There are some differences between optimal tournament and cash game strategies. One of the main things to keep in mind when playing tournaments is protecting your stack. In a cash game, you can rebuy whenever you want, so it’s not as big of a deal if you go all in and lose.
However, in a tournament, once you lose your stack then you’ve lost the tournament. You’re done playing. That’s why it’s so important to protect your stack—it keeps your
tournament life alive.
Sometimes, this means that we have to give up a little bit of equity. Even if a play is slightly better in the long run, we may want to fold to prevent some variance and to look for a better spot.
The Tournament Dilemma
The problem, however, is that we’re often short-stacked in tournaments. If we only have 20BB to work with, then we don’t have a lot of options. It’s easy to become pot committed.
This means that we need to pick our spots and play solid hands. Sometimes it’s right to fold top pair. There are other times when we need to fold a reasonable hand pre-flop because there’s still others to act after us, and we can’t stand up to a squeeze play.
Either way, the key is finding spots where we’re further ahead than normal. Operating on razor-thin margins won’t cut it when the slightest back luck kicks us out of the tournament.
Optimal Tournament Strategy
This doesn’t mean that we should clam up and play passively. We always want to maintain our aggressive playstyle. That’s the only way that we can pressure opponents, realize fold equity, and build value for our made hands.
What we want to do is find the right spots to carefully apply that aggression. If a hand seems to close to call, then it’s probably not worth risking your entire tournament life over it. Wait for the right moment and then spring your trap to double up your stack.
That’s the best way to get ahead in a poker tournament.