Modern Day Online MTT – Progressive Basic Strategy
Today we are going to discuss different playing strategies at different stages of a MTT. In our opinion, one of the most interesting peculiarities of an online tournament is the one where you can (and should) adapt your play to the different stages. It opens many interesting opportunities and diversifies the game. Probably many of you have heard the following many times: “This is no optimal poker strategy” or “one should just play in the style that suits”, etc. The problem is with that is these are way too “broad” and imprecise terms, and everyone would love to know optimal strategy – one where winning is guaranteed just by concisely following the instructions.
At the moment, there is no one ideal system, but we will try to share our views with you on the optimal plan of playing at different stages of a MTT tournament.
Let's break down a MTT into six stages:
A. Low blinds play
B. Middle blinds play (pre-ante)
C. Ante – the middle of the tournament
E. Playing in the money
F. Final table
So, let's go through each stage separately:
A. Low blinds play on most websites is the time when the BB is still a two-digit number. Stacks are deep or at worst, middling.
We think that cautious and calm play is suitable for this stage. The best rule would be “tight is right”. Try to control the pot where possible, and do not get into complex deals. Try not to shove the whole stack into one pair (especially if it is not an over-pair). Play loose only when there is an opportunity to win from fish, and then preferably only in position. Creative hands: Try not to overplay. Naturally, one-suited connectors are worth playing (implied odds and your input is only a small part of the stake), but one-suited aces and gappers are preferable only when played from late position. Blind stealing is not a good idea either.
B. Middle blinds play (pre-ante) – three digit blinds, no ante. If you were lucky on the starting stage, you will have a deep stack, and if not, it will be middling or even short. In our opinion, this stage is notable for the feeling of the upcoming ante which in turn will lead to about a two-times stack decrease in Ms (M=BB+SB+ante). That is why we have to start doing something. We don't have the option of sitting tight as we did in the beginning, as even a deep stack will turn into a middling one as the ante approaches. The first change in our game strategy: we start to steal the blinds. Not so wide as on ante (bank pre-flop is relatively small), but much wider than in the beginning, or even very broad if you have tight opponents. You can start re-stealing from the blinds with 3-bets, but I am not a huge fan of doing this before the ante. Another change is being ready to shove the stack on top pair, especially against weak players. Raising when in position against limping fish is a good move as well. If we are not playing against a calling station, we can take the pot with contbets; if we are, we have to raise pre-flop in a tighter way, with high cards as we want to flop top pair and gather value playing against such opponents. You can also start bluffing (in suitable situations) and play your own combination draw aggressively, as you need to gain the stack before ante.
C. Ante in the middle of the tournament, before bubble. Our pre-flop playing should become even more aggressive as there are more chips in the middle of the table now than there were in the beginning. It becomes very necessary to steal the blinds on a very wide range, up to a raise on any two against tight opponents, especially. You can make creative raises from middle and early position, A good many regular players play high stakes MTTs, which means that you should re-steal more often (yes, you too). I advise you to watch VODs (even cash-games) to enhance your playing skill in such situations. Making the correct raises pre-flop become hugely important in the middle stages, which is why analyzing 3-bet pushes with 5-12M stack will be a great +EV action. The same goes for squeezes. Bluff and aggressive draw playing (the same as in the previous stage) can be added here too. It is difficult to write something more specific on playing in this stage. The usual short/middle stack game that can be seen in any stakes MTT VOD is going to work. The main thing is probably not to play too tight, and to try and adapt to your opponents somehow, for example, playing a bit tighter is possible on quite an aggressive table, as when the card comes, you will be paid anyway – or just the other way around: if you are allowed to steal the blinds, or you do not see strong resistance pre-flop, then playing more loosely is possible.
I remember a time, a couple of years ago, when bubbles could literally be “whacked”. Nineteen hands out of twenty were raised, and the table did nothing against it. Now times have changed, and there are always one or two regular players sitting at the table (even more on Stars) who are ready to fight with you in a very light-hearted way. Eventually you are forced to raise less, but if you do not have a short stack, raising a bit wider than normal is worth doing. In addition, the bigger stack that you have, the wider you raise, as the chance to get a kick out is not high, and it is a factor of importance for our opponents. All-in-all, fighting on bubble with a middle-to-high stack is almost never a mistake. Well … of course getting into money is important as well, and it is a part of ROI, but most money is accumulated in the first prize places. If you have a short stack, you can miss some raises if there are one or two players before you in the money stakes, and it is better to make marginal raises to those already being paid.
If the table is aggressive and everyone is “whacking” there are two main options for gaining chips:
- "Whack the whacker" - it is enough to make one big move to such a player to gather some chips. You will be especially lucky because of your positive image if you have been sitting peacefully throughout the whole bubble.
- Whack them with the same level of aggression – 3-bet, 4-bet, bluff, etc. This option is dispersive and you have to know/feel that you are skilled enough to fight your opponents on equal terms, or even that you have the advantage over them.
Finally you can sit over the bubble playing in your typical fashion, and doing so is not a big mistake. You must find your own way of playing, depending on your opponents' well-being, confidence, playing style and the make up of the table.
E. Playing in the money before the final table. This part of the tournament might be very, very unnerving. The reason is that many things are out of our control. We play a standard game, performing no special tricks as those with short stacks will shove everything at us. Eventually we throw forced coin-flips and see what happens. We must play this way at least, before most short-stacks are kicked off the table. Our edge is determined by the size of stack that we (probably) have beaten on bubble. It is very important here to understand 3-bet and 4-bet ranges, and all-in acceptance. Bluffs and other tricky moves are only made in very special situations, or against particular opponents. The only place where you can try a few tricks is just before the final. Sometimes when there are 10 to 14 people left (assuming that we are already in the money) people start playing more tightly just because they want to get to the final table, and you can try to make use of this. In addition, 10 to 14 people means short tables which also increases aggression.
F. Final table. Public … commentators … TV cameras … everyone is ready!
In my opinion, you should play the opening hands of the final quite tightly. The situation is similar to the aim of getting into the money. People who have played aiming for the final table have reached their goal, and the table has turned into a 9max out of a short one. Our task is to understand the way in which the players are going to play in the final (aggressively, not giving their chips away, sitting over and getting deeper into the money, and so on). We save our image for the latter stages and the shorter the table becomes, the more aggressively we play. The most complex moves we are capable of are coming (look at each situation – you don't always need to play a certain way depending on your stack): light 4-bets, super-barrels, complex bluffs and so on. All this does not, of course, mean that you should screw up your whole stack in the beginning of the finals on one stupid deal. You have to pick good situations and don't be afraid of giving up if you don't like something in an opponent's line. There are so many aggressive finalists that it is just enough to wait for a premium hand and you will double-up, then wait a bit more, and you double-up again …
I would like to write about heads-up separately. Fighting for first places means playing for a lot of money, so it's important that you play in the most optimal way possible. Many regular players have already more or less understood how heads-up should be played, but others have not. I highly recommend watching SnG player's VODs. This type of poker is almost identical to the type of game you need to play for first place in a MTT, and as there is usually a huge sum of money at stake, and any concept learned from these VODs should bring you a great deal of money in the future.
That – I suppose – is that. We've now shared our views on an MTT playing strategy at each stage of the tournament. If you have something to say about what is written above, or have some interesting approaches of your own, feel free to write – we are happy to discuss anything in the comment section.
Good luck at the tables!