Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Two Keys to Winning Poker Tournaments

To be a winner in tournament poker, you'll have to focus on two key factors: survival and aggressive domination.

In the early stages of tournament poker, it’s survival that counts most.

You can't win a tournament in the first few rounds, but you certainly can get knocked out if you’re careless. In most tournaments, the early stages allow for more deep-stack play. That is, you’ll start off with plenty of chips and the blinds will usually be small in comparison.

In a typical $10,000 buy-in tournament, you’ll probably start with 20,000 in chips and 50-100 blinds or 10,000 in chips and 25-50 blinds. Either way, the starting structure is identical as you'll begin with 200 bets in both cases.

The number of bets you have available will become especially important later in tournament play so it's important to know how to calculate the number of bets you have. You can simply figure the number of bets available by dividing the value of chips you have by the size of the big blind.

At the beginning of a tournament when you have many bets available, there’s no real pressure to play. In these early stages, you shouldn't risk all of your chips in marginal situations, particularly when you have a decent, but not a great hand. Instead, shift your mindset to think in terms of survival.

While in the survival mode, try looking at cheap flops and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. Don’t take unnecessary risks unless you’re actually holding the goods. Even pocket kings can be an iffy hand to go all-in with.

Say, for example, you have 10,000 in chips and a player raises to 150. You decide to reraise with your K-K to 600, and your opponent fires back with another reraise to 2,500. You now have to be extremely worried that he has the one hand you can't beat: A-A. So, the question is: Are you willing to risk your tournament life at this juncture with an all-in bet?

The bottom line is well worth repeating: Early on, employ your survival skills. Then, as the blinds escalate and the number of bets you have in front of you gets smaller, pick up the pace of your game. That’s when you’ll have to attack more often and aim for aggressive domination of your table.

You see, as the tournament progresses, chip stacks become ever more precious. The blinds escalate to a point where the average stack in the event may only have thirty big bets remaining. Many of the surviving players are going to feel pressured to play and their style of play will change accordingly.

When you go from playing deep-stack poker to short-stack poker, you have to be that much more conscious of the number of available bets in front of you.

Remember that Kenny Rogers song about poker? Well, aside from being a little outdated, as far as poker advice is concerned, it’s just plain wrong when Kenny sings, "You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table."

Great song, Kenny, bad advice!

Once you’ve built up your stack to a healthy size, start attacking the weaker players who haven't made the necessary adjustments to their game. Players still stuck in the survival mode at this stage of the tournament are your primary targets.

It's at these precise times when great players take their games to another level. They dominate the action by aggressively attacking pots. If successful, they’ll jump out to a big chip lead and set themselves up nicely for the finish. If not, well, there’s always another tournament right around the corner.

Sooner or later, the combination of early round survival and late stage aggressive domination will prevail resulting in more tournament success.



Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.


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