Endgame Tips
2005 Jason Kirk  

Many players like to play cheap no-limit tournaments instead of cash games when they're beginning to play poker. Not only do they get more time for their money and limit their possible losses as they get a feel for the game, but the excitement of progressing through a large field of opponents is an undeniably thrilling experience that's hard to duplicate in any other pursuit. Eventually most of these players will find themselves in the situation that every poker player relishes: holding a gigantic chip lead over their opponents as the tournament draws to a close.

While some players seem to have an instinctive knowledge of how to wield the big stack in the endgame, the vast majority who find themselves in this position for the first time don't know what to do with all their chips. Wielding such power incorrectly can make those chips disappear in a hurry and once they're gone it can be difficult to get them back. Sometimes months can pass before such an advantage will present itself again, so it's important to make the most of the opportunity while you have it. Learning when to make the right moves can be the difference between bubbling out and staying atop the leaderboard.

1.) Always know where you stand in relation to your opponents.

The most important element of holding on to your lead is knowing the make-up of your table like you know your hole cards. Take a look around and see who has at least half as many chips as you do. These players are the biggest threat to your stack - while you shouldn't be afraid of them, you will have to exercise caution around them. Also be aware of the players who are close to elimination. Many of these players will be waiting for a big hand before they make a move, but some will be willing to push all-in at a moment's notice whether they hold a monster or not. Watch how everyone around you plays and develop a clear idea of who you can safely go after and who you'll need to watch out for. It's this information that will help you make informed decisions.

2.) Don't be afraid to raise at the right time.

Even if aggression isn't what got you your big chip stack in the first place, it's absolutely necessary to employ it if you plan to hold on to that stack. When you get the opportunity to be the first player in and there's no one dangerous left to act behind you, don't be afraid to bump the bet up to 3 or 4 big blinds with almost any hand. Most players aren't willing to call a big bet late in the tournament with a less-than-stellar hand; even if they're ahead of you, they're basically entering a coin-flip situation if they call you. You can take advantage of your opponents' natural tendency to wait for a monster and build up a nice stack.

3.) Don't be afraid to fold at the right time.

When you ramp up the aggression in your game, chances are you'll eventually run into someone who's willing to put you to the test. When this happens, try to recall any past hands you've played against him and ask yourself what kind of player he is. Would he make a bluff raise if he thought you didn't have a premium holding? Has he only played solid hands to this point? Don't be ashamed to fold your hand in the right situation. Not only will it save you chips immediately, but you'll also be more likely to get called down in the future when you have a big hand.

4.) Don't be afraid to call at the right time.

One of the greatest powers of the big stack is the ability to knock players out of the tournament with almost any two cards. If you have more than ten times the stack of a desperate opponent who has just pushed all-in, you should call his bet no matter how poor your starting hand. Desperate players don't have to have premium hands to get their chips in the middle; the corollary to this is that you don't need a premium hand to call. Picking off four or five small stacks can be just as profitable as a big hand against an opponent with more chips, and it can instill fear into your opponents when they realize that they can't put you on a hand.  

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