Winning Poker Tournaments Review
Tournaments are probably the most popular form of Texas Holdem games and one of the biggest reasons why poler has become as popular as it is today. Many of those new to the game start off by playing tournaments and, for some, it remains their main game throughout their careers.
Poker tournaments are different from cash games in many of their aspects but, most importantly, in terms of the stack size, which constantly fluctuates with every pot won or lost and always increasing blinds and antes. In the Upswing Poker course, named Winning Poker Tournaments, Nick Petrangelo addresses many of these and other intricacies, laying out a detailed plan on how to create a winning poker tournament strategy.
Petrangelo’s tournament results speak for themselves. Having cashed for well over $20,000,000 during his career so far, with two WSOP bracelets to his name, and various other achievements, he is certainly in a position to provide the kind of information a player looking to improve his or her tournament game would look for.
Before we proceed with this Winning Poker Tournaments review, it must be said that it is a really serious course in terms of contents you’ll find inside. In Upswing poker lab review we saw how structured learning could look, but this course takes it one step further.
Heavily focusing on numbers, stats, and decision trees, Nick Petrangelo approaches the game from a mathematical, scientific standpoint, so if you want value for your money, you’ll need to focus and really take in the information presented in the videos.
Introduction To Nick Petrangelo Strategy
In the short introductory videos, Petrangelo explains the structure of the course and what to expect moving forward. Right off the bat, he mentions several hundred different poker charts that will be presented across the lessons, immediately making it clear that the class will be focused on exact things instead of generalities and will cover much more than just ICM poker strategy.
The course is broken down into four main sections:
- Introductory part, explaining solver programs used to create charts and trees
- Preflop tournament game
- Postflop decisions
- Play and explains
Each of these sections contains videos explaining different common and less common spots we all face when playing poker tournaments in relation to our hand ranges, stack sizes, and how they correlate with one another. While there is really a lot of material to digest, this exact approach is guaranteed to help improve anyone’s game as long as they are willing to take in what’s being offered and slowly add it to their overall game plan.
Poker Solvers Explained
Poker has changed quite significantly over the years. With the introduction of various poker software solutions, it has almost become a science. Solvers are programs that help you make your decisions in various spots based on math and stats, so solutions they find are always based on exact information and reasonable assumptions based on the available data.
In the first section of the course, Nick explains solvers that were used to create the Winning Poker Tournaments class. Although this information isn’t essential to understanding what’s being talked about (if you accept what is being discussed as factual), it is still good to go through this fairly short section and understand the fundamentals upon which various charts and decisions trees were created.
Preflop charts were mainly created using Poker Snowie and Monker. Monker was used in over-call and squeeze situations while Snowie was used to check the results (and vice-versa). Pio-Solver was used for postflop concepts and blind vs. blind situation. All of this may not seem too relevant to someone completely new to the idea of solvers but it does help with keeping track of the lessons as Nick Petrangelo explains how these programs actually work and why you can trust their suggestions and solutions.
He also explains how there are certain limitations to this software and computer power so there are still situations, especially in multi-way spots, where you have to, at least in part, go with your own intuition and experience. In general, this introduction can give you a pretty good idea where to start with solvers in poker and how these can help improve your play, so it’s an extra bit of value you get from this class.
Most focus in this section is put on Pio Solver, which was the main software used to create the class and it will be mentioned a number of times in this Winning Poker Tournaments review. It is a more elaborate and advanced solver that can produce high quality, exact solutions, thanks to its many options.
On the flip side, this is a fairly complicated and quite expensive program that can be intimidating at the beginning. However, I am using it to study the cash games strategy and am very familiar with all the options. This should help me explain the use of Pio Solver a simple way so you will not need 10.000 hours to master it.
Intro to PIO Solver
Two of three videos in the first section actually explain PIO Solver in detail. The first video is very basic, intended for those with little to no experience with PIO tool. In it, Nick goes through how the solver actually works and how to take advantage of it. He shows how to build different situations and how the software helps with the decision making process.
Petrangelo takes his time explaining the (fairly complicated) interface of the software with all the various boxes that need to be filled to get the kind of solution you can use in real life. He also goes in detail why it is important to understand the equilibrium (optimum) strategy even though no one plays like that in real life. Understanding GTO poker strategy is how you create your fundamentals and then you can deviate from them accordingly. Without this information, it is hard to create a baseline to go from.
After explaining the basics, he proceeds to create one simulation from scratch and shows the final result. He then goes through the different options produced by the software and explains how to read into them and how you can use it. Although this is a lot of information and can seem like an overkill, Nick’s explanation will help you to understand what’s needed.
The second part of the PIO explanation goes into further detail of how the software works, touching upon some more advanced things. It is intended to take things to the next level and use some of the more elaborate options available in the software.
