How To Transition From Cash-Games To Tournaments
If you’ve primarily been a cash-game (CG) player over your poker-playing career, it can be understandably tough to make the transition over to tournaments; the hours are longer, the flexibility is lower, and the number of frustrating days are infinitely greater. Not only do transitioning players have to contend with the emotional battles of spending weeks, or even months, at a time coming up empty-handed, but many of the same strategies that have been wildly profitable for them at the cash tables can suddenly become completely ineffective or even downright awful when utilizing them in a tournament setting.
That’s why we’ve decided to put together a list of 3 simple tips cash-game players should focus on while making the transition to tournament-play in the hopes that they’ll be able to help you reduce the friction during this period and keep your bankroll safe until you get a much more secure handle on this exciting poker format.
Study Your Stacks
One of the most apparent shortcomings all pure CG players share when transitioning to tournaments is their inexperience playing short and even medium stack-sizes. Although they are often well-versed in deeper stack-sizes than their “trny” counterparts, when it comes to sub 100 big-blind poker, and especially sub 50, they have simply not played at often enough unless they are a very specific breed of shortstack CG players. But for the vast majority of players who understandably have not studied this aspect of the game extensively, mid to late-stage tournament play can be an extremely difficult time to navigate. And, unfortunately, as nice as it would be to be able to offer game-changing shortstack advice in just a couple paragraphs, the truth is that when it comes to this aspect of beginner poker strategy, there really is no replacing putting the time in for yourself by obsessively grinding hundred of hand-histories using one of many free equity-calculator programs and apps now available.
One piece of advice when it comes to that is not to spend too much time or effort trying to memorize exact hand-ranges or obsessing about figuring out your opponents’ exact ranges when running calculations. Instead, use plain-old repetition, taking mental notes when anything falls way outside your expectation and, over time, you’ll likely find your understanding of low-stack ranges will form into sort of mental-zones, where you may not know the exact amount of equity you have in any given spot, but you’ll an extremely good idea for all but the closest spots; which actually end up being the least important hands since such little equity is up for grabs compared to a spot where one decision has a massive equity advantage.
Increase Good Aggression
Inexperienced tournament players coming from a CG background often spend their first while on the trny scene shocked by just how aggressive their opponents are, as well as the type of hands they show up with at showdown. Many will label their opponent weak or think of them as a ‘donkey’ when in fact these same opponents may very well have a much more sophisticated understanding of the nature of tournament-poker and recognize that there is very little time to waste and that smaller edges have to be chased much more aggressively.
This goes back to learning to play the lower stack-sizes, because once you do that you’ll begin noticing how much wider you can, and need to, be in a whole variety of common tournament situations, such as blind-vs-blind in the mid to late stages of a tournament where many top players will play nearly any-two-cards against all but the toughest opponents.
This also means when making plays of the flops and beyond; due to the nature of tournaments you can’t allow your stack to be whittled down making half-hearted bluff attempts that continuously cost you a handful of big blinds. Because while you can always reup your stack in a CG and continue on with your strategy, as your stack is depleted in a tournament, so too do your options, eventually forcing you into a light late-position shove with only a handful of big blinds that never seems to work out.
So make sure to get booth adequately loose, while remaining unbashfully aggressive when the situation calls for it.
Minimize Bad Aggression
Just us as there are many spots in tournament-play that require increased aggression, so too are there a fair few that call for taking your foot off the gas and waiting for the right moment, something that seems like it would be a strength for the typical CG player, but can in fact be a liability for many players still learning how to play poker tournaments. That’s because having watched endless poker videos and articles preaching increased aggression (like this one!), many players will come firing out of the gate, determined to collect a final-table stack early, and predictably find themselves on the sidelines hours before the money. The key then is to balance aggression in the right spots, with an understanding that tournaments are hardly ever won early and that, for the most part, survival is the name of the game. This means that apart from rebuy tournaments, which are a beast of their own, proper strategy for the majority of players, especially newer one transitioning from cash-games, is to maintain tight hand ranges early on but play them aggressively, trying to squeeze (or steal) as much value from your opponents while not taking unnecessary risks in spots where we can gain a tiny bit of equity at the risk to losing the whole lot.
Work on these three tournament strategy concepts: the nuances associated with a wide range of poker stack-sizes, particularly those under 25 big blinds, the optimal times for increased aggression, and the appropriate time and manner of shifting from a snug early-game strategy to a looser and more aggressive late-game one and you’ll be well on your way to making the transition between poker cash-games and tournaments.
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