7 Poker Tournament Tips for Running Deep More Often

Poker tournament tips is, apparently, a pretty common search term on Google.

I assume the searchers are looking for a quick checklist to go over before playing a tournament, and not advice on how much to tip the dealers after a big win.

When I searched “poker tournament tips” for myself, none of the results were particularly fruitful, with most info being wrong or outdated.

So, I decided to try to tackle this subject by myself and create the ultimate list of 7 poker tournament strategy tips for players of all skill levels.

Editor’s note: This is a beast of an article with a ton of valuable advice. Buckle up!

7 Tips for Poker Tournaments

Click any of these tips to jump to a detailed explanation.

  1. Steal a Lot, But Don’t Go Overboard
  2. Defend Your Big Blind A Lot
  3. Be Wary of 4-Bet Shoves With Middling Stacks (25–40bb)
  4. Deep Stacks? 3-Bet Like It’s a Cash Game
  5. Don’t Continuation Bet Every Hand Against Every Player
  6. Have a Plan for Future Streets
  7. Learn How to Play Heads-Up

Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this guide to tournament poker.

Poker Tournament Tip 1: Steal a Lot, But Don’t Go Overboard

“Open small and often.”

This phrase drove the preflop strategy of almost every tournament regular for years, and it still has some merit.

With antes in play, a 2.25bb raise has to pick up the pot less than half of the time to show an immediate profit. And that’s not including the hand’s post-flop potential.

For example:

9-Handed Tournament Table, Blinds 200/400 (400 big blind ante), 40,000 stacks.
You are on the button with

folds to btn, You raise to 900

There is 1,000 in the pot from blinds and antes and you are risking 900 to take it down. That means your raise only has to work about 47% of the time to make an immediate profit.

If the blinds are somewhat tight players, there’s a reasonable chance they aren’t collectively playing back with 52.2% of hands.

It varies wildly from table to table, but you can generally expect the small blind to play back with around 20-30% of hands, which leaves the remaining ~30% on the big blind’s shoulders.

If the big blind is tight enough to be folding hands like or , raising with even would show an immediate profit. Heck, raising with two napkins you picked up on the floor would show an immediate profit.

And once again, all of this isn’t even accounting for the pots you’ll win post-flop. Sometimes you’ll flop something and win the pot at showdown. Sometimes you’ll win the pot with a c-bet on the flop. Et cetera.

Against weaker opposition, raising small and often works very well, especially in late position. If the blinds are loose and/or aggressive players, you should tighten up a bit, but you might be surprised by just how loose you can still play on the button.

Case in point, here’s the default button raising range (100bb stacks) from the Upswing Poker’s tournament mastery course:

button raising range 100bb road to victory

There’s a chart like this for hundreds of common scenarios in Upswing’s advanced tournament course

That’s a whopping 53.2% of hands that show a profit when raising — and that’s assuming your opponents are playing as aggressively as a solver would.

You can, of course, adjust this based on your opponents in the blinds.

Against some blinds it’s correct to open any two on the button, against others you’ll want to cut out the weakest stuff from that default range above.

Tip 2: Defend Your Big Blind A Lot

The following line will be the most important thing you take away from this article (unless you already know it):

In tournaments, you have to defend a lot from the big blind.

You just learned that a small raise only has to work around half of the time to profit. As the big blind, the burden is mostly on you to stop people from raising too often.

One factor that allows you to defend more often is the extremely generous pot odds.

For example: Suppose the blinds are 200/400 with a 400 big blind ante. You’re in the big blind, a player in late position raises to 900, and the action folds to you.

You need to call 500 chips and there are already 1,900 chips in the pot. Based on your pot odds, you need just 20.8% equity to call profitably. That’s very little. Even has more than that against a standard button range (it has 29.45%).

But since you still have to play your hand postflop and you’re out of position, you can’t defend your big blind quite that loosely.

The raw equity of your hand vs their range doesn’t tell the full story because in order to realize our equity, we need to reach showdown.

Related article: How Equity Realization Impacts Every Hand You’ll Ever Play

Reaching showdown is not easy with trashy hands like . Since there are effectively unlimited postflop scenarios and board runouts, it’s nearly impossible to construct a perfect defending range. But we don’t need to be exactly perfect. An estimate will do just fine.

A good way to estimate is to defend with a range that’s at least close to stopping the open-raiser from making an automatic profit.

In most cases, this means defending (by 3-betting or calling) at least 40% of hands against late position opens. If you’re a strong player, or if the opener is a weak player, you’ll be better off defending way more.

poker tournament tips strategy doug polk

On the extreme end, Doug Polk was once known for defending nearly 100% of hands from the big blind in tournaments. He’s since tightened up a bit.


I wrote a long article about this topic (see: The Ultimate Guide to Big Blind Defense), which I strongly recommend you read if you want to learn more about the proper big blind defense strategy in tournaments.

(Spoiler alert: It involves a lot of calling.)

As a good rule of thumb, especially if you aren’t particularly experienced, it’s a good idea to call with hands that have some sort of postflop playability. Hands like are no-brainer calls, but even the weakest suited hands usually profit as calls against late position opens.