In this video, Nick Petrangelo introduces several tools that are really useful to understand how hand ranges interact, such as Runout Analysis Grid. This particular tool tells us how often our ranges continue globally with different options and then on what specific cards. Once again, this approach is quite intensive and you need to be focused while watching the lessons but it is intended for those people who want to learn about poker from the mathematical point of view. Since Pio is used throughout this course, taking time to go through these videos and understanding the software at least to some degree is necessary to keep up.
MTT Poker Preflop Pay
The first part of the course deals with poker tournaments preflop strategy. Nick kicks off by building ranges for various situations, different stack depths and covers opening, flatting, 3-betting, playing blind vs. blind, calling 3-bets, jamming when short, etc.
The first video brings a fully functional master sheet for all these different categories that you can use to improve your play. Although Petrangelo announces this as “boring and dry,” it is really important information as the preflop play is essential in MTT poker tournaments, where stack depths are often such that decisions before the flop can define the entire hand.
He then continues to produce the sheet and explains everything it contains and how to use the information. It is really an extensive and highly detailed chart for all sorts of different spots so, while it may seem overwhelming, the information contained within is truly invaluable. The sheet is also available on the site in a very clean and easy to use format so you can use it for study and analysis. I highly recommend checking it out.
Importance of Mixed MTT Poker Strategies
Moving forward, Nick explains the importance of using mixed strategies in your overall game plan. With the mixed approach, the important thing to understand is that, if there are two options available, they are usually very close to each other in terms of EV. So, we can actually play max EV poker with a mixed strategy. At the same time, by using this approach, it is much harder for our opponents to exploit our tendencies.
The idea is to build strategies that allow us to play more hands. If we can play more hands in the most +EV way, it is going to increase our win rate. Similar applies to frequencies for bluffing and value bets as we want to have good board coverage, especially in a blind vs. blind situations.
The general principle of building these mixed strategies is to prevent our opponents from doing work on the side and developing simple counter-strategies against our plays, especially plays such as squeezes and similar. By doing this, players have a hard time adjusting because they can’t lower our EV by playing tighter or looser. The mixed strategy allows us to play more hands and also expands our ranges in 3-bet spots, for example, as we’ll have some hands that would be in our calling range (when using pure poker tournaments strategy) included in the 3-bet range at a certain frequency.
Naturally, learning and playing these mixed MTT poker strategies is harder than implementing pure, more straightforward approach. On the other hand, that’s exactly what makes them more effective and gives us an edge over the field as this approach works very well even against experienced and competent players.
15 – 25 Big Blind RFI and Defense Strategies
After the initial explanation of how ranges are built and how mixed strategy is designed, the Winning Poker Tournaments course continues with several videos explaining two important concepts – RFI (Raise First In) and big blind defense strategies. These concepts are analyzed in detail with various charts and examples and every video addresses a particular stack depth (the number of big blinds)
The first few videos deal with ranges at 15 and 25 big blind depth. Nick Petrangelo basically goes through the sheet we’ve mentioned in the introduction and then goes on to explain why and how these strategies can be applied in actual poker tournament situations.
For the 15 RFI big blind spots, Nick first breaks down the preflop raise sheet, which covers situations where you want to go with either a min-raise or jam. Of course, the range is constructed according to the position and giving some consideration to tendencies of other players at your table, although the latter doesn’t come too much into play, especially when playing from early positions.
Another video is dedicated to alternate strategies at this stack depth, where you deviate from these standard plays and introduce more min-raises and even limps into your play instead of open shoving. Petrangelo suggests starting introducing these alternative plays only in later positions (highjack or better) as we don’t have to deal with as many players behind us. This strategy is more complicated and it requires more adjustments with regards to your opponents’ tendencies. When someone jams over your min-raise with his poker hands, you don’t have a predefined, set decision when to call off.
The final section on the 15bb play covers defend situations, i.e. when and how to defend against opens. The strategy supposes players are opening at 2x, which is pretty standard sizing against shorter stacks. Against early position raises, we’re going to be just calling with a fairly wide range, including some hands as good as AQ. Of course, against players who open really wide, there is room for occasional shoves with hands containing blockers.
Like with the RFI, this video breaks down big blind situations based on the position of the initial raiser, our hand range, and, to some degree, our read or stats we have on the opener. Although the video is only 18 minutes long and the chart is pretty self-explanatory, Nick does a pretty good job explaining the reasoning behind these various adjustments versus different players.
50bb – 100bb Big Blind Defense Strategies
The remaining four videos in this section deal with big blind defense at two stack depths, namely 50 big blind effective and 100 big blind effective. Once again, we’re dealing with Pio solver ranges presented in the introduction and Nick’s Petrangelo detailed explanation of why these ranges make sense and how they achieve results we want to achieve.
