Let’s say you’re playing in a poker tournament. You started this tournament with 15,000 chips and you’re sitting at 30,000 chips at Level 7. Not amazing, but not terrible. Plenty of time to grind it higher. The chip leader has 124,000 chips, putting your stack to shame. To make matters worse, this chip leader is sitting directly to your left and he’s aggressive, which doesn’t give you much opportunity to accumulate chips from others. If you raise, he might three-bet you, which could lead to wasted ammo. Always avoid wasted ammo.

Chip Leader + Ego = Devastation 

I have easily played in several hundred live poker tournaments in my life (a lowball number), and I have picked up on a pattern. The chip leader at your table will usually (not always) lose their chips. If I had to put a percentage on it, I would say it happens about 65%-70% of the time. Some might say it’s due to bad luck. This is true to an extent, but the most important factor is that this player is getting involved too often, and as good players know, the pot is a dangerous place to be in No Limit Hold ‘em.

Positive Tilt

If this player is going to continue to put themselves in marginal situations, then it’s only a matter of time before they lose all their chips. It unfolds like a story. First, this player accumulates chips thanks to aggression and/or good fortune. This player then gets overconfident and plays too many hands, which is also known as positive tilt. The next chapter is for this player to begin thinking about the chips he lost and becoming eager to get them back. This, in turn, leads to his chips dwindling. The snowball continues rolling down that steep hill, gathering momentum with each inch, and it eventually picks up so much steam that it can’t be stopped until it crashes into a rock at the base of a mountain.

Big Stack Dreams, Not Nightmares 

If this is the case more often than not, then you actually want a big stack at your table, as long as it’s not a tight-aggressive experienced pro that has those chips locked down and will only take necessary chances. Assuming it’s a marginal, weak, or overconfident player, then you want that stack at your table. There is no guarantee that you will collect his chips, and you should never force the action, but someone (or several people) will benefit from that meltdown. This happens all the time in tournaments. Fortunes change fast, and if you’re deep in a tournament, it could present you with a chance to make a run.

How NOT To Play It

So, after reading this, what are you going to do after you collect those chips? If you plan on attempting to steamroll the table, then your odds of making the final table will be slim, and you can forget about winning the tournament. In a nine-player game, someone is usually going to hit the flop. That being the case, pick your spots wisely, such as open-raising in late position to steal the high blinds and small antes (antes add up). You don’t need to follow the 3x norm. You can simply double the Big Blind, which will often lead to folds other than the Big Blind, and you will have a huge advantage over the Big Blind because that player will be out of position.

If there was no re-raise, the flop texture favors a Big Blind hand, and that players shows interest, fold immediately. The best way to accumulate chips in a tournament is one step at a time by finding the right spots and folding as early as possible when you sense interest from opponents while hold weakness. Don’t try to be a hero unless you have an excellent read. Otherwise, you become that snowball rolling down the hill.


The next time you’re playing in a poker tournament and you see a player with a massive stack, be happy about it. You will hear other players commenting on how good that player is running, which is nothing more than jealousy, but you should remain quiet as you wait for the meltdown to occur — and it will usually occur. Once again, there are no guarantees that you will be the one to benefit from that meltdown, but simply by keeping yourself in the game by playing tight, you give yourself a chance.

Tyler Nals

If you love poker, then you're in the right place. My poker strategy books are written for the beginner-intermediate player, and many readers have told me that these strategies have helped them turn a profit. My books are easy to understand and written from a macro perspective on how to win as a poker player. You will also find an entertainment angle. Regardless of what level poker player you are, you might enjoy A Fishy Poker Tournament, The Dark Side of the Felt, and The Poker Office. These are poker adventure books, not poker strategy books.

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