For many players, tournaments are a preferable format due to offering the challenges that are not available in cash-games and because of an exciting opportunity to win a lot of money quickly for a small buy-in.
MTT poker strategy significantly differs from cash-games. This is linked to the fact that a level of blinds is constantly increasing in tournaments and players tactically need to maintain the sufficient level of their stack all the time in order not to be forced to make only push-fold decisions on the pre-flop.
It’s worth mentioning the MTT types before we start talking about the strategy of the poker tournaments. There are such types of poker tournaments as:
It is a type of the tournament where the player gets kicked out of a game if he has lost his entire starting stack with no opportunity to make a rebuy.
In this type of tournament you can rebuy a stack if you lose the starting one. There are tournaments with limit and no-limit rebuys. If the number of rebuys is limited in the tournament, then the player who has run out of his limit and lost the chips, also leaves the game. The tournament with reentries is slightly different from the re-buy tournaments.
As a rule, in a reentry tournament you have no more than two attempts of entering and you always get only the starting stack. Also, there is an add-on in tournaments with rebuys.
Add-on is an opportunity to rebuy extra chips, normally for the cost of a full buy-in of the tournament, once a period of rebuys is finished.
You don’t get money directly for winning in these tournaments. For winning in a satellite you get a ticket or entry to a big live or online-tournament.
Also, there are “phased” tournaments. They are similar to the satellites since they also give you the opportunity to get from the tournament with a small buy-in to a major event. But the distinctive feature is that in the main (target) tournament you will start the game with the stack that you have managed to gather during the first phase.
The special feature of these tournaments is that in addition to a main prize pool there are also awards for "knocking out" the players in the game.
The tournament with a "progressive" knockout is a subtype of knockout tournaments. The point of these tournaments is that a player increases its own bounty by knocking the rivals out. The winners of some tournaments with progressive knockout get for knocking the opponents out more money than a prize for the first place itself.
Also, the tournaments are distinguished by the structure of the growth of the blinds:
As a rule, in these tournaments the starting stack is 100 big blinds and the growth levels of the blinds are from 10 minutes on the Internet and from 1 hour in a live tournament.
In deep tournaments the starting stack is 150-200 or more big blinds and the levels increase every 15-20 minutes, which allows the strong players to maximize their post-flop advantage.
In these tournaments the starting stack is equal to 50 big blinds, the levels increase every 5 minutes. To have stable results in these tournaments you need to know poker math perfectly.
In tournaments with an ultra-fast structure, the starting stack can be 25 big blinds, and the levels normally increase every 3 minutes or faster. The whole game comes down to knowing the push-fold and the point of the winning tactic is to win preflop all-ins.
Regardless of the structure of tournament you play in, the MTT strategy can be divided into several stages:
The early stages of the tournament are a slow game that requires a player just to sit and wait for strong cards.
A tight-aggressive style at the early stage is the key to success in tournament poker. Even the best players use the ABC-Poker strategy on the first levels of the blinds.
To play in the tournament you need to think strategically. Do not risk your tournament life in order to double the stack on the first levels. Remember that the prizes come up only a few hours after the tournament is started. You cannot win MTT during the first few pots, so it's useless to put your participation in the tournament at risk.
If you win big pots at the early stage, then you have a little advantage over the field. But if you blow up big pots and lose, you will have a significant stack shortage or even a danger of being kicked out.
The middle stage is the time to move from a tight and straightforward game to a more aggressive playing style. It's still not the right time to take large risks at big pots but you must already start looking for ways to get the advantage over the field.
It makes sense to attack the passive players at this stage much more than at the early stage since you have to fight for the blinds now. At the start blinds were small and the field was significant but now, when the players are getting kicked out and the blinds are rising, you have a mathematical and tactical reason to steal the blinds.
Play carefully and avoid the mistakes
There is a colossal difference between not to make a deeprun because of bad luck and to get knocked out if you have made a foolish mistake. A lot of tournament players regularly complain about bad luck but it is just an unfortunate excuse.
The middle stage of any tournament is the moment to prepare for a bubble approaching when you can set a foundation for a deeprun but you still need to avoid the foolish mistakes.
The bubble stage is the moment when the game gets tough. On the one hand you don’t want to get knocked out directly before the prize zone, but on the other hand - you want to move as far as possible and have a comfortable stack at the same time. Of course, the size of your stack will matter. It is needless to say, that a short stack will play much more differently than a player with a large stack.
You need to make a game plan and to estimate how small your stack is in comparison with other players in the tournament. After that you have to decide what is more profitable for you: to sit out to the minimum payments or take a risk to get a more comfortable stack.
It’s always much more comfortable to play with a big stack at all stages of the tournament. When you have a big stack, you don’t need to worry about getting into the minimum prize zone. Your main goal on bubble is to continue improving the stack. You must always exert pressure on players with medium and short stacks. The only thing you should worry about with a big stack is an ability to hit the brakes on time and not to donate a significant part of your chips to opponents.
You have already overcome the bubble and guaranteed yourself the minimum payouts. Now the whole fight in the tournament will be for reaching the main table. The late stage of the tournaments is a mix of luck and skill. You cannot succeed in a tournament if one of these components is absent. There is nothing sadder than to play well through the whole tournament and then lose several coinflips consecutively and get knocked out just before the main table.
At this stage a fight for the blinds is crucial. For instance, your stack can contain 200 000 chips and blinds, for example, are 10 000/20 000. It means that simple stealing of blinds will increase you stack approximately on 15%. If you steal blinds several times consecutively, then you can improve your stack on 50% without a showdown.
You have managed to reach the main table – it’s an excellent result! Now it’s time to try to win the tournament.
The beginning of the final table is time when you have to make a plan of your game. Look for the weak players whose blinds you can steal. Besides the players, whom you want to attack, you also have to think about the ones you try to avoid. Any player who has a stack larger than yours is an immediate threat to you.
If your stack is small, try to double it as quick as possible. Small stacks often even don’t have time for trying to take a higher place. If you sit and wait in hope to earn little more than the current guaranteed payout, you can be the first to get knocked out when the blinds eat all your stack. Passive players seldom reach the final table.
If you are at the final table with a big stack, then you have to choose short and medium stacks for the attack. It’s calmer and easier to play with a big stack but you shouldn’t relax and constantly glance at the prizes for the first place. Always exert pressure on the opponents in order to eventually win all the chips.