At 50 big blinds, we’re deep enough to mix in a lot of calls as well as some 3-bet bluffs against early position ranges to balance for our value hands. In general, our 3-betting range against EP is tight and we have a decent spread of our bluffs, covering various types of boards. With stacks being deeper, 3-betting becomes trickier as there are more things to consider, such as equity realization, how often our opponent will 4-bet, etc.
Our poker tournaments strategy starts to change as we’re facing opens from later positions, mixing in more 3-bets and adding some more calls with strong hands like AQs. Nick goes to explain why these adjustments make sense with regards to opening ranges of players entering from later positions. Of course, with the position of the original raiser getting closer to the button, our 3-betting range becomes even wider, especially to include some blocker hands as well as some hands that make solid top pairs, good straight draws, and similar.
The second two videos on the big blind defense deal with the effective stack size of 100 big blinds. With this stack depth, we can start including some wider 3-bets against EP raisers even with some lower, connected cards as these aren’t covered by the raiser’s range. Of course, these are mixed in at a fairly low frequency as they usually play pretty well as just calls.
One point that Petrangelo tries to bring home is that even at this stack depth, we shouldn’t be too concerned about getting our stacks in the middle with the very top of our range, such as AKs, Kings, and, of course, Aces. At the same time, while we can defend pretty wide against normal-sized (2.5x) opens, there is a particular range of hands we want to avoid. These are hands that are likely dominated, such as suited Kings and Queens with weak kickers and small off-suite connectors.
As we move to playing against raises coming from the middle position, we can defend a little bit wider, although we should still avoid small, unsuited connectors. We’re also expanding our 3-betting range with suited paint cards, some of the better unsuited Aces and smaller suited Aces. These hands pretty well and can also fold some of the hands that actually dominate us.
The second video covering this particular topic continues with defends against later positions, i.e. hijack, cutoff, and button. Nick Petrangelo puts a lot of emphasis on the original opening range from these positions and how this relates to our defending and 3-betting range. What we want to achieve here is define the opening range from these positions, identify the unsuited portion of that range (which is more likely to fold to our 3-bets), and target that using the portion of our range that is slightly weaker so we can use it to fold those unsuited hands that could be dominated.
Poker Tournaments Strategy: Postflop Play
The second main segment of Winning Poker Tournaments course deals with the postflop play and it is broken down into several main areas, namely:
- C-betting Ace high boards (three videos)
- C-betting dynamic and wet boards
- Playing monotone and paired boards
- C-betting turn (two videos)
- Playing vs. continuation bet (two videos)
- Check-raising from the BB (two videos)
- Turn probes (two videos)
- Playing single raised pots out of position (three videos)
- 3-bet pots (three videos)
- Blind vs. blind (two videos)
Clearly, this segment is more extensive and more detailed than the preflop section, primarily because there are many more complicated situations to consider. Like in the first part, though, Nick Petrangelo continues going through the videos explaining various scenarios relying on the Pio solver analysis and offers plenty of suggestions.
C-betting fundamentals for poker tournaments
Several videos in this segment deal with the continuation bet. Broken down into segments described above, these videos address things such as the global c-bet percentage, how to pick correct continuation betting ranges, recognizing small nuances on boards that may look very similar at a first glance, etc.
Explanations are presented in the manner that you’ve probably become accustomed to by this point in the course. Petrangelo presents decision trees for different situations created in Pio Solver. Of course, the c-betting strategy is closely connected to the defense ranges as it helps define proper c-bet ranges on various board textures.
Petrangelo takes a look into different general board textures, such as Ace high boards, dynamic boards where there are different possibilities, and monotone and paired boards. All of these represent a particular set of scenarios that we face all the time when playing tournaments and Nick tries to break down different situations and appropriate c-bet sizes depending on the particularities of the board.
Like everything else in this course, explanations provided here are anything but shallow. Videos go at length to explain how certain monotone or paired boards, for example, may seem the same, but there are actually significant differences depending on the particular cards and perceived ranges, which dictate our actions in the hand, especially with regards to sizing.
More on Continuation Bet in MTT Poker
A lot of time and space in the course is given to the continuation bet and different nuances because this is such a big part of your overall poker tournament strategy. After going through fundamentals, explaining all the different spots in detail, Nick Petrangelo continues with four more videos addressing the continuation bet on the turn and, finally, how to play facing the c-bet.
Two videos on turn continuation bet are actually quite extensive, which is excellent if you’re looking to improve that particular part of your game. In certain spots, we are faced with a check-call from the big blind and we need to be able to figure out what kind of turn cards are good to continue barreling.
Nick explains properties of turn cards we’re looking for here, i.e. cards that are pretty neutral and unlikely to improve either range. Depending on the flop texture, these card properties can vary greatly, so he goes on to explain many different scenarios using, once again, Pio solver charts to define favorable spots and proper sizings.
