Online Poker Tournament Strategy

by Mario Alfonsi  |  Published on May 23, 2017  |  Updated on May 23, 2017

The way to win a poker tournament is to gain an advantage over the other players at the table. The way to do start gaining that advantage is to start building an online poker tournament strategy that’s strong, and gets you into the money as often as possible.

When you’re playing poker online, many of the visual and audio tools you have when you’re playing offline are gone. You can’t watch a person to see if they purse their lips on a missed flop, or sit up straighter when they’re in a big hand. You can’t feel the body heat emanating off of the guy next to you to know that he probably has pocket aces. There are no eyes, there’s no overhearing the guy tell the guy next to him what he mucked, it’s you, and the cards, and the buttons that the other players push. That’s it.

So we’re going to start with some basic online poker tournament strategy here, and then as you grow and become a stronger player, you can toy with things like 3-betting and buying more pots, intimidation online, and building a strong table image, off of the poker table.

First, let’s look at the beginning stages of a tournament played online. Depending on the tournament you’re playing, and often-times the stake the beginning is generally played one of two ways. One of those ways is wild and crazy. This is often the case with lower buy-in events, like the $1 tournaments, and pretty much anything that’s available for less than $20. It’s also a common trend when you’re playing in rebuy type events. The prize pools grow to ginormous amounts as people rebuy again and again and again in effort to basically buy a healthy lead before the rebuy period ends.

That’s one strategy by the way, if you’ve got the cash, and you can afford a dozen rebuys before the rebuy period ends in a rebuy tournament, where the prize pool justifies the investment, you can try that approach, shoving with anything that looks like it could win by the river if called. Today though, we’ll be looking at ways to counter that strategy, and other ways to stay off of the roller coaster, and still enjoy the ride.

The other way that tournaments tend to begin is very cautiously. Players tend to just call, or raise the usual 3 times the big blind with their opinion of a good hand. Oftentimes early on in a tournament there are a lot of flops seen for the price of the big blind.

SO if you’re involved in a tournament where there seem to be 4/5 people all-in preflop every hand, you fold. That’s your entire strategy for the beginning of that event, simply, fold. If you have AK, you fold. If you have KK, you fold. If you have AA, you fold.

The odds that those monster hands will hold up against 4 or 5 other players are not good, so playing them at this point is a lot like taking your online tournament buyin money and buying a lottery ticket with it. Obviously, you’re here to play online poker, not online lotto, so we’re going to fold through that portion of the game.

As some of these maniac-idiot-donks bust out, and others grow monstrous stacks and settle down some, the game will slow down. Some of the maniac-idiot-donks will not realize what a good position they’ve gotten themselves into, and will continue to over-bet, and play like maniac-idiot-donks. Something has changed though, they’re not getting called by 4 or 5 people. They may not even be getting called by anyone. They’re pounding their chests in the their living rooms, probably wearing their superman jammies as they steal blind after blind, until… someone catches a hand.

Then they’ll start bleeding off their chips, as players catch hands and double up through them. If they slow down after they build their stacks, perhaps they’re using that buy-a-stack strategy we mentioned above, however, more often than not, they just don’t know how to slow down, so it’s fine to keep right on folding, until you can catch them, get them hooked, take advantage of their fast action style, and double up through them.

If the table’s playing soft in the early stages however, like we mentioned above, there are things to take advantage of in that situation too. When the entire table seems to call just about every hand, strategy comes into play. First, look around, it feels like everyone’s in every pot, however, I bet there’s someone, maybe even a couple of people folding. Take note of who they are. In fact, if the online poker room has a note feature, make a player note, ‘sitting out in early stage of tournament on [date] during family pots’. Make sure you’re as specific as possible with your note, because you might read it a year later, also date the note, so that you realize it’s been a year and this player could have an entirely different playing style now.

After you’ve noted him, incase you or he get moved to a different table, be a bit more cautious in hands with him. He waits, he doesn’t call every hand, he probably waits for hands bigger than AQ, we’ll assume that until we see something different.

