Large vs. Small Tournament Fields
When you are playing in large tournaments you'll be sitting at a table or tables for a very long period of time until you can get into the money and cash in the tournament. Hours on end will go by and it can be very difficult to maintain focus throughout. When playing a big tournament you have to keep two things in mind; know what the blind levels are and what the average stack size is.
These are the two most important things when playing through large tournament fields. These will be the most apparent and relevant during the middle of tournaments where you could lose focus. The reason to keep in mind what the blind levels are is because when playing through big fields you can sometimes lose track of the blinds and how often they will increase. Also, you should set short term goals for yourself in order to progress through a big tournament field.
Keeping track of the blind structure of a tournament will let you know how much longer you will be playing for at the level, and it will also let you know when to play passive and when to play aggressive. Also, keeping in your mind what the average stack size is will help you to determine when to speed up or slow down. Ideally, you would like to play a tournament and have a stack that's above the average throughout the duration of it. This will almost never be the case with the natural swings of the game, but in order to have the best chance of doing that, you should always keep in the back of your mind how you are doing compared to others.
Also, you should take mental notes of the stack sizes at your table. It will be important down the road to be above the average, but it will all depend on how you are stacked up compared to your table mates. It will happen sometimes where you'll be above the average and have six other players who have more chips than you at your table. If this is the case you are a short stack and you aren't able to maneuver chips as easily without being met by a confrontation.
Small Tournament Fields
Smaller fields will force you to sit at the tables for much less time than with a large field. In order to capitalize on a small field of players you should wait for a hand to go on a run with. Basically, you'll wait for big hands to double up with early on in tournaments with smaller fields. If you can show down one big hand and acquire a stack early when playing with a small field you'll have more success in them and can run them over.
A reason why you can run them over is because once a player sees that you have been playing passively and waiting it out they will be more prone to making a fold then a call against you. If you sit back and wait too long, then you'll be the one barely holding on at the end and hoping you get lucky to double up. You should never have to rely on luck when playing tournaments even though a little always helps. You should also spot the good and the bad players right away. If there's a small group of players in the tournament, you should be locked in on your table from hand one looking for betting patterns and tells. If you can pick a couple betting patterns up on people or tells you will have success more times than not when playing smaller field tournaments.
Also, when playing in tournaments with small fields there will be fewer players paid out. To make the money you'll have the same chance as a big tournament except you'll get there faster. This is another reason why you will need chips early on. If you coast along through small fields you often go bust sometime in the middle of them.
When looking at both of them, there are major differences in playing styles and what you should look to do. In big tournaments you want to have short term goals that allow you to slowly coast through them, and gather chips little by little. In small tournaments your short term goals almost don't exist. The only one you should have is to make the final table, and then to win the tournament. The reason is when playing with a small field of players, players don't drop at a rapid rate. They will drop off one or two at a time and most will try to hang on to their stack as long as possible.
When you see a table that's playing passive you should be playing aggressive and look to build your stack up. In most cases when playing small tournaments the time will come where you have to try and be the table captain, controlling the table and how players will play. When that time comes you have to pounce on it right away and try to accumulate as many chips as you can. If you can do that at the right time, you'll most likely make the final table because you'll have enough chips to be comfortable, and allow yourself to make hard decisions easier when the money bubble comes around.
Large Tournament Fields
When playing through a large field, you'll want to do the opposite most of the time. At large tournament fields you'll have to slowly grind out chips. If you can slowly make progress and not go on tilt from one hand you lost, you'll be better for it and survive. Survival skills in tournament poker, and especially when dealing with large fields is something you have to have. In general, the larger the field of players the larger the prize pool will be.
Surviving is overlooked sometimes when you get short stacked, but when you play big tournaments you need it at some point. You simply won't have the massive stack throughout a big tournament the entire time. If you still have chips in front of you, there's still a chance of you coming back and gathering that big stack if you are down to only a few big blinds. There are a number of famous stories where players had one chip left or almost nothing left after losing a big hand, and came back to win the tournament. If you can continue to survive and slowly make progress without making big mistakes you'll get there at the end.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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