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There’s no question that tons of poker players love multi-table tournaments (MTTs). Even a sizeable percentage of professional cash game players sometimes choose to dedicate their Sundays to playing in the big online event, as do a majority of my students.

Obviously, it can be a lot of fun (and +EV) to play in the games as there are many recreational players. However, to be successful in MTTs you need to make some adjustments, especially if you are used to playing cash games or other different formats of poker.

To build a clear picture of the differences between playing MTTs versus other poker formats, I’ve listed some of the adjustments you need to make.

You Can’t Just Utilize One Strategy

You probably won’t find many spots in poker where using the same approach will yield the best results all the time. This is even truer in MTTs.

If you’re playing in cash games, you can easily top-up to the maximum buy-in after losing some money. You can even buy in again after a single unsuccessful hand. This is not the case in tournaments, however, and you need to understand what difference this makes in your approach to the game.

You should thus be aware of the value of your tournament life and not risk overplaying your weak hands early on. Instead, you ought to try to attack weaker players and gradually build your stack.

Different Stack Sizes Warrant Different Strategies

Many players forget to take stack size into account when deciding what strategies to employ in multi-table tournaments.

When playing in cash games, you will often be playing with an effective stack of 100 BB or more. Therefore, your goal would be to learn strong fundamental strategy and comfortably be able to play lengthy sessions profitably.

While you do usually start out a tournament with a stack size of 75-100 BB or even more, your effective stack drops continually due to constantly rising blind levels. Thus, you will not spend nearly as much time playing deep as you do in cash games. In fact, the majority hands you’ll play will be with an effective stack size of 50 BB or even less. Needless to say, mid to short-stack play requires altogether different strategies to navigate an MTT towards the final table properly.

Therefore, you need to develop strong fundamentals for being able to play well with all sorts of different stack sizes. Each “class” of stack size has an optimal play strategy that it certainly pays to study and master.

Pre-Flop Strategy

No matter which format of poker you are playing, the pre-flop play is crucial. It is close to impossible to recover post-flop if you are consistently making pre-flop mistakes. In fact, it will be one of the deciding factors as to whether you can end up winning tournaments consistently.

In cash games, you still have plenty of room to play and maneuver post-flop. In tournaments, by contrast, your pre-flop decisions will usually be the most important ones. Therefore, you must understand different ranges and strategies when your effective stack size decreases.

There are plenty of adjustments you will need to make. First, you’ll need to tighten your range of starting hands. As a good rule of thumb, you should open fewer connectors and medium-strength hands and add more hands with blockers (Ax, Kx) to your range when your stack size dwindles. Moreover, at later stages of a tournament, you start opening with smaller raises, and you can often take down pots with just a min. raise.

The same goes for 3-betting. When you have less than 40 BB, blockers play a huge role in making the right decision. Even when 3-betting as a bluff, you shouldn’t care so much about the playability of a hand like 76 and should rather focus on 3-betting hands like K8s to reduce the possibility of your opponent having a strong holding.

Truthfully, pre-flop strategy is somewhat of a standalone topic that is simply too broad for the scope of this article to get into more deeply. If you’re interested in learning more about this subject and upping your tournament ROI to start crushing, you’re invited to join this MTT preflop master course.

Post-Flop Strategy

Just as with pre-flop play, you can’t just play the same way post-flop regardless of the size of your stack. The more big blinds you have the more playability you will get from speculative hands. Therefore, at later stages of a tournament you should be playing hands that have potential to flop high top pairs. When you do hit it, most of the time you just have to go with your hand. In fact, even one pair hands are often strong enough to stack off with if you’re shallow. By contrast, this would be a big mistake if you were deep stacked.

Furthermore, you should really be looking to classify/categorize your competition properly. For instance, it is critical to know whether you are playing against a nit or an aggressive regular. This fact will change their likely ranges a lot, and you can be sure that a nit who is playing 11/9 will not stack off without a strong holding. Likewise, an aggressive regular could easily be trying to outplay you. For this reason, you should be willing to get it in even with weaker holdings against him while continuing cautiously if the first player shows an interest in the pot.

Finally, in later stages position is less valuable because if you flop a reasonably good hand, you will have to go with it regardless of where you’re sitting in relation to the button. If you have a short stack, you will not need three streets to get all the money in, so it gives you all the options of playing profitably even out of position. In this latter case, defending the BB with a very wide range will undoubtedly prove profitable in the long run.

In the Money: Laddering vs. Aiming to Win

If you are lucky to reach the final table of an MTT, there are different strategic approaches to take depending on your overall stack size and relative stack size to those of other players. First, you need to understand the importance and implementation of independent chip model (ICM) calculations, so studying it will often help a lot.

Nonetheless, it’s of no less importance to try and gauge the goals of your opponents. Some will be looking to move up the ladder and fold their way to a higher payout while others will be trying to captain the table, push other players around and take the tournament down. It goes without saying that you need to have a variety of different strategies and choose the right one with which to play against each type of opponent. At the very least, you need to be aware that the dynamics at the final table of an MTT are far different from those in a cash game. Act accordingly!

If you’d like to learn more about the fundamentals of proper MTT play, be sure to read my article about poker tournament strategy and get a few more tips that will help you win more.

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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 mypokercoaching.com. 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.

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