There are all sorts of poker tournaments out there, and they are all difficult to win. Pretty much every tourney you enter will involve a great deal of luck if you are to win, even if you are the best all around player at the tables. Unfortunately, there’s no one thing that you can do to instantly give you success in every single tourney you enter. But there are a few things you can do to start improving your end results. Mix these tried strategies in with some real world experience and you will find that your first tournament win won’t be too far off in the future.

The first step is to realize the nature of the majority of tourneys. Once you’re out of chips, you’re done. There’s usually not a re-buy, no second chances. This should change your strategy from a ring game considerably. When you’re just playing in a regular game, you can take risks, because if they don’t pay off, you can just bring more cash to the table. But in a tournament setting, risks become much more foolish. Yes, you can buy into a new tourney down the road–or if you’re playing online poker, probably even later that day. But that doesn’t help you for the tournament you are currently in. You need to approach poker as a long term investment, but you also need to look at the microcosm of the individual tourney, too, or else you will only see success on the very rare occassion. It’s much better to place in the money consistently then bust out in the first couple rounds nine times out of ten.
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Next, you need to proceed with caution. Tournaments are about survival first and foremost. Even if you have one chip left, you still have a chance of winning the tourney. If you have no chips out, you don’t. So you need to be ready to keep your ego in check and back off if there is danger. You need to take risks, but they should be measured risks that you have a very realistic chance of winning. Timing is key, and this requires patience. If you jump at small chances, you will eventually lose. Be patient, wait for the right opportunities. They will arise, and you need to make sure that you have the chips left to take advantage of them. Wait, and they will come to you.

Finally, you need to be aware of your circumstances. This is a complex topic, partly because poker is such a complex game. However, tournaments are even more complex than ring games because of the constantly changing dynamics. Blinds and antes go up, and fewer players are always involved. But these are good things for you. A lesser player will not change his play as the conditions change, but this is completely incorrect. Big blinds mean that you have more opportunities. While the normal player will play fewer hands and play more conservatively here, you can play a few more hands and steal their blinds away from them. Because the blinds are bigger now, this is very worthwhile.

You also need to look at the number of people, both at your table and left in the overall tournament. Chips become worth much more when there are fewer people, just because they bring you closer to finishing in the money. Again, survival is key, especially as you get deeper in. What may have been a good play in the beginning of the tourney might be awful if you’re right on the bubble. Unless you have an unbeatable hand, you should fold pretty much everything if there is only one person left that won’t finish in the money. It’s better to be guaranteed a payout then to go home empty handed just because you thought you had a decent hand.