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Michael1123’s Multi-Table Tournament Strategy

Michael1123 has been a member of FTR since June of 2004 and has over 1,700 posts in our poker forum. Michael1123 is a successful and accomplished tournament player. Michael1123 had a fantastic run at the 2005 WSOP Main Event, which you can read all about here.

Below is Michael1123’s tournament strategy advice, that he put together to help out some of the less experienced tournament
players here at FTR. Enjoy!


Ok, people are asking about this, so here it is. There are some things I can’t really describe, like how to read a players hand, read weakness, know what to bet to get a call or try to make a player lay his hand down, etc. That just comes with experience. Also, I often mix things up a lot, and I don’t follow any system, or even everything listed here at all times. But here’s kind of an overall guideline of how I play MTTs.

Note: This is mainly for Poker Stars MTTs. On some other sites, the blinds get so crazy so fast, that there isn’t much real poker to be played. In that case, almost every player needs to play like a small stack, and go all in or fold every hand. Also on some other sites, the competition is very fishy. You can’t bluff or read them in the same way, so you really have to adjust your game.

Rebuys and Add-ons:

If you’re going to play one of these, be willing to rebuy and add-on, and have the bankroll to do so. If you’re not, play only freezeouts, as you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage to other players, and that’s never good.

Rebuy immediately when you join, and if you go out and are going to continue playing, rebuy and then rebuy again immediately to get the double stack.

There are disadvantages to playing these. The first hour of play is often very crazy and the games take a lot longer because of all the extra chips in with the rebuys. You need to have the discipline to maintain focus for a tournament that may be 6+ hours long if you make it to the final table.

Plus, you’re going to need to invest more money. Figure on 5x the buy in, which is for buying in, rebuying immediately, planning that you’ll probably get busted at least once and then double rebuy, and then the add-on. That’s 5x rebuys. It can get to 9x buy-in if you hit some bad luck or gamble too much, so again, have the bankroll to play these. Be willing to invest at least $50 – $70, in a worst case scenario, if you plan to play in a $10 R&A.

But the big advantage of these is that they pay out a LOT more than a freezeout, with the same number of players. Both of my big wins this week have been in R&As. Also, with more chips per person by the end of the rebuy period, there’s more room for skill to take over, and less room for luck to take over, as the blinds will never become that much of a problem to you, if you keep building your stack.

I like to think of R&A tournaments as two separate tournaments. The first one is the first hour. You can rebuy as many times as you want in this one, and how you do in this will determine your stack size in the real tournament. Every person that goes out during the rebuy period and doesn’t rebuy has just added free money into the prize pool, which is great for you. The rest of the tournament is the real tournament, which will pay out the cash.

So, because of this, loosen up in the first hour during the rebuy period. Your goal is to come out of the R&A period with a big stack, and everyone else will be playing loose as well. Be willing to call an all-in on a good draw, especially if there’s more than one all-in in front of you. If you lose, you can rebuy and try again, but if you win, now you’re in position to do some damage when the real tournament starts.

If you get a very big stack during the first hour, it’s time to tighten up. Don’t risk losing the advantage that you’ve paid for, but if you have a monster hand, certainly don’t be afraid to get involved either. The last tournament win I had, I came out of the rebuy period with 20k in chips, which was in the top 5. This made for a much easier rest of the tourney, as opposed to my other big win, where I left the rebuy with 4k in chips.

Be able to switch gears immediately after the first hour. Get back to playing tight and good solid poker.

Playing as a small stack:

This goes for basically any round, when you’re a small stack (have less than 10xBB). But it applies more to when the blinds are higher.

Don’t give up. You may have just taken a huge hit to your stack, and are now short stacked. Don’t just go all in the next hand and see what happens, unless you only have like 1xBB left and there are antes. Wait for a good hand.

Your only options are all in or fold. Don’t even consider trying to get cute as a small stack. Your only exception may be in the SB with a tight BB, and then you may be able to limp in or min raise. Outside of the blinds, its’ all in or fold, every single hand, until you aren’t short stacked any more or you are out of the tourney.

If its folded around to you, any pretty strong hand is usually a good all in hand. Of course AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ are good ones. But even smaller pocket pairs, weaker aces, KQ, etc. can be good options. Be more willing to do this in later positions and when everyone is folding to you. Be very selective of which hands you go in with in early position or when someone has already limped in or raised. AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ, AJ, TT, and possibly lower pocket pairs should be the only hands you consider. Going all in over the top of a raise with ATs as a small stack is asking to be busted. The exception here is if you’re extremely small stacked (5xBB or less) and the BB is coming. Then an early position all in with a good but not great hand is an ok move.

Don’t wait too long to make your move. The beauty of having 8x-10x BB when the blinds are big is that your stack, while smaller than the rest, may still be 1/2 or 1/3 of the average stacks. They don’t want to risk that much on iffy hands, even if they may dominate yours. If you go in before they put any money in the pot, they’ll likely fold a good hand to you, as long as you haven’t been going in every hand. But, if you just have 3x BB left, you’re likely to get a call from the blinds with utter crap, let alone from other players that have good hands. Make your move while it still gives them something to think about.

