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Tight is Always Right

Tournaments are an incredibly dynamic format, and no strategy fits it all. However, many players think that playing very tight in the beginning is the only option and I am not sure if I agree.

Obviously, you want to be aware of your table image, and if you end up playing very loose, you risk of other players identifying you as an aggressor and denying your opportunities to steal blinds later on by playing back at you. It is one of the main reasons why playing on the tighter side is usually fine in early stages, and to build a good strategy for that you can simply get my MTT poker cheat sheet.

However, you should not take this too far. Early on, you will find many weak players still in the tournament, so you want to take advantage of that and build your stack. Therefore, you should be inclined to play many speculative holdings such as suited connectors or weak suited Ax hands to give yourself a chance to hit nut type holdings and take away chips from recreational players who are willing to overplay their hands.

Nevertheless, do not put yourself in the spot where you end up playing for your stack with just one pair hand because most of the time you will be just donating money to your opponents. It is very common mistakes and many players bust early on without any reason.

Thus, the best strategy for early stages is to preserve your tight image to build opportunities for stealing blinds later on, but still keep attacking weaker players with many speculative holdings, which could improve to a strong hand.

You Can Wait for Right Hands in the Big Blind

Playing tight from the big blind is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in MTT. Games have changed over the years, and now almost everyone is opening with relatively small sizing barely going over the min-raise, so you are getting irresistible odds for your call. Moreover, when blinds get higher, and you see antes introduced to the game, the odds become so ridiculous that it is mathematically correct to defend almost any two cards.

Obviously, you will have some problems realizing your equity with 72o against early position opponent with a tight range, but even this hand has the right odds to make that call a lot of the time. If your opponent is opening 20% of the hands, 72o has around 27% equity against that range, and if he is just min-raising with antes in play, you are getting approximately 1 to 4 to make the call. Even though it is good on paper, you obviously should not be defending 72o because as I mentioned before, you will not realize your equity easily and will end up folding too much.

However, that clearly illustrates that you should be defending any, at least, a bit playable hand and should not be folding much.

You Should Always Play to Win It

Many players advice to play for the win and do all you can to take it all down. While I totally agree that you should be playing to finish in top positions because it is where all the money is, I see many players taking unnecessary risks and hurting their overall win rate using this justification.

Probably the easiest way to illustrate this concept is to talk about the bubble situation. If you are chip leader or have a huge stack, you can push around most of your opponents to build the stack, and that is what you should be doing.

However, many people take these gambles even with a low stack. If you are one of the players without a pile of chips on the table, you should prevent yourself from trying to steal blinds from higher stacks, because they correctly can move all-in with any almost any two cards and according to ICM poker tournament strategy you will not be able to do much.

When you find yourself in such spots, make sure to reach even minimal payday, because it really ads up. When you reach the money, players start going crazy, and many short stacks bust extremely fast, which gives you a chance to move up the ladder without doing anything at all. After this, only one double up can bring you back to the game and give you are fighting chance.

Therefore, do not take unnecessary gambles by justifying it saying, “I am playing only for the 1st place” and take even small payday when you can. It will inevitably end up increasing your winnings, and you will be more than happy to see the results.

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Tadas Peckaitis

Tadas Peckaitis is a professional poker player, author of the free poker book “Play ‘A’ Game and be the Boss at Your Poker Table," and poker coach at He is also a big fan of personal effectiveness and always trying to do more. Tadas shares his knowledge about both of these topics with his students and deeply enjoys it.