Ask someone what they’re up to this Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if they reply that they’re off to the casino or hosting a games evening (or going to one). Who doesn’t love the thrill of a casino or the excitement — not to mention the hilarity — of a games evening with their boys or besties?

Poker is a popular games night theme and many a person has held a successful poker evening. You get out the cards, put on some music, have a few drinks together and maybe even treat yourself to a cigar. Who knows? Your guests could even become bitten by the poker bug and start playing in online tournaments, either at your games evening or just in their spare time.

Of course, playing online is different to playing live. Read on and find out why, as well as pick up a few online poker tournament tips so that you can prepare adequately for one.

The comfort of home, the convenience of online poker

One of the beautiful things about playing poker online is that you can just sit in the comfort of your own home. There are no distractions and there’s no peer pressure. You can just get on with the serious — but also highly entertaining — business ahead of you. Then there’s the fact you can play your favourite games on a table arranged the way you want it.

The other big advantage when playing online is that there are no physical tells. If you’re feeling nervous and your eyes, voice or breathing are betraying it, none of the other players will be able to sense it. In the same vein, during an online game, you can make some brief notes when you observe players to have certain tendencies in their play — and use these to form your strategy.

How to prepare

Of course, you can’t just stroll into an online poker tournament on a whim and expect to win. There are a lot of committed poker players out there and they’ll destroy you on the tables if you don’t take the game seriously. Where do you start?


Put in the hours and train by playing on more than one table at once. Study the game, how multi-table tournaments work — identify the different stages — and get to know yourself as a player. Look at the playing styles of others and learn how to adapt to them. Importantly, learn how to manage your bankroll (see the tips below on chip values and ‘M’).

Learn about the value of chips

In cash games, the value of chips remains the same. In tournament poker, it changes as the tournament goes on, so learn the independent chip model (ICM), which illustrates how chip values change over time. The bottom line is, the value of a chip decreases in a tournament because no one can win 100% of the prize money, so take the time to learn the model.

Use ‘M’ as your reference

In cash poker, it’s all about the big blinds (the bets made by the player second to the left of the dealer). In poker tournaments, however, you want to make ‘M’ your reference because the blinds and antes increase regularly, which speeds up the action and causes players to lose all their chips sooner. Basing your calculations on ‘M’ will take into consideration antes, which come into the game later. The number of chips you have will dictate the way you play.

Learn to play tight

When you’re just starting out, you’ll be feeling pumped up and ready to go, to say the least. You must learn to relax, though, and be patient. Learn to play tight. That means only playing quality hands. You don’t know how all the other players at the table are going to play and you don’t want to risk losing all your chips in the early rounds. Patience is most definitely a virtue.

Analyse the different players

In the early stages, you can start to get a feel for how the others at your table play — learn to exploit their playing style to your advantage. Work out who the ‘fun’ players are — they’ll be more prone to making mistakes — and target them. Decide who the stronger players are and try to play on pots in position so that, potentially, you can gain information — and, therefore, an advantage — on these players.

Beware of the bubble

Note that when you get to the bubble stage of the tournament, you’d be close to getting in on the money, but not quite there, so learn how to keep a cool head and watch out — players could get more aggressive at this stage. This is your opportunity to turn up the heat if you have a larger stack of chips than average and bully the weaker, short-stack players at the table. You could end up on the receiving end of some bullying yourself, though, when you don’t have so many chips, in which case you’ll have to conserve your stack as much as possible and play high-quality hands to win back chips.

Just because you’re playing online rather than in a live environment, you should never take the tournament less seriously or underestimate the other players and what is happening at the table. Don’t believe nonsensical tales of players partying the night before a tournament as if it was their last day on Earth, but still winning the tournament. Focus and study hard. Go into the tournament with a clear head and knowing exactly what you need to do to win.