How to Win a Multi Table Tournament


Author: Quinton Carroll

What follows is a suggestion on how to go about playing a MTT.

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This is not a hardened set of rules to follow, but is intended to provide a suggestion on how to go about winning a MTT or at very least placing in the money as often as possible. Taking into account that a MTT can vary from as little as 5 to as many as several thousand players, there is a very large element of luck in not only winning a MTT, but even placing in the money.

Keep in mind that there is an ever bigger element of skill involved.

There are some very nice reasons to play in a MTT.

If you win, you will win many times the amount you used to buy into the MTT.
In a rebuy MTT, most of the players will rebuy at least once, making the pot that much bigger.
Generally the lower the buy in, the more times your opponents are going to rebuy. Thereby adding to the pot and making it that much more attractive. I have played in a $2.25 buy-in MTT with a guarrenteed $500 prize pool. 104 players took part. The prize for first place started at 29% ($145). By the end of the tournament, which I won, the first prize, at 20% of the prize pool was $381, making the total prize pool $1905. It only cost me $2 to buy in and $2 to buy an add on, so I'm sure you can see how profitable playing in MTT's can be.

WARNING:

Never ever rebuy so many times that it costs you more to play than you will win if you place in the last paying place. This may seem obvious, but it is very easy to lose track of your rebuys.
I use a rule to never rebuy more than 3 or 4 times. I have watched some players rebuy 20 or 30 times in a low buy in tournament, just so they can be in it after the rebuy period is over, just to bust out yet again after the rebuy period is over. It seems stupid, but it happens, and the only thing that it does, is add to the prize pool.

Another nice thing is that even if you don't finish in the money, you only lose a relatively small amount of money. You would need to win only one in about 10 MTT's to make a nice profit. If you can win one in ten, you should be a very happy poker player.

Here is an example...

Over the time of a couple of months:

Starting with an initial bankroll of $100:

You buy into 30 - $500 guarranteed $2.25 MTT's. Your buy in is $2.25, you limit yourself to 2 Rebuys and the Addon.

That comes to a total cost to you of $270.00. Seems like a bit of money?

Lets say that you win every 10 times you enter (thats only 3 wins out of 30 entries) and you lose every other time. Lets also say that you were the only other player to rebuy or add on. This will never happen, but for this example and ease of calculations we will do this.

Thats 3 wins out of 30 entries = $145 * 3 = $435.

$435 - $270.00 = $165.00.

Here is the breakdown. It cost you $270.00 to enter these 30 MTT's. You won 3 of them, winning a total of $435.
Thats $165.00 profit in the first 2 months. That may not seem like a lot of money, but as your skill and confidence grows, you will enter MTT's with bigger prize pools, enabling you to win bigger prizes. In some of these MTT's you won't need to rebuy or buy an addon, making the buy in cheaper.

Keep in mind that there will always be rebuys and addons done by most of your opponents. This will boost the prize pool. You may also find that you will also place in the money a few times when you don't finish first, so these figures are very conservative, but you have to remember that you must play the correct type of game to enable yourself to win.

This is where these suggestions come into play...

Luck...

There are players who seem to be able to place in the money quite often. They are either very lucky or very very skilled in the art of playing poker. Every good poker player knows that luck does play a part in playing poker, but it is what you do with that luck that makes or breaks you. By "luck", I don't mean only good luck! Basically, good and bad luck will even out over time. There is no doubt about that, and there have been many studies in that very subject.

When you play poker you should never play as if luck is going to get you through a hand. There are times that you will get good luck in a failed bluff, but if your bluffs fail, don't rely on good luck to get you through. On the other hand, bad luck is bad luck and you should never be worrying about bad luck while playing poker. Always focus on the positive.

Always fold when you think or know you are beaten. If you think you are beaten, then chances are, you are! It is better to fold a medium strength hand and keep your stack to come back and beat your opponents, than to lose all or a big chunk on your stack on one crappy hand.

Poker is, and will always be dominated by players who know this and act correctly on this. Even if you weren't beaten, the odds will work in your favour if you use them correctly.

In only my 2nd live poker tournament, I was going along quite nicely. The blinds were 300/600 and my stack was about 50 times the big blind. I was dealt 9To UTG. I decided to fold even though I was thinking of a big raise bluff. The flop came rainbow6-9-T. I was a little shocked, but I know that these things do happen. A friend, who was sitting behind me and watching me play, was also shocked and he told me that I would have won the hand when the turn came out. I don't remember anything more about that hand other than that the winning hand was A card high and the 3 players that played to the river were all in. The winner of the hand was the person who beat me - to boot me in 3rd place. Had I stayed in the hand, I would have eliminated 3 of the 6 of us that were still in the game, and would have been the chip leader by a very long way. Instead, I was one of 4 players left.

