Poker Tournament Tips:
Should I play for 1st place
or focus on making the money?

Poker Tournament Tips - You'll often hear players say "I always play for 1st place" or "I try to make it the money first, then I go for the win"

So should you focus on making the money, or should you be shooting for 1st place?

The answer is neither. With each decision you make, you should simply play to maximize your long-term profit. Sometimes this will look a whole lot like just trying to squeeze into the money. At other times, it will closely resemble going for the win. ICM often dictates that you make a play that feels unnatural. Here's an example.

Poker Tournament Tips example #1: For instance, 4 players remain (only the top 3 get paid: 50%/30%/20%) in a Super Turbo SNG and the stacks are 1500,960,220 and 20 with 60/120 blinds. The two big stacks are in the SB and BB, the tiny stacked player is first to act and he folds. You have AK on the button with 220 chips.


If you were playing for the win, you would go all-in. But in this spot that would be a terrible decision, because you would almost always get called and you could expect to go broke maybe 30% of the time (or more if they both call you) when you could have folded and forced the player with 20 chips to have to win 2 straight all-ins with random hands on the next two hands dealt just to survive.

Even if you push all-in and win, you'll still often end up finishing in 3rd place anyway. You should actually fold everything except AA and KK in this spot. So here it appears that you are playing to make the money.

Poker Tournament Tips example #2: Here is a situation where proper play makes it look like you're playing for 1st place. 4 players remain. You are the chip leader with 1050 and your opponents have 800, 800 and 50. The blinds are 60/120 and the player with 50 chips folds.

You are on the button with 32-offsuit. You shove all-in, because you know that the two players in the blinds, each with 800 cannot call you without a really big hand (probably only AA or KK). They can't afford to risk going broke when there is a player with only 50 chips on the bubble.

So you are taking a risk by pushing garbage into two players, either of which could cripple you if they happen to wake up with a big pair. But you are doing it because you believe it will maximize your long-term profit.

You'll successfully steals the 180 chips in the pot almost every time. Even if you get called and beaten by AA or KK, you still played the hand perfectly, and you should play it the same way the next time you're in that situation.

Another instance of playing to maximize your long-term profit would be to fold rather than push in close-to-neutral expectation situations, so that you can preserve a tight image.

This effect can extend beyond this one Sit-N-Go. For example:

Poker Tournament Tips example #3: You are in the small blind with a junk hand such as 94. Everyone folds to you, and you need to decide whether to push or fold.

If you believe the decision is really close, you should lean toward folding, because if you push and get called, everyone will see that you pushed 94, and they will be more likely to make calls against you in the future. That's not good. It's bad advertising and it will lead to premature image fatigue.

And here's an article explaining why you should keep a low profile and a few things you can do to accomplish it.

Poker Tournament Tips - Don't Draw Attention to Yourself

related article: ICM explained