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Tournament Poker Strategy

Multi-Table Poker Tournaments

Online Tournament Strategy Tips

by David Huber
How to Play Tournament Poker

Multi Table Strategy

Multi-Table OnlineOnline poker sites have grown exponentially over the last few years - with better overall game selection being one of the many benefits. Gone are the days when a player would have to “wait in line” for 20 minutes to fill a single-table Sit & Go tournament; or be forced to jump site-to-site to find a suitable cash game. Nowadays, online poker players zip in and out of Texas Hold ‘em, Omaha Hold ‘em, Draw Poker, and Stud cash games/tournaments quite similar to the way many Internet Users open and close instant messenger conversations. And although each type of game has its ups & downs, there is absolutely no comparison to the long-term challenge and gut-wrenching emotion that are an integral part of Multi-Table Tournaments.

Online Multi-Table Tournaments (MTT’s) have “arrived” in a big way. Whether it’s 4:00 in the afternoon or early-morning, chances are there will be more than a few MTT’s starting up across the major poker sites. There are even websites that rank MTT players and thus; have created a handful of celebrities who rake in six-figure profits almost exclusively from playing the largest online tournaments. With real money buy-ins ranging from pennies to over $500, they fit nicely into just about any budget, while providing beginners with invaluable tournament experience at a very low cost.

But exactly what does it take to be a successful MTT player? And how can YOU collect a nice profit from playing these tournaments? Well, the aim of this article is to provide a player with options - not answers. While no “magical solution” exists, there are many fundamental concepts and levels of comprehension that can point a struggling online tournament player in the correct direction and guide him/her along the path to vast improvement. Before we get started though, let’s take a look at the basic considerations a player must take into account before signing-up for an online MTT:

Time – Do you actually have several hours (or more) available to play this particular tourney? Some of these can go from sunrise to sunset, so if you have a previous commitment, do yourself a favor and choose another type of game that fits into your schedule.

Blind Structure – ‘Speed’ tournaments eliminate player fields much faster than ‘Deep Stacks’ tourneys. In some cases, it might take a player less than an hour or longer than 10 hours to finish. Also, some sites have very significant Blind Structure differences when it comes to MTT’s. Before you sign-up, you should be comfortable with whatever Blind Structure you’re going to be forced to deal with; and be prepared to adapt your play accordingly.

Bankroll – You should be cautious about how much you spend on a particular buy-in. MTT’s are notorious for negative variance, and it’s quite common to bust out of five (or many more) consecutive tourneys without cashing once. A general rule of thumb is to keep more than enough buy-ins in your account to handle the inevitable variance that goes hand-in-hand with large player fields in online tourneys.


The Beginning Stages

Once a player has entered an online MTT, it’s time to decide which basic strategy to implement. Although playing Super-Tight during early stages is one of the most boring initial strategies, it’s not all that bad for a beginning player learning the ropes; and it’s certainly the safest route (not to mention the most-appropriate during many low buy-in tourneys).

That being said, chip-accumulation is key at all points in an online MTT – and you won’t be able to rely solely on getting dealt great cards in the vast majority of cases. Players who loosen-up and play more hands ultimately give themselves a better overall shot at amassing a large chip-stack. But a word of caution: whatever style you choose to implement should have the word “selective” before it. This means that a player should attempt to find reasons for making specific plays instead of pushing chips back and forth without contemplating the circumstances or preparing to get played back at by opponents.

Since we don’t have any read or information on the players at our table (unless you have previous notes on them), the first few orbits should be used to gain a general perspective of the other players seated at our table. Is a player raising a lot of pots pre-flop and showing down rags? Are there a couple of players who haven’t played any hands expect from the blinds? Try to make note of which players you’d rather go up against if you happen to get involved in a pot early-on.


The Middle Stages

Now that half the participants have been eliminated, it’s time to start putting in some real effort. Hopefully, you’ve managed to land yourself with a decent-sized stack by implementing whatever basic strategy you decided on. But now you need to pay very close attention to the action at your table and adapt your style of play to what you’re seeing. Players who aren’t able to adapt during the middle stages of an online tourney get eaten alive by pure circumstances (unless their pre-determined strategy just happens to be the most appropriate for the table they’re playing at). A player can pick up value by betting (or folding) certain hands based on the general tendencies of opponents.

One of the most common mistakes made by novice players at this juncture is to tighten-up and sneak into the money. Many become intimidated as the table quickly fills with players who have large chip-stacks (and aren’t afraid to use them). In most online MTT’s, this will be your last chance to truly play a “natural” post-flop game against opponents before the blinds increase even more. And unless you’re Hell-bent on crawling into the money with only a few chips, you’re going to have to outplay some of your opponents in order to stay in contention for the Big Bucks.

