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Short Handed No Limit Hold’em Tournament Strategy

No limit hold ‘em tournament poker is widely popular and exiting to play. A set buy-in amount can bring you a big return. Winning tournaments and making the money is like hitting a big multi-leg sports parlay, and to do so you have to keep winning. One lost hand especially later in a tournament can cripple and crush you thus ending your winning run. Similar to a sports parlay ticket of winning the first five games only to lose the sixth game on the ticket ending your chance at a big payday.

As you move through various stages of a tournament, you’ll at times be moved to another table. At some point you’ll play at tables with seven or eight players instead of nine or ten. As you get down to two tables, you may end up playing with five, six or seven others as players are eliminated from the tournament.

Your tables likely had a mixture of tight players, loose and regular raisers, crazy players and even obnoxious or rude players. Staying focused and adjusting your play to these players along with paying attention to the various sizes of chip stacks becomes a key component as you advance through a tournament.

When you get to the stages of the tournament of playing with less players at your table, this is where you can make a major adjustment and pick up even more chips. If you have identified that your table is either mostly tight or mostly loose, a solid rule to follow is that you should try to play in a style opposite to that of most of the players at the table.

Thus, if you’ve established that you’re a tight player and find yourself at a table of mostly similar players, you should loosen your requirements in opening with a raise. This allows you to steal pots more easily. This may be just picking up the blinds and antes, or following through with aggressive play after the flop against another tight player. Fewer players increases your chances to win pots with more aggressive play pre-flop. Now is not the time to play with fear, but rather to use your established image to start picking up more and bigger pots. If you have just one aggressive player at a table of tight players, watch him (or her) take control and be even more aggressive with fewer players at the table. This is how you win more pots and add more chips. Even if you lose a pot or two, don’t be deterred. Identify this situation of tight players and take the aggressive lead with fewer players at the table.  

At a table of loose players, you theoretically want to play tightly. While some may argue you could get run over and lose more chips as the blinds and antes eat away at you, the chances of you winning uncontested pots should be greater as your raise and play with better starting hands than normal.

We’ll provide more analysis and insight on playing tournament poker with loose players in another article, as this can be a more complicated case and requires a keen understanding of the skill level and actual players you’re going to compete against.

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Fairway Jay

Fairway Jay is a poker writer and contributor to - based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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