The game of poker can be traced back almost a millennium. It is thought to have originated from 10th century game played by a Chinese emperor. From the 16th century onwards, there are records of similar games being played throughout Persia, Europe and the Americas. Today there are several variations of poker enjoyed by millions. 


People enjoy poker for multiple reasons. As a game of strategy that requires being able to read other players, poker skills translate into many other areas of life. Many businesspeople could learn from the top poker players, as the game requires many abilities that can be directly translated to skills in business. An ability to understand the motivations of others, analyse risk versus reward, calculate the possibility of having a winning hand and act under pressure are all skills that can be used in both poker and business.


Tournament Play

When learning to play poker, most people start by playing small, single-table games with five to eight other people. This gives the opportunity to begin learning how to read other players without trying to memorise too many traits. Some people play purely for fun and never graduate beyond these smaller games with friends. For those that take their poker seriously, however, tournaments provide opportunities to win big. 


Having a well thought out strategy before entering a tournament can make the difference between getting to the final table and being knocked out in the early stages. Entering a first poker tournament can be nerve-wracking when gambling online and more so in a live scenario where players come face to face with their opponents. This may be a small event in a local casino or a satellite event for a larger poker tour. No matter the scale, the best layers are those that have studied strategy as well as the rules of the game.


1: Stealing the Blinds

As poker tournaments progress, the blinds get steadily higher, and in many cases an ante is also introduced. This means that there is often a reasonable amount in the pot even if nobody bets. The maths shows that players who bet 2.25 times the big blind when there are also antes in play have a solid chance of winning more than they lose. This does not mean playing every single hand, but unless the blinds are playing aggressively players with a reasonable hand who raise by 2.25 times the big blind have a statistically good chance of making more than they lose. 

2: Defending the Blinds

In the later stages of a tournament when blinds are high, even those with a large stack run the risk of being slowly blinded out if they do not defend their big blinds. Being the big blind means playing out of position in later rounds, but it does offer generous pot odds. Strong players look to defend at least 40% of their big blinds against late position raises, particularly with any hand that has potential to continue to be played post-flop.


3: Analysing Stacks

In cash games it is easy to calculate how much a player holds in his stack, as each chip represents its cash value. However, in tournament play, the value of the stack is relative to the chances of the player reaching the final table and seeing a return on their investment. The Independent Chip Model is known as ICM poker and involves calculating probabilities of finishing in a certain position based on the outcome of each new move. The percentage of the total prize pool won by each player in the money compared to the buy-in amount changes the level of success achieved by each move.


4: Playing in Stages

One of the biggest mistakes made by players new to the tournament circuit is playing the same strategy all the way through. Having strategy is good, but it needs to be adapted depending on the stage the tournament is at. As a rule of thumb, play should get more aggressive as the tournament progresses. In the early stages, playing tight can be good, as other players do not gain a thorough understanding of the style of play. 


As the tournament enters the middle stages, good players almost always become more aggressive. The blinds are higher and therefore more worth stealing and there will be several players at each table trying to hold onto their chips by folding to reach the money. The late stages of the game should be more about preserving chips already won and only taking calculated risks that have a good statistical chance of paying off.


5: Heads-Up

The last stage of a poker tournament may involve playing heads-up. In this scenario, aggressive play is essential and the range of good starting hands changes. Typically, any player in a heads-up situation who has a pair or a high card in their hand has a good chance of winning the pot. With only two hands being played, the chances of achieving a straight, flush or full house are smaller. 

As with any game, practice helps hone strategy and help players see what works and what does not. There are many online poker sites that allow free play or have tournaments that cost just a few pence to enter which can help newer players work on their strategy without incurring major losses.