Once you double up once or twice and aren’t short stacked anymore, relax. You survived being short stacked, nice job. Now it’s time to get back to playing some real poker.

Bluffing:

You have to be willing to bluff at times to consistently win in tournament poker. Some types of players bluff less and sometime of players bluff more, but you can’t rely on the cards to always be there.

When you bluff, don’t bluff timidly, but don’t overbet either. I’ve noticed that at the flop when the blinds are big, after I’ve preflop raised, I don’t even consider if I’ve hit the flop or not. I typically fire out a bet that is about the size of the pot no matter whether I hit it or not. Sometimes I don’t even care if I hit it or not! If you’re playing against good players, they typically will lay a hand down to a solid bet if they think they’re beat and don’t have a good draw.

Don’t bluff too often, neither rarely. If you bluff too much, you’ll get reraised and called far too often. If you don’t bluff enough, you won’t get called when you have big hands. You have to find a happy medium.

“If a bluff doesn’t work, don’t bluff at a pot again.” This is a myth! This is where reading your opponent is essential. Are they on a draw or on a low pair or another weak hand? Are they trapping you? Are they calling to test to see if you’re bluffing, to take the pot away from you on the next card if you don’t come out firing? This is tricky to know, and dangerous to do, but you’ll blow too much money bluffing if you always back down after a single call, and miss out on making much more after they’ve called a bluff or two and still fold to you on the turn or river. If you put them on a draw, stop bluffing and see how they react.

Sometimes you need to, or are at least able to, make a powerful bluff over another players bet. You have to put this player on a bluff or on a weak hand to make this move, but you can either come over the top of them on the flop, or call on the flop and do it on the turn. Players aren’t likely to believe your bluffing here, so you’re likely to take the pot down if they don’t have a strong hand, and you should be able to quit bluffing and fold if they show a ton of strength back at you.

Early in MTTs:

Be willing to see cheap flops with all hands that have potential, like small pocket pairs and suited connectors and one-gappers. Maybe even call some 3x BB bets (or preferably less) when the blinds are very small, with hands like this, hoping to hit a big flop, where you may be able to take someone’s stack. As strange as it may seem, if you put a guy on a very strong hand like AK, AA, KK, QQ, JJ, or AQ, it’s better to call with these hands than with other strong hands like AQ, AJ, KQ, etc., Be especially more willing to call these bets with these hands if many other people call in front of you, as you’re really just calling based on implied odds. More people in the pot is better for you.

But, on the flip side of the coin, be tight when it comes to calling big bets. If you think you’re beat, fold. You need to have a steady increase to your stack in MTTs, so you need to avoid as many big losses as you can.

Don’t bluff or blind steal much in the early rounds. Until the BB gets to 150-200, blind stealing isn’t all that profitable, and is just increasing your risk. But, against tight players in the blinds, its still a good idea to throw out 3x BB in late position after it’s folded around to you, with an ok hand (KTo, 22, A2s, etc.). The reason being, even if they call, you can likely bluff them out on the flop, picking up even more than the blinds.

Mid to late rounds:

The later in a tournament you are, the more it becomes a game of taking turns stealing blinds among the big stacks.

Be very less likely to play hands UTG, unless they are very big hands. The blinds are getting too big to put money into the pot when you’re going to fold to a raise, which is pretty likely on a full table.

NEVER limp in, unless someone has limped in behind you. I can’t stress that one enough. Once the blinds are big (more important in the later stages), whomever opens, raises. It gives you a good chance to pick up the blinds, it doesn’t allow the blinds to see a cheap flop, and it puts pressure on everyone acting after you to fold good but not great hands. I don’t care if you have 22, AA, 65s, ATo, or whatever. If you play, you raise, every damn time. If you think it’s too risky to raise a certain hand in your position, fold. Sometimes I fold a hand like ATo or 55 UTG. Sometimes I raise. Never ever limp.

Keep your preflop raises consistent. Once the blinds get very big, I like raising 2.5xBB at times. It may sound like a strange number, but this almost comes completely natural to me. If the blinds are 200, raise to 500. If they’re 400, raise to 1000. The reason being, from my experience, every player reacts to that raise exactly like they do to a 3x BB raise. The BB isn’t any more likely to call you when he sees that he’s going to have to put in more than his BB already has in. Plus, in the long run, it’ll save you some chips if you have to end up folding these to reraises preflop or at the flop.

Be less likely to call a raise preflop. Here’s a situation that happens about a billion times to me in an MTT. You’re sitting in middle position with a good hand you’re going to raise. Someone raises in front of you. You fold. … Huh? You were just going to put that much in yourself! Yeah, but you were looking to steal the blinds or get heads up with someone ahead of you, maybe with a blind, and then be in position to steal the pot on the flop. This guy raising behind you changes the situation drastically.