My point here is that, yes, I would have won the hand if I had stayed in, but my cards were not strong enough to beat mostplayers' cards who may have called my bluff. There was no way for me to know that my cards would have been the best of the hand, but thats poker and you just have to forget about those hands and carry on playing.

Skill...

When you play poker, you should never worry too much about luck. Skill, knowledge and experience are far more important. In any game of poker, you may be lucky enough to get good pocket cards often. If you do, then thats great, but you need to know what to do with the pocket cards that you have been dealt. Even Pocket AA is beatable, and it is skill, knowledge and experience that will tell you to muck your rockets if the flop comes up with a possible straight or flush, and you get re-raised. It may be one of the hardest things to do, but it could mean the difference beween finishing in the money or just bombing out. If you do muck those rockets, you will be doing it, knowing that the next time you get those pocket rockets, you most likely, will be smiling all the way to the river.

My advice in this respect is to watch, read and play:

Watch:

Watch as many good poker players play as you can. Note what they do when they get particular pockets, how they check, call, bet and raise. How and when they bluff. What they do with catagory 1 pocket cards. Anything and everything you learn from the good poker players will do your poker game a lot of good. Never copy their game exactly because your circumstances will never be the same as those at the table you were watching. Pick a style that suits your game and adapt it to the playing conditions at your table. I suppose you could also watch bad poker players. Just be careful to remind yourself that what you are seeing is NOT what you should be doing.

Read:

Find as much literature as you can on how to play poker. Read books, blogs and articles. Read them and then read them again. Find your weaknesses and find out how to fix them. If you find a weakness, fix it by finding out what you do in a particular situation that you handle badly, and change it so that it isn't a bad situation any more. Work out how you can stop yourself getting into those bad situations. The bottom line here is that if you don't get into the situation, you won't be forced to deal with it.

If you find that you are betting most or all of your stack on one set of what you think is a great pair of pockets, against a loose/aggressive opponent, then losing the hand because your opponent got lucky, you can either call it unlucky and carry on losing your stacks, or you can find out how to stop your losses.

You have a choice to make. Do you want to get better at playing, or do you want to stay where you are in your skill. If you are like me, you should be obsessed about improving your game all the time. Never rest until you are good enough. That will never happen. There is no such thing as good enough. I am willing to bet that even the top pros analyse their games and look for holes to plug. The best advice I ever saw was to not do anything stupid. Take that however you like.

Play:

This one is obvious. Sit in at a table whether it is in a casino, online or at home with friends. Experience will give you something that nothing else will give you. You can watch as many poker players play the game as you like. You can read till you have the print burned in your brain. These things will help, but playing poker is going to be the best way for you to learn how to play. Without playing poker, you are never going to find out where your weaknesses are. You will never know how you react when you get that monster unbeatable hand. You are never going to find out what it feels like to be beaten by a royal flush when you have a straight flush ten high, and your opponent goes all in with his entire stack and yours is smaller. Ok, this may never happen, but I am sure it has happened to someone, somewhere, sometime.

My point is that there is no substitute to playing poker when you want to learn how to play poker well. Even if you play in free online poker games.

NOTE!!! Free online poker is never a good reflection on real money poker play, but at least it will give you an idea of how to play and what to expect when you do play.

Ok, enough waffle...

Playing in a MTT is a lot like playing cash poker. There are some differences though.

In a cash game, your aim is to out play your opponents in order to, at some point, leave with more money than you arrived with. If you get into a MTT, there are some things that you must ask yourself:

1. Why are you entering?

  • If your answer is not "To finish in first place!!!", then don't bother entering. You will be wasting your time and money.

2. Do you have a realistic chance of finishing in first place?

  • Again, if your answer is not "Yes" then don't bother entering. Depending on a few factors here, you need to consider your chances of winning very carefully.
  • If you are new to playing poker and have a small bankroll of $50, then don't enter a $50 buy in MTT. You won't have the experience to win it, and even if you do, you may be soo scared of losing, that you won't play well. If you don't finish in the money you will have to fund another bankroll and start from scratch.
  • Select your MTT carefully. You need to make sure that if you don't play well, or just get unlucky, you will have enough of a bankroll left after the buy in to enter several more. Find a good bankroll strategy and stick to it.

