Since the only way to win a poker tournament is to finish with the most chips, having the biggest chip stack is always a good thing – even early in the tournament. In fact, getting an early edge on your opponents offers many advantages. Alternately, having a small stack and being at the mercy of early leaders can be a nightmare. Here’s what you need to know about the importance of early chip leaders in poker tournaments.
When You’re One of Them
Being the chip leader puts you that much closer to ultimately winning the tournament, even if you’re several rounds away from the final table. It’s important to take your status seriously, though. Instead of getting comfortable and playing tight in an effort to keep your stack intact – or alternately playing too loose because you feel like you can absorb the losses – use your chips wisely by taking smart risks and by using your superior stack to bully your less well endowed opponents.
When You’re Not
If you’re not leading, it can be discouraging, especially if you’ve made a mistake and find yourself short stacked early in the tournament. Many players make the mistake of going after the chip leader with an aggressive bluff in an effort to double up, but that’s a good way to bust out of a tournament early if they call or reraise with a good hand. Your best move is to stick to your original strategy, but be wary of getting trapped or bullied by a chip leader.
Pros and Cons of Being the Chip Leader
Having the most chips in a tournament has obvious advantages. Many of your opponents will not be able to call bets that represent only a fraction of your stack. That makes bluffing and semi-bluffing much easier and puts you in control of the action regardless of your position in any hand. As an early chip leader, you should definitely be taking advantage not only of your extra chips but of the small blinds by seeing more flops.
Being a chip leader early in a tournament can give some players a false sense of comfort. They get too comfortable and start taking bets with more risk than gain. Others break their advantage down slowly but consistently by calling on bets they shouldn’t, simply because they can. It’s also important to remember that while you’re now a larger and more difficult target, you’re a target nonetheless, and many players will challenge you simply because you’re the chip leader.
Why it Matters in Different Tournaments
Being a chip leader offers the largest advantage in a sit and go, where an early lead will often see you through to the end. In a bounty tournament or rebuy, where players tend to be looser and more aggressive in the early rounds, having the biggest stack can actually make you an obvious target for maniac players with something to prove. In a regular MTT, being an early chip leader gives you some important advantages, but you need to manage your stack wisely to get the full benefits of your good fortune.