALL-IN. But wait for the right spots, as it's better to be the player moving all-in rather than calling all-in, as calling an all-in means that you must win at showdown. You'll have fold equity when you move all-in yourself, meaning it's possible you'll win the blinds and antes without having to see a flop.
 

Bubble


Be aware of stack sizes, and target players who have short stacks that are just waiting to make the money. If you have a big stack try to maintain it and don't take too many risks. Small raises will do the job fine, so try to avoid big pots during this stage of the tournament.

If you're a big stack don't be too eager to knock out the small stacks. As a big stack, you want the bubble to last as long as possible so you can steal more chips from the medium stacks.

If you're a medium stack do not call all-ins with weak hands against small stacks, as it's likely their ranges are much tighter. When a small stack goes all-in on the bubble they are risking cashing for $0, so make sure you have a strong hand to call them with.
 

Deep Stages


We don't run deep very often in tournaments, so make sure you get the most out of them. Adjust your game but not too much; don't get too tight or too aggressive.

Concentrate on your opponents, but don't spend too much time thinking about the money or pay jumps. If you're not in a hand, make sure you pick up reads and tells on your opponents to help you get even further in the tournament.

When you get down to three or four tables, make sure you open all of them and watch how your opponents are playing. This will give you another advantage once tables break and you join these new opponents.

Don't play too tight just to make the final table though, as the players that make the most profit in the long run play to win. They usually head to the final table as the chip leader or at least one of the top three stacks.
 

Final Table Strategy


Congratulations on making the final table, now you just have to win it!

The most important factor of final table play is stack sizes:
  • Short Stacks (<25 Big Blinds)
  • Average Stacks (<50 Big Blinds)
  • Big Stacks (50> Big Blinds)
Know your opponents, and make sure that throughout the tournament and final table that you make notes on your opponents' playing styles. This will give you a little edge when facing them in certain hands and spots.
  • Tight Short Stacks – Raise them as much as possible whilst they try and fold their way up the money ladder. When they show aggression try to avoid doubling them up.
  • Loose Short Stacks – Loosen your calling range against these players as they are looking to double up with any two cards. Be ready to bust them and call off their bluffs.
  • Tight Average Stacks – avoid their preflop raises, steal their blinds, and try not to play big pots against them unless you have big hands.
  • Loose Average Stacks – try to re-steal preflop more against these players, mix up your re-steals with bluffs and strong hands. Also, look for spots to use the squeeze play against them.
  • Tight Big Stacks – Steal their blinds and try the odd 3-bet, but avoid any big pots against them as they will usually be waiting for big hands. Small stabs preflop and postflop are always a good strategy, but any time you feel resistance get out of their way.
  • Loose Big Stacks – These players are looking to gamble against the shorter stacks to bust them. If you're a short stack, only play back with big hands. If you're a medium or big stack, try testing the waters to see how they react to aggression. Avoid playing big pots without big hands.

Final Tip

Take our MTT Course and Quiz to either improve your game or re-evaluate your strategy.
 

What's your favourite piece of tournament advice? Comment below!

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