A Freeroll Poker Strategy to Help You Win the Big Tournaments

One of the ways that a poker site tries to attract people to their site rather than the competition is to offer poker players what they have fantasized about since first seeing the game on TV: A huge tournament. Most legal US online poker sites found on our website offer what is called a freeroll, as this is a tournament where you can literally enter without having to put any money down and win actual prizes. The prizes offered will vary ranging from $100 up to $5000 in total prize money. Some of these freerolls are actually satellite tournaments, where winning the freeroll will buy your entry into a huge tournament either on the site or on location somewhere at a place like Vegas. It's easy to see why these tournaments are so popular on poker sites. Most sites will host a few per day.

As Chris "Jesus" Ferguson proved some years ago, a poker player can enter a poker site with $0, do well in freerolls, and roll that money over and have over $10,000 in their account in under a year. However, you need to know how to navigate the tough terrain of a freeroll. Donkeys and lucky draws and players not caring about risking their spot because they didn't pay anything to get in; this is a minefield. You probably will not win; the odds are against it. However, with the right strategy, and a little luck, you can put yourself in a position to finish in the money; and if you're in a good chip position when the payout threshold is broken, you may be able to switch gears and school the competition en route to a victory. A lot of ifs, some of which are pretty big ifs, but it all starts with strategy.

Understand the Flow of a Freeroll/Free Satellite

Understand how the freeroll is going to work. This is the first thing you have to get your head around. You're playing in a tournament that cost no money to enter, and so more than half the people there are just going to be killing time or having fun. About 10% of the crowd will probably not even be present, with an "Away" sign over their avatar. Then you have a hefty chunk of players who simply want to push their chips in every hand in an attempt to get lucky. As we mentioned earlier, and we'll reiterate here, you probably won't win a freeroll. But you can, with some luck and skill, navigate your way to the money finish. And it all starts with understanding what you're in for. You cannot enter into a freeroll and play with the donkeys, nor can you adopt a big-money strategy where you sit and wait. You have to be a predator without running with the pack.

If you are able to understand how to do this, then you might just survive a few blind levels and work your way up the chip leader charts. And that's a very important part about freerolls. The number-one reason you cannot wait around forever picking your spots is that the action is forced by doubling blinds every 7 minutes or so, which is basically every 3 to 4 hands on average. Just when you think your $1,700 stack is looking decent to get you through the first few rounds of bust-outs, those blinds get up to $150-$300 and you don't even have 10x the BB and will be forced into action. This is where you need to adopt the lone wolf (predator) strategy, which we will explain directly below.

Be an Early Aggressor

View yourself as a tiger out there on the African plains. You see a group of other tigers all chasing the same group of gazelles, but you see a couple of soft-target gazelles in the distance. Don't run with the pack. You're liable to miss out on getting your fill. Be a lone predator and chase your prey independent of the pack. In a poker context, this means going into a freeroll with the idea of being an early aggressor. Not too early, mind you; allow a few hands for the biggest donkeys to weed themselves out. Within the first blind level, 90% of the novices and maniacs are culled from the herd, and the other 10% have tripled their stacks or better and have put the brakes on, thinking they can win. They'll become our whipping posts later on. For right now, it's about being that tiger.

Try to wait, if you can, until you have decent table position early on in the tournament. If you have folded to this point, it gives you three distinct advantages. One, people know you're not a donkey and that if you push in, you probably have a good pocket. Two, you have seen which players act in which fashion. Three, you see who limps in and who raises; e.g. if people are raising you up, wait until the next hand. So, let's say it's the 7th hand, about 200 people have busted out already, and you get a K-J off-suit in decent position and no one has raised a lot. In a real-money tournament you would never do this, but you have to eat or be eaten in a freeroll. You have to push your chips out there and take a risk. More often than not, you're only going to get one or two bites at this point, and anyone who limped into the pot probably doesn't have a better pocket than you do. This in no way means you'll win, but having the better pocket pre-flop does mean that you're going to have a better chance of winning.

Now, if you don't get the cards to push, go ahead and wait another go-'round for position, hoping some luck finds you. But you need to act quickly here, within the first few rounds of play. If you're able to do this correctly without suffering a bad beat, then you'll be looking at least at a double-up, if not a triple-up, and will be in a good position to actually start playing poker. Yes, this strategy can put you right out of the tournament. But it's a necessity to do well in a freeroll. If you're not doubling up in the first few rounds, the blinds will eat you. If you double only having $300, you still only have $600, and the next round of blinds eats you again. You'll live in a perpetual state of short stack, and the time you think you have a good hand is when someone has pocket aces. Be a lion early and eat your meal! Even if it doesn't work this time, it will next time. All of the sites we've reviewed on have multiple freerolls during the day.

