Strategic Adjustments

Tournament Structures

Tournament Structure"Everybody loves a winner, but when you lose, you lose alone." -- William Bell

Roy Cooke wrote a fine Card Player column about how poker differs from blackjack in that rigid rules are normally not applicable. He looked at it mostly from a tactical decision-making angle, but this idea is also important to understand when thinking about our overall strategic approaches to the game.

In the tournament world, some casinos use consistent structures, while others try to adapt blinds increases to the number of players and the length of time a casino (and theoretically the players) wants a tournament to run. Sometimes earlier rounds are shorter and later rounds run longer, or other innovative ideas.

Another article could be written as to whether certain structures are good or bad. The point here is that different tournament structures require a different strategic approach -- due to the pace, the payoff structure, the amount of starting chips, and other reasons.

All tournament structures have their critics, often with the critic saying something like it is alleged that it disfavors “good” players (by adding play at the beginning of an event or lessening play at the two and three table point). This is pure nonsense. Different structures simply make it necessary for “good” players to adapt to a different structure. After all, that is precisely what good players do -- adapt!

If the result of a structure is that stacks are more even when players get to three tables, then if you are a good player you need to understand that each decision at this stage is far more critical for all players. And, when individual decisions become more important, good players have an even greater edge. Skill comes into play here just as surely as when stack sizes vary much more. It’s just a different sort of skill. If you are “good”, adapt. If you can’t adapt, you really aren’t that “good” after all.

Some tournament players are successful by having a personal strategy that just happens to be pretty well suited to one style of tournaments -- deliberately try to “get lucky” and accumulate a lot of chips in the early rounds, bully with a big stack in the later ones. If these players don’t think about how the specific next tournament they enter is structured, they will not be successful. They won’t be playing an effective strategy. This doesn’t mean that "good" players are being punished by the next structure -- far from it. Good players think on their feet and play sensibly based on the circumstances they face. Good players always find the right way to play.

If you are first under the gun and choose to limp-reraise with AA in a Hold'em game, you need to understand that you will face different sorts of opponents than you would if you open-raised. The limp-reraiser will face more opponents with hands like 98s, while the open-raiser should expect opponents to have hands like 99. The point here is not to say which way is better, but merely to show that the same hand in the same position can face different tactical challenges depending on how you strategically approach the game. If you like to trap people, then expect to face speculative hands. If you like to come out blazing, then expect to face more obvious hands like big cards and pocket pairs.

Profit from poker can come from several styles, strategies and approaches. There is no one, single way to play every hand or every game, every time. Analyze the game or situation you face, adapt and adjust to it, then go get the money.

See also The 'Wall' in Tournament Poker and the Trinity of Poker