MTT Tournament Strategy | Learn Tournament Poker Strategy

Multi-table tournaments or MTT’s are super exciting to play. They offer a chance to participate in huge prize pools with relatively small buy-ins! Nowadays, it is easy to find big online poker sites MTT’s with thousands of participants and with different levels of buy-ins.

The basic principles of poker apply to MTT’s. Still, depending on the stage, MTT tournament strategy has some particularities that you need to comprehend to become a winning player! The different stages present different challenges, and you need to keep adapting to the changing conditions, like the introduction of antes or playing near the bubble.

Early Stages

The early stages of MTTs are quite similar to cash games. This is because the players’ stacks are relatively big compared to the blinds, there are no antes in play, and the prize pool is still far to have any influence. So, the basic principles discussed in “basic strategy” apply.

There is, however, a dissimilarity you can exploit. In most MTTs, players cannot re-buy. If you lose all your chips, you are out of the tournament! Some players, particularly in live events, will fear busting out early on. They may have invested in the tournament, or want to stick around the longest possible, so they will avoid risking all their chips in one hand early on. If you spot someone playing timidly, you can exploit his weakness.

Other than that, stick to solid tight-aggressive play and try to enter more pots with drawing hands against week opponents, as at this stage, stacks are deep.

Middle stages

In the middle stages, blinds increase substantially, and strategy shifts drastically. With 20-30 big blind average stacks, you are now mostly playing short stack poker. In a nutshell, drawing hands go down in value as implied odds of making a drawing hand are limited by stack sizes. Conversely, high cards, and big pairs become more valuable. Also, some pot commitment situations may arise. This means that you or your opponents may reach a point in a hand where folding to an all-in bet is incorrect, as pot odds compared to winning odds oblige a call.

Stealing blinds and antes

When antes come into play, you are obliged to change gears! With forced bets being significantly increased, patiently waiting for premium hands is no longer an option. Playing too tightly will drain you out! Keep in mind that to maintain your stack level, you need to pick up the blinds and the antes about once per round.

Before any player puts money voluntarily to the pot, there is a lot of money, so “stealing” it becomes very lucrative. As Gus Hansen puts it in “every Hand Revealed,” an excellent book, when antes kick in, there are no more excuses. You have to start making some aggressive moves!

The larger the antes, the more you are forced to play aggressively. In some cases, antes can add up to an extra big blind or more. With 2.5 BBs forced bets per round, a stack of 20 BBs will completely bleed out in 8 rounds! So, staying afloat demands aggressive play.

In general, stealing from late position has more chances of working out. The main reason is that there are fewer people left to act, so it is less likely that someone has a hand worth fighting back. Be careful, as steal attempts from late positions are less credible, and an experienced player may read your steal attempts and try to re-steal. Another point to notice with antes is that, as there is more money in the pot, you often have to make a more significant raise. Otherwise, you are giving the big blind good enough pot odds to call to see a flop. This is especially true if you try to steal from the small blind, as the big blind will also have position on you on consecutive betting rounds.

An Example

You are in the middle stages of a MTT. The blinds are 100$/200$, and the antes are 25$. There are eight players on the table, so the total pot is 500$. You have a stack of 5.000$ (25BB), sitting in the cut-off with A♠2♠, and the action is folded to you. What should you do?

Unless the opponents left to act are overly aggressive, this is an excellent spot to steal the blinds and antes. A bet of 2.5 BB only needs to work 50% of the time to break even, without even considering seeing the flop! Having an ace also helps you as it decreases the chances that someone has a big ace and is willing to re-raise you.

The Re-Steal

As players become increasingly eager to steal blinds to stay afloat, some start raising too loosely. In most cases, however, they intend to pick up blinds cheaply with the minimum possible risk. As a consequence, they will often let go of their hand when faced with a re-raise. This situation can be extremely profitable, especially when the effective stacks are 12-20 BB.

By observing which players steal too loosely, you can try to re-steal from them, by pushing all-in. By re-stealing an initial steal attempt, you get to pick up the blinds, the antes, along with the opener’s bet!

An Example

Let’s take a look at an example. You are the big blind and have 15 BBs after posting the blind. The action is folded to the button, a loose-aggressive player, that raises to 2.5 BBs. Including blinds and antes, there are 5 BBs in the pot. The small blind folds. What should you do?

You estimate that the player raises in this spot very loosely, with a range of 50% of his starting hands. Let’s say that, if you push all-in, your opponent will only call and risk his tournament, with a 10% range. This means that your opponent will only call 20% of the time you move all-in! In this case, the all-in is profitable, no matter what your hand is. Even with 72o, you have an expected profit of more than 2.5 BBs on average!

Even if in the example above, you can push all-in with any hand, it is best not to overdo it. Choose starting hands that are less likely to be dominated. Suited connectors and pairs are good hands, and of course, value hands like an ace or king with good kickers are also good candidates.

Note that if you have effective stacks of less than 10 BBs, when you go all-in, your opponent will be getting very high pot odds to call. So your fold equity may be close to zero. This means that you should only raise in such spots when you have a hand with which you want to go all-in.

So, what about the bubble?

In the above discussion, we presumed that you are far from the bubble. When you get closer to the prize pool, the value of your chips gets distorted significantly. A single chip can get you into the money and therefore earn you a significant prize. As a short stack, risking your stack in 50-50 confrontations is a bad idea. The bigger the step, or the entry money, the more players have to hang on to their stacks!

However, since most players are aware of this principle, if your stack allows it, you can play aggressively and exploit it! Short stacks will be playing very tight, folding everything but monster hands. Even when they call preflop, they will be unwilling to continue after the flop and risk their stack, without a strong hand. For that reason, the bubble is a particularly profitable stage for big stacks, as they can pressure small stacks with little chance of them fighting back. Targeted aggression in that stage can win you a ton of chips!

In the money!

When the bubble breaks, the situation changes radically! Short and very short stacks are now relieved from the pressure to make it into the money, feeling somehow euphoric. They are also eager to push their chips into the pot and try to build their stack, so your calling range should loosen up a little.

Playing the final table

Even if making it into the money is excellent, it is by far the first few spots that have the biggest prises! The main thing to notice at that point is that the stakes are considerably higher. Notice which players are outside their comfort zone, and how they play. If they have tightened up, play aggressively against them. Also, keep in mind that, as the field shortens, you start playing short-handed, and hopefully, heads-up to compete for the win! So, be sure to adapt your play accordingly.

In a nutshell

Multi-table tournaments are a great and fun way to attempt to win huge prizes with a relatively small buy-in! Even if the early stages of an MTT are quite similar to cash games, the middle stages are quite different. This is because as the blinds increase, and antes kick-in, aggressive play becomes imposed. Furthermore, approaching the prize pool presents new challenges and opportunities.

Be sure to post any questions or suggestions that you may have. I will do my best to answer them.

4 thoughts on “MTT Tournament Strategy | Learn Tournament Poker Strategy

  1. I must say I have always been into poker, but never played MTTs! It sucks that, if you lose all of your chips you are out! But I guess that’s part of the game. It was interesting reading how stealing blinds and antes is such a big thing, I didn’t realize it. It leads to an interesting and competitive game I’m sure. 

  2. Great strategies. I have been playing and won some multi-table online tournaments. I also played in a couple of close ones at local casinos and you have to be ready to play tight as the night goes on. It is good to see more tips on how the strategy works and learn how to play at different stages. Again I love this article.

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