How to build a bankroll from poker freerolls

Freeroll junkie Steve Hill gets his money for nothing and his chips for free… And now he shows you how with his guide to poker freerolls

Conventional wisdom suggests that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Press junkets notwithstanding, that may or may not be the case, but in poker there is definitely such a thing as a freeroll.

In fact there are thousands of them, with tournaments kicking off practically every minute online, literally offering free money. While often justifiably derided by poker snobs as a waste of time, with shrewd tournament selection and a sound strategy these ostensibly shameful affairs can prove to be useful bankroll-builders, or – as I like to see them – bankroll-starters.

As someone who can politely be described as careful with money, I am loath to hand over even the smallest amount when opening an account. I would much rather painstakingly build up a few dollars by playing freerolls before using my ill-gotten gains to enter real money tournaments. As such I have a lot of accounts with barely a few dollars in them, but with determination sizeable bankrolls can actually be built from nothing.

For instance, my main poker account account currently sits at four figures, not a single cent of which came out of my bank account. They don’t even have my account details!

It’s the perfect relationship for those who like to take and not give, and it fills me with an enormous sense of well-being. It also throws the gambling argument wide open – how can I be accused of gambling when I’ve never risked a penny? I am HillyTheFish, and I am sticking it to the man. Pay attention and you too can emulate my heady success. Yer tight bastards…

Sit-out city

As all but the most naive will have realised, freerolls are essentially marketing tools for the poker operators, and as such some will require you to make a deposit before you are allowed to play in them. Indeed a representative of one site recently phoned me at home and offered to enter me into a tournament if I deposited a further 20 quid. Predictably, he received short shrift.

Whereas these ‘dirty’ freerolls do generally offer better value, if you’re going to be a real pikey you need to consider the absolute dregs. Typically these will involve thousands of players squabbling over $50 – or as little as $5 – with the winner picking up a few bucks after five or so hours of play. They’re barely worth the electricity, but if you’re simply seeking to get some real money in your account they’re not a bad place to start.

Given the paltry rewards, a lot of players will register and simply forget about it. I’ve done it myself (I also once forgot about a $1,000 buy-in but that’s another story). As such, it’s not uncommon to join the opening table and find the majority of the players sitting out. In the dream scenario of every other player being disconnected, you should frantically hammer the raise button like you’re playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, gleefully scooping the blinds for yourself without ever seeing a flop.

Obviously, having a couple of other live players alters the dynamic considerably, and it can be tempting to come to a tacit gentleman’s agreement whereby you alternately take down the blinds. I’m not a fan of this however, and in this situation choose to attack it like an aggressive cash game, playing most hands and betting into a lot of flops.

In a recent scenario, I found myself up against two live players amid a table of disconnects. One chose to play extremely passively and soon had less chips than the players who were sitting out. Meanwhile, I locked horns with the other player, niggling away at him until I could almost sense him getting wound up. As such, when I ‘randomly’ went all-in with A-K, he buckled like a belt and snap-called with Q-T. Naturally he flopped a full house, but the theory is sound and I was the moral victor (albeit swiftly out of the tournament).

Push to victory

The early stages of freerolls are typically riddled with multiple all-ins, the theory being that with nothing to lose you’ll hit a freak board and double, triple, or even quadruple up, thus giving you a fighting chance in the tournament. It’s not a theory I subscribe to, preferring to bide my time and pick off the all-in merchants with a genuine hand.

In the course of writing this piece, a numpty pushed all-in preflop in the first level and I gleefully called with Q-Q. In the event his pair of sevens made an unlikely straight on the river, but again, I was the better man.

Faced with a seemingly arbitrary all-in, you can justifiably make the call with even a medium pair, or a largish Ace. Clearly it’s not foolproof, but assuming you do manage to pick off a couple of idiots without an accident, you should enter the middle stages with a sizeable stack. Eventually the sit-outs will drop out, causing a sudden surge towards the prizes. Your strategy here should depend largely on the tournament structure, which can vary wildly from freeroll to freeroll.

For instance, I’m currently registered in a tournament that will see the full quota of 7,500 players battling for a paltry 45 prizes (of tournament dollars as opposed to real cash, to add insult to injury). With five-minute levels, suffice to say I won’t be playing many speculative hands, floating flops or folding anything approaching the nuts.

While this is a crapshoot of the highest order, at the other end of the scale if you build up a big stack early on you can almost fold your way into the prizes, be it cash or a seat in a more lucrative tournament. On the subject of satellite freerolls, there are often a set number of seats available, with a cap on the number of players.

The tournaments don’t necessarily reach their maximum numbers though, and if you shop around at the dead of night you can often find ghost satellites where upwards of 20% of the field qualify. Factor in the sit-outs and even the most hapless punter should be able to guarantee a seat within a couple of attempts.

Bring it home

As you approach the bubble, you should have a clear idea of your goals. If you’re simply seeking to secure some cash in your account – or guarantee a seat – then you can tighten up considerably. Besides, the prize money often increases in increments of up to 100 places, so it’s really not worth busting out when a double-up might not even secure you any more cash.

By the same token, a lot of players will be thinking the same way, so in the traditional manner it can be a decent ploy to accrue chips by targeting the shorter stacks that will be clinging on desperately for that taste of real cash.

Once the bubble has burst, you might as well go for it, as the only real money (comparatively) is to be found on the final table. To get there, you’re generally going to have to risk busting out by looking to double-up with any decent hand. And by the time you do get to the hallowed final table, the blinds will usually be so big that you’ll be faced with something of an all-in or fold policy.

You can wait for a couple of players to be knocked out for a few extra quid, but realistically you should be shoving with a wide range (any pair, two face cards, high suited connectors). The same applies once you get to heads-up, although don’t rule out a bit of trapping as your opponent will also be looking to shove at any opportunity.

If it all comes together, you can truly call yourself a cheapskate champion, as that magical $11 slides into your account. And on a mildly serious note, freerolls can also enable you to try other variants of poker. They are less common, but if you can find a pot-limit Omaha freeroll it’s a no-lose way of coming to terms with this most mysterious of disciplines. There’s even the odd fixed limit hold’em freeroll knocking about, which, though a potential threat to your sanity, do at least put the brakes on the all-in idiots.

Basically though, the best thing about freerolls is that they’re free, and in what is obligatorily referred to as ‘these difficult times’ that can’t be a bad thing. After all, what have you got to lose?

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