The second two videos deal with situations where we’re the one facing the continuation bet and how to proceed on the flop, turn, and what to do once the turn goes check-check. As expected, there are several board examples Petrangelo uses to explain our continuing ranges and the best strategy, i.e. check-call vs. check-raise, etc.
The analysis goes deep into our equity on particular boards and how our ranges stack up against our opponent’s ranges. These explanations can seem a bit dry and it will require some effort to really stay focused and keep up with what Nick is explaining. It is probably a good idea with these and other videos to take them in slowly instead of trying to run through the course as quickly as possible.
Turn probes in MTT’s
Two videos in this section of the Winning Poker Tournaments course deal with the situations where a hand goes check-check on the flop and try to explain favorable situations where we want to take initiative on the turn from the big blind and fire a bet out of the position.
In these situations, it is important to look into the board texture and then define the opponent’s range to figure out how many strong hands are in that range. Like with other sections, Petrangelo brings up a number of different boards and scenarios and continues to explain how our range from the big blind does on these different boards and when our turn probes have positive EV.
Single-raised and 3-bet Pots
The next three videos deal with single-raised pots when playing out of position. Since the population tendency seems to be on the side of c-betting too much, it is important to figure out the equilibrium in these pots.
In these videos, Petrangelo continues to construct preflop ranges, talks about continuation betting frequencies, and types of reactions to expect from players in the position.
Once again, these situations are explained through a variety of different boards and scenarios, with a lot of numbers and ranges that might take some time to really take in.
Lessons on 3-bet pots are also divided into three parts, covering situations small blind vs. button situations and playing in 3-bet pots in position. Two videos are dedicated to the button vs. blind dynamic as this is a quite common scenario and Petrangelo goes into small blind 3-betting ranges and how to adjust accordingly.
He also talks about multiple 3-bet sizes, which, once again, emphasizes the importance of a mixed strategy. By having multiple sizes in different spots in terms of 3-bet and continuation bet keeps our opponents off balance and makes us harder to play against. Additionally, with larger sizing, the possibility of human error is increased as well, which means that having these different sizes in different spots can actually influence the overall EV.
Talking about 3-bet pots in position, Nick Petrangelo actually takes one of his SCOOP hands to bring his points home. He addresses similar points in this video like in the previous two but makes them easier to understand by using an example of his own hand played from the button.
Blind vs. Blind Play
The final two videos in the course cover blind vs. blind play. Although this is the postflop part, Petrangelo first revisits general blind ranges to make the foundations for what is explained later in the videos. He goes on to explain the big blind strategy against the limping range and provides a range of hands which should be raised always as well as those that will be raised some percentage of the time. All of these considerations tie in with the postflop play as our hand selection is directly connected to how these hands play on various flops.
Once again, there are numerous examples of various board textures and situations, giving a really thorough overview of the blind vs. blind play. Nick goes through different ranges and explains range advantage in different scenarios and how to exploit this advantage for the maximum EV.
MTT Poker Strategy: Play & Explain
Like all Upswing courses, the Winning Poker Tournaments class ends with a Play and Explain section, in which Nick Petrangelo goes through some of his hand histories and looks into actual, real-life hands, with the special focus on different concepts explained throughout the course.
Nick goes through all the interesting hands from his SCOOP and WCOOP runs and also breaks down several specific hands in separate videos. These play and explain vids are a great way to wrap up the course and see many of the concepts in action. Additionally, Nick is open about having made mistakes in certain spots and explains these as well, constantly coming back to the preflop and postflop ideas elaborated in the theoretical part of the course.
Conclusion: High Quality & Intensive Poker Tournament Strategy Course
At the end of the day, Winning Poker Tournaments is definitely a kind of course that can take your tournament play to the next level and beyond. The amount of sheer information and detail found in the videos is quite overwhelming, though, and it requires a lot of focus and dedication if you really want to make most from the course.
Players who aren’t familiar with solvers in general and Pio, in particular, could definitely feel like it is all too much, which is why this particular class is probably best absorbed in smaller chunks. Once you get used to the way Nick Petrangelo explains things and learn to follow his train of thought, things will become much easier.
The final part of the course where Nick takes time to go through some of his tournaments is very valuable as well. If you are struggling with some theoretical ideas, you’ll get to see many of them applied in actual poker situations and explained once again, which definitely helps bring the point home and fill out any gaps. This works great for both, online poker and live games as well.
So, if you’re expecting a poker course with a lot of talks and little effort on your part, this one isn’t for you. This class will require you to really think about concepts explained inside and understand what this mixed strategy approach entails. While it may take some time and effort, once you start adopting these ideas and implementing them in your game, results are guaranteed to follow. These strategies will make you virtually impossible to exploit and your opponents will have a hard time figuring out your ranges in different situations, which can give you a significant edge even when playing in strong fields and against competent opponents.
To put it simple – this is the best course for learning winning poker tournament strategies and nothing comes even close!