The Best Online Poker Tournament Strategies

When you play online poker, there are two basic ways to get in the game. 

One way is a cash game, where you sit and play hands as long as you want, with real money changing hands in each round. If you score a big win, you’re welcome to simply tip your hat and leave the table. You can also sit down and park yourself for as many hours as you please, holding it down like the king of the hill, taking on any player who dares join your poker game.

And then there’s an online poker tournament – perhaps the most exciting way possible to play and get your poker fix.

This is where legends are made. In fact, poker tournaments are how many players came to the game of online poker in the first place back when it was new. Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Tennessee, launched big poker dreams for millions of players by becoming a champion at the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, live on television in 2003, after he qualified from an online “satellite” tournament (i.e. a tournament which offers entry into another tournament as part of the winnings).

What’s not to love about a poker tournament? You battle it out with all the other players who could put together a buy in, and at the end, a first place winner is crowned who takes home a huge payday. If you don’t manage to get to the very end, many payout structures will still reward players who at least reach the final table.

At Ignition Casino, we’ve got a good amount of variety, too. There’s big events like the Super Millions Poker Open, with over 9 million in guaranteed prizes. There’s Sit & Go Tournaments that happen on your schedule. There’s Jackpot Sit & Gos that give you a quick shot at a random jackpot along with your win. And then there’s good ol’ guaranteed online poker tournaments, which feature guaranteed prize pools (e.g. Ignition Casino’s $150K Guaranteed Poker Tournament that pays the first place winner a cool $20,000 in real cash money).

We’ve got all the best online tournaments, right here. But the real question is, how do you win? Well, that takes the right playing strategy, of course. Before we dive into our strategy tips for each type of poker player, let’s first refresh you on the differences between playing cash games and poker tournaments.

The Differences in Playing Cash Games vs Tournaments

When you play online poker, an online poker tournament gives you a different kind of experience than you get with a cash game. The first big difference is that you can’t take your chips and leave the table at any time. Instead, all players submit their buy-in and receive a ticket to enter the tournament. After the tournament commences, players play poker until they are knocked out or are crowned as the tournament winner. 

The chips you have are only useful within the online poker tournament. At the tournament’s end, all chips are returned and winners are paid according to the tournament’s payout structure, which may be winner-take-all, or it could offer cash winnings and other rewards to a percentage of the top players. 

Sadly, that big stack has to go back.

There’s also increasing blinds to consider. Blinds are not static. Instead, in the best online tournaments, they go up over time as you play, increasing pressure on those who are on the ropes. This ensures that tournaments can be completed in a reasonable length of time, so that players can collect their winnings and get on to the next poker game.

 

A boxer’s upper body shown from behind.

Okay – enough of a refresher on the basics. Let’s talk about the best strategy tips for winning online poker tournaments against your opponents.

Strategy Tips for the Conservative Player

If you’re a conservative poker player, your strategy is generally to focus on premium hands and make other players pay you for them. You play online poker in a way that is favored by statistics and sound decision making at each spot. You’re less likely to start splashing chips in the pot with any two cards or random hands, trying to push people around. 

The calculator might be one of your best friends.

A calculator, a notepad, and a pen.

 

For you, an online poker tournament is a bit of a waiting game. You want to see decent cards to play, and hopefully square off against opponents who are getting impatient or ground down by the increasing blinds. This makes them ready to shove their chips into the pot with mediocre cards in the hopes that they can get a lucky double up. 

One of the keys to making your strategy work is to really make your hands pay. If you have decent cards preflop, you need to be raising. If you’ve got top pair, don’t let draws skate by. Punish them and make sure that the pot odds don’t favor calling your bets (i.e. if they’re drawing to a flush and will hit it about 25% of the time, make sure that they have to put in more than 25% of the pot to see that next card).

The best online tournaments will be the ones where you’re ahead at most of your showdowns with opponents, where you knew it right from the start of the hand.

But what about your nemesis, the aggressive player?

Strategy Tips for the Aggressive Player

If you’re aggressive when you play online poker, you love to be a bit of a bully. Got position on someone? You’re betting or raising. Sniff out a weak hand? You’re betting or raising. Feel like reminding the other players who’s in the driver’s seat at your table? Bet or raise.

A hand on the steering wheel of a car

 

You’re making the action happen with a wide variety of hands, not waiting for one special hand to come to you. You’re playing the players, not the cards. 

If you want to win an online poker tournament, your main goal is to avoid wasting too many big bets trying to push people around. The best online tournaments will have opponents who will eventually become wise to your ways. They’ll check with a great hand, setting a trap, then raise after you put a bet in. Players will get tired of all your betting and will definitely make you pay to play and see any cards, giving little credibility to your bets and raises. When you’re seated at a table with players who are playing back and aren’t caving in, pump the brakes and wait for a better opportunity. Otherwise, you’ll cast too many chips into the piles of other players.

Strategy Tips for the Neutral Player

You play online poker with one goal: to win, plain and simple. An online poker tournament is a place for you to analyze the table and figure out the best poker strategy against the opponents playing with you in each of your hands. It may be aggressive. It may be conservative. It may be chaotic. The point is – you’ll do what it takes to win. The best online tournaments give you natural opportunities to play strong cards, spring a few surprises, and keep the other players guessing.

They’ll never see you coming. But we will! The next poker tournament is starting soon: get your ticket here.