Most people, when they start playing poker online at places such as Party Poker, follow this natural progression. First, they play for play money. Then naturally, when they realize that half of the table is going all in on every hand, they decide to deposit some real money and try a real game. After playing a ring game for a while, they decide to try out their luck with the tournament format.
First off, let's start with the prize structure. Let's say there is a $10 + $1 tournament at Party Poker. This means that there is a $10 entry for the tournament, plus Party Poker takes $1 for their rake. First prize is $50, second prize is $30, and third place is $20. Let's assume for the sake of argument that this is a No Limit Hold'em game.
Now, there will probably be varying opinions on how these lower limit SNG's should be played. Some people would argue that if you fold almost every hand, you will almost always finish in at least the top 5. I would say you are probably right, but you don't have much of a chance of winning or coming in second in these tournaments if you play this way, especially against decent players. I would say that in the average $10 SNG, you have a couple of decent players, one or two average players and the rest are unseasoned players.
In order to be successful, I believe you must do the following things:
1) Play tight / aggressive, especially at the beginning when the blinds are lower. The key is to build your stack in the first couple of rounds. Keep in mind that most players are going to be very tight in the early going, so it is fairly easy to bluff people at this stage of the game. You will notice that the best SNG players are VERY aggressive when they have a decent set of cards. Reversely, this affords them the luxury of being able to bluff heavily in the early going. Take notes on the players you are playing against; make sure you don't bluff the wrong player. It is fairly easy to identify the weak players early in the game. Most people aren't taking notes, this can be a big advantage to you later in the game.
2) Most players will do just about anything to get into 3rd place. If you play tight / aggressive, you will probably find yourself with the 1st - 3rd biggest stack in the tournament with about five players left. Keep in mind that the players who are currently 4th and 5th will fold just about any hand, hoping that two of the other players go all in against each other, so that they can sneak into 3rd place. It is easy to bully people out of chips at this stage of the game.
3) When it is down to just 2 or 3 people, including yourself, don't make the mistake of all of a sudden being a meek player, or you will find yourself getting blinded out. Continue to be aggressive, if somebody wants to go all in and you feel that you have the better cards, take the chance and go all in.
It takes a while to become aggressive, but you will find that once you become comfortable with it, you will fare much better. Sure, you will have some instances where you will be aggressive and catch an unlucky card, but overall, I would say that your tournaments will be much more profitable. The best poker players are usually the most aggressive.
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