The Definitive Guide to Poker Tournament Strategy

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In this blog I’m going to share the inner workings of poker tournament strategy. For your convenience, I’ve broken this up into several sections and created an index for you below.

There’s a ton of content, here—a definitive guide to tournament strategy as well as push fold charts—that you can reference, as you progress along, in your poker journey.

I recommend bookmarking this page, and coming back to it later. After you’ve had time to implement some of the preliminary strategy tips. As you may be aware, I’m a big fan of conceptual-based learning with actionable items, a unique approach that focuses on teaching concepts (this helps you get a deeper understanding of poker), followed up with practical exercises which you can work through during your next session.

All this is to say that the content here is meant to be a guide. The real work happens when you take action and implement it at the table. Move at your own pace; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.


  • Measuring Success in Tournaments
  • Variance in Tournament Poker
  • Rake in Tournament Poker
  • Basic Poker Tournament Strategy
  • Intermediate Poker Tournament Strategy
  • Advanced Poker Tournament Strategy
  • Expert Poker Tournament Strategy


Success in tournament Agen Bola Terbaik is measured in lifetime earnings. Which is the total amount of cumulative prize money a situs dewa poker player has won. This number is deceptive because it doesn’t account for the buy-ins, nor does it take into account whether players are even profitable.

For example, players can boast they have a lifetime earnings of $1,000,000; however, they may have played 200 tournaments, each with a $10,000 buy-in (totaling $2,000,000), and, therefore, are losing poker players.

Conversely, a player with just $100,000 in lifetime earnings from playing 200 tournaments, with $100 buy-ins (totaling $20,000), is considered to be an extremely profitable player.

Unfortunately, the majority of the time, only the former gets notoriety; consequently, most of the “big names” in the tournament poker scene are those who play the high rollers (the events with the highest buy-ins), because their earnings are higher.

The Definitive Guide to Poker Tournament Strategy

For example, while I can personally boast that I have over $1,500,000 in tournament earnings, the truth is that not all of that is profit. I’ve probably accumulated, thus far, $300,000 in tournament buy-ins; as a result, my total earnings are only $1,200,000. While there are many players with high tournament earnings, what really matters is the ROI, or return on investment. Unfortunately, this metric is too often neglected when speaking about tournament results.

Fortunately, there are other, more accurate. Ways to measure success in tournament poker, using a player’s aggregate of final tables and titles won.

While final tables and titles can also be deceptive (immensely benefitting those who play high rollers, whose average field size is 50 instead of 500 or 5,000). It’s a much better metric to measure success in tournament poker.

We believe that a system that rewards ROI would be the best metric for measuring success in tournaments, because it focuses on profitability. In other words, ROI would be cashes minus buy-ins; currently. There isn’t a system which measure results in this way.

The Global Poker Index, the world’s leading authority on ranking tournament players, does a pretty good job of indexing tournament results, and takes into account field size, prize pool, and other metrics, to paint a more accurate picture.


Tournament poker has an incredible amount of variance. As a general rule, one should think of tournaments like a lottery with small edges: you may know two of the numbers, but you are still playing the lottery.

In practical terms, that means you can go your entire tournament career without winning a major event, even if you are one of the best players in the world.

While I go into much more detail about the variance in tournament poker in my video, below, here’s one practical thought experiment.

If you’re playing an average World Series of Poker or World Poker Tour event, with 500 players, the probability that any one person will win is 1/500 or 0.02%.

Even if you consider yourself the best player in the world. Your chances of winning are certainly no more than 5x the average player or 1%.

Not only can a player easily go 100 events without winning—because of the laws of mathematics and standard deviation—she could play 1,000 tournaments and never cash a 1st place victory.

In practical terms, if you play a tournament once a week, you can go 20 years without winning a single one.

For this reason, many top winning poker players supplement tournaments with cash games, a form of poker with much lower variance and arguably more skill-edge, because of the deeper stack-to-pot-ratio, thereby, allowing players to make more multiple street decisions.

If you’d like a complete overview of profitability in tournament poker, the variances you can expect, and practical tips for how to manage your bankroll, based on the data above, please check out the video below.


Most players consider the only rake in tournament poker to be the fee associated with the buy-in. For example, in a $10,000 buy-in, the rake is usually $300. Other times, the rake is taken directly out of the prize pool, usually in the form of a percentage.

While the fee for a tournament entry will vary from tournament-to-tournament, you can expect the rake to be somewhere around 3%, a reasonable amount given the costs involved to run the event.

However, it’s important to note that there are many forms of additional “rake” in tournament poker, which often goes unaccounted for by players. The most notable form of hidden rake is the cost for players to actually play an event: in the form of travel expenses, gratuities to dealers and staff, occasional hotel expenses, and opportunity costs.

