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At the time of releasing this podcast, the World Series of Poker is in full swing. Everybody’s got poker fever, and more specifically, tournament poker fever. So James “SplitSuit” Sweeney thought it’d be good to dip into the mailbag for some questions on tournament poker.

This is more of a get-your-feet-wet Q&A vs. an in-depth strategy podcast, but everyone can glean some insight from this veteran’s reflections on how to beat the many flavors of tournament poker.

Featuring: Sweeney


What are the major differences between cash games and tournaments?

Freedom – Scheduling for tournaments is set in stone. In cash games you can saunter in and out. The same goes for the money you invest via your chips — flexible for cash games, rigid for tourneys.

Home Runs – A cash game home run might be a triple-up, while a tournament home run sees a return on investment that is exponential. Of course, there is a flipside. There will be plenty of tournaments where you buy in, bust out, and blah. Maybe you min-cash, but who cares?

Stack Depth of Play – Cash games feature 100BB+ most times. Since blinds aren’t rising all the time, effective stacks get deep. In tournaments, this is not the case. With increasing blinds, you might be playing 20BB, 30BB and 40BB a lot. The lower the stack size, the more technical things get. There is more art and nuance in deep-stacked games.

Want more on this topic? We did a whole podcast on it: Cash Games vs. Tournaments


What is the best and most efficient way to train for live poker tournaments?

Videos, software and a lot of off-table analysis is going to be your best bet for tournament training. Jordan Young, Christian Soto and Gareth James are our top tournament coaches. ICMizer and Flopzilla are probably your go-to applications for analyzing play.

Having high expectations and working hard are two very important factors in major tournament success. But you won’t get anywhere in a quest for major live poker final table if you don’t have the bankroll to play bigger tournaments.

Keep in mind that if you only play live tournaments, you won’t get much volume. Even if you try to hit every tournament you can, that’s just 100-150 tournaments per year. Having access to online tournament poker is a must to put in the volume that you need to get the feedback you need to patch leaks and determine if you’re a winning player, or if you still have work to do. You don’t need to invest much money to play microstakes tournaments, and you can get lots of feedback.

You also have to make sure that you can maintain your focus over a long session. You need to get used to that. Unlike cash games, tournaments require butt-in-seat. You can’t fatigue. The biggest levels are at the end of the day. Don’t play your worst at the end of the day. That’s why mental game factors so much into winning tournament players’ strategies. Keeping energy levels high and having laser-focus are skills that need to be trained.

Does the Hand Reading Lab apply to tournament poker?

SplitSuit’s Hand Reading Lab has been causing a lot of buzz among serious poker players for its lucid breakdown of one of the more elusive arts of poker. Many tournament players have written to SplitSuit asking if he would recommend the lab for tournament players, since it was produced with cash game examples.

SplitSuit says you can certainly use it as long as you understand that it was geared for cash. You can make the overall framework work. Just be very aware that the shorter effective stack sizes of tournaments are going to change the dynamics of the game. It’s not an essential tournament tool, but it will give you insight that you can extrapolate if you feel comfortable doing so.

What is the best way of accumulating chips in the middle stage of a tournament?

Most players are going to be around 30-40BB at this stage, so SplitSuit’s advice is focused on things that tend to come up at this stack depth.

Stealing – You might be asking, “Why are we stealing with 30BB?” At the mid-stage of the tournament, blinds are a healthy size, and the risk is low. You’ve got a near 1:1 risk-to-reward ratio, so taking stabs is going to be a cornerstone of your strategy. Fight for pots and make things happen, even at this lower stack depth.

3-Betting – The 3-bet will be an important tool for you in mid-tournament scenarios, because it applies maximum pressure and aggression to opponents that will be very risk-averse when it comes to their tournament life. The nice thing about tournament 3-bets is they can be smaller than their cash game counterparts, and still accomplish the same goal.

Call & Go Postflop – At this stack depth, you have other options than to ship-resteal. You can call and see a flop, and play some poker. Think about whether your edge would be higher if you 3-bet, or if you flat. And if you flat, are there any threats lying ahead from opponents that might get in the mix?


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  • Eugene C

    Please forgive my previous comment. I was trying to view the MTT Crash Course on my iPhone (doesn’t work well, at least not for me). Now I’m viewing it on my laptop and it works perfectly. I’m really looking forward to getting into this content. Again, sorry for my stupidity!!