The Tsunami

Strategize. Optimize. Pulverize.


Poker Tournament Strategy Made Simple

First off, if you didn’t catch Killer Poker Analysis last Friday, I covered the following topics:

1.) The squeeze play in no-limit hold’em
2.) My opinions on Full Tilt’s Rush Poker now that player tracking HUDs work with it (I haven’t tried it out, but it seems to be word on the streets)
3.) Implied odds calculations
4.) MTT strategy

Click here to listen to the show.

When I talked about MTT strategy, my intention was to give a gameplan to the Rounder’s Radio faithful for the February GFN Forum Wars event. Basically, Forum Wars is a competition that takes place between a few different poker forums. There’s one freeroll and 3 small buy-in events. Participants score points based on how high they finish in each event, and the forum with the highest score wins the title. There’s also an individual leaderboard that pays out some decent cash prizes…definitely worth some valuable pixels!

During the show, I was operating under the assumption that the first event was going to be a typical MTT (i.e. top heavy payout structure). Therefore, I preached my usual, “survival is overrated; try to get every chip that you possibly can on your way to the final table.”

Fortunately, I perform due diligence before any event (as should you). Minutes before the first tournament started, I noted that it was a freeroll with no cash payouts. Instead, this first event simply paid out leaderboard points. Points were paid out corresponding to reverse finish order (i.e. 1st place got 75 points, 2nd place got 74 points, and so on down the line). In other words, this payout structure is about as far from top-heavy as you can get! Given the extremely flat payout structure of this tournament and the importance of accumulating points for the leader board, my strategy ended up being quite a bit different from what I told my listeners on Friday night :)

A tournament’s payout structure means everything. If a play stands to gain you chips in the long run, then the play is said to be +cEV (plus chip expected value). However, in some tournament situations, plays that are +cEV aren’t always +$EV (plus monetary expected value). The gap between +cEV and +$EV is determined by the tournament’s payout structure. In tournaments with extremely top-heavy payout structures (like those of typical multi-table tournaments), you can come very close to maximizing your $EV by making plays that maximize your cEV. In tournaments with extremely flat payout structures (and at most final tables of tournaments with top-heavy payout structures), survival becomes more of an issue, and you can find yourself in situations where +cEV calls are -$EV.

I entitled this blog entry Poker Tournament Strategy Made Simple, so here it is:

Given different tournaments with different payout structures, it’s possible that the best way to play a hand in one tournament is not the best way to play a hand in another tournament. Furthermore, when action gets down to jam/fold, the following relationships generally hold true:

Shoving Requirements:

The flatter the payout structure is, the looser you should be with your shoving requirements because…

Calling Requirements:

The flatter the payout structure is, the tighter you should be with your calling requirements

In other words, there’s a bias against confrontation that occurs the flatter a payout structure is. Understanding the impact that payout structure has on bias against confrontation is the biggest key to being a profitable tournament player.

Here’s an important side note. If you’re playing against opponents who don’t properly account for the bias against confrontation in tournaments with flatter payout structures, shoving as wide as you theoretically should can put you in situations where mistakes your opponents make end up costing you money as well. (Often, poker players believe that they profit whenever their opponents make mistakes. However, since poker is a multiplayer game, this idea of generating money from opponents’ mistakes doesn’t hold universally.)

In my next blog post, I’ll dissect one or two interesting tourney hands. Until then, I’m Audi 5000.

May Your EV Always Be Positive!

Tony Guerrera


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

KillerEV Updates

Leave your email address here if you wish to receive updates when new content is added to

Tony's Books

Tony's Blog

Show By:

  • Category

  • Date