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Sports & Gaming

Tournament Strategy: Early and Middle Stages

Daniel Negreanu

Lesson time 12:25 min

The way you play in a tournament early-on has a big impact on the final outcome. Learn strategies specific to early and middle stage play, like how to be mindful of stack sizes and account for blind structure from the get go.

Daniel Negreanu
Teaches Poker
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Super excited to talk about tournament strategy. Now I've played cash games. I've played tournaments all my life. But I've always felt more excited about a tournament because it has a beginning, a middle, an ending, and at the end, you win yourself a nice trophy occasionally. Whereas, a cash game, to me, has always felt a little bit more like work. You know, you go in there, you punch your clock, you make your money, there's no trophy at the end of the day, but it's a job well done when you did have a win. So we're going to talk a little bit more in depth about tournament strategy, things to look for throughout the various stages of the tournament because there's always going to be an ebb and flow. There's always a dynamic that's changing. When you play cash games, you're rarely going to be facing situations where stack size matter as much as they do in tournaments. Right? In cash games, typically, people play relatively deep. Rarely are you're going to see a player with just 10 big blinds left sitting on a stack. And in tournaments, it's very common. You're going to see stacks ranging from five big ones to 10 to 20 to 50. And, of course, you're going to have the deep stack play, especially in the early level. So we're going to go through bit by bit what to look forward to and what to think about in the early stages, middle stages, late stages, and how that all changes throughout based on the different dynamics that you're going to be faced with. Let's tackle the early stages first. And there's definitely a few schools of thought on how to approach these levels, like some players are out there like gangbuster taking advantage of everybody and really pushing the envelope, trying to build a big stack. Where others, especially because in most tournaments that you play, the first few levels will not have an ante, they're going to play a little more snug. And they're going to play more conservative and sort of wait for big hands. So the question is, what should you do? And how should you play? And the answer to that is going to be an answer that you could use for most poker situations. And the answer is, it depends. As a general rule, before the antes kick in in a tournament, you do want to be on the more conservative side, right? There is a simple fact here that in the early stages, you can go broke. You can lose all your chips. What you can't do is when the entire tournament. So the question is, how much value is there in doubling your stack at the early stages in terms of how often you're going to cash or how much more likely you are to win? And it's not as significant as you would hope. It's far more important, especially in the early stages, to think in terms of survival. That's going to be a theme throughout this tournament portion. In cash games, we're always thinking, how do we get max value? That's the only thought. That's the only thing that matters. Well, in a tournament, there's another consideration. The other considera...

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Put yourself across the felt from Daniel Negreanu, the biggest live tournament poker winner of all time. The six-time World Series of Poker champion teaches poker strategy, advanced theory, and practice through hand-reviews of his winning games. Learn how to sharpen your mental game through demos on reading opponents and spotting tells. Join Daniel at the table to increase your win rate, grow your ROI, and get your game “in the money.”


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I always enjoyed Daniel's enthusiasm at the tables,but finally got to see and learn about the effort that is the foundation of his game. People with passion are the easiest to learn from and the most fun to be around, it's been delightful, Daniel!

Detailed theory with brilliant use of real life situations to bring context to those theories. I now have the confidence to go away and train and develop my own game.

This class is so useful for total balance as a player. Easy to listen to , great coaching! So worth the money!!

I have learned the proper path to how to go about learning the real math of poker and can really begin the path to becoming an intelligent POKER player, and not just a gambler.


A fellow student

The last few tournaments I have done, the cards were great, the flops not so much. I tried raising pre-flop with A/K, KK, QQ, etc. and most called. Then the flop comes and it's 2, 5,7 or something of that nature. I then found other raising so I went out. This happened through the whole tournament. I am a believer, if you don't get both the cards and the flops, you're doomed.


Mr. Negreanu suggests specific play when you are deep stacked. How many big blinds does he consider deep stacked? Thanks, Peter

Michael L.

My call vs a 3 bet range oop after I have opened in full ring MTT is 66+, AKo, AQo, KQs, AJs, ATs, 87s, 98s, 109s, JTs and A2-A5 suited. The low suited Aces and suited connectors I use as 4 bet bluffs about 1/3 of the time for balance, these hands also become 4 bet shoves once down to 20-15bbs. Open to suggestions and would love to hear what your 3 bet calling range is IP and OOP as I feel like this topic is tough to get a clear answer on.

A fellow student

The lesson was generally good, however it is still often correct to defend the big blind against 2x to 2.5x raises, even on a micro stack. Most top online pros and solver programs like PIOsolver support this.

Rafael B.

Hey, there is some problem with the PDF. I can't download it. Did anybody get it?

Phillip K.

The clock is an implied factor as you could have almost forty BBs that will become less than 20 in 45 seconds. I noticed people try to get into a hand with a wider range before the blinds go up.

Nick A.

Opinion: In the early stages you should actually try to play more loose and see more flops. Reason being: 1). At this point it's usually quite cheap to see flops because pot-to-stack ratios are smaller and this is a chance to build your chips 2). If you just 'keep surviving' you'll eventually end up with a stack that is either shove/fold. And you're unlikely to keep winning all-ins. SO, it is favourable to avoid going all-in and this is possible by building a stack early on. What are your thoughts?

Scottish W.

When having a stack around the Danger Zone of 20BBs, what situations are optimal for shoving over the top of a player we suspect to have a generally wide range? Namely, the big stack players who make the mistake of playing too many hands with shorter stacks behind them. Against that player, could we profitably shove any two cards against that wide of a range?


Question on tournament play-how do re-buy tourneys differ in strategy in the beginning and middle stages? Most tourneys are now re-buy until around level 9. I'm a fairy good tourney player-I make the money in most of the ones I play, or come really close. But I'm finding when it comes down to the money level I'm significantly under the chips of many of my opponents. Even if I have the "chip average" (which I know isn't important), I will get moved to tables that have 30+ times my chips. Its crippling to sit and play at those tables. Whats the best way to handle the opening levels while the re-buy is on? Loose and hope to make some mad double ups? Or play the slow and steady way I usually do-it takes me to the money level but never in a position to win. Thoughts???

Darrell C.

What I don't understand is why not wait until level 6 to enter a tournament if we're not going to get at any action. Just sit and fold, and that isn't going to help the end state goal either.