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Early and Middle Phase

Early and Middle Phase

Slow and steady: the importance of playing it safe in the early stages of a tournament...

The main aim of a poker tournament will always be to win it. But in order to get yourself into the position to compete at the business end, you will need to navigate through various other stages where the focus should be more short-term. Many things change during the course of a tournament - opponents, stack sizes and blinds, for example - and these variable factors will mean you need to adjust strategy as the tournament progresses.

In the early phase of the tournament you have a large stack relative to the size of the blinds. Typically your stack and the average stack will both be considerably more than 50 big blinds.

In the middle phase the blinds increase and you will usually have anywhere between 15 and 50 big blinds. Sometimes you will have even less. The middle phase will end when the tournament approaches the bubble. If, for example, the top 100 players get paid in a tournament, the middle phase will end when there are 120 to 150 players left. (There then follows a bubble phase and an in the money phase.)

If you are new to tournament poker, you should first make sure you have read the course describing strategy for Sit & Go tournaments. It describes optimum strategy for the early and middle phases, which also applies for multi-table tournaments. You can use Sit & Go strategy to start playing and then improve on it with this course. 

Solid early and middle phase play

The following three tips are key to successful early and middle phase play: 

  1. Avoid playing and losing big pots with marginal to weak hands.
  2. Go for big pots if you are lucky enough to hit a good hand. Bet or raise big.
  3. Try to win big pots with small investments in speculative hands.

It is very important to understand the above points well, keep them in mind while playing and put them into practice. Here are more details, with several examples:

Avoid big pots with weak hands

Early in the tournament your stack is large compared with the blinds. It does not cost you much to fold mediocre hands and wait for the good ones. Later in the tournament you might be short stacked and forced to play super aggressively with very shaky holdings. But that simply is not the case early on. If a hand does look dangerous, weak or mediocre, fold it. Don't call a couple of times to grow the pot and then make a tough decision. If a hand is unfavorable or develops poorly on the flop you should cut your losses by folding as early as possible.
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