In a tournament, players will pay a set amount of money for X amount of chips. The last man standing as the blinds steadily increase has all the chips in play and wins the lion’s share of the prize pool. Typically, the top 10% of the field will make a profit.
The important thing to remember in a tournament is that your chips do not have their cash value – in fact, the further you progress into a tournament, the less value each chip actually has.
For example, when Peter Eastgate won the 2008 World Series of Poker Main event, he and 6,843 others paid $10,000 for a $10,000 stack. By the end of the tournament, Eastgate possessed every chip in play – $68,440,000 – but won ‘only’ $9,152,416. Therefore, each of his chips was worth only 13% of their cash value. Essentially, this means that the further you progress into a tournament, the less value your chips have compared to the prize pool.
Your stack size largely dictates your play in tournaments. At the beginning, you usually have 50-100BBs in your stack, but the blinds increase steadily. This means that if you do not play a hand you will find yourself on a shortstack soon.
If you do end up with less than 15BBs, it is often correct to shove pre-flop with a wide range, especially if antes are introduced. If the blind levels are 500/1,000 with a 100 ante at a nine-handed table then taking down the pot pre-flop will increase your stack by 2.4BBs – if you have only 7,000 to begin with this is an excellent result.
Many beginners often make the mistake of playing too tight with a short stack – if you do not take the opportunity to double up with a 10BB stack then it might be too late by the time you fold down to 2-3BBs.
Definitions of short and big stacks depend on how deep into the tournament you are – for example, at the very beginning stages of the tournament a 25BB stack would not be particularly impressive. At the final table of a typically structured online tournament, that’s a not-too-shabby collection of chips. In these examples, assume that you are fairly deep into the tournament and that a small stack is around 15BBs or less; a medium stack is 20-30BBs; a big stack is 35BBs or more.
When you have a short stack, your options are limited – you can either fold, or go all-in. The biggest mistake players make with this sort of stack is calling raises and then folding the flop. This is a huge mistake because you cannot afford to call off such a large percentage of your stack hoping that not only will you hit the flop, but that your hand will best when the money goes in.