Middle Stage MTT Strategy

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Middle Stage MTT Strategy

In the previous article we emphased the importance of playing tight-conservative poker for the first few rounds.  This includes minimising the number pots you enter and not wasting too much time stealing or defending the blinds.  

However, once the antes start and the middle stage begins you need to open up your game and play more agressively.  The middle stage is where you need to accumulate chips as fast as possible.  The blinds and antes become significantly large (up to 10% of your stack). 

You’ll lots of action including pot stealing/re-stealing, loose players jamming UTG, and the loosest players shoving with marginal hands in EP.  It can be very difficult for tight players to adapt to 

Basic Mid-Stage Tournament Concepts

In terms of how we define “loose agressive strategy” which is essential for this stage, you need to be aware of bluffing, blind stealing, re-stealing, blind defending, value shoving and cbetting.  I’ve written articles on all these topics incase you need to expand your knowledge.   The middle stage of a tournament is also where most the unskilled players will be caught out. Players who lack knowledge of tournament equity and how to play to agressively will get caught out. 

Bluffing, Aggression and Value-Shoving is Key

 You just need to bluff and steal in as many profitable situations as possible.  In the middle stages of MTTs you should be  hitting back and re-raising against LP players who’re blind-stealing with marginal hands. For example, 10J and JQ suited are good hands to do this in mid-position.

Players often ask how often do I need to be blind-stealing?   You need to blind steal from late and mid positions as often as possible.  Strong tournament players – especially in $20 buy-in games and above will actually expect you to steal from late position.  This is partically why stealing from mid-position is far more effective becauseit shows more strength.

The value of pre-flop pots at this stage increases with the antes.  You should be value shoving mediocre hands (high suited connectors) pre-flop in early position.  In general if you’re going to shove in the middle stages it’s best to jam it in the earliest position possible. 

In addition, you should also be continuation betting flops when sat out of position against tight players or pots with less than 2 opponents.  Poker theory dictates you’ll only have to win 1/3 times for a half-pot sized continuation bet to break even.  Remember cards that make a pair to the flop are the best.

When you’re playing from the blinds in this stage it’s necessary to defend them once in a while and not fall into the trap of calling too often from BB or SB with junk.  Although you’ll ocassionally get pot-odds from calling on the blinds, you’ll be out of position and behind for the rest of the hand.  You should always avoid calling from the blinds to opening bet sunless you have implied odds or are limp-shoving.  The most effective way to defend blinds is by re-raising (limp shoving). 

If someone shows weakness post-flop you should raise any drawinghand with potential such as 8-9 or A-J.  Unlike early MTT strategy you have to take bigger risks here and force yourself to steal.  Don’t be under the impression defensive/optimal play will get you a decent payoff in tournaments – it’s very much about he who jams first or steals the most.  The most important thing  when bluffing in a tournament (Scotty Ngyugen notes) is to make sure you still have outs incase you get called

Finally, if you have the best hand on a flop it’s never bad play to just jam your stack with more than two opponents in the pot. It makes your hand look weak, meaning you’ll get better value from looser calls yet it also prevents drawing players getting decent pot odds.  Lot’s of pros argue there’s better value overbetting pots in MTTs thanflat calling. Value-shoving KK or AA in EP in the mid-late stages of a tournament for example if +EV.

Best Stealing Positions in Tournaments

Knowing the best stealing posititions in tournaments is really important.  I recommend reading this article tournament stealing situations to grab more information for mid-stage strategy tips.

ICM Bubble Play

The ICM (Independant Chip Model) is really important  for making profitable decisions towards the bubble.  It’s a complex/mathematical calculation that bases tournament decisions (shoving, calling or folding) based on your “tournament equity”. 

Your equity is calculated based on your chip stack, the chip stack of your opponents and the tournament payoff structure. It produces more profitable decisions when you take it into account.   For example, when you’re approaching the bubble there’ll usually be greater tournament equity folding to a player who has you stacked and moves all-in, rather then calling – even if you think you have him beat.  Use programs such as SNG Wizard to help you make these decisions.  As a general rule for ICM bubble play, you should be playing much tighter than you normally would, and be very skeptical about calling a medium stack player’s all-in. 

Control the Table

I don’t honestly beleive it’s important to “control the table”.   It’s important to maintain a loose/agressive image and prevent players bullying you, but at the same time you shouldn’t feel an obligation to “call” players to check up on them.  You just want to have enough respect to give you fold equity for your steals yet a loose enough image to get value for your overbets and shoves.  Overall it’s important to mix up your game and not become predictable. 

3betting against weak opponents from early position is a good example of mixing it up (read this for 3betting tips).   Take advantage of weak players and make sure you’re the bully and not the victim.  It only takes a couple of hands to stamp down your authority on the table and  if you’re spotted folding too many times to re-steals everyone at the table will take advantage and re-raise you. 

This is the opposite of what you want. Stamp down your authority and you’ll win more pots with re-raises and bluffs – and players will think twice before raising ahead of you in an earlier position.  Also remember that on a loose table you want to play tight and limp shove/extract value from premium hands. 

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