When it comes to the classic online poker tournament, it boils down to one thing: chips. You have to make sure that you are always pushing for getting more chips than everyone else. Sure, this might mean that you have to work very hard, and it might even mean that you have to push forward when you’d rather shrink back. However, it’s all about accumulating chips. When you have a nice fat chip stack, you’re a target — but you also have leverage. You can push against smaller players who are afraid to lose everything. You can play a very aggressive game when it counts, and that’s always a good thing.

The common assumption is that the early stages of a no-limit Hold’Em tournament just don’t matter — we disagree. If anything, it’s all about the early stages. It’s all about those small pots. Even if the blinds go up later, it’s the efforts you put in now that makes a difference.

Here’s a few things that you will need to think about right at the beginning of a poker tournament that can make all of the difference. For the advanced sharks out there, this might be “old hat” to you, but we hope some newbies gain more insight into a game that has captured so much of our collective attention.

First and foremost, it’s all about position. You need to look at where you stand. In a $10,000 main event, everybody is going to be a pretty fierce player — some more than others, but you don’t have any way to rely on just blind luck. You need to be thinking completely about where you are at the table. Are you in the best position? Study the table carefully with each move. There’s no sense in overreacting, but you also don’t want to get too laissez faire about it, if you know what we mean.

Your hand matters too. You should have a good understanding of hand rankings and hand strengths if you’re going into tournaments. If you don’t, this is something that you need to go back and study very well.

Remember that implied odds (something you should have already studied) matter a lot more than the immediate odds. If you’re facing a good player that’s on the button and your pot odds are only so-so, sometimes it’s better to fold. You need to make sure that you are protecting your chips first. Playing out of position isn’t always a wise thing to do — in fact, most people take this risk to their downfall.

You also want to aim for hands that can really win you big pots. This is where it pays to really know when to be bold and when to walk away from a bad play. What will be ultimately best for you is a matter of looking at each hand. Sometimes you’ll have to walk away from a pot where you know that you can win. Sometimes it’s better to be conservative and stay in longer than end up getting too brassy and busting out of the tournament long before you have any real short of money.

Fire off good bets — the player that tries to get in the corner and just not be noticed is the first one that gets noticed. You’re going to get eaten alive if you never raise, if you never take action. Sometimes it’s a matter of mixing it up, but you have to pay attention to the table as well as who is playing. Tracking everyone’s playing styles might take some time, but remember — there’s always another tournament.

These are all tips for real money tournaments, but you’re going to make sure that you have plenty of practice when you’re not playing. Hand analysis offline when you’re not playing actively will also help you sharpen your skills. Remember also that there’s a big community trying to help you get better. Even though fish are easy money, no real player wants to play against fish forever. So if you get better, you’re a better target because it feels amazing to crush an opponent that truly understands the game! Good luck out there!