One of the easiest ways to start playing poker, especially online, is single table tournaments. You enter a tournament of up to 10 players with the top 3 finishers earning a prize, or a six-player table with the top two finishers in the money.
Single table poker tournaments are available at most online poker sites, and they’re also available in some land-based poker rooms. They’re also available in a wide range of buy-in amounts, so you can find one that fits your budget.
Most single table poker tournaments are run using Texas holdem, but some rooms offer them in other variations like Omaha and Stud. No limit is the most popular structure, but limit tables are also available in most poker rooms.
1 – Study the Rules and Payout Structure
Most single table poker tournaments have a similar rule and payout structure, but it’s important to make sure you know exactly what they are before you start playing. How fast the blinds increase is important so you know how long you can wait before the blinds become large enough to threaten your stack.
If the buy in is $10 + $1 and there are 10 players, the prize pool is $100, with $50 going to first, $30 to second, and $20 to third.
In six-player tournaments, the split can be 70/30 or 60/40 for first and second place.
2 – Understand the Profit Point
Your goal as a single table poker tournament player is to make money. It’s good to learn how to play well enough to make a profit on a consistent basis. This means you need to understand how often you need to finish in the money to make a profit.
If you average the return for finishing in the money, you receive 33.3% of the prize pool every time you do. This means that to make a long-term profit, you have to finish in the money slightly more than one out of every three tournaments you enter.
The numbers are a little better if you’re able to finish first more than average, but for now, you need to learn how to finish in the money at least 40% of the time you enter a single table tournament. Here are the numbers based on the traditional payouts and entry fees.
Using $10 + $1 and a 10-player format, your average return for finishing in the money is $33.33. Your cost to enter a tournament is $11. If you enter 10 tournaments, your total cost is $110. If you finish in the money three times, finishing first, second, and third, your total return is $100. This is a loss of $10.
If you’re able to finish in the money four times, your total return averages $133.33, for a profit of 23.33, or $2.33 per tournament. You can play with the numbers to determine your breakeven point, but for now, you need to focus on finishing in the money 40% of the time.
If you’re able to do this, you’re going to be able to turn a consistent profit. The good news is this isn’t especially hard if you follow the rest of the advice on this page.
3 – Forget Defending the Blinds Early
One of the most dangerous things that single player poker tournament players do is defend their blinds with weak and average hands. Some players are quite aggressive in trying to steal blinds, and the natural tendency is to fight back.
But you need to wait until you have a real hand or until the blinds climb to a high enough level to make a real difference. If a late position player raises early in the game, fold and wait until you have a better hand unless you’re sure you have a strong chance to win.
And if you’re hand is strong enough to defend the blinds with, push all in. The blinds leave you in the worst position after the flop, so put the pressure on the pre-flop aggressor by forcing them to risk their entire stack.
4 – Fold Early
In the early stages of a single table tournament you should fold all but your best hands. With your best hands, you should be trying to double up. If your hand isn’t good enough to double up with, simply fold and wait for a better opportunity.
Most players end up playing too many hands early, so a lot of the time, you can fold until three to five players have eliminated themselves.
Even if you have a smaller stack with five players left, you only have to double up a time or two to have enough to compete for the money.
5 – Survive the Middle
Once you reach the middle stages of the tournament, some of your opponents will have been eliminated and the blinds will start to go up quite a bit. You still want to play as tight as possible, but you’re going to be forced to win a few hands or steal some blinds to stay in play.
Identify the players who aren’t protecting their blinds and use the power of position when you’re in late position. It’s still important to focus on playing with good hands, but the middle is the time for survival.
6 – Aggressive Late
When the tournament gets down to four players in a nine or 10-player tournament or three players in a six-player tournament, it’s called the “bubble.” You’re one elimination from the money, and many players get overly tight at this point trying to sneak into the money.
If you have enough in your stack, you might be able to fold into the money at this point, but I usually play more aggressively to take advantage of the players trying to sneak into the money.
I’ve read advice that if you can fold into the money that you should fold every hand, including pocket aces and kings. I completely disagree with this advice. When you enter a tournament you should play to win, and getting all your chips in with hands like aces and kings give you the best chance to win.
7 – Start Small
It takes some time to improve your skills to the point where you can finish in the money 40% of the time. This is why I suggest starting with buy-in amounts far below your overall bankroll. Start at the low limits and stick with them until you can beat them on a consistent basis.
Once you master a level, don’t try to skip levels just because you’re doing well. If you start at the $10 + $1 level, move to $20 + $2 and play there until you master it.
8 – Move Up With Profits
Keep your profits in your bankroll so it can grow. Use your profits to fund your bankroll so you can move higher. If you have to put more money in your bankroll outside of your profits, resist the urge to play at a higher level. Just always remember to protect your money and practice bankroll management.
The competition doesn’t change a great deal when you do move from level to level, but the players are better on average as you move up. The same strategy you use at the $10 + $1 level won’t work as well at $100 + $10.
The basic concepts are the same, but more players understand the basics at the higher levels. You can still find single table tournaments at the middle buy-in levels that have many poor players, but you’re also likely to be facing at least three or four players who know what they’re doing.
9 – Move to the Big Time
Once you learn how to beat the low and middle buy-in levels you can start taking a shot at the top levels of single table poker tournaments using your profits. The bad thing is that, at the top levels, it becomes increasingly difficult to finish in the money 40% of the time.
You should try your hand at these levels when you master the other levels and can afford to, but the truth is that it might be more profitable to play at the middle limits than to play at the higher limits. Only experience will be able to give you a true picture.
Single table poker tournaments are a good way to start playing poker. The buy-in limits the amount you can use, and the strategy to beat the lower levels is fairly simple. Once you learn how to beat the lower limits, you can use your profits to move up.