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31/03/2006 No.41
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday March 31, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Unless you are one of the world's great tournament players (in which case you don't really need to be reading this), you are likely to make one of two general mistakes. One is to be too timid. The other is to be too rash. Some people check-fold their chips away, in fear of being knocked out. Others throw them away in handfuls, disregarding danger completely. The art of tournament play lies in the perfect balance: being strong-minded but not stubborn; being prepared to put your tournament on the line if necessary, but not risking it every time you find a half-playable hand.

This is an extremely difficult balance to find. I'm still working on it myself. By nature, I am a cash rather than a competition player. In my poker lifetime, I have won around $100,000 playing tournaments - but this is a falsely impressive figure, since I've spent around $60,000 buying into them. To begin with, I played tournaments too fearfully: nervous of being eliminated, I was easily pushed around. Then I played them too confidently: keen to be in action, I tumbled into the doomed waters of impatience. It is tough to get right, especially since (even on the days when you are "in the zone") luck and chance will often throw the curve-ball that knocks you out anyway.

The most important tournament skill to acquire is a sense of pace. You need to be aware of the ticking clock, and the size of your stack in relation to the increasing blinds. Don't overplay marginal hands when the pots are too small to be worth stealing (as a rash player does); don't pass your way to defeat in the middle stages when higher blinds will damage a stagnant stack (in the timid style).

The simplest strategy is to let your pace gather speed with the blinds. Play tight at the beginning, investing chips only with proper strong cards. Gradually broaden the range of hands you raise with, in direct proportion to the blinds going up and the field getting smaller. If people want to push you around at the beginning, let them. But when the blinds get serious, flex your muscles and take a stand.

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