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Should you preserve your chips early in a tournament or try to build your stack from the ‘get-go’?

Warwick Dunnett

(by Warwick Dunnett, Author of ‘Poker Wizards’)

There is a common belief by many tournament players today that you are better off taking lots of chances in the first few rounds of a tournament to try and build your stack early and gather chips from the worse players because many of them won’t be around later on.

During one of our interviews for his chapter in ‘Poker Wizards’, Daniel Negreanu told me…..

”I would rather get those chips from the bad players early in the tournament than have to take them from somebody like Phil Ivey later on.”

In my opinion, that strategy does make sense when you have a large edge over your opponents like Daniel does. However, for the average tournament player, participating in a lot of hands early on in a tournament with marginal cards can often burn up many of their chips. Combine a few draws that don’t work out with an ill-timed bluff or two, or a couple of bad calls and they can quickly find themselves achieving the opposite goal…..being low on chips, just about the time that the antes start to kick in; thus finding yourself in a position where your options suddenly become very limited.

T.J. Cloutier has a conservative view on the subject which I thought was interesting. He is a big believer in preserving chips early in a tournament so that you can utilize those chips later on when you are a much bigger favorite in a hand and have a chance of tripling or doubling up. This is what T.J Cloutier said during our interview when we were talking about the difference between the average players and the winners:

“One of the reasons that the really good players are so successful is that they recognize situations exceptionally well and always get more money out of the good situations than an average player will, but they also save more chips when they are behind in a hand.

A typical example would be if you were playing in a Limit Hold’em tournament and there was a three card flush on the board. A good player, up against a person who was firing at the pot, might make a bet knowing that the other player is going to call if he is on a draw. But he will also be good enough to know that if his opponent already hit his flush and makes a re-raises, he will be able to get away from the hand.

A lot of average players will convince themselves that they have to call. They have a hand but even though they think they are probably beat, they still call because of all the money that is in the pot. I think that’s ridiculous. All the money that you save in those types of plays is money that you will have to double or triple up latter on.”

Early in a tournament, that money is worth a lot to you because whenever you save by not losing chips, you’re going to have that money for when you have a good hand and may be able to double up later in the tournament. A lot of people don’t realize how precious that money is early on! They think they have to get all their chips early in the tournament. I don’t play that way. If I have more chips at every break, I am happy as hell. I like to just keep cruising along when people are getting knocked out and get my chips later on when it counts.”

T.J.’s philosophy has clearly served him well in the past and it is the one that I prefer when I play the odd tournament because it suits my character to make ‘the money’ more often. On the other hand I do recognize the need to arrive at the final table with a lot of chips and realize that you won’t do that unless you are involved in more than a few confrontations. Never the less, I find it really tough both mentally and financially to accept extremely long draw down periods that come with the need to play aggressively and succeed in today’s large fields. I guess that’s why, over the last few years, I have gravitated toward cash games as my primary source of ‘poker income.’ They are just far more reliable.

Warwick Dunnett

Posted in Daniel Negreanu and Poker and T.J. Cloutier 1 month, 3 weeks ago at 2:54 pm.

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