poker tournament advice

4 Valuable Pieces of Poker Tournament Advice for Beginners

You’ve played your A-game for hours and you made some hands when you needed to. Now, it has finally happened: you’re at the final table eyeing the biggest score of your life.

2008 World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table

Whether it’s for a pile of bricks or a few Benjamins, there are not many sweeter feelings in poker than winning a tournament. Photo: Joe Giron

In order to make more moments like this happen for you, I dug through Upswing Poker’s library of tournament articles to pull out some of the most important tips that our team has shared over the past few years.

Each tip concludes with a link to an article (in case you want to learn more about that topic).

Let’s dive in.

1. Fight For Those Antes

Because of the presence of antes in tournaments, there is a lot more dead money in pot. This means you should be very aggressive in trying to pick up these extra chips.

Your improved pot odds to steal the blinds allow you to raise with a wider range from every position. In addition to this, you should also call with a wider range from most positions, especially the big blind, button, and sometimes even the small blind, because your improved pot odds allow you to profitably see more flops.

For more playing preflop with antes, check out How Antes Should Impact Your Tournament Strategy.

2. Don’t Continue With Every Piece After Defending Your Big Blind

postflop big blind play with weak hands

Like we mentioned in tip #1, the presence of ante’s in most poker tournaments calls for several adjustments, including the fact that you should defend your big blind with a wide range.

But with that in mind, it is important to make sure that you proceed with the correct range of hands when you face a c-bet on the flop.

Don’t feel obligated to check-call every time you connect with the board after defending with a weak hand. In fact, you should often over-fold on the flop so your range becomes more competitive by the turn and river (when the pot is at its biggest).

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For example, let’s say UTG opens and you call with 6♣ 4♣. The flop comes T 8 5♠, giving you a gutshot straight draw. Should you check and your opponent bet, you can comfortably fold this hand (though it would be a reasonable call if you had a backdoor flush draw).

Giving up the pot more often on the flop is a small price to pay for having a strong, competitive range on later streets.

Want to learn more about navigating postflop with relatively weak hands? Check out How to Avoid Getting Crushed After Defending with a Weak Hand.

3. Adjust Your Preflop Ranges As Your Stack Gets Shorter

When your stack is around 30-40 big blinds, you should play quite a bit differently than you would with deeper stacks. There are countless adjustments, small and big, that you should make.

Let’s go over a couple examples to improve your chances of making a deep run:

1. Avoid flatting small pairs with less than 30bb effective stacks

When you have a short stack in a tournament, the value of small pocket pairs goes down.

small pocket pairs

The reason for this is pretty intuitive: when you have less chips behind, you don’t have the same implied odds to hit a set because you can’t win as big of a pot.

While you can still open small pocket pairs from many positions, the real change in strategy comes when you are facing an open-raise.

When you face a raise, especially from early position, you should fold most of your small pocket pairs. The main reason for this is because they don’t play particularly well in 3-bet pots, and you don’t have the implied odds to get paid off big when you hit your set.

You can still defend small pocket pairs from the big blind because your price is so good. Calling from the small blind or button can make sense as well, depending on a number of factors. Just be careful calling raises from other positions — it’s very easy to go overboard by calling too often, and you’ll usually bleed away your stack by doing so.

For more on this topic, check out How to Play Small Pocket Pairs in Tournaments.

2. Lean towards 3-betting high card hands when under 40 big blinds deep

Stack size has a drastic impact on which hands you should 3-bet in tournaments.

When you are playing with deep stacks, you can 3-bet bluff similar hands as you would in a cash game (like suited connectors and suited gappers).

But when you are playing with less than 40 big blinds, you generally want to 3-bet bluff with hands that can hit strong top pairs and strong straight draws. These hands play much better than suited connectors when the stack-to-pot ratio is low. Additionally, high cards hands block more of your opponent’s continuing range, so your 3-bet “bluffs” will actually force folds more often.

Examples of hands you can use are:

  • A♠ J♣
  • K Q♣

For more on this topic, check out 3 Strategic Mistakes to Avoid in Tournaments with Nick Petrangelo.

4. Adjust Your Play On The Money Bubble Based On Your Stack

In tournaments, the size of your stack heavily dictates how you should play, especially when you are on the bubble or near a significant pay jump.

final table bubble strategy poker tournaments

For example, you should generally:

  • Play tight when you’re short stacked.
  • Put pressure on your opponents when you have a big stack.

The reasons for this are pretty intuitive. When you have a short stack, you want to preserve your chips for as long as possible so you can ladder up/make the money. When you have a big stack, you get to play for the win, so you want to fight for as many chips as you can from the players who are just trying to survive.

To learn more about money bubble adjustments, including how to play with more middling stack sizes, read our article on money bubble strategy.


Hopefully these tips will help you find yourself making more deep runs than ever before.

Here’s one last bonus piece of advice: spend time studying short-handed and heads-up play in tournaments. The most consequential pay jumps occur when there are just a few players left, with the biggest pay jump being between 2nd place and 1st place. As a result, improving your short-handed/heads-up skills will have a huge impact on your win-rate.

Want more tournament-specific advice? Read 7 Tournament Tips for Running Deep More Often.

That’s it for today. Good luck at the tables this week.

Note: Ready to join 5,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!

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About the Author
Patrick Harvey

Patrick Harvey

Graduate student trying to make money in poker so that I don't end up having to drive Knish's truck.

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