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Freeroll Strategies for Huge Fields in
Online Texas Holdem Poker Tournaments

By Keith Alberts, Shark Vet “Gumby”

Playing online poker usually begins the same for every beginning rounder, the massive online poker freeroll. Sitting at that virtual poker table is where I got my first taste of victory and defeat, competition and a lack thereof, and jubilation and frustration. Anybody that has played in an online freeroll can tell you the horrible calls, over the top all in bluffs, and insane bad beats that they have faced. What I will try to accomplish with this strategy session is ways to play online freerolls to minimize frustration and maximize potential winnings.

When you first eye up and download the online poker room of your choice, there are many to choose from, most of them usually have freeroll tournaments that give away prizes. These prizes range from cash, usually small amounts, to a satellite seat to larger buy-in tournaments, to poker shirts, hats, books, and even bobbleheads. Some online poker freerolls have steps where the money doesn’t come until a later tournament that you qualify for in the freeroll. Freeroll satellites for the World Series of Poker can be played to get yourself a $10,000 buy-in for the big show.

Television freerolls have become a new phenomenon that online poker sites are using to drive players to their website. With so many poker sites out there today, sites are offering poker players more money and benefits than ever before. These freerolls can be extremely lucrative tournaments if you have the patience and ability to outlast large landmine fields of donkey players. This is where I come in. I am going to give you some strategies for huge online freerolls that you can use. One may be better than the other for you and your style of play, but all might be successful and fun to try once.

I would recommend playing in freeroll tournaments that have a prize pool of at least $100 or a satellite seat to a larger buy-in tourney. Otherwise, you will be wasting your time to win a top prize of $10. Even making the final table will only yield you a dollar or two. With these larger field tournaments, they will run a long time. So be prepared to spend four or more hours if you make it to the final table.

How to Outlast the All-In Fest

Beginning of a Freeroll

Massive online no limit hold’em freeroll tournaments are jam-packed with bad players. They are mostly beginning poker players that do not really know how to play the game, while others do not care to learn the game so they play fast and furious. I began playing in freeroll tournaments and actually began my bankroll this way. I had put in absolutely nothing and was able to begin playing in real money micro-limit tables by winning a few freerolls. If you are skeptical about depositing your own hard earned money into an online poker site, this is where you may want to begin.

The first few minutes of an online freeroll is the most ridiculous and important time of the tournament. Although you will see some awful plays later, the worst play occurs during the beginning. Usually, there are a couple players at each table that decide they want a massive stack of chips or they don’t want to play at all. These are players that push all-in from the very first hand and don’t stop until they have a mountain of chips or are busted out. I recommend against playing in this fashion, but this is definitely something you could try and must be aware of.

If you decide to play like this, I would recommend playing solid starting values, such as high pocket pairs and high suited connectors. The low pairs will not win unless you catch a set or get lucky, especially against more than one opponent which you will face almost every hand.

A Better Way to Play It

If you want to double up fast, which a lot of players do, you should raise starting hands that you normally do and be prepared to call or move all-in on the flop, where the second most action takes place. Identify opponents that will go all-in with nothing early on and hope that your best pre-flop starting hand holds up at showdown. There’s always another freeroll right around the corner. Many players will try to bluff at pots on the flop, hoping to take it down right there. They also lack the patience that it takes to be a true no limit hold’em tournament player. In most of these tournaments, a quarter of the field is eliminated within the first 20 minutes and half of the field is gone before the first break.

I believe that the best strategy for freeroll tournaments is to see as many flops as possible in the early levels with decent starting hands. With this strategy, I hope to see flops for the minimum bet with suited connectors, 7-8 and higher, and small pocket pairs. I would fold to raises out of position and especially if there can possibly be a re-raise pre-flop. I don’t want to put my chips at risk early on a draw pre-flop. My usual raise with big pocket pairs and large starting hands will apply here also.

Now, if the flop misses me completely, I fold with very little invested. On the other hand, if I flop a monster or a monster draw, I try to get some value out of my hand. I would slow-play any monster straight, flush, or trips to gain maximum value from the remaining players in the hand and once again identify players who will be willing to get all their chips in the middle with top pair. If I am drawing at a monster, then I would tread a little lighter trying to see cards cheap. In a normal tournament, I may bet depending on 1) my reads of opponents 2) the amount of money in the pot and 3) how strong the betting is. Like I’ve said before, in a freeroll, players make some wicked plays early on. If I bet at my draw, I may get pushed out of the pot with a huge overbet from one of the loose aggressive goons that riddle these tournaments.

When I make my monster and there is no betting on the flop, I would make a small bet on the turn, hoping that someone check-raises me for all I’ve got. This can be the best way to double up early in a tourney.

When and if you make it past the all-in fest early and have a decent stack of chips, then you can start playing your real game. Tight aggressive seems to be a winner and is what Dan Harrington teaches. Read his books if you actually take tournament poker seriously (Harrington on Hold’Em Volume I & Harrington of Hold’Em Volume II). I have not read the third volume yet, the workbook, but hear that there are plenty of hand examples from various tournaments that are discussed in detail. I’ll have to pick it up. Loose play can still be seen, but the field tends to tighten up after the first break. Just play your “A” game and try to amass a mountain of chips.

If you have another style that you enjoy and suits you, then play that way. There is no right or wrong way to play poker. There are better ways to winning poker and some players that never win may have the worst strategy out there. The poker world needs these players also or most players would just break even. Don’t be like one of these players and learn how to play better. Learn from asking questions of other seasoned poker players. I’m not talking dinner either. Many poker forums are available for questions and discussions, including the Shark Poker Tour forum. http://sharkpokertour.com/phpBB2/index.php There are many good poker players that are more than willing to help with any questions or hand examples that you want to post. I post there as GUMBY.

I know that these strategies work. Whether they work the first time is all depending on the cards. We all take bad beats. It’s what makes poker what it is. During freerolls, take your time and be patient. You can play for free, have a decent payday and build a beginner’s bankroll that may lead you to millions of dollars down the road.

Good luck at the tables!


Keith Alberts likes to write, play poker and compete against the chip tossin’ loons on the Shark Poker Tour. Check out his great blog at http://www.pokerbonus4u.blogspot.com/