Cash games remain the bread and butter at most casinos with poker rooms, but most include regular (sometimes daily) NLHE tournaments with various buy-ins. Even though I live five hours from the nearest brick-and-mortar casino (Maryland Live), I have managed to play in tournaments at several casinos in recent years, such as the Rivers Casino (Pittsburgh), Maryland Live, Harrah’s New Orleans, Harrah’s Cherokee, a poker club in Portland, Ore., and the Riverside Casino in Riverside, Iowa.
Most of the regular tournaments at casinos have fields from between 50-120 players, and tourneys generally last about 6-8 hours to play to conclusion. These regular events are fun to play, but there is nothing quite like the excitement of playing in a multi-table tournament with a large field.
The sound of chips clattering reverberates throughout the room, punctuated by the occasional outburst of a player who either sucked out on somebody or got sucked out on. Every poker player should get to participate in at least one large field (at least 300 runners) event at some point.
Casinos occasionally hold special tournaments with large guarantees that draw much larger fields than their regular events. In addition, there are several poker tours in the United States right now, from the World Series of Poker Circuit, the Heartland Poker Tour, or the World Poker Tour that move around the country. These tours feature tournaments that draw hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of runners and are filled with professional poker players. This blog post is designed to give you some advice if you find yourself in one of these tourneys.
What to Know Before You Go
There are two critical pieces of information needed before you decide to play in a large field live tournament – the blind structure and the start time. For online tournaments, I don’t mind late registering, but for live events, I prefer to get there on time. For large field tourneys, that means arriving well in advance in case there is a back-up at the cage.
The main reason I want to be on time is that blind levels tend to go up more rapidly than what you find for online tourneys. For an online event, the big blind may start at 20, then go to 30, 40 and 50. Compare that to the structure for the standard WSOP Circuit $365 NLHE tourneys. These events feature 30-minute levels, 10,000 starting chips and an opening BB of 50, giving each player 200 BBs at the beginning. The BB doubles at the second level, to 100. So if you sign up 30 minutes late, you start with only 100 BBs. By level four, the BB is at 200, which gives you just 50 BBs. That is barely above-short stack territory.
You also need to familiarize yourself with any special casino or tourney rules. One rule that almost always trips up inexperienced live players is the one-chip rule. Every tournament I have ever played in, somebody tosses in a big chip, say a 5K chip, without saying a word. Their intention is to raise to 5,000, but if the player hasn’t said anything, then the action is considered a call. Also, be clear in your denomination. At the WSOPC event in Cherokee last year, a player tossed out a 5,000 chip and called out “five.” The floor ruled that it was a bet for 500, since he did not specify 5,000.
If you intend to raise, say the word “Raise” loudly enough for everyone to hear, and then call out the amount you intend to raise before you put any chips into the pot. It really isn’t difficult to speak up and will help reduce the chance of looking like a newbie who is in his first big tournament.
This is one of the most important facets for live poker. Don’t be one of these players who jumps on his cell phone and starts texting his buddies as soon as he is out of a hand. Watch the players at the table to see if you can pick up on any tendencies. Things to look for are hesitation, players who re-check their hole cards several times, players who stare at their pocket cards for several seconds before making their initial decision. All of these things could be signs of weakness, but you will never pick up on them if your nose is buried in your cell phone.
You also want to eliminate distractions, such as listening to music. Some players think it relaxes them, but I’ve seen too many times where a player is distracted by the music and has no idea what has happened before it is his turn to act.
Poker is a game of decisions, and you need all available information whenever you make each decision. Listening to music or spending all your spare time texting means you will miss out on a lot of potentially useful data.
In an upcoming column, I’ll look at different strategies for the various stages: early, bubble and late.