Tournaments are a strange beast; one that most beginner poker players get their start in.
While there are many mistakes that beginners make, the most common mistake (even for more experienced players) is playing not to lose.
Why Playing Not to Lose is a Sure-Fire Way to Lose
Let me make this very clear, playing “not to lose” is not the same as playing “to win”.
Playing not to lose is the strategy of pure survival, whether you have 10 big blinds or 100 in your stack. The real goal of this strategy is to make it into the money, so that you at least win something, and then try to survive as long as you can and advance up the pay ranks.
While you may make it to the prize money a decent amount of the time, you will likely limp in as one of the short stacks. Unless you get incredibly lucky, you won’t make it up the prize money much further.
It is very tough to become a winning tournament player if you are only winning the smallest cash prizes. Even if you make it into-the-money (ITM) 30 percent of the time, if you bow out soon after, those prizes won’t even cover your buy-ins.
The Fundamental Problem with This Approach
The biggest problem with this approach lies in how a tournament is structured. They are very top heavy, which means that almost all the prize money is paid out to the top few players.
With a playing not to lose strategy, it will take a miracle to ever make a big cash. But the big wins are what are necessary to become a profitable tournament poker player.
Winning is the Objective
So what’s the solution? It’s not playing not to lose, or playing to lose, but playing to win.
This means making the correct decision even if you have to risk your tournament life. This means not letting your stack dwindle, but making moves with a calculated risk to try and put yourself in a strong position.
This also means that when everyone else is terrified of being knocked out before the bubble, that you are smartly picking spots and bullying other players in order to put yourself in a position with a large stack.
Sometimes you might find yourself knocked out of the tournament early, but when you get into the money, you have a real chance of winning.
Ask any professional and they’ll say that they’d rather be knocked out on the first hand unless they were going to make a very deep run. The return on your time and buy-in just isn’t there unless you play to win.