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Five Mistakes You Should Avoid Early In A Poker Tournament

June 14, 2024
by PokerStars Learn

One of the poker cliches you’ve probably heard a million times is this. You can’t win a tournament on Day 1, but you can lose it.

Sure that phrase was born way before the era of re-buy or PKO tournaments, but it still holds weight today, and for Day 1 of a live tournament, we can approximate it to the opening eight to ten levels of a regular online tournament.

And no matter if your regular stomping ground is the nightly live tournament at your Bricks and Mortar establishment or the Big $5.50 on PokerStars, there are certain mistakes you should avoid early on if you want to keep your chips and a chair.

Going broke with one (premium) pair

Whilst we tend to avoid hard and fast rules, if you find yourself playing a 100-200 big blind post-flop pot with just one pair, even if that pair is aces or kings, the chances are you’re not going to be getting your chips in ahead.

When stacks are deep, ranges can be wider and players can call with more speculative holdings, because they have the implied odds to do so. By extension that means there are a wider variety of flops that can have our premium pairs (AA, KK, QQ) in trouble.

By all means look to build a pot with these holdings, but especially in multi-way pots you need to be aware that your one pair could be crushed.

Not using the power of position

We’re going to mention deep stacks and position a lot here. The opening levels of a tournament, whilst stacks are deep, can play closer to a cash game than a tournament, although of course you can’t top up your stack.

One of the crucial ways this manifests itself is that position is even more important than during the latter stages. There are two main ways in which you can adjust to this. One is to tighten up from early to middle position. If you’re playing pots from these spots, you’re likely to be out of position with deep stacks, which is never a nice spot to be in, so lop off the bottom of your range. Send that K-10o into the muck and don’t even think about opening that offsuit two gapper.

The flip side to this is using the power of position when you’re in late position or the button. Again no wild adjustments needed, but err of the side of raising, rather than flat calling.  Take the impetus in a pot and give yourself the post-flop betting lead whilst stacks are deep.

Playing Too Loose

With a fresh stack of 100 or more big blinds in front of you, it can be tempting to gamble a portion of those early on, especially in a re-buy tournament, in the hope to get a double up. But, speculation doesn’t always equal accumulation.

If you often find yourself in post-flop situations where you have no idea where you’re at, say you have 10-8o on a K-8-5 flop (middle pair, middling kicker) facing a bet and a call, then chances are you’re playing too loose. It’s easy to play when you smash a flop or completely miss it, but those times when you’re marooned in ‘might be good land’ can easily drain your stack. You can go from a small pre-flop investment to arriving at the river with 25% of your stack in the pot and no idea what you’re going to do should you face a bet.

Flicking It In With No Plan

How many times have you just flicked in that one of two big blinds to see a flop with your J-3 suited or 9-6o dreaming of winning a big pot when you hit a disguised hand? It’s great when it happens and we remember those times, but what we tend to dismiss very quickly are all those times when we flick it in and either a) completely miss the flop and fold b) catch a piece but fold before showdown c) catch a piece but lose the pot to a better hand.

What we’re trying to say, is a small mistake can lead to a series of incrementally bigger mistakes down the streets. The way to avoid that domino effect is to start hitting the fold button.

Registering To A Tournament You Can’t Afford To Play

Often the biggest mistake you make can occur before a hand has been dealt. If you register for a tournament outside of your bankroll/comfort zone, then chances are you’ll not be able to play your natural game and be what’s commonly referred to as ‘scared money’.

It’s important to practice good bankroll management and to stick to the games you’re comfortable playing. By all means take the occasional shot at a slightly higher stakes game if you’re feeling confident but regularly playing too high will only lead to a fall.

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