The Most Important Concept in Tournament Poker

Mitchell CogertContributor IJanuary 4, 2010

LAS VEGAS - JULY 07:  Actress Shannon Elizabeth competes on the first day of the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio Hotel & Casino July 7, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

One popular tournament poker concept is that you have to play to survive in order to give yourself a chance to win. 

That notion is much like is like being reminded that you have to breathe in order to stay alive. This is sage advice?

I think the most important concept in tournament poker is the following:

Tournament poker is about winning, not surviving.    

When you play in a cash game (where real money is bet on every hand), you can always buy in for more chips. The objective of a cash game is simple: you want to leave the game with more money than when you started.

Tournament poker is different. 

The winner of a tournament is the one who wins all of the chips in play. The reward for winning an event is a significant percentage of the total prize pool, which at the World Series of Poker, can be substantial.

For some perspective, in last year's $1,000 buy-in event at the WSOP, there were 6,012 entrants and a prize pool of over $5 million. The event paid 620 players. Guess what the difference was in finishing 1st and 620th?

Over $768,000!

Guess what the difference was in finishing 1st and 10th?

Over $691,000!

You can play to survive, cash in and win a few dollars. Or, you can play to win and take home $771,338—which is what Steve Sung won in this event.

Playing to win and not just survive, results in a different approach to the game. It means that you have to adjust your thinking and strategies to tournament payouts. 

You can’t sit back and wait for premium hands. You have to accumulate chips throughout an event, because if you don’t act, the blinds and antes will slowly, but surely, result in your chips bleeding out.