Texas Holdem Tournament Strategy
Hold'em tournaments can be broken down into three major phases: early, middle, and late.
This is the beginning of the tournament. Blinds are still low relative to stack size, and there is still a long way to go. The goal here is to SURVIVE. Avoid risky plays. Stick with the starting hands given to you in Preflop Strategy page and you should be ok.
People pay good money to enter tournaments, and don't want to drop out. If you see raises in front of you, and you have a questionable hand, just fold it. At this point, it isn't worth risking near-even money just for a chance at the pot.
A special note about freerolls: in these free tournaments, it is not uncommon for many people to go all-in with a less than premium hand early on in hopes of doubling up. I suggest avoiding big bets in the first few hands, even if your hand looks strong. There is a good chance that you will be put all in or tempted to call and be drawn out at the river.
Overall, you want to keep a reasonable amount of chips here and get on to the next phase....
At this point, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the field should be gone, and the blinds will be creeping up. What does this mean?
First, it means that the blinds are now worth stealing for two main reasons. The most obvious reason is that they are worth more. Your risk-reward profile is much nicer here than in the early stage. Second, most of the looser players will be out of the tournament, so you will be more likely to bluff out the tighter players with a bet in late position (on the button or a seat to the right).
In general, to steal the blinds you should probably bet around 4-5x the big blind to keep people from being tempted to call. It is definitely harder to do this with a short stack, however.
I'm short stacked here from playing tight... what now?
At this point in the tournament, you need to evaluate where you are. If you are around 1/2 the average stack size, you need to start making some moves. If your stack has reached 5x the big blind or less, you MUST look to double up within the next 5-6 hands.
What hand is strong enough to go all-in with?
You must not just go in with -any- hand. At the very least, you should try for a pair or a hand with at least a King or Ace. Ideally, you want something with a decent kicker too. Something like J9 or QT if you are desperate, and preferrably better.