Pre-flop hand selection in the early stages is one of the
most vital elements of tournament play. If you are playing the
wrong types of hands to start an event, you are probably playing
the wrong hands throughout the tournament all the way till the
end. The exact event that you are playing is going to bear some
relevance in how you hand select, but you should always have a
general range of hands in mind. You shouldn’t be going into any
tournament without a real game plan in mind.
Hand selection, like just about anything else in poker, is
going to be dependent upon a number of different factors. You
can’t simply say that you should play these hands and those
hands while disregarding things like position, stack size, your
opponent, and so on and so forth. There’s always more to look
at than just what cards you are holding. The value of any hand
is always going to be subject to the circumstances that are at
play. Though you are going to need to make constant and ever
changing adjustments, there’s no reason why you can’t get a
feel for the ideal pre-flop hand selection in the beginning of tournaments with a
relatively small amount of practice.
Your relative position is something that you should always be
taking into account. When it comes to deciding which hands you
should and shouldn’t be playing at the start of a
tournament, your position will not matter quite as much as
you might think. The reason for this is that the blinds are
usually going to be disproportionately small when compared to
your stack size.
If you are playing with several hundred big
blinds, you’ll be able to better play in a large number of
pots without exposing yourself to a significant amount of risk.
This is absolutely crucial in all tournament play, minimizing
risk. If you are putting yourself in spots where your stack is
on the line early on but you aren’t in a dominant position, it
means that you are simply making too many mistakes that could
have been prevented. As much as position may not be a massive
factor, you should still give it some attention.
Early position play is never going to be favored. Since the
objective is to play in a lot of pots for a low price, you
should be trying to become the most involved when you have
position on your opponents. One of the reasons why position is
valuable is because it allows you to make moves such as stealing
the blinds and light 3 or 4 bets. In the beginning of a
tournament, however, this isn’t something that you should be
working into your game, and it’s also one of the reasons why
position loses some of its value. Being one of the last to act
will just give you that added edge where your actions don’t face
such unknown results. You can comfortably call behind, check
behind, or whatever you would like to do. Don’t stress out about
position at this stage in a tournament, but don’t totally
discount it either.
Your Stack Size
Your stack size is seldom going to remain static in a poker
tournament like it would in a cash game. You are going to
frequently make adjustments that correspond with the amount of
chips that you have at any given time. You can’t be making plays
that you did when you were short stacked if you now have a
massive stack and vice versa. In the earlier levels of a
tournament, you are likely to be right on par with the rest of
the field or just a bit ahead or behind. There will be those
random times where you double or triple up early, but they aren’t going to be all that common. Stack size isn’t going to play
a massive role in hand selection just as position didn’t.
Now that you have a couple of the underlying factors out of
the way, the next step is to consider the actual types of hands
that you are going to play. These are always subject to change
of course, so don’t take them as absolutes.
Any pocket pair is worth seeing a flop with at this stage of
the game. If you can get to the flop for the price of a raise or
less, there’s no reason to be getting out of the way. Your hand
has a fair amount of showdown value built in and it will also
have the potential to stack other players if you can manage to
hit a set. Pocket pairs are always deceptive when they are able
to improve and you can play them without putting your life on
the line when a tournament just begins.
Suited connectors don’t have quite as much value when the
blinds are low. One of the reasons for this is because they rely
heavily on their fold equity and their potential. You aren’t
going to usually be in a position where you can shove over
someone and get them to fold when you land a huge draw. This
isn’t to say that this scenario is necessarily desirable, but
the opportunity isn’t going to present itself regardless. If
you can play in pots with solid suited connectors like 8s 9s,
you should still do it, but don’t expect to win too many massive
pots as a result. It can happen as the event progresses, but
most players just aren’t up for huge pots right away unless it’s a cooler type situation.
Big pocket pairs should really speak for themselves. You
should be playing these hands and you should be playing them
fast. When you get a hand like pocket queens, kings, or aces,
your best play is to just raise a fair amount pre-flop and to
fire out as many barrels as you can. You need to be careful that
you aren’t overstepping your boundaries, however, as it can be
easy to get caught up in a hand and to overplay it as a result.
If you start to face real resistance and there’s a good shot
that you are behind, just give it up. A benefit to playing the
early stages of any tournament is that there’s always plenty of
time left to go, so there’s no need to force anything if it
isn’t likely to work.
Weak hands just aren’t worth playing at all. There are going
to be times in tournaments where they do make sense, like when
you are short stacked and have to shove in late position hoping
for a fold, but they don’t really have any place early on in a
tournament. You are better off just letting
these go until you are absolutely forced to play them, because
otherwise it’s just a waste of time and chips.
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