How to play a freeroll tournament

“All winners are players, but not all players are winners” a good natured soul once told me when I was considering whether to buy into the next tourney at the club. This guy might have had a few too many lagers and lost a little too much money that night but even annoying pieces of pocket philosophy bear an element of truth.

Got to play to win

If you don’t play you can’t win was what I derived from it that night. I paid the money and busted out on KK after 10 minutes of play. Nuff said. The other part of the phrase refers more to ability than eagerness to join in, and that is what I will dedicate this article to. The ability to play and do well in a freeroll tournament.

I have to admit I have not played a freeroll recently since I just don’t think it is worth the amount of time you have to invest in them weighed against the winnings. But for beginners and people with time on their hands it is a great way to gain some priceless experience and maybe some extra money.

First of all: To counter the amount-of-time-spent problem the solution is easy. Whenever you get a good hand, make sure you bet it hard and high. Go all in on good draws and possible winners early on in order to either bust out and spend your time on other things or make a lot of chips early.

This is a huge difference from regular buy in tourneys where your own money is at stake. Freerolls often last more than 5 hours ( some more than 10 ) and it is just not worth it playing brilliant, straight-out poker for 2 hours just to see your next AK lose to any two bus tickets. If you got accounts on multiple sites the next freeroll is never more than half an hour away.

If you have managed to survive the first 2 hours of play you should be in with a nice sized stack and opponents who now are willing to play a game of a more serious nature. Now you can begin to play a more solid game. Look for the best of hands, be careful against raisers, steal the blinds when you get the opportunity, in short: play as you would in a regular tournament. At this point most of the all in monkeys will be gone and you should give people credit for big plays, still there will be some players in with too many raises and too many chips. If you can identify these guys do not hesitate to charge them when you get a good hand. They are usually more eager to play than the rest.

Patience is the key

Still you have to remember that there might easily be more than 2 hours left before people start winning money, so do not hesitate to throw your chips in when you suspect you got the best of it. It is still better to go out now or get a huge stack than getting close to the money with almost no chips left.

If you have made it close to the money you will have to make a tactical decision. This is the same dilemma you will face in a buy in tournament. What your tactic will be depends on the stack size you got.

1. Low stack. Consider if it is worth it just to sneak into the money and win maybe 3 $ then to bust our coz you got no chips left. If it does not feel like it, find any hand worth playing and go all in. Even J10s is close to being 50-50 against AK and the added chance of everyone folding to you often makes it worth a try. If you prefer to go after the 3 $ and possibly more after that, sit back and wait for other players to bust out before you do.

2. Average stack. With an average stack size you do not really have a problem. You can keep playing a solid game and wait for others to bust out. You can also take advantage of the fact that a lot of players at this stage will be eager to get in the money and do not want to risk going out now. If you get the chance, steal all the blinds you can get from these kinds of players. I guarantee they will have a big problem calling a big bet even with hands like 99 and KQ.

Make sure you do not end up in a huge slugfest against a player with gazillions of chips though. He might not care about losing 20 % of his chips against you, but if he beats you, you will be out.

3. Big stack. Being in a dominant position is great at this stage (isn’t it always?!). Again you can take advantage of the fact that the others do not want to risk being busted so close to the money, and you can use this to steal a lot of blinds and build your stack up to a size where winning the tournament looks like a reachable goal. After all finishing in top 3 is where the real money is. If this is not your style of play – you do risk losing some of your stack after all – just sit back and wait for the good hands.

Blind stealing in tournaments

There are stages in tourneys when blind stealing is a no-no, and times where you almost have to force yourself to do it. Playing aggressive poker usually pays off because there is always a chance people will fold (and most of the times they will against a bet on 3 or 4 x the size of the big blind), but you have to do so at carefully selected times. Within the first couple of hours it is usually not worth it at all. There will still be too many all in monkeys left and you will get into too many battles. Also the blinds are usually too small to risk a fight. Avoid trying to steal blinds way out of position, the earlier you are to act the better chance of running into a big hand amongst the other players.

After a while the game will cool and people will play a more serious game while the blinds will rise to a level making it worth considering a steal. Try not to attack players with a huge stack, they might easily play back at you and reraise. Also stay away from players who are almost forced to play with you. Take a guy with 1500 chips left who is paying a blind of 600. Can you make him fold by raising to 2000? Maybe, but there is a good chance that he will play you, so you will often need to have at least some kind of hand here. Any pair higher than 55 will usually do, as well as any 2 face cards. Those hands you can play without risking being too much of an underdog if he chooses to make a stand.

Always remember when you are making a steal that you might be forced to make a call against a person who reraise you all in. Let us say that the blinds are 500-1000 and you have made a 4000 chips raise from the button when everyone else folded. Now the player in the big blind goes all in with his remaining 9.000. At this point there are 9000 + 4000 + 1500 (the blinds) chips in the pot making a total of 14.500.

To play this hand you need to invest a further 6000 chips to win 14.500 which mean you are getting about 2.5 to 1 on your money. A lot of hands can be played here. Any pair and pretty much any 2 face cards will do and even hands like 78s or 9Js can be called for value. Even A2 is still winning 30 % of the times against KK.

Words of wisdom: If you DO get a call when you have tried a steal you’ve got to grit your teeth and make a bet on the flop. Even if the flop comes something like A 10 9 and you have 55. If you check and he bets you have to fold, while in the case with A on the flop he might fold hands like JJ or even higher pairs because the A is there. If you get a call or an all in to your flopbet you are done in the hand.

Final table

Being successful at the final table is hard. It takes timing, skills, feel and luck to end up as the winner, but if you have rushed past the 1000 players who entered at least you can be sure you have skills and luck (we all need a bit of luck against that big a field). Whenever I find myself at a final table I usually adopt a bit of a sit-back-and-wait-for-a-hand strategy. Not because I usually prefer that, but from a purely financial perspective.

The more players busting out the more money for me, and if you got a sensibly sized stack there is no reason to strap on the hand grenades. Usually I will get a big hand at a time when someone feel the need to play or have a big hand also and I will increase my stack size, and usually other players will slug it out -putting me higher up the ladder while I am being patient.

At some stage this strategy won’t work anymore though. If my stack starts to dwindle I go back to selected aggression to make sure I have a healthy stack size. At the time when we are 3 of 4 players left I will have a good idea about how the remaining players play and I am going to use it to my advantage. I usually start playing really aggressive against the players who are inclined to fold and the blinds will be enormous at this stage. If you can win 3 or 4 rounds of blinds in a row you will usually be very well off. In the end you will need some luck.

Usually the remaining 2 players will not take long to find 2 hands they feel are acceptable for going all in and calling on. Any reasonable pair and any A with a fair kicker will usually be enough in this situation. If you at this stage sit back and wait for AA or KK you will be blinded down within 10 minutes. Make sure you keep the pressure on your opponent with preflop raises. Good luck at the tables.

US Poker Players can use our PokerStars Bonus Code to get access to one freeroll and our European Players can check out the Lucky Ace Poker Bonus Code to get one entry in to the monthly freeroll.

Play Responsibly.


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