Let’s take a look at two examples: one, where our hero plays tournaments in his home city, and the other, where he must travel to the event.

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Example 1: Playing From Home

Hero decides to play a $1,000 buy-in tournament, at the Commerce Casino, nearby his home in Los Angeles. He pays a standard rake of $70 and thinks nothing of it.

While he is unsure of whether or not he will win or bust early, Hero expects to play an average of 14 hours in this event.

Because he is one of the best players, he expects his ROI to be 50%; in other words, he will make 50% of his buy-in (entry fee minus rake).

Hero’s ROI: ($1000-$70) x 50% = $465

Hero’s Hourly: $465/14 = $33.20

I’d argue that someone with Hero’s skillset has a higher opportunity playing cash games while risking less money. Let’s take a look at how much he’d stand to earn if he were to take that same $1,000 and apply it to a $5/$10 No Limit Hold’em cash game.

Remember that Hero is one of the best players and can expect to win at 15bb/100 hands.

At $5/$10 that means he’ll win $150 every 100 hands. At a conservative 27 hands per hour, he will win $40.50 in cash games, including rake. Not only will Hero win, roughly, 20% more per hour playing cash games, he will do so with a lot less variance.

Example #2: Hero Travels to Play a Tournament

Note: While this example would apply to Hero if he were to travel for cash games. I included it in the tournament section because it is far more common for players to travel for tournaments.

Hero flies to Vegas for the weekend to play a series of three tournaments, each with a $1,000 buy-in.

His ROI is as follows: $465 x 3 = $1,395

His expenses to travel include flights and hotels, which are conservatively $1,000.

Therefore, his new ROI is $395, and new hourly is 395/36, or $10.98. If he were to travel for cash games, his ROI would shrink proportionally as well.

It’s important to think about all the costs of playing poker, before making a decision about what or where to play. I call this the true rake. Keeping the true rake in mind will help you make more profitable and higher EV decisions at the poker table.

One final thought: true rake doesn’t account for intrinsic value or personal goals. If you’re goal is to final table a WSOP event, then it’s important that goal is taken into consideration, as well. There’s more to your poker journey than ROI and EV.

For more practical implementations on how rake affects your poker game, and the exact system I use to optimize my bankroll for risk/reward, while maximizing my hourly, please check out my course, Four Step Poker Mastery.

You can also subscribe to my email list to be alerted for when enrollment opens.


In tournament poker, it’s important to understand, fundamentally, that each chip is not worth the face value that it represents. The easiest way to conceptualize this is to think about what happens if you win. You may win all the chips in play, but you only receive roughly 20% of the total price pool. This phenomenon gives us insight into how we should be approaching tournaments to formulate our strategy.

The most important principle to understand in tournament poker is the idea that each chip is worth less than the previous one. In the real world, this is referred to as diminishing marginal return (DMR).

What does this mean for your game plan?

Well it means that when you’re a big stack (with 120 big blinds, while the field’s average stack is 50 big blinds) you should be extremely aggressive, since the additional blinds don’t increase the real-dollar-value of your stack, as much as the original ones.

In other words, you should be looking for good spots to apply pressure with 30-50 of your big blinds, attempting to gain more.

When you’re a middle stack, you should aim to pick on smaller stacks. Who you can threaten to bust if they get involved with you. You should, simultaneously, stay away from larger stacks that can threaten your tournament life.

As a short stack, you are at risk of being knocked out by nearly everyone at your table; consequently, you should look for good spots to go all-in, ideally when you have some fold equity. A classic example is what’s called, restealing: shoving over a loose opener.

For example, if a medium stack opens for 2.5BB, from late position, you can resteal from the small blind, with 18BB and a hand that will have decent equity when called, adjusting your stealing range depending on the tendencies of the opener.

The Definitive Guide to Poker Tournament Strategy

The looser he opens, and the tighter he calls your shove. The more you can justify stealing wide. Conversely, the tighter he opens, and the looser he calls, the more conservative you’ll have to be when considering a shove.

The last component to having strong tournament fundamentals is preflop play. Because preflop is the first decision you make at the poker table and sets the tone for the rest of the hand. It’s often the most important.

Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in tournament poker, where the stack-to-pot-ratio is smaller (meaning you are less “deep-stacked”), often forcing you, more frequently, to be all-in preflop.

If you haven’t already done so, please download my “Preflop Charts” and the “Quick Start Guide to Preflop Play.”

The preflop charts apply, primarily, to situations where you’re 50 big blinds deep, or greater, with no antes; or 40 big blinds deep, with antes.

The Quick Start Guide will improve your fundamentals, and give you tools to adjust the information you learn to your precise situation against your particular opponent.

Download it below.