Welcome to the home stretch. You can practically smell the money from here. When the blinds reach the 200/400 level, you’ve officially entered the high blind phase of the tournament. This phase of the tournament becomes less about post flop play and more about knowing when to shove all your chips into the pot. Get ready ‘cause it’s time to put you into the money!
A couple of things happen at the high blind level. First, the table is usually short-handed with six or less players vying for the prize money. Fewer players mean that you can safely open up your starting hand range. Multi-tables tournaments may not be short-handed at this point, but you can still use a similar strategy. Just make sure you’re playing solid poker in early position and saving your stealing moves for late position.
Second, the blinds have risen to the point where they represent a significant portion of your chip stack. Keep in mind that it’s better to shove all-in preflop rather than make a standard raise if you ever find yourself with less than 10 times the big blind. This is because shoving all-in preflop will save you from becoming pot committed with a losing hand and it gives you the chance to win the blinds preflop.
What Hands To Play
You’re not going to find a list here. High blind play depends more on poker table position and the size of your chip stack than it does on the cards in your hand. The primary rule for high blind poker is to never let your stack drop below 3 times the big blind. When this happens it’s called getting blinded out. Basically you don’t have enough money to get anyone to fold. You’ve lost. Shove with anything if you’re in danger of being blinded out.
If you have more than 10 times the big blind, you’re in great shape. You should raise about 2 to 2.5 times the big blind when you have a premium hand like AA, KK, QQ or AK. I’d also raise with mid to high pocket pairs and even high suited connectors. It’s time to put pressure on the blinds whenever you can.
When To Fold Pocket Aces
This situation doesn’t happen often, but I wanted to include it to show you the importance of playing well on the bubble. The bubble is the point where a tournament starts to pay out. Let’s say that a tournament pays to 30 places and there are 31 players left. You’re on the bubble. Player 30 gets money and player 31 gets nothing.
So let’s say you’ve been playing a tournament for 3 hours now. You’re on the bubble and you look down and see pocket aces. You glance at your stack and see 15 times the big blind. You’re not the big stack, but you’re comfortable. You put in a raise, someone re-raises you all-in and two more people call. All of you have similar stack sizes. What do you do?
There’s no question that you have the best hand right now, but with three other people all-in your chances of winning drop to around 63%. That means you’ll bust out with nothing almost 2 out of 5 times. Now look what happens if you fold.
If you fold, you’ll make the money 100% of the time. That’s because someone is going to be knocked out in this 3-way battle royale. In fact, two people could be knocked out putting you deeper into the money. Even if no one is knocked out in this situation, someone – probably two someones – will be so severely short-stacked that they’re essentially dead in the water. That’s why you should fold.
This is hotly debated in the poker community, and it is easy to make arguments for shoving, especially when the payout is extremely weighted towards the top few finishers. In this case, it would probably be better to shove, risk busting out but if you win, put yourself in a great position to battle for the very large top prize.
The high blind phase of tournaments tends to be shove-fests with most players pushing their stack preflop. Learn how to be an effective push-bot and you’ll cruise into the money.