Tournament Strategy – The Early Stages
This is the first of a series of 4 articles looking at strategy during the key phases of tournaments. Here we will look at the early stages of a MTT (MTT stands for multi table tournament), covering the key strategy adjustments to make at this time. The next articles in this series will look at the middle stages, the bubble and then the final table.
Before looking at the specific adjustments to make in the early stages of an MTT it is important to clearly understand your objective for the tournament as a whole. Payout structures in poker tournaments are very heavily weighted towards the final table – and then to the top 3 paying spots. This means that to be a profitable MTT player you need to play with the sole objective of reaching that final table, not merely to ‘cash’. A good way to look at it is to understand that a single final table will pay more than 10 times the smallest payouts. The rewards involved in reaching the final table more than balance those times when the risks you take to get there do not work out.
There are two characteristics of the early stages of MTTs which affect how you adjust your strategy. The first is that the stacks are ‘deep’ in comparison to the blinds. The second is that the number of bad players in comparison to the good ones will be higher at the start of the tournament.
Deep stacks change the value of hands in several ways and also affect the way that you play those hands. Small pairs and suited connectors have more value in the early stages of a poker tournament due to the high ‘implied odds’ on offer. That is to say that you can see a flop cheaply with these hands and those times you hit a monster, such as trips or a small straight, then the payoff can be very large indeed – an opponent’s entire stack in some cases.
Conversely, unsuited high cards are less valuable when the stacks are deep. For example, if you flop top pair with a hand such as King-Jack then the likelihood is that you will win a small pot or lose a big one – when the betting gets very heavy you are unlikely to be ahead here.
When chip stacks are deep during the early stages of an MTT position has more value. Acting last in any poker game has the added benefit of seeing your opponents act before you do, giving you valuable information on their hands. Early in an MTT there are enough chips for betting on the flop, turn and river – meaning that your good position has more time to benefit you.
The weaker opposition you will find in the early stages of online MTTs present a strategic dilemma. On one hand they are a relatively easy source of chips, which you will need to build your stack in order to reach the final table. On the other hand their unpredictable nature and the risk that they will ‘get lucky’ and river a big hand against you make them difficult to play against.
There are several adjustments you can make to weaker opponents. Firstly, you must actively try to take their chips! If you do not then other competent players will take them – meaning those chips will be harder to win later in the tournament. Bluffing is not effective against weaker opponents, instead you should aim to see flops in position against these players where possible. Those times you hit a hand you should value-bet as much as possible. Semi-bluffing with a strong draw can also be effective. However, if you miss your draw do not be tempted to make a large river bluff, you will be called by many unlikely holdings!
To summarise, MTT tournament strategy for the early stages is about accumulating chips, your objective is to reach the final table – not just to cash. Deep stacks and the weaker nature of many opponents mean your strategy will adjust in several ways. This includes the increased importance of position and implied-odds holdings – and bluffing less into inexperienced opposition.
Good luck at the tables!
See the other articles in the series:-