If you’re reading this guide, chances are you’re serious about poker, and if you’re serious about poker, chances are you’re playing to win. Winning is the first, most obvious goal of playing poker, and it’s also the easiest to lose sight of in the heat of action. You are going to want to keep it in the front of your mind during any tournament. Winning does not always mean being the last one standing at the final table, but obstensibly, you’d like to maximize your return on investment (i.e. the amount you spent to buy-in to the tournament).
Return on Investment (ROI)
There are a few factors that will affect your ROI:
1) The amount of play. How deep are the starting stacks? How quickly do the blinds increase? Generally speaking, deeper stacks and slower structures favour stronger players because they demand focus, patience and the experience that teaches both.
2) Your adaptability. Every game is a little bit different. If deep stacks and slow structures favour more aggressive, more conservative players, you will have to adjust your strategy to suit the payout structure.
The nature of tournaments is that you will fall short of the money a high percentage of the time (80-90%), and
to make up for all those losing investments you need to be hitting the high paying places so that the average
of your payouts compared to your entry fees will be positive. The more top heavy a tournament is, the more inclined you should be to take an aggressive high-risk approach. In the case of flatter payout structures it can be preferable to implement a strategy focused on making the final table (or the final 3) rather than a go-for-it-all or go-home approach.
3) Your focus. If you’re only used to playing quick cash games, the patience and course required for tournament
play may come as a shock to your system. Your ability to collect on your ROI greatly depends on your ability to sit tight, stay focused and keep playing your A-game consistently – not just for the first couple of hours.
4) Your competition. As soon as you sit down at your very first table, you are going to need to try to get a handle on your competition. The skill level of your opponents is a major factor in your ability to maximize your ROI.
Next, I want to talk about the human element of MTT strategy specifically, and poker in general. We know we have to want to win, and we know we have to max our ROI, but all the passion and number strategy in the world won’t make up for a lack of basic psychology.
The Human Element
The human element of poker, though perhaps more subtle, is equally important when thinking about MTT goal setting and strategy. Poker isn’t solitaire; it’s not a game strictly between you and the cards. Poker is a game that uses cards, but it is between you and your opponents. As such, you’re going to want to get a feel for the other players at the table so you can choose effective winning strategies. (You’ll learn more about this in the upcoming chapters.)
Let’s recap: the 3 main goals in poker tournaments are…
1) To win
2) To maximize your ROI
3) To get to know your tablemates so you can choose winning strategies
Having these three primary goals positioned clearly at the front of your mind will definitely help you get your
head in the game. Now, I want to focus on the rest of you. Knowing what your goals are outside the tournament space is one thing, but you need to be prepared for the tournament itself. It’s a little like wanting to move to
a new country and needing to learn a whole new language; you can take courses, read books and practice speaking out loud before you get there, but the ultimate education comes when you start living there; when you start negotiating the unfamiliar (and sometimes uncomfortable) terrain yourself. Same goes for poker. Theory helps, but it won’t stand alone. You need actual practice as well. You need to the best tools and strongest foundation to build your tournament life – and that’s where this book comes in.
Your Tournament Life
The value of your tournament life is directly related to the way you approach tournaments. If you play winning tournament poker then your tournament life holds value. If your approach is to slowly let your chips bleed away then your tournament life isn’t worth much anyway. This is because your goal in a poker tournament should not be to last as long as possible. Your goal should be to give yourself the best shot at winning. Of course, the off- shoot of this approach is that you usually will stay in the game longer. Making it to the money and moving up the payout structure are by-products of going for the win, but if they are your primary focus in MTT you’re going to be a steadily losing player. Not what we want.
To make this point more obvious, I want you to look at the increase in payouts in terms of buy-ins rather than actual dollars. You will see the jumps are very, very small compared to the jumps at the top spot. When people are playing tournaments they very often get caught up in the actual dollar amount they can make if they move up a pay spot rather than looking at how much of an increase in pay they are getting relative to their investment. By realizing the change in ROI often isn’t that significant, it becomes much easier to focus on going for those top paying spots where the jumps are significant both in terms of dollars and in terms of buy-ins. This holds especially true in big live buy-in events where the buy-in is $1,000 or $10,000. Those real dollar amounts can
seem like huge jumps, but when compared to the unit of investment – which is how we measure the success in tournaments, they aren’t that meaningful.
Example of a flat payout structure:
1st: 20% 5th: 7% 9th: 1.2% 19-27: 0.2%
6th: 5% 10th-12th: 0.75%
7th: 3% 13th-15th: 0.6%
3rd: 15% 7th: 3%
8th: 1.8% 16th-18th: 0.4%
4th: 8% 8th: 2%
Example of a top-heavy payout structure:
1st: 40% 2nd: 25% 5th: 6% 6th: 4% 9th: 1%