I’ve been immersed in conducting training sessions and playing live tournaments over the past several months. As a result, I’ve significantly improved my game and become more aware of critical mistakes players are making. One of the most significant things is the amount of mistakes a high percentage of players make in the early stages of a tournament.
First, they’re playing too many hands. When the blinds are small and calling a raise or even a three-bet represents such a small percentage of their stack, players are willing to see flops with so many unprofitable hands. They also tend to try to steal blinds more frequently because “it doesn’t cost them that much.” What they fail to recognize is while it may not cost them too much to see the flop, they aren’t thinking about how much it’s going to cost to see the river. Pots in no-limit hold’em grow exponentially as each street progresses, so when you get involved preflop with a range of hands that’s too wide, you’ll end up spewing off a lot of chips by getting yourself into too many marginal situations.
Second, any chips you spew early may not have a huge effect on your stack at that time, but as the blinds increase and antes come into play, the result of unnecessarily losing chips early can affect your stack later. Just as the pots grow exponentially from preflop to the river, your stack grows exponentially throughout the tournament. For example, if you lose 1,000 chips at the 50-100 level from a starting stack of 20K, you still have 190 big blinds from the starting 200.
This really has no effect on your playability or your chances of winning the tournament. However, if you still had that 1K and you were to double-up, you would then have 2K. Subsequent doubles would add 4K, 8K, 16K, 32K, etc. At the point, when the big blind is 1K (the same amount you unnecessarily spewed off early on) you will have 32 big blinds more than you could have had! That is absolutely significant because you have a playable stack and a real shot at making a run.
To further illustrate, let’s say you got a little out of line early and lost those 1,000 chips. You find yourself sitting with 15K at the 1K big-blind level. You’re in a push-fold situation and you take a bad beat to knock you out vs. a player who had 20K to start that hand. You’re out of the tournament (with your bad-beat story to tell everyone about and how bad you run), but you could’ve been sitting comfortably with 27K chips and in contention.
So, keep all of this in mind the next time you play a tournament. Stealing the blinds in the early stages or seeing a lot of flops because it doesn’t cost so much is a huge leak that many players have. Be patient and allow yourself to get into profitable situations before throwing those chips in the middle. Don’t worry about the girl who’s getting hit with the deck or the guy who just keeps bad-beating everyone and have run their stacks up to five times the starting stack. That can’t matter to you.
You’re much better off going into the later levels with more of an average stack that is still playable then to gamble so much early in the tournament trying to accumulate chips that are almost insignificant. Preserving your chips early is much more important than trying to build up a big stack. Playing too many hands, playing out of position and getting yourself into marginal spots early usually results in you busting out earlier than you should have. Decide to Win!
— Lee Childs is a professional poker player and coach. He’s a founder and lead instructor of Inside The Minds. Check out his sites at inside-the-minds.com and facebook.com/insidetheminds.