3. How long do you have before you will have to stop playing?

  • Depending on the number of participants, the time that you will need to be able to play continuously can vary, but the minimum time that you can expect to need is about 2 hours. It could take many more hours, but 2 is pretty much the least amount of time you will need. If you don't have enough time to devote to the MTT, don't enter!
  • When you play cash games, you can always leave when you lose some of your money or win a lot of money. Nothing is stopping you from leaving these games except your decision to stay. You decide what to do. In a MTT, you cannot leave until one of 3 things happen...
  1. You decide that you want to leave and you do.
  2. You lose all of your chips and if it is a rebuy MTT you decide not to rebuy and you leave, or there are no rebuys offered and you are forced to leave because you have no more chips to play with.
  3. There is only one player left and you are it. You have won and the tournament is over. This is without a doubt the thing you should be aiming at.

In a cash game your opponents get to watch you while you play, and you get to watch them while they play. In a MTT you will be shifted from table to table as the players in the tournament bomb out, to even out the tables. You won't be able to watch many players for too long, but you should still be making notes as you go along, about what the others are doing in particular situations. I promise you, they are watching you and making their own notes on you.

Why make notes when you are being moved from table to table? Good question!
The notes you make while playing in the run up to the final table, may help you when you get to the final table. What if you notice in the early stages of the MTT, that Joe Blow, folds to any big re-raise after his pre-flop medium sized bet? What if you end up one on one at the final table, with Joe Blow and he makes a medium sized bet, and you are next to act, and you have Aj off suit? If you had made notes you would know that if you throw a big raise at him, there is a good chance he will fold, and you would have won the blinds and his chips that he bet.

If you hadn't made the note, you wouldn't have known and you might have folded, giving him your blind.

Another reason for making notes, is that you may end up playing the same people in another MTT or some other game. You cannot think that you will be able to remember what everyone does in any given situation. Thats why you make notes. In online poker, the software you use to play will have a facility for you to keep your notes on other players built into it. Use it!

Phases of the game...

A lot of people like to split their MTT strategy into three separate phases. Personally, I like the idea of a four phase split.

In my opinion the Four phases are:

Phase 1 - All play up to the first break. This phase is where you are allowed to rebuy if rebuys are allowed.
Phase 2 - All play from the end of the first break to the final table.
Phase 3 - All play on the final 2 tables until there are only 4 to 6 players left.
Phase 4 - All play from 4 or 5 players until you are either out of chips, or win the MTT.

Phase 1: - Mostly Tight/Passive Play

Play just to stay in the game. Only play the very strong pocket cards unless you are in the Big Blind and are not raised. The blinds are way too low in this stage, usually ranging from 10/20 to 40/80, in the first hour. These blinds are not going to make a big impact when you manage to steal them because you are not likely to steal them in the first place. In this phase, because rebuys are usually available, most people don't mind throwing large percentages of their stack into the pot, in the off chance of doubling or trippling up on their chips. Making a big bluff - raise in the first phase is stupid, because the percentages of someone calling or raising you are that much higher. DO NOT bluff in the hopes of stealing blinds in the first phase!!! Not unless you want to spend a fortune on rebuys.

You may lose part or most of your stack in the first phase, but by playing only the very strong starting pocket cards, you may find that you actually are staying up with the average stack, or doing even better.

I have played tournaments where I had less than my starting ships up to the last 10 minutes of the rebuy period, and ended up chip leader going into the break, just by playing the best starting cards.

With around 10 minutes of play left, before the first break, you will find that some players will start to go a little crazy.

They will begin to play almost any pocket cards.

What to do:

If you...

  • ...have fewer than your starting chips, and you haven't used any rebuys up to now.
    I suggest you make a big effort to win some chips. A lot of people at this point will be trying to double up so they can go into the break with a bigger stack. Loosen up a little yourself and play aggressivly if you hit a top pair, or better. If you win, you will be happy. If you loose your entire stack. Make a rebuy to get back into things and then make another rebuy to double up if you can, then tighten right up and only play the great pocket cards up to the break.
    When the break comes you may be offered an addon. Take it if it is offered. This should add nearly the same amount of chips to your stack that you got in your rebuys.
  • ...have a medium sized stack going into the break. By that I mean more or less the same as the average stack size.
    You are doing pretty well. Just keep to your current tight game plan. Only play the best of the best pockets, and if you hit a monster hand on the flop get very aggressive and win as much as you can. Remember, people are going a little crazy trying to double up, so take advantage and add to your stack. Take the addon if it is offered at the break.
  • ...have a huge stack at least 50% bigger than the average. Depending on the number of players, you should be in the top 20 at least. Sit back and wait for the break. That is unless you hit a monster hand on the flop. Never miss an opportunity to add to your stack. Never take risks in this situation. NEVER! You are in the top 20, you don't need to risk losing a big chunk of your stack. Remember why you are playing. TO WIN!!! Never forget that. You don't need the addon. If you have 50000 chips, 1500 or 2000 chips isn't going to make that much difference. Your main reason for playing poker is to make more money than you spend, so don't spend it unless you have to.

