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The Three Stages Of A Tournament

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Cash games tend to be relatively static. The blinds don’t change. The stack sizes can vary, but they tend to vary from fairly deep to really deep. And after any hand you can get up from the table and cash your chips in for dollars. So each chip is always worth to you at least the face value of the chip.

In tournaments these things — blind sizes, antes, stack sizes, and chip values — are all variable, and mastering the changes in strategy due to these changing variables is the key tournament skill. This brings us to today’s question from a reader.

According to your book, Getting Started In Hold’em, the early phase [of a tournament] is regarded as similar to cash games, and the bubble and prize phases are regarded as similar to sit-n-gos (SNGs). Therefore, although my primary focus is on [multitable tournaments], working on my cash game and SNG game would help with my early phase play and bubble and prize phase play, respectively. The middle stage (which you define as average stack of approximately 10 big blinds) is regarded as similar to satellite play. But in tournaments I play, the average stacks are rarely 10 big blinds. They are usually more. If this middle phase exists, I would want to work on satellite play. Should I therefore practice all three games — cash games, satellites, and SNGs — to improve my tournament play?

Well, indeed in live tournaments it’s quite common to have average stacks around the 10BB level after a few rounds. But that actual number isn’t so important.

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