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A Guide to Preparing for Poker Tournaments and Achieving Success

Jordan C

Jul 5, 2023

A Guide to Preparing for Poker Tournaments and Achieving Success

Poker tournaments are unlike any other form of poker. You’re forced to play until you win or you bust out - it’s not like a cash game when you can come and go as you please. If you make it deep, you’ll likely be playing for hours, so by the time you get to the big money decisions you’ll be feeling the effects of fatigue on your decision-making.

This is why preparing for tournaments is essential - if you can prepare better than your opponents and feel fresher in the later stages, you’ll make better decisions and potentially increase your win rate. To help you out, we’ve created a helpful guide to preparing for poker tournaments that will put you in the best position to achieve success.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

The night before a big tournament, you’ll want to make sure you get an early night so you’re well rested for tomorrow. You should never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep, so do everything in your power to make sure that you get all the sleep you need to feel rested and ready for the day ahead. Get to bed at a reasonable time, eliminate blue light before you go to bed, and don’t drink alcohol before going to sleep.

While many people think the amount of sleep is all that matters, the quality of that sleep matters even more. The more restful your sleep, the more your body recuperates, and the better you’ll feel in the morning. By getting a good night’s sleep, you’ll feel refreshed and ready for the day ahead and will be less likely to flag later on in the day.

Warm-Up For The Day

Just as professional athletes warm up before a game, you should warm up before playing a big tournament. Poker is a mental sport, and if you try to start playing before you’re warmed up for the day, you’ll find yourself making suboptimal decisions. Doing little exercises such as calculating pot odds, reciting short stack shoving ranges, or remembering your deep stack opening and 3betting ranges will get you in the right mindset for the day.

Set Goals For Yourself

Whether playing live or online, setting reasonable expectations is a good way to keep yourself disciplined at the table. When playing poker tournaments, it’s important to remember that you’ll bust out before reaching the money most of the time, so setting results-orientated goals such as “making the final table” or “winning the tournament” aren’t good goals.

Instead, look to set expectations for your own play. For example, f you get too impatient in tournaments and often punt away your stack in the first few levels, set yourself the goal of reaching the end of the late registration period without donking away your chips. These performance-based goals allow you to give yourself targets that will improve your overall play.

Play Your Own Game

When playing a big tournament, many poker players fall into the trap of trying too hard. They see the size of the prize pool and assume that they need to drastically change their game to be able to win. They’ll do things like 3-betting more frequently, playing wider pre-flop ranges, or floating wider postflop.

Doing this will cause more harm than good, as you’ll be unfamiliar with playing this way and it will lead to more complicated situations that you’ll find hard to navigate. Instead, it’s much better to play your own game without all these fancy strategic adjustments. This is because you’ll be much more familiar with how to navigate your way through each hand and will be able to make better decisions.

Be Aggressive

While playing your own game is important, we can’t stress enough how important it is to be aggressive in tournaments. The increasing blinds and antes will decimate your stack if you don’t pick up chips, and you can’t win chips by folding. 

Too many players play far too conservatively in tournaments, waiting for the big hands to get their money in. You can’t do that if you want to consistently make it to the final table of a tournament, you need to find spots where you can pick up chips and attack them aggressively.

Play Tight Early On And Loose In The Late Stages

Play Tight Early On And Loose In The Late StagesYou’ll find many an amateur tournament player who plays lots of hands in the early stages of a tournament and will tighten up significantly in the latter stages. This is because they think they have plenty of chips to splash around with early on, and as the tournament progresses, those chips get more valuable, so they significantly tighten up their ranges.

However, it’s actually optimal to play the opposite way. The chips you win in the early stages are far less significant than those you lose, so it’s not worth playing loose in an attempt to hit a big hand. You want to keep as many chips as possible to be aggressive in the later stages, so play conservatively early on.

Once you hit the later stages of a tournament and the blinds are a more significant portion of your stack, you need to play aggressively to win the blinds and survive. This means you should be playing wide ranges when it folds to you in a late position to try and win the blinds and antes. Off a 25bb stack, winning 2.5 big blinds with a raise-and-take-it is a significant increase, and doing this regularly will enable you to survive in the tournament that little while longer.

Use Your Breaks Wisely

Time away from the table is a limited resource in poker tournaments, it’s not like a cash game where you can come and go as you please - any time away from the table is an opportunity lost that you can’t get back. This means that when you’re given breaks, you should use them wisely.

Of course, you should do things like go to the bathroom, refuel, and rehydrate, but you should also use this time to get in the correct mental state to continue playing. If you’re tilting because some guy just cracked your aces with 42o, use the break to relax and overcome your tilt. Ideally, at the end of each break, you should be in a zen-like mindset, where emotion isn’t influencing your thought process and you’re ready to make the best decisions possible.

Have Fun!

The most important thing to remember to do is have fun! Poker tournaments should be fun, and while many people play them to make money, that’s never guaranteed. Even the very best players bust out before the money 75-80% of the time, so you need to be OK with not winning.

If you can enjoy yourself even when you bust out, you’ll always be a winner at the poker table.

Summary

Many poker players overlook the value of tournament preparation and often find themselves underprepared when entering a big event. This prevents them from making the best possible decisions and leads to sub-optimal plays that cost them chips, or possibly elimination from the tournament. After reading this article, you now have the knowledge to adequately prepare for poker tournaments and give yourself the best chance of success on the felt.