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Early Tournament Play

Early Tournament Play
The early stage of an online multi-table tournament is the only time that almost all the players have stack sizes large enough to allow them a full range of plays at the table. For the purposes of this article, we will consider the “early” stage of the tourney to be the blind levels prior to the antes kicking in. Let’s examine some strategies that may be used successfully, in order to be in good shape once the acceleration of the blinds and antes commences.

As quickly as possible, you want to be able to become one of the chip leaders at your table, which will enable you to put pressure on those with smaller stacks, who will then be in danger of being knocked out of the tournament every time you contest a pot with them. Some players take this notion to the extreme, by simply pushing all-in pre-flop on the first hand of the tourney, challenging the other players to a game of chicken. If they hit their hands, now they have doubled-up right away and hold a big leverage advantage in future pots with the other players.

If everyone folds, they will try to exploit even this tiny edge to bully the table. If they are challenged and lose, so what? There’s always another tourney right around the corner. While this is not a recommended strategy, you can see how, in a fast-paced tournament where players are looking to accumulate chips as fast as they can, there is a certain attraction to this kamikaze style.

Rather than leaving things quite so up to chance, it is better to look for hands that, given the right board, can allow you to take down a big pot and/or bust another player. In the early stages of a tourney, in addition to the obvious big starting hands (such as large pairs and A-K), small pairs, suited aces and suited connectors can not only provide you with these opportunities, but also stretch your hand range to a point where it can keep your opponents off balance going forward. Flopping a set against an over pair or top pair, top kicker will almost always allow you to get another player’s entire stack because he, too, will be looking for an opportunity to take down a big pot early.

The so-called “trouble” hands, such as weaker unsuited aces and holdings such as K-J, Q-J, Q-10, etc. are likely to be even more problematic at this stage of a tournament. Unless you flop perfectly with them, i.e. two pair or a straight, there is a good chance that you will be dominated by someone with a better kicker, and then what are you going to do?

One of the unique aspects of most online tournaments is that, unless you already have a very healthy stack, you really only have a limited number of opportunities to play pots before your chips have been decimated, and you are forced to simply push all-in. Try and save those confrontations for times where it is you who are likely to have the dominating hand.

When you do manage to become the chip leader at the table, it is important to continue to press your advantage whenever possible. Look for opportunities to cold call a raise when in position, and then raise the almost-inevitable continuation bet, whether or not you hit the flop. Remember that your opponent most likely missed the flop as well, and is on much shakier ground since you can eliminate him if he gets too frisky with the second-best hand. In these situations, remember how you have felt when you were in his position, and attack relentlessly, at least until you get played back at effectively. 
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