Phase 2: - Tight/Passive to a bit more Aggressive Play

At the end of the first break, you may find that you have a good read on some of the players. Carry on with your tight/passive play, but you can start to loosen up a little and get more aggressive. NEVER go all in unless you have the nuts. If you find you have a nice hand, but it isn't a nut hand, and you are raised, fold. Keep your stack growing, but never take risks that will cause you to lose a lot of chips. This applies especially to going up against players with a stack similar or larger in size to yours. Remember, there are no more rebuys available, and if you lose all of your chips, you are out.
Keep reminding yourself why you are playing. TO WIN!!! You want to add to your bankroll, not take from it.
You may be bored or tired. Snap out of it. Watch the game and how it changes. Don't hesitate to take someone out of the gamehere. For every player that goes out, you get one step closer to winning.

If you have good pocket cards, but they aren't caragory 1 pocket cards, and there are 2 or 3 or even 4 players all-in, beforeyou, FOLD! You don't need to go all in. With this many players all-in, at least 2 should be kicked out. You don't need to take that chance even if your stack is way below the average stack size. These player's going out or losing a big percentage of their stacks will strengthen your position.

If you have a stack that is...

  • ...less than 50% of the average stack.
    You need to get much more aggressive. Play a little looser and do everything you can to grow your stack. If you successfully get your stack up to the average stack size or even better, go back to being tight/aggressive and keep your stack growing. Do not take un-nessesary risks.
  • ...around the same size as the average stack.
    Keep your play tight/aggressive. Do not take un-nessesary risks and keep thats stack growing.    
    between the average and the leader or is the biggest stack.
    You are really doing well. Adjust your play to very tight/very aggressive. If you hit a monster, hit the table with hugebets and re-raises. Small stacks will fold because they want to stay in, and large stacks should fold because they want tokeep their stacks. Be careful though. Don't bet or raise with nothing, and don't make a huge bet unless you have the nuts. Some bluffing may work some times, but you may get caught and you will pay a heavy price for getting caught with a very big bluff. If you have the nuts and someone calls or raises your bets, then thats all the more chips for you.

Phase 3: - Very Tight/Very Aggressive Play

When you reach this phase, if you are like me your addreneline will be pumping and your heart will be beating in your head. Try your hardest to keep cool. Almost everyone will be like this. My motto here is...

He whom makes mistakes will pay for them.

I live by this while playing poker, and it does me good. You have to keep cool. Do not make mistakes. Take your time if you need to. Don't rush into a stupid play. Everything may become a little insane.

You will see players really loosen up in this phase. Stay calm and make them pay for it. Stick to being very tight. If you get a very good hand, make a huge bet and make the others pay if they call you. Your objective here is to grow your stack massivley while kicking the other players out of the game.

By the time you get to phase 3 you will have a pretty good read on your opponents. Use it to your advantage. If you see that there are no raises in front of you and you are in late position, don't be afraid to throw a massive bet in. If you have been playing a good tight aggressive strategy up to this point, you will find that your opponents should fold.
If they call, make a quick huge bet on the flop. You would have to be crazy to call a massive bet at this stage unless you have the nuts. More often than not, your opponent won't, but he won't know that you didn't flop one yourself.
If you do flop the nuts, then you may want to think about slow playing the hand, but that is something you will have to decide on at that point. If you manage to catch someone out like that, the rest of the players will get that much more respect for you, and that can never hurt.

Remember to not do anything stupid. If you make a mistake, hope it is a small one.

Phase 4: - Loosish/Very Aggressive Play.

At this point of the game, the stacks will all pretty much be very big, and the blinds will also be pretty high. With only 5 or 6 players at the final table, you can loosen up quite a bit. You can call most blinds with picture cards or A and 8+. Be careful of big bets and re-raises. Keep generally tight, but get very very aggressive. All of the players in this phase are in the money, and mostly will be happy to finish here, but you won't.

You want to win! Remember that!

You want to take everyone's chips and you want to be aggressive in doing it. Most of the others will be hoping to stay in just a little longer to watch another player or two drop out here, so they can be guarranteed of one more place. You can take advantage of this by stealing some blinds, and by beating them when you have good cards. Note, I said good cards, not thenuts. Most of your opponents will be happy to place in the money, and will call most smallish bets with ordinary hands. This is not a hardened rule, so be selective with your bets. If you are raised on a small bet you could be beaten. You may want to think about a fold in this case. Watch out for check-raises here as well. You don't want to lose too many chips to being too aggressive.

Remember that this is only a guide and you will have to adapt any strategy that you employ to help you win, to the conditions at the table you are seated at.

Now go out there and win!

About the Author

Quinton Carroll is an avid poker player who loves to play online poker and live poker as often as possible.

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