Early MTT Strategy

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Early Stage MTT Strategy

The early stage of a multi-table tournament includes the first 1-5 blind levels or until the antes come into play.  Learning which starting hands to play in the early stages of a poker tournament is 70% of the battle in my opinion.  Once you get this right you’re more or less ahead of 90% of the field in micro-stakes tournaments against players who either play too loosely or too nitty and TAG. Below you’ll find some articles pointing you into the right direction to determine which starting hands to stick to.

Early Stage MTT Starting Hand Ranges:

In the early stages of multi-table tournaments you need to be super tight and you should only be calling to see the flop with 10-15%  of the hands your dealt.  If you’re using a poker hud then a VPIP%/PRF% of around 15/10 seems about right.  Especially from early position such as the blinds and UTG you should only be opening premium hands such as AA, KK, QQ, AK, AQ, and high pockets.    

The correct way to play marginal hands (low pockets pairs and suited connectors) depends entirely on your position at the table.  From late position, marginal hands like these become profitable to limp or even open-raise with because there are less opponents left to act and the chances of getting re-raised are much slimmer.  Remember that in the early stages of a tournament you’re almost certain to get re-raised by an opponent with AQ+ on a 10-man table, hence you should only be playing hands that you can afford to call raises with.  By limping in LP, you also have a positional advantage on the flop, turn and river. You’ll able to see what your opponent does before you make your move and you can cbet or float-play him profitably in position.  If you did this out of position then these moves would be considerably less EV  would leave you in a more vulnerable position on later streets.  Basically, in all games of poker the earlier your position at the table the tighter your hand selection needs to be.  For example, JJ can be played in mid-late position in MTTs, but I’m going to fold it often when I’m sitting in EP facing a re-raiser. 

Entering pots outside this hand range means you’re playing too loose and falling into the biggest mistake new players make. When you play too many marginal hands out of position you’ll start to find that the blinds will quickly eat away at your stack.  You also won’t have the stack size needed (around 40BBs) going into the middle stages where effective stacks and fold equity becomes important for stealing pots and getting the right fold equity for bullying nitty small stacks. You can open up your hand range slightly on a tight table (average VPIP% of less than 10% using tournament indicator) but you should never be playing worse hands then J10 offsuit in the early stages.  

In terms of set-mining, I’ll happily limp from early position in the middle stages of a tournament because the tiny blinds and deep stacks (average stack of 100BBs) gives you the implied odds for hitting your set. You can even call a raise with low pocket pairs because there’s little danger of running into trouble on a missed flop: it’s a simple raise/fold situation.

New players also tend to enter pots too loosely from the blinds, calling open-raises from BB with trashy hands like K7.  This is silly because there is literally zero chance of beating an opponent at showdown and you’ll almost always be beaten with a better kicker. You should only be flat-calling from the blinds if you’ve got a drawing hand or a premium hand you want to limp-shove/trap with, though  I strongly suggest reading blind-defending for a better understanding of playing from the blinds.

Even new players reading this should successfully get through the earlier stages of a tournament.  It’s all very basic ABC stuff, and you shouldn’t get into many difficult post-flop situations by sticking to a tight starting hand selection.   The early stage is literally just about playing your top hands from position and conserving your chip stack for the middle stages.   A lot of agro-maniac and nit players will be busting out in the early stages too, which gives extra rewards to slow-playing. 

Never Call Preflop with Rag Aces

A Rag ace hand (Ace hands with low kickers such as A5 or A7) are the devil’s advocate and one of the most unprofiable hands that you can play with in the early stages of an MTT.  The problem is that rag aces are dominated post-flop by better kickers, and if you start raising or calling pre-flop with a hand like A7 than you’re almost guaranteed to be behind and looking at trouble.  When you enter a pot with A7, you’re basically hoping to make either top two pair or a set with your kicker to take down the pot.  The odds of this happening are around 15%, hence neither of these gives you pot odds or implied odds to play the hand.  Rag ace hands are also terrible hands to limp with pre-flop because they’re both poor absolute hands and have limited potential to improve.  What I mean by this i that in reality you’re far better playing a pre-flop hand like 6-7 off suit because while A7 has more equity pre-flop, 6-7 off suit has the potential to make pairs, two pairs, sets or even straights that have bigger implied odds and are great for setting up monster traps against loose agressive players. 

Playing Pocket Pairs & Suited Connectors in Late Position

Playing small pocket pairs and suited connectors in late position can be profitable however knowing when it’s +EV to do so is important. To play marginal hands these hands in late or middle position in the early stages you need to get the right implied odds, which normally requires at LEAST 4 other players in the hand.  You’ll hit a set on the flop with pocket pairs about 11% of the time so if you need to calculte the right implied/pot odds to play these hands.  Playing pocket pairs in mid and late position is also effective in tournaments because it’s an easy fold if you miss. 

Don’t Steal/Defend the Blinds

In the first 5-6 levels of a poker tournament there is no need to steal, bluff or over-commit to defending your blinds.  They simply don’t provide enough value to bluff in this stage of the tournament – I’m not personally bothered about risking my chip stack with some junk hand just to win an extra 30 chips.  To put it in perspective, they will only be worth around 1% of your stack here, howevever as this number increases to 5% in the middle stages they become very important to steal/defend. 

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2 Responses to “Early MTT Strategy”

  1. Jamie says:

    Nice article , however don’t you think its okay to say that we can play low pocket pairs 22-66 in early position at early stages of the tourney? It wont cost us much to see a flop and with players having 100bb, we can cause a lot of damage if we do HIT our set in a multiway pot and double/tremble up.. I think it’ss important to play tight at the early stages but also I think you do need to take advantage of weak players on the table, so maybe opening up with more of wider range of hands in position will be right play espically if you can out play your opponents post flop?

    Hands like Ax suited they can make nut flushes, and suited connectors these hands are good to play in mid/late position limping with these hands if u have a few callers ( 4 players at the least) will make this play EV+.

  2. mosesbet says:

    Thanks for visiting Jamie.
    The problem with limping from early position is that you will often see raises, and then you risk too many chips with those not so premium hands. Low pairs can also be dominated by another set. You can play the hands mentioned, but it’s better to play them only from late position.
    If you feel bored while playing online just add additional tables, this will keep you away from playing such marginal hands.