When you go deep in a big online poker tournament for the first time, your first instinct is to do whatever you can to avoid being eliminated.
You don't want to risk your tournament life with a weak hand and you'd rather sit back and hope that other players get sent to the rails before you.
Basically, you just don't want to bust out when you've come this far.
So instead of pushing your chips around and putting pressure on other players, you fold and open the lobby after each hand to see if someone else has been eliminated.
But trying to fold into the big money is the opposite of a good strategy - it's actually minimizing your value.
Payouts in Big Sunday Tournament
Poker sites always want to offer a big first-place payout in their showcase tournaments. It makes them look more attractive.
At the same time, they also want to pay a lot of spots so as many players as possible feel they got something out of the event.
As a result, the big tournaments are very top heavy.
The huge payouts go to the top finishers and a lot of way smaller payouts go to the rest of the money winners.
If you look at the payout table below (PokerStars Sunday Million November 21, 2010) you'll see that a large portion of the $1.7 million prize pool went to the top-nine finishers.
In fact, 50% of the total prize pool is shared by the final table.
Below them, payouts quickly drop to $3,000 and there are smallish payouts all the way down to the bubble at place 1,261.
You Benefit from Risk Taking
So what does that say about the best strategy for the big Sunday tournaments?
Say you're in 20th place with 40 players remaining in the Sunday Million. You have A-K and raise from the button.
The Big Blind, who has the same amount of chips as you, pushes all in. For the sake of argument, say you know he has pocket tens.
Do you call?
Yes. I say this is an automatic call.
When you've come this far in the tournament, your goal must be to reach the final table with a competitive stack.
Remember: the difference between finishing 20th and 40th is only around $500.
If you go out, you haven't lost anything.
But if you double up, you're in a much better position to get to the big money.
Go for Your Opponents' Scared Money
If you think this way, and you're prepared to risk your tournament life for the chance to win the whole thing, you'll pick up a lot of scared money.
Increase your four-betting frequency. In the eyes of a less competent player, that always indicates a strong hand.
And push all in when there's a decent chance that your opponent will fold.
Players just don't want to go out after hours and hours of play - that's something you should take advantage of.
Your Game Plan
You will bust out quite often, sure.
But you'll also put yourself in a position to grab the first-place prize money sometimes - and that's a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
That's why it's better to finish 40th instead of 20th.
It just means you gave it a shot.