Freeroll Play

An article about how to play freerolls with cash prizes at the end, and a normal blind structure, so not the satellite freerolls or the 10 FPP's Pokerstars offers.

Freeroll tournaments are very common nowadays. Almost every poker site you can find offers them, some with conditions to enter, others without. They are a great way to start a small bankroll, but also to have a little fun for free. To be successful in them though, you need to be a good player, as about 90% of the field normally has no clue how to play poker. They are normally beginners, who don't want to invest money yet, but want to become better first, and maybe already win some money for free. They can also be people who just enter them for fun and don't care what happens, and therefore play really reckless. This makes these tournaments generally pretty difficult.

Assuming that you are one of the best players of the field, the first hour is very important. This is the time where all of the absolute donks are still in. You really want to avoid them at the start, unless you have a monster like AA, KK and QQ. Don't play against them unless you have one of those three hands. They will normally play any two cards, so QQ is already a vulnerable hand against them, as they will play hands like A2, K3 and stuff. JJ is really vulnerable against them because a lot of hands involve an A, K or Q, and in that case, they already have a 30% chance to win the pot. This is a risk you really don't have to take, as later, when a lot of them are gone and the bit better ones remain. That is a point where you really have a lot of value, and it would be unnecessary to throw that away over being ahead just 70%.

Finding these total idiots is not hard. At the start of a freeroll, almost every pot will go to a showdown, which will give you a lot of information about the table. The players who play less, but not absolutely nothing, are usually the ones you would want to encounter with hands like AK, AQ and JJ. They will be the bit better players, but most of them still overrate any pair and any ace. These are the people you want to double up against. In the first hour, wait for a good hand, and get it all in. If you see that at your table a lot of open shoves get called (which are a lot of tables in freerolls), you can just shove for 50x the BB with AA. Normally, you will get called most of the times. The same thing counts for any high pair, AK and AQ. Raising 3x is really not the thing to do here, as everyone will still be calling you, and I can assure you, having 5 players against your AA is not what you want. If you really want to just raise and not go all in, raise about 8-10x the BB. This should narrow the field, but it still means your opponent might hold any two cards.

To play postflop against these people is very difficult, as often you just can't put them on a hand. However, if you have an overpair to the flop, there's normally no reason to be afraid of big raises, as they can already do that with middle pair. If they have two pair then so be it, but don't start being afraid of that as normally you will just have them beat. Playing hands like AK and AQ is a different story. Never bet postflop unless you have hit the flop. If you have hit the flop, you can probably go all the way, unless there are really obvious draws on the flop. Another thing is that you should never ever bluff, or make c-bets in the start of freerolls. You will get called with even bottom pair, or maybe even ace high, so it absolutely makes no sense to try and bet your opponents out of the pot. Then again, playing postflop against these people is normally not a good idea, it is way better to just have all the money in before the flop.

After you have doubled up, you should continue playing the same way. The average chip stack rises really fast in freerolls, as people get knocked out really quickly, which means that the situation almost hasn't changed from the start. There will be a few higher stacks at the table, and it's pretty important to know how these people got so high. You need to know who you should look out for when trying to double up again. If you have changed tables it's not really a problem, just continue to not play hands and find out who the total donks are and who the lesser donks are. Try to double up again in the same way that you did the first time. Don't enter close gambles, even avoid 70-30 situations. If you don't double up a second time before the first break, it doesn't really matter.

You should have about 2500-2700 then with blinds going to 75-150, giving you just enough to play and try to double up in that level. However, I find it not really difficult to have about 8000 chips in the first break in about half the freerolls I play. The other half, I will either be sucked out (it happens, there's no way around it), or I have gotten no cards, so I would have around 1000 chips. With about 8000, the second hour is not really difficult.

The second hour is the hour where you start to play more normal. Start raising 3x with your hands, instead of a big overbet. Most of the complete donks will be long out now. Another thing is that with blinds of 75-150, your 3x raise is already to 450, which may scare donks off more than when you raise to 60 at the first level. However, it is not unwise to raise 4x the BB, actually, it will probably be better than 3x. The next thing you want to do is starting normal post flop play. Well, not entirely normal, as you still want to avoid bluffing and you also don't want to invest a lot of chips in a pot you're not certain about winning yet. What you do want to do is start making c-bets. Make them about half the pot, or maybe even less. These people normally don't look at pot sizes, so for them it doesn't really matter if you bet pot, or a bit less than half, if they fold to the one, they also fold to the other. However, if they call, check down the pot. You don't want to invest more chips in them. Playing postflop when you did hit something is not that difficult; either check-call or bet really small. This might entice them to have a shot at the pot, or to think their bottom pair is good. It might also entice them to suck out on you, but that's just a risk you can take here.

Continue to play the way described above until you get to the bubble zone. Here, people tighten up. A lot of people who play freeroll really want the money, and don't care how much it is, even if the first level is 7 cents. From the hijack on (the player to the right of the cutoff) it is often to open any unopened pot, as you will pick up the blinds pretty often. Still raise 3x though, unless there is a shortstack in the BB, then you can raise about 2.5x. If you didn't arrive with such a nice stack at this point though (and with that I mean you have less than 10x the BB), only push or fold. Play normal shortstack play, so push good hands, and fold bad ones, only loosen up a bit more.

When the bubble has burst, a lot of players will suddenly go out. They have made the money with small stacks and will now try desperately to get to the final table, by playing way too aggressive. Only play smallball poker now, which means that you only play small pots, avoid big ones, and try to chip up by stealing blinds. Open any unopened pot from the CO and on, unless there is a really small stack behind you to act. If this is the case, only raise with hands you might want to call his all in with, as he will probably be shoving really soon, and it would be a big waste to have to call his all in because you have odds with 62. The only big pots you would want to enter are where you have a monster preflop, or the nuts on the flop. Even if you have top pair top kicker on the flop, be cautious, don't make the pot too big unless you are absolutely sure you have the best hand. I'm drifting off to normal tournament strategy now, which is actually exactly how you should play the tournament from this point on (this point is about half an hour into the money).

Just by continuing to play smallball poker now, it shouldn't be that difficult to reach the final table. There are two things you have to keep in mind though. The first is that if your steal gets caught, don't care about it! I have found that it really used to scare me if some of my steals got caught. After this I would then absolutely stop stealing and tighten up way too much. You really need to avoid this. It doesn't matter if a few steals get caught, as the amount you have won by making them, will mostly still be more as the amount you lose when being caught, especially at this point, when there are antes. It's still important though to raise 2.5x instead of 3x from now on, just to lower your losses when you do get caught. The other thing is that again, you really need to avoid close gambles. You don't need them to get far, and they are way too risky. Your regular smallball play should be enough to make the final table, while you can throw it all away on just one coinflip, which you still lose 1 in 2 times. There is absolutely no reason to do this, and therefore, don't!

Well, I hope this will help all of you freerollers who visit Surfers (as I assume Venice will put these articles under the "Poker Strategy" tab after the article contest), and make sure that you soon won't need them anymore, because you have started a nice bankroll! Note that this article does not work with Surfers Poker freerolls, as they are way too small and have much better players than normally.

Article Written by member Tom Perez