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Small Stakes Tournaments

by Jason Kirk

Micro-stakes multi-table no-limit hold'em tournaments - those with buy-ins between $1 and $5 - abound on the internet today. They can be a fun way to pass the time for casual players, and for those who are more serious about their game these tournaments can also be a great training ground for moving up. For players with limited bankrolls there's also some significant profit to be had, as even on a small site winning one is often worth 50 times the initial buy-in or more. In order to win these tourneys you'll want to take them just as seriously as a professional would treat a major tournament. That can be hard to do when the guy on your right calls every single bet in front of him and keeps catching cards to win, but being able to prosper in these tournaments requires putting aside your emotional responses to poor play. Tournament poker is difficult enough without creating your own mental distractions. Here are a few tips for succeeding in the loosest tournaments around.

1.) There are dangerous players in every tournament.

First things first - you will occasionally run into good poker players in a small stakes tournament. Don't let the low buy-in fool you into thinking that every person you face is an inexperienced idiot waiting to hand his chips to you. Pay close attention to all your opponents' play from the moment the tournament begins and take note of anyone who seems to be playing solid poker. Don't automatically back off of these players - sometimes a poor player can get lucky and appear to be playing well - but do try to scrutinize their play and see what you can learn about them. If you're up against someone who seems to really know what she's doing, try to avoid a confrontation without great cards and find other players to pick on - there will be plenty of them.

2.) Don't undervalue your stack early.

Most micro-stakes tournaments are filled with players who break every standard of intelligent poker, and it can be tempting to go along with the crowd when one makes the minimum raise and five others. Just because the blinds are small doesn't make it any more profitable to exit early after trapping yourself into playing mediocre cards. Avoid the temptation to throw chips away with the lemmings. Wait for pairs and strong high cards early, unless you have a good drawing hand and your pot odds are too good to pass up. Without cards that stack up well in multi-way pots, you'll mostly want to sit back while your opponents butt heads to see who can win Donkey of the Year. (I guarantee you it will be somebody you play against in a small-stakes tournament.)

3.) There's a time to loosen up.

You can't wait on big cards forever without putting yourself in serious jeopardy of being blinded away. It'll come as good news to you that most of your opponents will generally tend to play loose when the blinds are low and then tighten up as the blinds rise. As in so many other pursuits, the way to stand out in these situations is to do the opposite of what the crowd is doing. When the other players at your table are starting to wait for big hands before playing, you'll have an opportunity to start stealing pots.

Loosening up pre-flop can work out nicely if you've been without any playable cards in the early going, as you're probably hitting the point where loosening up is a necessity. Don't be afraid to move all-in pre-flop with all but the worst starting hands if you're the first person in the pot and you have less than 10 times the number of chips required to pay for one orbit's blinds and antes. There is a huge advantage to being first in, and most people won't call you with less than a pair or A-K. Even if you get called by a superior hand you often won't be more than a 3-2 underdog.

When you've managed to build a big stack by playing solid hands in the early going, many of your opponents will give you carte blanche to steal their blinds and limp bets because they fear your monsters. You'll want to pick your spots carefully, of course, but in general your chip stack will be enough to scare most opponents away when you make a big bet. Be sure you are aware of pot odds when you have a big stack and you start to loosen up. If you raise pre-flop with a middling hand and a short stack goes all-in over the top of your bet, chances are you'll be getting good odds to gamble on knocking an opponent out.
 


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