How to Play Poker
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Tournament Poker

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Three Big Differences Between Tournament Poker and Cash Games

The main different between playing in a poker tournament as opposed to a regular cash game is that in a tournament, you can't go back into your pocket for more cash. Or else you can go back into your pocket, for a re-buy, but you can only go back in a very limited fashion.

This first and overriding difference between tournament and cash game poker gives rise to other, related concepts that you must consider as you adjust your game to play in a poker tournament.

Below you'll find three such concepts, each of which can make you a better tournament poker player. As you look at the following list, though, be sure to remember the one big difference from which these other differences spring:

In a tournament, you can get knocked out cold, so keep your chin down, especially in the early rounds.

Implied Odds All Out of Whack

In the game of poker, you are always supposed to be making two calculations: your odds of winning this hand, and pot odds, which tells you how much you can pay to try to win this hand.

A central part of this second calculation, pot odds, is implied odds, which gets at the fact that you must not only consider how much you might win by making any particular bet, but how much you might win as more cards come out and more money is bet.

In tournament poker, implied odds are astronomically more important than in cash games because in a tournament, the jackpot figures into your implied odds. If you are in a cash game, no one is going to pull out $2 million and give you a chance to win it.

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Small Pairs'll Be the Death of You

Implied odds is not the only poker math concept that gets badly skewed when you step into the world of tournament poker. Percentages regarding small pair victories also change drastically.

Obtaining a large stack before you reach the final tables of a tournament will help you tremendously at those final tables, so you really need to do everything you can to save bets along the way and build your chipstack.

Mucking pocket 6s, especially from early or middle position, can save you many bets. You are never a favorite to flop a set and in a tournament, you are likely sitting with someone who will be more than happy to put you all in if he or she senses any weakness at all.

Reliance on a small pair qualifies as a weakness in tournament poker.

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Best Moves Best In Later Rounds

In most tournaments, you will be able to stay alive past the early rounds by playing tight poker, and only getting aggressive when you have significantly the best of it.

As you progress into a tournament, however, you will start running into players who will not play badly enough for you to play straightforward, solid, strictly business poker. You will begin to need to take calculated risks and show a little more wiggle in your game.

It is then, in these middle or later stages, that you must start breaking out plays that are a bit more off the beaten path. For sure your opponents will be breaking out their best moves, testing your resolve by making plays that are more aggressive than they are solid in the traditional sense.

Every tournament is a marathon, not a sprint. However, every tournament also has its stretches where you must sprint--and maybe even dance while doing so--or else you will not win.

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