️️Tournament poker strategy has evolved a lot since the start of the poker boom, which was fueled by Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP Main Event win in 2003. Long-time players can remember the Harrington on Hold’em series of poker books, which introduced groundbreaking information in those early days of online poker. Add modern-day poker solvers and poker players who excel at data analysis to the picture and what you have is a very different game!
2020 is the first year WSOP tournaments were played online (on GG Poker). Suddenly, your average live poker professional was way out of their comfort zone participating in these events. That’s why we asked several of the expert players of Beasts Of Poker for advice on how to crush WSOP Online. They have crushed online fields for over a decade, and are keen to share with you the kind of strategies that work best in large-field MTTs (especially online). This is their recommended approach for beating WSOP Online tournaments:
Should you play a ‘balanced style’?
The short answer here is no. WSOP Online events have such large fields that there’s no need to balance your play for the most part. A good example is your check-calling or check-raising ranges on the flop. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll come up against the same players in future events, so having balanced ranges is not as important as it would be in a cash game. For the most part, just make the most +EV decision in each situation you’re presented with. Balancing your ranges to prevent others from exploiting your play isn’t important if you’re not going to play with these players for a long time.
When you can be as unbalanced as you want, this opens up some interesting plays. Let’s say that the population tendencies include bluff-catching with too many hands and under-defending their BB. Your move: just bet big with your strong hands and steal their blinds. You can keep doing this until you get a strong reason to stop exploiting these tendencies (such as a savvy opponent joining your table). A savvy opponent will exploit your light late position raises by 3-betting more. They can easily pick up the value-heavy nature of your post-flop bets and adjust by always folding their decent bluff-catchers when you barrel all the streets. But against less savvy opponents who don’t know how to fight back, you can continue betting aggressively.
Should ICM play a big part in your strategy when approaching the bubble?
It’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of being ‘ICM-aware’ in tournaments. If you’re below the average chip count on the money bubble, you should adjust your strategy by tightening your calling ranges against shoves. Being a short stack gives you very limited options during bubble play. On the other hand, as a medium or big stack, you should start loosening your range and 3-betting other medium stack opens more often. When you have the biggest stack at your table, you can even find situations to open any two cards profitably (while everyone else timidly folds hand after hand in an effort to get into the money)!
In large-field tournaments during series like WSOP Online, many players won’t correctly adjust their strategy towards the bubble. You’ll face both players who are willing to play only KK+ and players who call shoves or 3-bets too wide. They key is to observe how ICM-aware your opponents are, and exploit their tendencies accordingly. As stated in the previous section, we’re more interested in playing exploitive poker than balanced poker in tournaments!
How should I improve my tournament strategy?
There are lots of different ways to study poker, including poker training sites, videos, books and study groups. The most effective way is using all of these, but one of them gives you results much faster than the others. Studying poker in a group of like-minded players is beneficial for both hand reviews, strategy discussion and motivating you to develop your game.
I would have never achieved so much without all the people I’ve met through poker. We’ve discussed poker for over a decade with some of my poker buddies. I would say discussing poker with your friends is the best way to learn.Joni Jouhkimainen, Beasts Of Poker Ambassador & PartyPoker Team Pro
Is tournament structure an important factor?
Tournament structure definitely plays a role in which strategic aspects you should consider. In fast-structured tournaments, any edge you have post-flop will get smaller after the first hour of play. Therefore a fast structure requires you to play more aggressively quite early in the tournament. Having proper push/fold and 3-bet shove ranges is vital to success when the average stack size drops below 30BBs.
A slow structure (like you’ll find in the WSOP Online Main Event) forces players to make a lot of turn and river decisions with stacks behind. Skilled players will be able to push their edge much further here against the field. Push/fold and 3-bet shove ranges are still important for when your stack is short, but other post-flop skills like bet-sizing, value-betting, bluffing, and bluff-catching become more important for average or above average stacks.
Should you adjust your strategy against ‘poker celebrities’?
If you happen to make a deep run in a WSOP Online event, the chances are you will face some famous players at the same table. It’s important to pay attention to who are the real crushers at your table. You probably have some simple yet efficient plays that you use in most tournaments. These plays have worked out well for you in large-field tournaments. However, against top-level players, they might not be profitable.
One situation you want to avoid is playing OOP versus a world-class player! This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t defend your Big Blind somewhat wide though. Instead, avoid opening too loose from early position. Those are the spots that can get you in a lot of trouble post-flop.
Lastly, even if your table has many good players, you should aim to play your standard game with only a few minor adjustments, such as tightening your early position opening ranges. The quality of your play is the only thing you can control during the tournament. If you play well, the results will show up at some point down the line!
Joni 'Jouhki' Jouhkimainen
Joni has played poker professionally for over a decade. He regularly competes at the highest stakes both live and online. He holds the 3rd place on Finland All Time Money List with over $3.9 million in tournament winnings. Joni is part of Beasts Of Poker Pro Team as well as a PartyPoker Team Pro. In his free time, Joni likes to play different sports like tennis and ice hockey. On sunny summer days, the odds are you can spot him on the golf course!