Beginners MTT Strategy Guide

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General Multi-Table Tournament Strategy

Online poker tournaments are everywhere, and players are continuously trying to break the biggest events on Sundays such as the Full Tilt’s Monthly Million and Bodog’s juicy $100k Gtd – with a $20k overlay.  Acheiving a final table finish in these games can be life changing for new players but hardly any players know the secrets or basic fundementals to winning them.  This articles provides a guide to playing big field MTTs like these and how to make it to the bubble.

Introduction to Tournaments

If you’ve played cash games before, you should realise strategy for tournaments is completely different.  All cash game decisions are based on a function called cEV or “chip equity”.  In touraments, the $EV or tournament equity is much more important.   

Unlike cash games, MTTs have increasing blind levels and antes which makes pots more valuable, leading to more agression and bluffing.  At the top end of the spectrum, you need to learn how to bluff, value shove, 3bet and take greater risks than you would in cash games.  Factors such as position, your stack size, the M-Ratio, and the stage of the tournament are more important..

Early Stage MTT Strategy

The early stages of a poker tournament includes the first 1 – 5 blind levels – or until the antes begin.  In a 10 or 9 seated MTTs players need to be playing super tight in the early stages of a tournament, this means only enter pots with premium hands like AA, QQ or AK.  Players need to fold all other hands when sat in early positions because they’re not profitable to call flops on a hit and miss basis – it’s negative expected value.  I strongly recommend reading starting hands for poker tournaments at this stage.

Players should be acheiving an average flop percentage of 10 – 15% (the exact figure ofcourse depending on the action on your table).  For marginal hands like mid-pocket pairs and suited connectors you should be limping only from middle and late position – and only if there are more than 4 other players involved in the pot (this helps generate the implied odds needed).  The blinds during the early stages of MTTs are also very small (about 1% of your chipstack) so there’s no need to much bluff or value-shove for them pre-flop. 

The most important thing to stress in both the early and middle strategy is to never ever slow play high pocket pairs.  Always raise these cards 3-4xBBs regardless of position – and if there’s a raise infront then make sure you hit back with a re-raise up to 3 x his opening bet.  The last thing to want when you’re holding pocket Aces is to be involved in a 5-way pot on the flop.

Middle Stage MTT Strategy

This is the most crucial stage of any tournament because it’s where players need to accumulate the most chips, double up fast enough to survive the rising blinds, an break into the MTT bubble (in the money).

Starting hands should include premium hands AK, AQ (and AJ in late position),  as well as pocket pairs and suited connectors from mid-late position.  It’s recommended to raise all these hands preflop, especially in middle or late position when there’s only been check/calls.  Limping into pots with hands like low suited connectors is also ok from late position with no previous raises.  Also, don’t be scared to be raising drawing hands like flush or straight draws in early position on the flop.  Although you normally wouldn’t call a raise with a drawing hand on such a board (negative pot value), opening the betting on the same board can be +EV because it gives  greater fold equity on later streets  (especially with regards to ICM) and better implied odds than check-calling.

Good quality players will be utilising a loose agressive strategy 3betting and making value shoves in the middle stages – especially if they’re small stacked or big stacked.  This is because small stack MTT strategy involves jamming and  make risky moves.  On the other hand, big stacks will constantly be bluffing to steal the blinds and grinding out chips from tighter players.  Most importantly, in HU players should nearly always continuation bet the flop in early position.  Remember about 60% of the time your opponent will miss the flop, and even if he’s holding pockets or mid-pair a strong continuation bet such as a half-pot raise can throw weak players off.  When bluffing, also remember what table image is being putting across.  If you get caught bluffing too often on the flop than no ones going to respect you.  3 barreling is becoming way more important to succeed in tourneys in my opinion. 

ICM and the Bubble: Quality tournament players approaching the bubble should familiarise themsevles with ICM (Independant Chip Model).  This calculates a player’s current equity stake in a tournament, which helps to make decisions calling, folding, shoving, and the hand ranges for doing so as you approach the bubble.  Remember, when approaching the bubble the risks of calling a player’s all-in much greater than the rewards with regrards to ICM pot equity.  Even with an exceptionally strong hand like AK, there are plenty of times to fod if a big stack player has shoved infront of you. 

Final Stage MTT Strategy

Towards the final stage, the blinds and stakes will be so high (combined with the antes) that most the action and pots will be taken down pre-flop because of being pot-committed (this may not be true if everyone’s deepstacked).  Make sure you raise with all your pockets or premium hands pre-flop because taking the pot down pot here holds massive value at this stage.  Shoving premium hands early also looks kind of weaker and can get greater value from loose callers.  Also players need to re-raise short stack opponents who’re just trying to stay till the next payoff level.

Lastly, when you make the final table remember to open up your game as it becomes short-handed. Pre-flop hands such as J7 can be raised in mid-position you’ll likely to only be called by one opponent.  A continuation bet on the flop will also take the pot down more times than none – plus any re-raise action is an easy fold.  Read pot-stealing tournament scenarios for more information.

Conclusion on How to Play MTTs Successfully

Remember that the quality of opponents should change how you play your hands in MTTs.  The quality more or less depends on the MTT buy-in.  A $10 low stakes MTT will be easier to win than a $40 mid-stkes MTT.  The guidelines above are pretty general, but ultimately the way you play your hands on the flop should mostly reflect and depend on your opponents and your hand-reading of them.

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