Dara O’Kearney shares three tips to increase your winnings right away before you even think of how to play the hands you get dealt.

1. Look for overlays

Dara O Kearney
Dara O’Kearney 

Today and I am going to share three ways to get an instant equity boost on your tournament winrate that doesn’t involve any mention of cards. The first of which is play more tournaments with overlays in them. 

An overlay is when the guaranteed prize pool has not been met and the operator makes up the difference. PokerStrategy has already written about them recently here

If you play a $10 tournament with a $1,000 guarantee, but only 800 players show up, that essentially makes the $10 you bought in for worth $12.50. Simply divide the prize pool by the number of actual participants to get this new equity

That is a 25% increase in your equity and you didn’t do anything. That’s a pretty good winrate for a tournament grinder. If you were a minus 10% loser in MTTs you would be a 15% winner in an overlaid tournament like this. 

2. Late register

You can also get an instant equity boost like this if you simply wait and buy in to the tournament just before the end of late registration. This is a secret of ICM that most professionals know but not every amateur player does. It is only a bad idea to do this in PKOs, as I have written before

Let’s use a very simple example which you can replicate for free using the free ICM calculator at ICMIZER. Let’s say you play in a rake free $10 tournament and ten players enter, your equity at the start of the tournament is $10, as it is for everybody else. Three places get paid and everyone starts with 1,000 chips. 

If you register at the end of the tournament registration and let’s say five players have been eliminated meaning five players have doubled up, this is what the equities look like:

Player Chips Potential Prize Equity
1 2,000 $55 $19.83
2 2,000 $33 $19.83
3 2,000 $22 $19.83
4 2,000

5 2,000

You 1,000


You have gained $0.87 in equity simply by showing up at the last moment. This is because you have to navigate through less players than at the start and also this is because of a fundamental principle of ICM that values short stacks more, relatively, than big stacks. If this was a ChipEV cash game type of situatio the double stacks would be worth $20 and you $10, but because of the impact of payouts in a tournament they are worth $19.83 and you are worth $10.87.

If you were a minus 5% losing player, in this example you would be a 3.7% winning player just by showing up late. You also come in when the average stack to pot ratio is lower, so you have much easier decisions. 

This is a very simplistic example but it really is worth exploring further using free ICM calculators like ICMIZER. This impact really can amplify when it is a large MTT and/or flat payout structures. 

3. Play smaller field MTTs

Dara O Kearney
Play smaller MTTs like at Unibet

One of the biggest errors I see up and coming players make is that they play too many tournaments with huge (1,000 plus) fields. Obviously if you bink one it will set you up nicely but there is a lot of variance to navigate. You can go months or longer without a win. 

My advice to new players is to play smaller sites where the field sizes are in the low hundreds. I am biased because I am sponsored by Unibet and that is a great place to start for small tournaments. 

You will encounter less variance and typically the fields are much weaker because good regulars avoid them, so you will get a bump in your winrate right away. 

Maybe more importantly, you will gain much more valuable experience doing this. If the typical field is 100 runners then you will make the final table 10% of the time on average. You will experience more bubbles, final tables, heads-up matches and all the various tough spots in poker. You will become a seasoned player in no time, much better than having your first final table in a 1,000 runner MTT and not knowing what to do. 

If you combine overlays, late registration and small fields in your game selection, you will have a huge head start in your tournament career before you even think of the way you play the game itself. 

If you want more insight like this, Dara has a regular newsletter where he gives free tips like this all the time. 

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