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Early Stage Tournament Strategy | Upswing Poker Level Up #20



This article is based on an episode of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted Upswing VP Mike Brady and featuring a special guest lesson from poker pro and coach Nick Petrangelo. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.

If you’re planning on playing in a poker tournament where you start off with a deep stack (say 200 big blinds or more), this episode of the Level-Up Podcast is for you. 

You’re about to get a short lesson on early-stage, deep stack strategy from one of the best tournament players of all time: Nick Petrangelo.

Hit that like button if you’re ready to get started…okay let’s go.

Takeaway #1 – When you’re playing deep stacked early in a tournament, approach it like you would a cash game

This first takeaway is a pretty basic one, but it is fundamental to early-stage tournament strategy.

If you’re in a re-entry tournament with deep stacks (200bb or more) and you are willing to re-enter, you are, for all intents and purposes, playing a cash game. 

Your tournament life is not a factor. Survival should not be top of mind.

Your goal is simple: play a strategy that maximizes your expected value – a strategy that wins you as many chips as possible.

Things become a bit less like a cash game if you’re in a freezeout tournament like the WSOP Main Event, but even in that case, your preflop and postflop strategies should very much look like they would in a cash game. You just might want to pass up on the most marginal of spots so you can stick around and pick on the weaker players.

Takeaway #2 – Your 40-50bb stack strategies are not fit for deep stack (200+ bb) play!

Let’s look at a spot discussed in Nick’s Deep Stack Dominance course to understand this takeaway.

Suppose the Button opens, you 3-bet from the Big Blind, and the Button calls. The flop comes .

You might think this is a good flop for you and you should c-bet quite often. After all, you 3-bet preflop and your opponent just called, meaning you’re the player who can have super strong hands like pocket aces and ace-king more often.

If you were playing with 40-big-blind stacks, you’d be right to c-bet that flop quite often.

But that’d be a mistake with 200 big blind stacks. Backed by the solver, Nick recommends checking this flop far more often (73% of the time) than betting.

Nick explains that the factor driving this passive strategy is our range’s polarized equity distribution. A complicated sounding term for a simple idea: our good hands are really good and our bad hands are really bad.

If we 3-bet with the proper range preflop, we are likely to have a quite good hand (an ace) or a hand that has totally whiffed (like suited connectors). Plus, a solid amount of medium-strength hands to protect like pocket nines and tens. 

On top of all this, the button has a big advantage when it comes to super strong hands. We might be the only player who can have top set of aces, but our opponent is the player who can have the lower sets (44 and 22) as well as the two pairs with A4s/A2s.

Our bluffs mostly missing the flop and the button having way more super strong hands essentially forces us into a defensive position. So, we check most of the time with a well-balanced range and go from there.

Early Stage MTT Play | Upswing Poker Level-Up #20

Takeaway #3 – Be the punt receiver, not the punter

Our third and final takeaway is to make sure you aren’t the player punting a ton of big blinds early in tournaments. You should play solid starting hands, be precise when it comes to postflop aggression, and let your opponents make the big mistakes.

If you play tournaments and feel like you’re regularly blowing through your 200 big  blind starting stack within the first couple blind levels, take a deep, critical look at the hands you play. 

Did you really need to run that bluff or make that hero call in a 400-big-blind pot? The answer will sometimes be yes – big bluff spots and good hero call spots do happen. But it shouldn’t be that frequent when stacks are that deep, so if it feels like it’s happening to you “too often”, you’d be wise to tweak your strategy. 

If you want to watch Nick’s entire Deep Stack Dominance course, you’re in luck because I’ve got a special $200 coupon code for anyone who listens to this podcast.

The coupon code is DEEPSTACK200. Click here to add the Deep Stack Dominance course to your card and enter the DEEPSTACK200 code to get your $200 off.

Hope you enjoyed the show. Gary Blackwood will be back in the next one – see you then.