Play Strong From Position

This step is assuming that the previous has worked out well for you and that you now have around $3,000 or so in chips. As you look at the leaderboards, you're probably going to see some players with $12, $15, and even $20k in chips. The goal here with this strategy is to get to the middle of the road, where blinds aren't a concern, and to start playing poker. After you have a bit of chip security, you can relax a bit and just start playing hands on their merits and playing off of your opponents. For instance, if you have read any of our strategy articles before, then you know it's basically mandatory to scope your competition and to see how they play. For instance, does player 6 check-raise after a flop every time? Does player 8 limp into pots and then call everything down? Does player 2 raise pre-flop but then fold immediately after a bet? Players give away their tendencies if you look hard enough. To use another tiger analogy, they cannot change their stripes. Now that you have some chips, you want to start seeing more flops, especially from position, and making players pay for getting into the hands with you.

If you're in a hand with that player who check-raises every time, and you have a good hand, make him prove that he's got the goods. Re-raise him, putting the pressure back on him, and one of two things are going to happen that are good for you. He's either going to fold, or he's going quickly throw all-in. Folding is great, but you might be worried about the all-in. Don't be; this is a scare tactic. If he actually had a hand, he'd be wanting to play for pot odds, unwilling to scare away good chips. This is something to keep in mind. It's not universal, but 9 times out of 10 that someone just throws all-in instantly, the odds that they have a winning hand are slim to none. If they had a winner, they would try to extract chips from as many players as possible; they wouldn't want everyone to fold. In the event the player simply calls, then allow it to go to a check on the final river, as he may be betting for value here and will not be put off the hand.

Play strong from good table position (the blinds and the button) and don't be fooled by players who wear their tendencies like t-shirts. There's always a chance they will outdraw you on a river, but the odds are in your favor if only you play statistically solid poker. Working your way up through the middle levels gives you about a 40% boost every winning hand, as the blinds are getting larger now. Barring any bad beats or bonehead moves on your part, you should be able to flip that $3k into $10k or so, as you prepare for the final push. You still want to be aggressive here, growing at your dinner, but do so from a strong position where you get to dictate the final say.

Survey New Tables and Typecast the Competition

One very common occurrence in a freeroll is that your table will be changed randomly. We call this getting drafted, but it's simply the automated system of the tournament resitting the tables based on the number of players still alive. You can't have 30 tables going with 4 players on each. They have to shrink this down. When this happens to you, which it will if you survive long enough, just relax and survey the field. Unless you get a killer pocket in the first couple of hands, or unless they throw you into the blinds where you can limp in, don't play hands. Even if you have a mid-level pair, sacrifice it to get a read on other players. See which players are aggressive, which are passive, which know what they're doing, etc. Remember, in poker it's much more than the cards you're dealt; it's the players. If you look around the table and cannot spot the sucker, you're the sucker. It's as simple as that.

Now, you're not going to become an expert on every player, but in a few hands you will learn who the aggressors are and who the tight players are. This is to your advantage when you do play a hand because you will know the difference between a chip bully posturing and someone who may have a good hand. At this point in a freeroll, you can let your skills shine and the chips fall where they may. Don't engage with a chip bully if you don't have the goods, but if you do have the goods, do not back down. You have to take a stand as soon as you can, or else it will be in your mind that you can just wait for a better spot. And that better spot may never come. Poker players typically fall into "types," and in freerolls you have donkeys (the loose players), bullies (the guys who just push pots up constantly), the silent majority (the players who, like you, try to pick their spots), and the sheeple (players who wait around trying to get pocket aces and end up blinding out). The idea in this leg of the tournament is to blend in with the table dynamic, stepping up and claiming pots when you have the position and the cards to do so. Bigger stacks might try to pick on you if you're weaker, but pick your spots and show them that you're not about to back down. After the bully gets hit a time or two, he'll shrink up and protect his stack. He's only the bully with chips; with a shorter stack, he's a surefire seat-warmer on the rail.

Downshift in Later Rounds

Okay, so you've followed the strategy thus far, you look at the leaderboards, and there's only 14 players remaining. You're already in the money, having cashed for a few bucks, but now you might be able to grind to a final table. In big-money tournaments, where players actually have to put in real cash, this is the point where everyone tightens up and just tries to survive. In freerolls, however, this is the point where people are trying to make double-ups for the final table. So be careful of stepping into all-ins. People who got in for free can live with a $5 payout, so they view it as a no-risk maneuver to slam their chips into the middle of the table with only two tables left. Downshift from your aggressive, predator style of play and shift into real-money mode. Gauge the competition; make cold, calculated moves; don't engage with people out of position or without the cards.

You're now all about playing a game of position and timing. Let the weaker players weed themselves out, or at least least expose themselves to you. Make sure you engage only when in a statistically strong position to do so. But don't be afraid to tangle with anyone if you have position and power. You don't want to revert to being a bully, but you also do not want to be a pushover. Take your time, pick your spots, and do you damage. With a little luck, you can make it to that final table and perhaps have a shot at winning it all.

Be advised when using this strategy that this is only a freeroll strategy. Any other tournament structure will be vastly different, and you should not attempt to use this strategy for any other style of game.