Beat low-stakes live tournaments like a pro

Successful UK pro Sin Melin shares her strategy and shows you how to beat low-stakes live tournaments

It’s great to dream but the majority of poker players will never play a major tournament like the WSOP Main Event or an EPT, as the buy-ins are just too big for most players who only play down at their local card room. Live poker for most of us is about weekly £10 rebuys, £50 deepstacks and, if we’re running good, taking the occasional shot at a £300 monthly event or even a UKIPT. There’s nothing wrong with this. Tournaments, and players like you, are what make poker great around the world. But wouldn’t it be great if we could crush these tournaments to at least take a shot at the big leagues?

Sin Melin worked her way up from low-stakes tournaments around London to where she now travels the world as a sponsored pro. PokerPlayer got in touch with Melin to find out how she made the transition from small to big time – and how you can follow in her footsteps…

Humble beginnings

I started playing about six years ago when I was a waitress at the Big Bluff club in London. I would play on my days off and started winning more money than I earned as a waitress. My buy-ins have always been between £50-£200 until recently when I have played a bit higher. I’ve only ever played live.

When I’m looking for a tournament it’s always about the value. It’s good to have a big guarantee and sharing expenses with friends [if you are travelling] is very important. I’m still learning bankroll management properly but it’s important to share petrol costs and rooms if you are staying in a hotel to save on expenses.

Calling the alarm

If you’re playing a small-stakes tournament, you are far more likely to get six callers when you raise than you would if you were playing something with a higher buy-in. Nowadays nobody wants to fold in smaller events. I enjoy that but sometimes it can be difficult to find out where you are at in a hand. The best strategy early on is to use pot control. If you can keep the pot small against recreational players, and players learning the game, it will really help. Bet sizing is a big thing. Some weaker players will typically bet very, very big so if you put in a blocker bet instead that can help.

When players – especially if they are inexperienced or older – bet the full pot I think they are really strong. If I haven’t got a monster it’s a snap fold! When people bet bigger they usually have it.

I three-bet in these events quite often, because if you don’t there are so many callers preflop. If I have a playable hand I’d rather three-bet it than just call so that I price out the blinds from coming along too and also find out where I am at. But if I had a medium hand like A-J I wouldn’t three-bet because I don’t want a hugely inflated pot when I have a hand like that.

Re-entry rampage

Re-entry tournaments [like a lot of smaller events are now] allow people to be more spewy because they know they are guaranteed another shot if they get knocked out. In some cases I like it and in some I don’t. I think it can be unfair on qualifiers. It also changes the game a bit when you are up against a player who is never folding top pair because he’s ready to re-enter it can be tough. Often you just have to play really tight and wait for a hand. I remember a spot recently in a £300 Dusk till Dawn tournament where I was on a very aggressive table with players willing to re-enter over and over again. I had A-Q one time with a raise and a few calls before me. Usually I’d squeeze but there was no point because everyone would call 100% of the time and if I missed the flop I would just have to check/fold and lose a ton of chips.

Slow it down

It’s hard to bluff in low-stakes tournaments sometimes, just like it can be in bigger tourneys. when I made the final table at GUKPT London I was on 20BBs for the entire tournament. I didn’t bluff for three days – 20BBs can still be a big stack. If your image is really tight your raises will typically get respect and get through. If you are going to raise with a 20BB stack you should generally be prepared to go with it if you get three-bet. Don’t worry too much about the average stack size – just your own stack. People always ask me what the average is but I never know – I never look at it!

Winning ways

I always go for the win on the final table but the structure is often so fast that there is not much postflop play. Playing tight can be the way forward on the final table. It’s the best way to ladder up the money jumps and, as long as you have a big enough stack, the hands will eventually come. It’s definitely a mistake to play big pots against another chip leader early on without a massive hand. There are better spots to pick up chips without showdown.

Some players are desperate to make the money in low-stakes tournaments, or to ladder up on the final table. Generally you’ll recognise these players because they will be hanging on to their final five or 10BBs just to hit the money. You can take advantage of these guys to get some easy chips.

Another great way to pick up reads is to talk to people. If you are talking with someone while the cards are being dealt and they instantly stop talking when they are dealt cards they probably have a massive hand. You will pick up more reads if you talk to people and it’s great fun.

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