The main type of poker tournament in the world at this time both online and in live casinos is played using the no limit Texas hold’em format. However there are some major tournaments being played these days that have a limit hold’em structure and so it may be useful to know how to play these tournaments very well. In this article we will discuss the key strategies for playing limit tournaments solidly from the start all the way through to the latter stages.
Early stage play
Because the blinds are very small in relation to your total stack size during the early rounds in limit hold’em tournaments then tight play is the best way forward for nearly all players. At this stage of play your ultimate goal is not to lose needless chips to your opponents and to preserve your stack.In that sense then it is not much different than no limit tournaments or most other tournament formats for that matter. Tight is definitely right during the early phases of limit tournaments.
This means that you will essentially be playing only premium starting hands and any speculative hands that you can get in cheap with that can make big hands. In fact the best limit hold’em tournament players use strategies that are even tighter than in cash games. This is because in cash game poker you can top your stack back up and eliminate any losses in chips that you may have encountered. This is not the case in tournaments because once you lose chips then you cannot replace them.
The three primary ways of protecting your chips are to simply fold a high percentage of your starting hands, play positional poker and stick to premium hands. So what do we mean by premium starting hands? Well it means the big pairs AA-JJ and AKs, AK and AQs. You avoid hands that can lead to domination like KJ, AT and QJ and especially if you are out of position as well.
Middle and late stage tournament play
Just like in any other type of poker tournament, the middle stages are where you will be loosening up and playing more hands. This will especially be the case when you are in position. Your goal will be to steal blinds and also to win pots without seeing a showdown.
The best limit hold’em tournament players in the world steal a lot of blinds with raises and re-raises during the middle stages of the tournament. If you have not increased your stack or significantly increased your stack by this stage of the event then the number of big blinds that you have in your stack will be dramatically less.
Many lesser players tighten up during this stage of play and go into their shell. But this is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. One of your primary goals is to stay ahead of the ever increasing blinds and you can only do that with carefully selected aggressive play during the key middle stages.
However stealing blinds doesn’t work anywhere near as well in limit hold’em tournaments in the same way that it does in no limit tournaments. This is for the simple reason that when you raise from position then your opponent in the big blind will be receiving pot odds of 3.5-1 and that is more than enough to call with a very wide range of hands.
The act of stealing chips and blinds and the need to do so will also not be lost on your opponents as well. This essentially means that you will also have to defend your blinds with the same level of enthusiasm and aggression.
The best way to react to late position aggression is to be aggressive in return. This means re-raising from the big blind rather than playing a passive strategy and calling to see the flop. With unpaired cards then defending your big blind by simply calling is far too weak.
You will miss the flop with unpaired cards around two thirds of the time and so you will be terribly handicapped against aggressive players that simply bet at every available opportunity and put the onus on you to have hit the flop. Let us look at an example here to show you what I mean.
It gets folded around to the button who raises with A-2 and you have K-9 in the big blind. You call the raise and the flop comes 6-7-3 and you check fold on the flop. This is very weak but had you re-raised pre-flop and then bet the flop, your opponent would have folded a high percentage of the time. This would certainly have been the case had you followed up the flop bet with a large bet on the turn.
Written by: Carl “The Dean” Sampson