Be sure to get off to a good start in poker tourneys

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Substantial edge exists for a player who’s playing to win the event as opposed to many players who are focused on making the money. There might even be 50 percent of the field that comes into a big event with the wrong mind-set. These players are solid players, however for one reason or another, have arrived at the World Series with the goal to make the money.

Many will hit their goal and feel satisfied. Conversely, 20 percent of the players only have one thing in mind: making the final table and winning the event. Within this group are players who are miserable after a cash. They missed their goal and cannot wait for the next event. These tournament-savvy pros march to different beat. In Chuck Thompson’s brilliant poker essay, the Fox and the Farmer, he describes a typical final table as made up of eight foxes and one lucky farmer. Here are some tournament tips:

SPEED: Many players are accustomed to a speed of tournament, which relates to the increase in blinds and the frequency of the time involved. Imagine a player who does quite well at his local casino that offers 20- or 30-minute levels. At the WSOP, he faces a two-hour blind structure. He must adjust his patience quotient. Many great players do this instinctively. You must make adjustments.

FIRST LEVEL: Everyone has brought their “A” game for the first round of play. Yes, a slow tournament dictates a higher “patience factor,” however it’s not lost on the tournament pro that this is a great time to pick up a bunch of small uncontested pots. Be clever. Be a fox. And pick up lots of loose change. But for crying out loud, avoid large-scale confrontations.

KNOW PLAYERS, TARGET THE WEAK: From the second a top-notch player sits at a table, he starts to assess the players. Make it your job to find some soft spots. In the early stage, I’m eager to give up my blinds, but just as intent on finding better spots to make sure my chips are on the upswing. Aside from winning the event, we should focus on keeping our stack ahead of the average and this translates to keeping ahead of the blinds.

BUBBLE PLAY: You’re on the bubble and, congratulations, have done your job. You own an above-average stack and have executed well for hours of play. It’s time to ratchet it up as
90 percent of the players left will be tightening up because they’re short-stacked or because they’re focused on making the money. Get busy! Raises that are three times the big blind will do the trick. You’ll grow your stack and increase your equity for the tournament prize. Congratulations, you are on your way to a WSOP final table. Good job.

— Mark Brement has spent 15 years teaching and coaching all facets of poker, including at Pima CC. Email him at brementmark@gmail.com.