Solid tournament strategy for the early stages of a poker tournament
What strategy should you pursue for the initial phase in a poker tournament? Your strategy depends primarily on the structure of the tournament. If the tournament gives you a small initial chipstack only and the blinds go up quickly (example: 5000 starting chips, blinds start at 25/50 and increase every 15 minutes), then it makes little sense to play super tight and wait for the best hands.
But the most interesting tournaments are those with higher starting stacks (10,000 or more) and longer blind periods (30, 45 or 60 minutes). Especially in live tournaments you will often find this kind of conditions. But how to play these tournaments?
Well, on the one hand the principle "tight is right" does apply here. However, it is ok to see flops with hands like 4h5h as long as one only has to pay a small raise and more than two opponents see the flop. The potential of such hands to win big pots is enormous and especially in the initial phase, it is worthwhile to pay a small price for those hands.
These are the three most important factors in the early phase
Your position: this universal principle is very important, and especially so early in the tournament. If you have little information yet about your opponents, having position is all the more important to make good decisions after the flop!
Controlling pot size: It's ok to play along with marginal hands and draws in smaller pots, as long as you are able to ensure that the pot does not become too big. You should always only risk a small enough portion of your stack, unless you have a very strong hand already.
Watching your opponents: It is clear that you will sit with the same players for several hours at this table. It is therefore important to observe the tendencies of your opponents, in order to later take advantage from the insights that you have gained early on. Even more important than the question of the range of hands your opponents are willing to see the flop with, is the question of how aggressive they play, and how your opponents respond to aggressiveness. It is also important to be aware of your own table image, better even to create a certain image in order to benefit from it later. If you play extremely tight in the beginning, you will more be able to get away with a bluff later, and if your table image is that of a loose / aggressive player your opponents are more likely to pay you off with your strong hands later.
Information about your opponents are relatively "cheap" to come by in the early stages, but can be decisive factors at the later stage, when the blinds and antes are much higher.
Importance of own chip stack
In the early phase of a tournament with slow blind levels it is completely OK to increase your stack in small increments - it is even sufficient to just hold on to your starting stack, or to suffer small losses. The loss of 20% of the initial stack is no reason to panic! Keep an eye on the average stack during the tournament - as long as that number is within reach and you do not fall under a stack the equivalent of 10 Big Blinds, you are doing ok.
Of course it is nice to double up early in the tournament, but you should never risk big portions of your stack with weak hands as long your stack is still "healthy".
Conclusion: Information about your opponents and knowing your own table image are more important than a big chip stack in the early stages!