Winning a multi table tournament is far from an easy accomplishment, especially when you are battling hundreds or thousands of other competitors. Some of the most essential elements to success in large scale MTTs are not so much poker skills as they are mental tricks. A lot of people will know what the proper play is in any given situation, but only the best tournament players are able to make the best decisions on an ongoing basis and through 10 hour long marathon sessions.
Even the top players will slowly get frustrated and burned out when they are in a big MTT, but you need to be able to keep your mind and emotions in check. No one ever said that MTTs are free of stress, and it is largely how you manage your focus that will determine whether you are successful in tournament play.
Playing the Early Stages
-Take it slow
-Push the action only in low risk situations
-Don’t bluff or make any unnecessary plays
Assuming you are in a normal tournament, free of turbo or faster scaled blinds, you will want to pace yourself in the earliest blind stages. The goal of tournaments is to outlast as many opponents as possible, so it makes no sense to go for broke right away. With that said, this doesn’t mean that you should be scared to get involved in a big pot when you are holding a big hand. All that you need to do is ensure that the relative risk makes sense when compared to the potential gain. Should you get pocket aces all in pre flop in the first hand of an event? Absolutely. Should you get an open ended straight draw all in on the flop during the first hand of an event? Probably not.
The struggle for most players is determining which hands and situations warrant playing and which ones do not. There is no doubt that it can be difficult to draw the line between playable hands and non-playable hands when a tournament is just beginning. On one hand, you want to start building a respectable stack as soon as possible, but on the other hand apprehension can pay off in the end. Don’t try to play speculative hands if you are not going to be able to see the flop at a very low cost. Beyond this, don’t get caught up on running big bluffs or plays without a monster hand when you don’t absolutely have to. One of the dumbest ways to blow your stack is via a bluff that was not needed at all.
Think about the benefit of winning a decent pot with a bluff in the first few hands of any major tournament. If you win the hand, you are going to add a fair amount of chips to your stack. But consider all of those times where you will get called down. Without reason you have suddenly shipped half of your stack to your opponents and are at a significant disadvantage.
The benefit of having a marginally bigger stack early on is generally far outweighed by the challenge it is to stage a comeback with a short stack. If you win a decent pot right away, the odds are that you won’t have made that much more from it once a few more blind levels pass. Pretend that you started the tournament with 5k chips. If you run a bluff and win 3k chips from it, you now have 8k. Fast forward a few blind levels and you have nothing more than the chip average. Imagine where you would be if you lost that 6k pot, though. You probably had to shove all in and put yourself in a marginal situation less than an hour into the tourney, only to get back to where you were in the first place. Be careful and don’t take any unnecessary risks with a stack that needs to last until the final table.
Playing the Middle Stages
-Start to make plays and get involved in more pots
-Get the money in if it is profitable in the long run, don’t worry about losing a coin flip
-Play hands strong and focus on winning many pots, not only big pots
The middle stages are when things tend to get tricky in tournament play. On one hand, there is still a long way to go, but on the other hand, you need to start making some moves. It is a good idea to be cautious and pick your spots safely when a tournament just begins, but eventually you will need to put the pedal to the metal and get to building a stack. As the first break comes and goes, it is now time to start creating some profitable spots. Stealing the blinds isn’t going to net you a major gain like it will near the end of the tournament, but c-betting and making small bluffs will be a profitable play.
Look for chances to take down moderate sized pots by set mining, getting the money in on the flop with monster draws, and fast playing your big pocket pairs. You don’t need to mess around with fancy play, and fast play tends to be safe play. The more time that you spend trying to confuse your opponents in the middle stages of a tournament, the higher the odds are that you will bust yourself out of the event altogether.
Playing the Later Stages
-Don’t be afraid to make some plays
-Focus on chip accumulation if you have a big stack, look to double up whenever you can if short stacked
-Put your money on the line and stage a run for the money, put moving up the money ladder to the side
The later stages of a tournament are when things start to get serious and most players want to tense up. You will be playing in crucial pot after crucial pot as the blinds start to pressure everyone to get their money in the middle as frequently as possible. If you are fortunate enough to be working with a big stack, you will want to steal as many blinds as possible. There is a good chance that you might have only 20 big blinds in the first place. If this is the case, each time you steal the blinds you are going to be increasing your stack size by 5%-10%. Needless to say, this is going to be a wildly profitable strategy. The only thing to be careful about when stealing the blinds with a big stack is that you don’t try to bully people with more chips.
If you have a small or medium sized stack as the final table approaches, you are going to have to shove all in with a lot of weak to moderately strong hand. For example, ace high and small pocket pairs suddenly become monster hands. You should be shoving all in whenever the opportunity presents itself. Even if you don’t double up, stealing the blinds will be a significant win if you only had 5-10 big blinds to begin with. You need to take chances if you are running low on chips. It is better to shove all in with ace high and get called by pocket fives than it is to let your chips get blinded off as you sit by helplessly.