Here’s the big blind defense range versus a button raise (50bb stacks) from Upswing Poker’s tournament mastery course:

bb defense 50bb road to victory

If playing this wide of a range makes you uncomfortable, there’s no shame in defending a little less often. But at least make sure to never fold a hand like or to a single small raise.

I personally call almost any two cards against weak opponents, and not even an open from Nick Petrangelo could get me to fold or heads-up.

Defending the Big Blind Multi-Way

Multi-way pots are a different beast. On one hand, your pot odds are even better because of the extra money in the pot, but on the other hand, it’s harder to realize your equity with multiple players in the pot.

In a heads-up pot, hitting one pair will often win you the pot. For example, on a flop of against a button open is a relative monster. But imagine that same situation in a 4-way pot – it becomes debatable if you can even call a c-bet!

Despite the improved pot odds of multi-way pots, you need to be more picky about your defending hands by choosing ones that play well in multi-way pots.

You should still be calling with most suited hands and arguably with hands like J-T offsuit as well. But you should stay away from disconnected hands that don’t flop well, like . These hands often end up as weak pairs with little chance of reaching showdown (which is not what you want in multi-way pots).

Related reading: The Starting Hands That Make the Most Money in Multiway Pots

Tip 3: Be Wary of 4-Bet Shoves With Middling Stacks (25–40bb)

Since you’ll be 3-betting with super strong hands like and , you need to balance those hands with 3-bet bluffs to keep your strategy unpredictable.

The correct approach to 3-betting bluffing non-all-in varies based on stack size, so I’ve divided it between tips 3 and 4.

First, let’s talk about typical tournament stack sizes of around 25–40 big blinds.

With these stacks, you want to 3-bet bluff with hands slightly worse than your call-worthy hands.

For example:

Poker Tournament, 35BB Effective Stacks

You are dealt two cards in the cutoff
Middle Position opens to 2.2BB, Hero 3-bets to 6.2BB

Good 3-bets in this spot include hands like , [Js] and . These hands have great blockers (making it less likely that your opponent has a hand that can continue), and calling with them every time is a bit too loose.

If your opponent 4-bets all-in, you will be forced to fold these 3-bet bluffs. But it’s not a big deal to fold against an all-in 4-bet because you were almost certainly crushed.

But if you 3-bet with a stronger hand like and are forced to fold, that’s a ton of equity hitting the muck. You don’t want that! So, that should just call against the initial raise.

Tip 4: Deep Stacks? 3-Bet Like It’s a Cash Game

Things change quite dramatically as stacks get closer to 100 big blinds, and the correct approach to 3-betting resembles that of a cash game.

This is pretty simple: 3-bet with a linear range. In other words, your 3-betting range will include the very best hands as well as some good/playable hands just below the very best hands.

Let’s look at another chart from the tournament mastery course Road to Victory. Here’s how the cutoff is meant to respond to a middle position player’s raise with 100bb stacks:

cutoff vs middle position range

You still get to do a lot of calling (yellow) thanks to the small raise and the antes in the pot. But notice the composition of the 3-bet range (green).

You’re meant to 3-bet with:

  • The very best hands (AA, KK, AKs, AQs, etc)
  • Strong and playable hands (KQs, AQo, TT, etc)
  • Very playable suited hands (A5s, KTs, T9s, etc)

When your 3-bet is called, you’ll be ready to battle postflop with this strong and diverse range. When you face a 4-bet, you’ll have plenty of hands that can continue with a call (or a 5-bet shove).

Tip 5: Don’t Continuation Bet Every Hand Against Every Player

A decade ago, players put a lot less thought into which boards connect with which player’s range. They’d c-bet pretty much every flop, because a half-pot c-bet has to work only 33.3% of the time to return a profit.

Players nowadays are much more aware of how things work, and check-raise bluffing has become both more common and more nuanced. People don’t blindly try to bluff in terrible spots anymore, but are capable of giving some thought to what they’re representing.

Ask yourself these 4 questions when you see a flop:

  • Whose range does the flop hit the best?
  • Who has the most nutted hands on this board?
  • Will my opponent think this flop hit my range?
  • What does my opponent’s range look like?

You aren’t looking for complex, specific answers here (there’s no time for that while playing). You can just do this is in an efficient, logical way.

For example:

Poker Tournament. Blinds 50/100 (100 big blind ante), 15,000 Effective Stacks

Hero is dealt two cards UTG
Hero raises to 300. Only the big blind calls

Flop (750)
Big blind checks…

A typical tournament player’s train of thought here will usually be related to their actual holding.

If they have pocket aces, they probably think “I need to protect my overpair and get some value, so I’ll just bet”. If they have Ace-King, they either give up or decide to fire once, because it’s cheap, with plans to give up.

Regardless of what you have, you should go over the 4 questions (I’ll answer each for the flop):

Q1: Whose range does the flop hit the best?

A: The big blind. You have overpairs and he (mostly) doesn’t, but you have a lot of overcard combinations that have missed.

The big blind is much more likely to have a piece of this board, and overall has a range advantage.