But sometimes you have to call these raises. Don’t be folding AK, AQ, JJ, TT, etc. every time someone raises preflop. But don’t reraise every time either. Sometimes its nice to just call and see a flop. And don’t worry about isolating. When the other people in the hand see a raise and a call outside of the blinds, they’re already worried. This is not something that happens in every hand when the blinds are very big. Seeing a flop itself is pretty rare. Deciding when to reraise and stuff like that, I can’t give much advice on. It depends on your read on that player, on the table, on his stack, on your stack, etc. If it’s a small stack and you have AK or KK or QQ or JJ, you may as well reraise enough to put him all in. But still, you can see a flop and do it then no matter what hits. It’s a matter of personal preference.

Be willing to gamble with a small stack if you are a big stack. If you have AK and put a small stack on a pocket pair QQ or less, call his all in / put him all in. Be also willing to do this with TT, or maybe even 22, if you put him on two overcards. Got to be careful with the low pocket pairs though, because what you read as AQ may be 88, and you never want to call when dominated, no matter how big your stack is. If you misread them and you’re dominated, oh well. Learn from it.

In general, try not to get too mixed up with other big stacks. But, if you have a monster hand, go for the kill. Try to trap them and get as much as you can from them. Taking down a big stack as a fellow big stack late in a MTT puts you in a position to cruise to the final table, and be in great position to win once you get there. Likewise, be very weary of calling them on non-monsters. You don’t want to be the one that’s been trapped. And if they shove all in and you think its a coin flip, don’t gamble. But if you think you have them dominated, don’t be scared to call either. Surviving is nice, but your goal is to build your stack when you have good opportunities to do so.

Don’t tighten up too much when you’re nearing the money or a money increase. Hope that your opposition does. The exception is if you’re a small stack, and then you’d probably be happy to make it to the next level and not risk it on a non-great hand. But don’t ever lay down a monster because of this. If you have AA, KK, or QQ as a small stack, you have to go for it and try to get back in it, no matter the payout situation.

Final Table:

The place of MTT players’ dreams, and where the real money lies.

Don’t call raises unless you’re pretty sure you have them beat. Suited connectors and low pocket pairs are nothing but possible blind steal hands now; you’re not going to be calling raises with them. Betting with them is ok. Calling with them is very bad, unless you have a monster stack and a small stack is betting into you.

Still be willing to gamble with the small stacks if you have a very big stack. Still be willing to push all in every time you play as a small stack, although since every place increases the payout by a lot, be more selective on which hands you make your move on, especially if there are shorter stacks at the table.

Steal blinds with decent hands if you have the big stack. They’re all tightening up to raises like you are, so take some of these humongous blinds off of their hands.

Be willing to lay down a hand if you think you are beat or at best it’s a coin flip, against a big stack. Last final table I’m at, it had just started. I have TT in the small blind and I come in for 2.5x BB raise. The BB, another big stack, raises me 3x my bet. I had played with this guy at a table a bit earlier, and he didn’t seem overly aggressive. Players tighten up at a final table. This is a very powerful raise he’s making, and means that if I play this hand, I may have to play it for my stack. To me, the bet seems like QQ, JJ, or AK. AA or KK would probably play it slower (just call or raise less). So, I’m put in a very tough spot. I warn him that I’ll believe him this time, but not to try this again or I will call, and fold, telling him my hand. He never reraised me preflop again. (Probably because he didn’t get another hand that good when I lead into him, but it’s interesting none the less.)

Chopping:

If you have a big stack and don’t want to chop, don’t cave in. Even if you want to chop, remember, you have the leverage as a big stack, and no matter what they say, they’re probably worried about you busting them out, and that’s why they so badly want to chop. Get your fair share if you do agree to chop.

In both of these big wins I’ve had, I’ve taken home most of the money after the other players wanted to chop earlier. In the first, I had a ridiculous lead over the other 2 remaining players, and so I never chopped because they never got close to me in chips. In the last one, I had a pretty big chip lead, but a more vulnerable one, when we got down to 3 players, and they wanted to chop evenly. I said I’d only chop based on the chip counts, and they suggested I can $4k and they’ll take a bit less, but I stood by chopping based on chip counts or not at all. Once I knocked out one of the players, the remaining player wanted to chop again and this time he agreed to my terms of $5.5k to me and $4.4k to him. First place was $6.1k, and to me, probably losing $600 was worth possibly losing $2.2k, which is how much less 2nd place got compared to first.

Any comments or questions are welcome.

Posted by michael1123 on August 28, 2004 at 22:42


This is pretty old, but this is still good advice for all of you tournament novices out there. I highly recommend this as a good basis of your tournament game.

My game has improved a ton since writing this over a year ago now, but I still basically agree with all of the real advice. The only real differences are the side info type stuff, like obviously I gamble more in rebuy periods now than what is mentioned here, but I don’t recommend that everyone try to play rebuys like I do either.

Hope you guys find this helpful.

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