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Tournament Poker - No Limit vs. Limit Poker

Once you nail the basics of Texas Hold’em strategy down, you’ll realize that the best way to build up a bankroll is through tournaments. Every online poker room features a wide variety of tournaments these days, and tournament tables are usually much more popular than cash tables. Tournaments – both live and online – usually feature NL Texas Hold’em, but Omaha, Stud Razz, and other poker variants are played too with different structures (Limit, PL, NL etc).

In order to become familiar with tournament strategy, you first need to learn about a few basic concepts. The buy-in is the money you need to pay in order to register for the tournament. Your buy-in will be included in a prize-pool, out of which money shall be given out to those who finish “in the money” (ITM). Together with the buy-in you’ll also pay a tournament fee (usually around 10% of the buy-in) which goes to the poker room as cumulated rake, since none of the hands you’ll play in the tourney itself shall be for real money chips and thus they won’t be raked either.

The blinds in poker tournaments go up in set intervals. The blinds structure tells you how fast these blinds will go up. According to how fast the online poker room increases the blinds, tournaments can be categorized into regular, speed and turbo tourneys.
The initial stack that you get at the beginning of the tournament represents your tournament life. Once you run out of chips, you bust out.

Some tournaments feature optional re-buys, through which a player who’s been busted out can get back into the action, by paying out a set sum again and receiving a fresh starting stack.
Tournaments can be single table ones (STTs or SNGs) in which only a maximum of 10 players take part, or multi-table ones, in which thousands of players play, distributed at several tables.

STTs (Single Table Tournaments) feature a much smaller buy-in/likely winnings ratio, but the individual odds for reaching the money are much better. MTTs have excellent buy-in/payout ratios, but an individual is much less likely to make it to the money.

The bigger the buy-in you have to pay out at registration, the bigger the prize-pool will be for tournaments. Industry leading online poker rooms organize guaranteed prize-pool tournaments. These GTDs – as they’re also known – run on a weekly or daily basis and the poker room provides the prize pool, regardless of how many players sign up and how much money their buy-ins add up to. If player buy-ins surpass the guarantee, the prize-pool will be increased.

Tournament strategy is radically different from general (cash game) poker strategy. While the tight aggressive approach may work wonders at low limit cash tables, tournament players need to be extremely flexible about their playing style. In a tourney, the object is not to squeeze money out of a fish that you’re lucky enough to have at your table. In a tourney, you have to survive. Survive for long enough and you may just take down the big prize, but winning money here is not just about finishing first. You will win money as long as you finish ITM, and in large tournaments that could mean tens of positions off the winner.

The best possible way to sum up efficient tournament strategy is through a system that poker-master Dan Harrington has devised.

Because of the continuously escalating blinds, the relationship between your stack-size and the sum of the BB and the SB should dictate your strategic approach in different moments throughout the tournament.

In the beginning, when the blinds are small and you have more than 20 Ms (BB+SB = M) you should play tight aggressive. You should only play premium hands when out of position and good ones when in position. At this stage, you can afford to play optimally. As the blinds go up and your stack stays the same-size or it shrinks, you’ll have to adapt your strategy to the new rigors of the environment. When you have between 10 and 20 Ms in your stack, you begin to see your options narrow. At this stage, you need to steal blinds, you need to get something going, which means you have to loosen up your starting hand requirements.
When your stack falls below 10Ms, you’re beginning to feel the pressure that larger stacks around the table subject you to. You’ll still have most of your strategic tools available however if you do not add to your stack fast you’ll soon relinquish your grip on them.

When your stack falls below 5 Ms, you’re in trouble. You can’t bluff anymore, you can’t steal blinds anymore, and thus you‘re robbed of some of your most important tools for survival. An interesting phenomenon also occurs: your opponents begin to gang up on you, adding extra

pressure on you to force you out of the game.

Once your stack is below 1 M, all you can do is wait for a reasonable hand and shove all-in. Something like Q,9 will be a reasonable hand at this stage. What you want is to have only one other player in the hand you commit your last tournament breath on. Thus your odds get a boost and you give yourself a real opportunity to pull through.

In every tournament, play tightens up on the bubble. A savvy player can turn this into an advantage. Beware though that the general tightness disappears as soon as the bubble bursts. In the closing stages of a tournament (when you’re already deep in the money) you’ll have to loosen up more and more to keep up with the blinds. During this stage, the luck factor becomes a major player in the equation.

If you play in online tournaments, Texas Holdem’s NL variant is what you’ll mostly play. If you decide to test your luck at the cash tables, or to take your online tourney experience to the live tables, you’ll come face to face with the Fixed Limit version.
In NL poker, the amount of money (or tournament chips) a player can bet is unlimited. In Fixed Limit poker, there is a set limit to how much one can bet on every street.

Some of the strategic differences between Limit Hold’em and NL Hold’em are obvious: in NL Hold’em you can protect a hand very efficiently, in Limit Hold’em you’re pretty much deprived of this option. Bluffing is much more difficult if not downright impossible in Limit Hold’em. On low limits, everyone will pretty much call just about any starting hand to showdown, so that means, your starting hand standards should be tightened up seriously. In Limit Hold’em, the mistakes that you make will never have a deadly serious consequence on your bankroll. In NL Hold’em, one small mistake can cost you your entire bankroll that you’ve been building up through painstaking work for months. The important thing when you switch between NL and FL Hold’em is to get into the right mindset that the peculiarities and inherent differences between the two variants require.

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