Q2: Who has the most nutted hands on this board?

A: Your opponent. You both have the same amount of sets, but he has all the straights and two pairs whereas you have none of them.

An overpair isn’t really a nutted hand here, since you’re not going to want to stack off with A-A for 14,700 more into a 750 pot.

Q3: Will my opponent think this flop hits my range?

A: It’s pretty clear-cut here, as your range is basically pocket pairs and high card combinations (suited broadways, A-Ts+, A-Jo+, etc). Your opponent will have a pretty good idea where you’re at in this hand.

Q4: What does my opponent’s range look like?

A: This the toughest question to answer if you have no reads, because some people still defend their big blind way too infrequently. But it’s fair to assume that he’ll have a huge amount of hands that are of the one pair + gutshot variety, heaps of top pairs, and fewer hands that have completely whiffed than you do.

Based on our answers, we can conclude a couple notable things.

The big blind has all the nutted combinations and you don’t, which leaves you vulnerable to check-raises and barrels. A clever player will realize this, and punish your c-bets by check-raising with a variety of hands. Thus, you should consider checking back a fair few strong hands that we don’t want to create a massive pot with.

The vast majority of the big blind’s range will call off at least one bet. Thus, it’s a really bad idea to c-bet your air once and give up (which is so 2011 anyway). You should simply check back some hands that have missed, choosing to bluff with hands that can fire multiple barrels on a variety of runouts, such as .

Since you’re also regularly checking back medium strength hands, like or , your check back range is protected and your opponent can’t punish you by over-bluffing the turn.

Once you’ve trained yourself to do this every time you see a flop, it will only take a second or two to come up with a game plan.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to fine-tune your game between sessions by playing around with sims and range software like the Lucid GTO Trainer. But just doing the above over and over will be enough to solve most practical situations in real time.

Tip 6: Have a Plan for Future Streets

This goes hand in hand with tip #5. Before any decision preflop, on the flop or on the turn, you should always have a rough plan for each likely outcome.

Again, this doesn’t mean that you’d have to simulate every single possible outcome ahead of time. That’s impractical. Just a rough idea will more than suffice in game.

Let’s go back to that flop, and say your hand is . Before betting, you should ask yourself two new questions:

  • What will I do if my opponent raises?
  • What turn cards will I barrel?

By asking yourself these two questions, you’re planning one step ahead, which will help you avoid tricky spots.

(This is the bare minimum. World-class players also plan ahead for rivers, think how both players’ ranges are affected by each run out, and a lot more.)

In this example, my plan would probably be something along these lines:

Q1: What will I do if my opponent raises?

A: I’ll fold, unless my opponent raises small enough that I can profitably continue.

This is not a flop texture I would c-bet often because it hits my opponent better than it hits me. But this is a hand that I chose to put in my (semi)bluffing range, and it’s an inherent part of poker to have to bet-fold sometimes – it’s just important that I choose a sensible hand to do it with.

Q2: What turn cards will I barrel?

A: I’ll barrel every heart, ace or king as a semi-bluff, and naturally every 9, jack and a queen for value.

I’ll take a free card on total bricks, knowing that my opponent still won’t fold a hand like , and that I still have quite a few outs to hit on the river.

Tip 7: Learn How to Play Heads-Up

Heads-up play isn’t something that I can teach you within the framework of this article, but I feel obliged to give you some food for thought.

While tournament payout structures vary, the winner of the tournament will always get the biggest chunk of the prize pool.

In a typical $20 buy-in, $10k guaranteed online tournament, the winner will get approximately $2,500 and the runner-up will be left with $1,500. That’s a 50 buy-in swing between first and second place!

It may seem moot to practice heads-up, since it’s so rare to get heads-up in a tournament. Plus, once you’re there, you’re already satisfied because you’re guaranteed such a big score.

But that huge pay jump is worth preparing for!

You should practice until you’re certain that when you finally get heads-up in a tournament, you’ll usually be the better player. I can’t stress this point enough.

Also, learning to play well with wide ranges will come in handy in all kinds of other tournament situations as well, such as playing the big blind against late position opens.

I’d recommend both studying heads-up and practicing it at stakes low enough so that the money doesn’t really matter to you, so that you can focus entirely on making the best plays.

The Lucid GTO Trainer allows you to practice playing heads-up against a perfect opponent, so that’s a good place to get some reps in before you find yourself on a big stage battling for glory.

7 Poker Tournament Tips Wrap-Up

These tips should be more than enough to take on whatever tournament you plan on playing.

However, you should always remember that the variance factor in tournaments is huge, and you should also always practice good bankroll management.

You can find more valuable poker tips here.

If you want to continue improving your tournament game, join the Upswing Lab (for $99) or get Upswing Poker’s advanced tournament course (for $999).

This article was originally written by tournament pro Miikaa Anttonen and has been edited by Mike Brady

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About the Author
Miikka Anttonen

Miikka Anttonen

Miikka Anttonen is poker professional from Finland with $2.4 million in career earnings and a world championship title under his belt. His autobiography is Once A Gambler. Find out more at https://www.onceagambler.com/

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