You play poker for money right? I mean, the money is why you play isn’t it? The truth is that there are probably other reasons that are more important to you, but this isn’t a psychology article. This is an article about making money playing poker tournaments, and one of the biggest ways to increase your poker income is by improving your game selection.

I preach table selection to my cash game students on a regular basis. In tournaments we don’t get to choose to move to a new table, so what can we do to find the softest opponents? We have to find tournaments where we end up at soft tables as often as possible. In the year after Black Friday, with my bankroll decimated and a mortgage to pay, I went hunting for the softest tournament fields. Here’s what I learned.

sawft
Image used for illustrative purposes only; copyright WWE

What Are We Looking For?

We obviously don’t want a bunch of solid grinders or world-class pros at our table. We don’t want people who are members of training sites or have read multiple books or worked with a coach. We want players who are readable, predictable, and who play either too loose or too tight. In my opinion, readable and predictable are much more important than any other errors because they cut down our variance drastically; in tournaments that translates directly into money. The greater the advantage you have over the field, the less interested you should be in taking coin flips. Winning tournament players hate to take a big risks without a big upside, especially in a soft field or at a soft table.

There are many factors to weigh when trying to find soft tournament fields. For this article, I’ve put together a list of seven of the most important ones. Let’s look at each factor and how important it is.

1. Geography

The part of the country, or even the planet, where you play poker can influence how strong the players are at different buy-in levels as well as how they play. A typical weak player in Minnesota may be very different from a typical weak player in California, and having played in both places I can tell you that the difference is huge.

poker map

California has a lot more action! There are a lot more people in California that have big money and there is a less conservative culture. People in Minnesota have very high literacy rates and the culture is conservative when it comes to money. Stealing pots in Minnesota can be profitable in spots where it would be insane in California. Calling a big overbet in California on the river might work to pick off a bluff, but in Minnesota you are usually just paying to see the nuts.

The softest tournament fields tend to be in places where poker hasn’t been around for long. In places like Las Vegas where the locals have often been playing for 20 years or more, the typical player is much stronger. In Florida or on the East Coast where casino poker is fairly new, fields tend to be a little softer. When poker first comes to a new area, the games are very soft for a few years.

2. The Venue

Tournaments in one room can be much tougher than the room right across the street. The cash games in Vegas are a good example of that. The best players like the Aria; it’s a great room and a very comfortable place to play. Even more important, it’s a place to be seen. Playing at the Aria is something to brag about, while playing at a lesser-known poker room may not impress the folks back home. This can make the games tougher at the Aria simply because the players who make a living want to make a living in such a nice room and the games can fill up with grinders.

Aria Poker Room
Aria Poker Room

To find a soft venue, look for a place that would bring in tourists or recreational players at the buy-in level of the event. If the buy-in for the tournament is less than the cost of a room for the night, there will be recreational players who don’t care about the money. If the venue promotes the tournament heavily in places where recreational players will hear about it, you will definitely find a softer field. Free drinks and a party atmosphere always help too!

3. Buy-in

The buy-in of the event will usually have the biggest effect on the strength of the field, but it also combines with other factors in some important ways like the venue advice about the cost of a room for the night. Typically, a player at the Wynn cares less about $200 than a player at the Golden Nugget.

An event with a big guarantee will usually draw a much stronger field, and any buy-in over $200 brings players from a greater distance who tend to play better. When the buy-in reaches $1,000 the field gets much tougher because very few recreational players will risk that much. Dropping $300 can be classified as entertainment. $1,500? Not so much. Assuming you’re not single, there is only so much money you can hide from your partner before they notice that you’ve lost serious money playing poker, and a $1,500 buy-in is too much for most recreational players.

4. Satellites

Events that have a large number of satellites will have more recreational players. Much softer players will play a $200 satellites than those who buy-in directly to a $1,000 event. Satellites are important and the more people that are in them the better. Big satellite fields are an important factor, especially in places where the money would mean a lot to locals. A $500 event might not mean much to people in San Jose where a two bedroom condo can cost a million dollars, but in Minnesota it will be a lot of money to many local recreational players.

satellite
NO! Not these kinds of satellites 🙂

5. Other Events

A nearby event can draw strong players away from a tournament. If a $300 tournament in your city is in conflict with a $1,000 event, you will find much softer players in the $300 event than you would otherwise because many of the best players will be playing in the bigger event. Likewise, an event with a soft field nearby will often draw the weaker players away from an event. This is very true in Las Vegas during the summer, where $1,000 events at other poker rooms can be much tougher because so many of the lesser-skilled players are playing the World Series of Poker bracelet events.

6. The Prestige

Speaking of the World Series of Poker, it is a great example of an event that brings in soft players simply because of the prestige associated with it. The $1,500 events at the WSOP are much softer than a typical $500 event because so many recreational players are dreaming of a bracelet and playing much higher than they usually would.

The WSOP Circuit, WPT, and any special events in your area that draw big fields and have some prestige for the winner will be more profitable than a weekly event of the same size. Players pay twice as much rake in a WSOP Circuit event as they would pay in any other tournament and they still get huge fields because so many locals show up dreaming of winning a WSOP Circuit ring and years of bragging rights.

WSOPC Ring
WSOPC Ring

This doesn’t necessarily make these events more profitable, since the rake is so high, but they will definitely draw the soft players away from other tournaments in the area. Note that the cash games in rooms with prestige events tend to be much softer during those events because the recreational players who wouldn’t usually play will come join a cash game after they bust out of the tournament.

7. Non-Poker Tourism

The more tourists that an area has, the better the games tend to be. Without tourists, the games in Vegas would be terrible! And it’s not just an area that brings in tourists; it can also be a special event or even a time of year. Grinders are in Florida all year round, but the tourists come in droves during the winter and the games get much better.

Special events can be a huge boost. A charity poker tournament, a blackjack freeroll for high rollers, or a convention in town can really help soften a tournament field. When the rodeo is in town you will definitely find me in the cash games at the MGM Grand, where many of the tourists stay during the event. Cowboy hats abound and so does the money. Pay attention to what is happening in your area and think about whether it is likely to bring in tourists who don’t usually play much poker.

Holidays can be another source of tourists. A Thanksgiving weekend event like our Next Level Poker series in Iowa should draw a softer field with so many tourists in town to see relatives. Many players can’t spend all weekend with their family and a poker tournament is a great excuse to get out of the house.

Don’t Believe the Hype

It is the nature of poker players to think that every game is soft. We see other player’s mistakes much more clearly than the mistakes we make ourselves, and every game looks soft to a good player with a winning attitude. Don’t believe that a tournament is soft just because you hear a player talk about it. Every tournament is incredibly soft if you listen to grumpy old grinders who think everyone is bad at poker. Do your own research and think outside the box to find soft tournament fields and keep your travel expenses to a minimum.

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