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Early and Middle Phase

The Early Phase

The best way to play when the blinds are small...

Every poker player has his or her own specific strategy for approaching the wide variety of situations thrown up by the game. Dynamics change depending on the buy in, what variant is being played, the stage of a tournament or cash game and the personnel around the table. A good player will adapt to suit the variables.

However in single table tournaments (STTs), particularly during the early stages, many of the changeable factors are removed. Everyone starts with the same stack, the blinds are low, and typically you will not have much information about your new opponents. Therefore it is possible to come up with some general guidelines for play at the start of STTs.

(Remember, these guidelines refer to nine-handed single table tournaments, with a regular speed of blind increase.)

Play super-tight early on

Your strategy in the first three blind levels is simple: stay tight. Most of your opponents in low stakes STTs will play far too loose and see too many flops with weak hands. They will then compound their errors by making weak calls post flop.

To take advantage of these weaknesses, you should play very few hands during the first three levels of play. The blinds are too small to be worth going after, and you don't want to risk your tournament without a strong hand. Let everyone else knock each other out – it doesn't matter if you fall behind in chips at this stage.

Don't bluff

They call too often… they call too often… Just keep repeating that to yourself. When your opponents are playing too loose, you will get paid off when you bet your big hands. But it makes bluffing a losing proposition. Just don't do it.

Don't slow play

During these early stages, it does not pay either to check-raise or to slow play. If you have  and the flop comes , don't check-raise or just call any bet. Bet or raise and then laugh when your adversary calls with . The only possible exceptions are those rare instances when you flop quads or a straight flush. Should this occur, you can slow play and check the flop, but make sure that you try to get all your chips in on either the turn or the river.

Beware of check-raises

In low and micro stakes STTs a check-raise almost always means a strong hand, usually two pair or better. Always fold to a check-raise unless you have at least two pair yourself. Even if you have  and the flop is , you should fold if an opponent check-raises. Stronger opponents may check raise bluff with a hand such as , but rarely in low-level tournaments. Just fold.

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The Middle Phase

General rules as the Sit & Go field thins towards the bubble...

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