Jeff Kimber takes a look at some clever strategies for accumulating chips tournaments
Look around a poker tournament and it always seems to be the same people sat behind the biggest chip stacks. They didn’t bring them with them, so how come the same players constantly get the biggest stacks? Because they’ve mastered the art of chipping up.
Whether you want to call it accumulating, chip getting, building a stack or chipping up, being able to constantly grow your stack is a key skill in all forms of tournament poker. Every player can sit and wait for the nuts, and some do, but because of the rarity of getting such a holding, they’re often the ones sat with a bowl of rice desperately waiting for the deck to bail them out, faced with a push or fold decision every time they see their hole cards. Playing tight is certainly not the way to build a big stack, unless you can rely on the deck to smack you in the face, so what should we be doing?
Rising blinds will soon start to put the pressure on you if you’re playing tight, with each orbit costing you a small blind, a big blind and generally another big blind in antes. One way to ease that pressure is to be able to pick up the blinds once a round to maintain your stack. Ideally, we’d like to do this with as little risk as possible, so look out for players to your left who look at their cards before the action’s on them and give away their lack of interest. If we’re stealing, we don’t really want to pick on anyone who will put up any resistance, so take a mental note of the players who relinquish their blinds easily, and also those that like to play back and get sticky – we’d much rather attack the former, not the latter. Try and profile each opponent at your table and play against each in the most profitable way you can.
Optimal Blind Play
Being in the blinds isn’t much fun. You’re generally out of position throughout the hand, having been forced to contribute to the pot before you’ve seen your cards. If you’re comfortable post flop and feel you have an edge there, and you have the skills to play profitably out of position, then defend and play pots from the blinds. But in general, being in the blinds is a drain on our stack and playing optimally for most will be giving up their blinds easily without putting any more in than is necessary.
A key skill in tournament play is seizing three betting opportunities. We can all reraise people when we find a big hand, but doing it without a hand is a skill that can take years to perfect, but, thankfully, can be taught. Look to attack the raises of those who are opening too many pots and have been shown to do so with less than premium holdings, be it at showdown or you’ve seen them fold to pressure preflop.
A much higher risk strategy, as you have to risk more of your stack to raise over the top of someone’s reraise, and there’s a real danger that the three bettors may actually have a good hand they’re not willing to relinquish, but the rewards are high too. Again, look to attack those who are three betting too much, who have seized three betting opportunities you also spotted, and preferably those that you have seen three bet then fold previously.
Be Image Aware
While three betting and four (and five/six/seven etc!) betting can be great ways of accumulating chips, be aware that your image in the eyes of observant opponents will be changing. If you’re three and four betting a lot, it will soon become obvious that you can’t have it all the time, even if you’re winning the pots without showdowns. Be aware that the better players will adjust the ranges they decide not to fold against you as this goes on, so players who folded pocket queens to your four bet earlier may now be willing to go with tens or jacks having seen you play a lot of pots.
Of course, this can work to your benefit, if you let it, when you do actually pick up a real premium hand, but make sure you don’t decide to get all tricky and trappy with the aces or kings and just call a raise if you’ve been three and four betting light earlier, as you’d like to give frustrated opponents the chance to stack off to you. Remember when your table breaks, you have a clean page in terms of image, so adjust accordingly.
One of those old poker idioms is that you need to win races to win a poker tournament. That is definitely true if you’re always short stacked and have to put all your chips in the middle a lot, but building a big stack can allow you to lose a race or take a bad beat and still have plenty to carry on your progress through the tournament. Having a big stack, and playing lots of pots, is much more fun than sitting there folding and moaning about how bad your starting hands have been.
So get involved, play lots of hands, build up a big stack and start bullying others and you’ll soon be making final tables and claiming that all important winners’ trophy.