When it comes to transitioning from cash games to tournaments (or learning tournament poker from scratch), most players focus on areas of study that have very little impact on their immediate results.

Trying to improve your tournament game without a solid game plan is like trying to drive from Paris to Moscow without a map – it will be extremely difficult and take much more time and effort than having a solid game plan and direction for your poker study in place. Here we’ll talk about two areas of study that you should immediately focus on and one area that you should avoid entirely when beginning to learn tournament poker. 

Learn to Play 0-30 Big Blinds Perfectly and Late Reg Everything

Before you can get all fancy with deep stacked play and early game strategy, you have to master your short stack game. In almost every tournament you play you will have a short or medium stack size for much of it, and you must know how to navigate these spots better than your opponents. Memorize opening, flatting, 3-betting and shoving ranges from all positions and take the time necessary to make sure you are extremely comfortable in these short stack situations at the table. 

When you register tournaments, always late register so that you are starting the tournament in the 20 big blind – 40 big blind range that you’ve been studying and are confident playing. So many players try to register early with a 200 big blind stack that they have no idea how to play, and end up donking off their chips unnecessarily. Rather than registering early and trying to accumulate chips as you would in a cash game, register at a later time and take advantage of your opponent’s lack of knowledge in short and mid stack scenarios. 

Study ICM Spots

ICM (Independent Chip Model) is one of the most important areas of study in tournament poker, and is applicable at every stage of tournament play. Focus your attention on situations where the money matters most, such as bubble and final table scenarios. Rather than spending an hour in PIOsolver messing around with random postflop situations, focus your time on gaining a strong understanding of how ICM works, especially in the middle and late stages of tournament play. Instead of trying to learn how to play a GTO or chip-EV strategy that may not even apply depending on the ICM situation, worry about how much money the chips you stand to win or lose represent. For example, if you double up the first hand of a $50 buy-in tournament, your stack is NOT worth $100, in fact it’s probably only worth $60-$70 at best! This is the main reason why in the early stages of a tournament you should almost never call off your entire stack without the nuts, because you stand to lose your entire buy-in, and can only win an additional 20% in equity if you double up.  

ICMizer is a program that has helped thousands of poker players gain a much stronger understanding of how ICM works and how to apply it at the tables. You’ll be able to drill situations across all stages of tournament play, from every stack size and position possible, as well as analyze your own hands to see if you played them correctly. Download the free version (or use code RYESPECIAL for 20% ICMizer Pro) and start drilling ICM situations today! 

Ignore Deep Stacked Play 

Now that we’ve covered two main areas to focus your study on, let’s talk briefly about one area to avoid when beginning to study tournament poker. Deep stacked play (100 big blinds +) is simply not an area of study that will have a huge impact on your tournament game, especially when your time is being spent studying short stack and ICM situations. When you have a big stack in a tournament you should almost never be focused on squeezing out $10-$20 in equity by making massive GTO river bluffs. Instead, your goal is to sit and wait for the recreational players to make big $100 equity mistakes and capitalize on them. Remember that in a tournament your most valuable chip is your last one, and that you often stand to lose much more than you gain in big pot situations. Focus on retaining the chips you have and wait for other players to make big mistakes. 

Late registering tournaments and having a solid understanding of short stack play will mitigate the need for deep stacked understanding even further. By starting every tournament in a situation you feel very comfortable in (while your opponents may be quite unsure in these stages), you have an immediate advantage and can push your equity and capitalize on their numerous mistakes. Spend your study time running quizzes in ICMizer and fine tuning your 0-30 big blind game, and start late registering tournaments to capitalize on situations where your opponents are much less confident than you are.