Early Stage Freeroll Tournament Strategy

Chris Wheeler | September 16, 2011

Freeroll StrategyThe first thing you need to accept, when it comes to freeroll tournaments, is that nobody has anything to lose here. Perhaps just as importantly, you need to realise that most people will be walking away from this tournament without having gained anything either – many of who will have invested hours of play.

With the above taken into account it should come as no surprise that many players will look to play extremely aggressive poker – even crazy, illogical poker early on in an effort to either build a stack capable of giving them a real shot at playing for the cash, or bust out and save them hours of fastidious folds and calculated calls to no avail.

On top of this, freerolls are training grounds for new players, which means there will always be a decent percentage of any freeroll field who are inexperienced and will tend to be unpredictable.

This isn’t to say that freerolls are simply lottery events because this simply isn’t the case. In fact, if you are prepared to play a tight game early on, it is possible to be consistently successful in freeroll tournaments.

The key to success in these tournaments lies in the ability to break down your approach towards them into an early-game, mid-game and late-game strategy.

Early stage strategy

When we talk about the early stages of a tournament, we’re typically referring to the period of time between the first hand of the tournament and the first break of the tournament.

As mentioned, early on in a freeroll tournament you are going to find a great deal of players looking for that quick double up or triple up. In fact, a lot of articles on freeroll tournament strategy are going to recommend you do exactly that – chip up or ship out. The reality is, if you want to do well over the long run, this technique isn’t going to work.

Early on in a tournament you might be dealt KhTh in late position with four limpers in the pot. Maybe you flat call to see a flop or maybe you try to squeeze. Either way, you’re usually going to end up with more people in the pot than you’d like and unless you flop a flush or a boat you’re going to be concerned about what other players might have.

Even with two pair or trips on the flop, you need to realise that no matter how you play out the rest of the hand, there are likely going to be people willing to chase their flush draws, straight draws and low pocket pairs all the way to the river to see if they hit. It won’t matter how much you bet – it’s a freeroll after all. They have nothing to lose and a great big pot to win.

Early on in a freeroll tournament it really is crucial to restrict yourself to AcKs, AdQs, KcQd, Ax suited and pocket pairs, although we’d recommend leaving lower pocket pairs until the mid stages of the tournament unless you can get into a pot for cheap.

When you’re playing the hands mentioned above, you can hit either card and feel reasonably confident about your kicker (with the exception of Ax suited).

With the blinds so low at the start of the tournament relative to the size of your stack, you’re going to feel like seeing as many flops as you can. This is a mistake. Sure, sometimes you’ll flop a monster, but the majority of the time you’re either going to miss, or be taken for a ride after flopping a sub-par hand or a draw. At this stage in a freeroll, anyone can have anything at any given time. By restricting yourself to only playing premium hands, you greatly reduce the chance of being eliminated early on.

Early stage all-ins

Early on in a freeroll tournament, players are going to be pushing their stacks into the middle all over the place. We’ve already discussed why this is, so all we need to really address now is why you shouldn’t follow suit.

You shouldn’t even be thinking about making the move all in at any stage early on unless you have the nuts or truly believe you have your opponent smashed. If you’ve been hurt in a previous hand and you really do need to push your chips into the centre, then this is a separate issue, but strictly speaking, you shouldn’t be risking your tournament life this early on without the absolute best of it – you just don’t know what people will have, or what they might be willing to draw to.

Finding yourself raising each time you’re dealt Kc Qs or Ad Qd only to have the very same opponent push all in over the top of you can be extremely frustrating, but don’t let it get to you. Keep your cool and wait for the right spot to get your chips into the middle.