As for you, if there hasn’t been much raising going on, and it’s safe to say there will be no raise after you call, and 4 people have called in front of you, it’s pretty safe to call with drawing hands.

That means that it’s never ‘pretty safe’ to call with 48 suited. Once in a blue moon it does win, but you’ll waste much more than you’ll ever win waiting on that moon. However, if you find yourself with TJ suited or better, maybe even the occasional 78 suited, this is when you get to play those mediocre cards.

Another way to play this might be to try to buy these family pots. Let the other players know that you just plain aren’t allowing limp pots. Raise a solid 4-6x the blind and see what happens. In some cases, there are enough never-played-before-donks at the table that just don’t know they should fold, that this won’t work. If there are people that have played at the table and have any solid idea of what a good hand is though, you should narrow down the opposition considerably. You have to decide whether you’re playing a calling station that fits into the never-played-before-donks category, or a player that just never figured out how to use the raise button and limps with AQ, personally, I get bored during the early stages of a game and google everyone’s usernames, that’s just me though.

Once you’ve decided which group any callers fall into, you can either push harder if there’s no ace on the board, or check it down if there’s no chance that you’re going to win, and no chance that they’re going to fold.

After the first few times the blinds go up, the play at the table should improve. The ‘never-played-before-donks that have no concept of folding have probably busted out with any of the maniacs that were at other tables, and real poker skills will become more apparent. During this middle portion of the tournament, it’s time to tighten up. Play aggressive when you have a good hand, but stick to playing no more than 1/20th of the hands dealt to you. That’s tight right? If you can steal a pot now and then, then by all means, pick it up, but for the most part, folding’s just fine here. Keep an eye on your chipstack, anything less than 10 big blinds in your stack means you’re shortstacked and are going to have to take action, probably shoving all in with any good hands.

While you’re not short-stacked though, make strong raises. Don’t call other people’s bets. If you can call you can raise, go into this portion of the tournament with that frame of mind. Any ace with a kicker of less than a suited jack goes straight into the muck unless you’re on the button and the other players all simply called the big blind, then a strong raise to buy the pot is in order, if a continuation bet doesn’t take it down, check it down to the river, folding if your opponent bets, on the river, make a bet that’s about twice the big blind, giving your opponent one more shot at folding, if he raises, give those cards a little smooch for me on their way to the muck.

As you make your way near the money, play will slow down considerably, you can open up your play a bit here. People don’t want to bust out right before they make the money. Most people have looked at the list, checked out all of the shortstacks left in the tournament and know just how many people have to bust out so they can make money. Keep in mind the dealer doesn’t stop dealing pocket aces, and pocket kings, or even ace king just because the money bubble is about to burst, but.. also keep in mind that a lot of people are folding jack/king and lower that would have normally raised with that crap. Pots are often for sale at this stage.

Once the tournament gets down to two or three tables, open those tables. This little bit of online poker strategy gives you the chance to keep an eye on how your future opponents are playing.

Again in this latter part of the game there are two ways to play it, if the table is playing very aggressively, with shortstacks shoving their stacks into the middle, or bigstacks bullying and vying for first, and there seems to be action in every hand, then stay the heck out of it unless you feel that you have to be in it. Let the other players get rid of each other as you advance in the money places.

If on the other hand, conservative seems to be the name of the game at the final table, think of Triple H and his theme song, in fact, download that from iTunes right now, it really does pay off at final tables! It is indeed time to play the game. Steel pots, bust players, and make your way to first place. . . . or. . .

If you’re down to 3 or 4 remaining players, and you’re shortstacked, make a deal if you think it will make you more money. Even if you’re in first place chip-wise deals can be made. One strategy would be to agree to take first place money, and let the other players split the remaining money. Ask for more than you want, you’d be amazed what stressed out poker players with no deal making strategy in place will agree to.