You should feel fortunate to have a couple of opponents with oversized chip-stacks who are willing to call down your Top Pair with their mediocre draw or lower pair… but you’ll never have a chance to exploit opponents’ weaknesses if you refuse to get involved in pots. Of course, if you happen to get dealt a couple of monsters, then that’s great! But don’t count on cards to bail you out of un-enviable situations… count on yourself. Somewhere along the way you’re going to have to do your best to either see a cheap flop or make a move with your chips in an appropriate situation.


The Bubble

When all players in a tourney are very close to cashing, many things begin to happen. In most cases, short-stacks begin to tighten up (unless it’s hopeless to make the money without a double-up), and larger stacks begin to take advantage of their opponents’ unwillingness to get involved in pots without a monster. There are many “bubble play” theories out there that point to pre-flop aggression, but the best advice I can give you here is to continue playing your ‘A’ game.

There will no doubt be times when you should become the aggressor and collect chips by picking up blinds or stealing pots that no one is interested in. But there will also be times when a player won’t be able to find many chances to accumulate chips (after all, you’re probably not the ONLY person at your table trying to increase his/her chip stack). Solid poker is a key element to playing on the bubble; and egos should be checked at the front door.

For example, if you have an average stack while holding AJ on the button, and there are two all-ins in front of you pre-flop, then it’s not necessary to “prove you’re not scared to bust-out” by calling the bet… you can probably find much better spots. On the other hand, if it’s folded around to you on the button and you look down at rags, you might want to consider making a move for the blinds, especially if the stacks behind you are less than yours. But you should pay attention to the dynamics of your table in order to get a better idea of when to make certain moves.

Solid poker players pick up value during bubble-play more than any other stage. For many, this is pretty much the end of “predictability” – our final chance to get our chips in the middle and have a really good idea of our opponents’ reactions. Once all players have reached the money, you can adjust your game to the inevitable All-in Fests that go hand-in-hand with players’ relief that they didn’t lose money in this tournament.


The Late Stages

So you’ve worked your way into the late stages of an online MTT… congratulations! By now, you’ve probably noticed that the blinds are pretty high in relation to most players’ chip-stacks; Pre-flop hand selection skills are imperative now - as you set your sights on a Final Table appearance.

Chip accumulation remains of utmost importance even now. If 500 players started this particular tournament, and you’re down to 2 tables with an average stack, then you should focus all your attention on making appropriate moves to either pick up dead money (blinds and other pre-flop action that players will fold) or get your chips in the middle with the best hand.

One thing a beginning or struggling MTT player should keep in mind at this stage is that there’s not a lot to control about certain situations. Sooner or later, a player will find him/herself gleefully pushing all-in pre-flop with hands like AQ from early position due to the circumstances. In cases like these, if you get called down by AJ, you’re a Genius… if you get called down by AK, you’re a Goat. It’s just that simple sometimes.

Another aspect to pay attention to is how you (and your opponents) adapt to full and short-handed tables. Nine (or ten) handed tables play a lot differently in general than five or six-handed tables do; and there will be times when drastic changes will have to be made in order to reach the Final Table without getting blinded away.

Once you’ve reached the Final Table, be sure to keep your cool and analyze every situation before making a decision. Cooler heads usually prevail and once again, you’ll give yourself the best chance at success if you go in with the goal of accumulating chips – instead of waiting on the cards to provide a miracle.


In Summary

MTT players in general are notorious for giving themselves too much credit when they win big and not enough credit when they’re not doing well. Online tournament play is all about making the most of every single opportunity presented to you without losing throwing away value. There are times when you must “take the bull by the horns” and make a move. There are other times when your best option is to simply remain patient and wait for the right moment. But by constantly seeking out situations to increase your chip-stack, you’re bound to find yourself at a Final Table sooner that you think… and THAT’S what makes MTT’s so fun!

Tournament Strategy

Other strategy articles by David Huber:
Online Poker Tells
Poker Expectation
Playing Pocket Pairs
Basic Loose Aggressive LAG Poker Strategy
Basic Tight Aggressive TAG Poker Strategy
Sit N Go Strategy - Part 1: Early Stages
Sit and Go Tournaments - Part 2: Middle Stages
Single Table Tournament Strategy - Part 3 End Game

Online Poker Tournament Strategy Tips

Translations

(c) Shirley Rosario

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