How to Survive & Navigate Through Large Field Multi-Table Poker Tournaments
June 12, 2015 Leave a Comment
Multi-table tournament poker is the most exciting form of poker available. A small initial investment can net you an astronomical return on investment (ROI) if you are able to navigate through the entire field of players.
Navigating your way through a large field multi-table poker tournament is no easy task. You will have to dedicate a large amount of time and focus to achieve the maximum profit, and any mistake you make can prove to be fatal if you are not careful.
I focus my time exclusively on multi-table tournaments these days due to the fact that I feel I can exploit my edge to the fullest in the later stages of the tournaments against weaker opponents.
If I am able to accumulate a large stack of chips during the earlier stages of the tournament, I can dictate the action for the remainder of the tournament without ever risking my tournament life. I can apply maximum pressure to my opponents with smaller stack sizes even when I don’t get dealt strong cards.
When I do get dealt strong cards, I can exploit my opponents for maximum value when I know I have them beat in a hand. I am comfortable making a variety of different maneuvers throughout the tournament due to the volume of experience I have accumulated from playing thousands of multi-table poker tournaments throughout my career.
A multi-table poker tournament can be broken down into four unique periods. Within each of these stages of the tournament, we will want to employ different strategies to accumulate chips as we make a run for the final table, and ultimately, the win.
The Early Stages
The early stage of a multi-table poker tournament plays much like a cash game would. Each player will normally start with 100+big blinds (100bb+), and we can take a variety of different approaches to accumulate chips at this stage.
If you are not that experienced playing cash games, I would suggest playing very tight during these stages and not getting out of line much. Wait for premium holdings, and bet those premium holdings when you believe you hold the best hand.
Don’t be afraid to make big lay downs either when the situation calls for it. Tournament poker is about survival, and we do not want to risk our tournament life in the early stages when we have to still navigate through a large field of players.
If you are comfortable playing cash games, I would suggest employing an aggressive strategy during these early stages in an attempt to accumulate as many chips as possible. These chips will ultimately prove to be extremely valuable during the later stages when we want to apply maximum pressure on our opponents.
As a rule of thumb, I like to apply as much as aggression as possible when I am in late position. I will pick up many pots uncontested with mediocre holdings, and this will help me build a table image that will help me get paid off on my premium holdings.
I will not get involved much from early position without premium holdings, or hands that have potential to flop big hands (sets, straights, flushes.)
Small pairs and suited connectors are great hands to see cheap flops with, in hopes of hitting a big hand. If we miss the flop, we can fold for cheap and not risk that many chips. If we flop big, we can win a large pot from an opponent who can’t fold his inferior hand.
I see a lot of amateur players bust very early in a tournament with big pocket pairs that they simply can’t fold when an opponent has potentially hit a stronger hand. We should not be risking a large amount of chips unless we know we have the best hand, or we know we can bluff our opponent off of his hand. If we are going to bluff an opponent, we must have a read that this opponent is capable of folding a big hand, otherwise we are throwing away chips.
For more info on table image, check out my article Building The Image of The Table Maniac.
The early stages of the tournament are ultimately about accumulating as many chips as we can without taking big risks. We will be more inclined to take risks in the later stages of the tournament when the blind levels increase relative to our stack size.
When we have effectively 100bb+ stacks, we are in no danger of being eliminated, and therefore, we should not be gambling for our tournament life. If we are in a rebuy tournament with a large amount of buy-ins behind us in our bankroll, we can take calculated risks and gambles in hopes of hitting a big stack. If we gamble and bust, we can simply rebuy a new stack and start again. I will save the more in-depth rebuy strategies for articles in the future.
For now, lets assume we have a single tournament life, a structure the WSOP main event employs.
The Middle Stages
As we approach the middle stages of the tournament, we will want to expand our starting hand requirements in an attempt to steal as many pots as possible.
I define the middle stage of a tournament as the point when antes have been introduced to the blinds. Each player will have to ante chips before the hand in addition to the blinds, and this creates a larger starting pot for each hand.
We want to attempt to steal these larger pots as much as possible by raising a wide variety of holdings in later positions.
Experienced tournament players will pick up on the fact that we are attempting to steal with less than premium hands, and we will certainly face resistance along the way from them. It is crucial to develop a read on your opponents sitting directly to your left at the table. These are the opponents that will be in the blinds when we are in late position, and if we can identify their playing styles and tendencies early on, we can exploit them appropriately when the situation arises.
If I know the opponents in the blinds are relatively weak and passive, I have no problem opening every single hand pre-flop if the action is folded around to me. I know that these opponents will not put up much a fight without premium holdings, and I can safely pick up pots from them whenever they don’t have a strong hand. These pots I pick up will outweigh all the times I have to raise and then fold when I face resistance.
On the contrary, If I know my opponents in the blinds to be solid, aggressive, thinking players, I will have to be careful when attempting to steal their blinds.
You will notice a lot of stronger opponents re-raising out of the blinds against a late position initial open raise due to the fact that the re-raising opponent understands that the initial raiser doesn’t always hold a premium hand when he open raises.
Late position open raises do not get as much credit as raises from early position do. Stronger opponents know that you are trying to steal the blinds, and they are not scared to re-apply pressure on you.
Knowing this, we should not immediately shut down and fold when faced with a re-raise. If we have a solid stack (40-100bb+), we can take a few different approaches to dealing with our opponents re-raise from later positions and the blinds.
If we are being re-raised from the blinds, we know that if we see a flop, we will have position on our opponent for the duration of the hand. We have the benefit of acting last on each street, a huge disadvantage for our opponent.
We get to see what they do before we have to make a decision. We can opt to flat call the re-raise in position and see a flop, or we can choose to 4-bet (re-re-raise) our opponent to apply maximum pressure.
We will often want to 4-bet our opponent when we have a larger stack size, and aren’t at risk for our entire tournament life if we went all-in at any point during this hand. For example, I will be more inclined to 4-bet my opponent who 3-bets me on the button when I am in the cutoff. I want to take the lead in the pot knowing I will have to play out of position for the duration of the hand.
I don’t mind picking up the pot right there pre-flop, but if he calls my 4-bet, I will have the initiative to continuation bet the flop and get a fold if he misses.
You can be assured that our solid, thinking, opponent is taking into account the relative stack sizes before he takes his action. Often times, you will see solid players re-raise more often from a later position rather than the blinds when they have a larger stack size than you. If the stack sizes are effectively even, look for your opponent to call your initial raise as a defense rather than re-raise and risk additional chips.
It is extremely important to see how often each opponent is either calling, or 3-betting open raises from each position on the table. We will want to play more passive and defensive when a solid aggressive opponent will have position on us for the duration of the hand.
These opponents will often continue to apply pressure throughout the hand and we can only stick around if we flop a strong holding.
Conversely, our opponent can completely miss the flop but we must fold to their aggression if we do not hit our desired flop. We don’t want to risk many chips in hopes that raising our opponents continuation bet gets a fold. We will be playing the guessing game that will ultimately lead to us making a fatal mistake when we could have avoided the situation altogether.
Our opponents will be able to muscle us out of many pots due to having power of position on us. We will have to fold many flops that we don’t connect with, while they can bet a variety of flops with, or without a strong holding.
Power of position is one of the most important aspects of tournament poker to have a fundamental understanding of.
The Late Stages
The later stages of a multi-table poker tournament is where the stronger, more solid opponents set themselves up in a position to have a shot at winning the entire tournament, or bust out completely.
I define the late stages of the tournament as the “money bubble” stage of the tournament in which each remaining player will receive a profit from their investment after a certain number of players have been eliminated.
As a rule of thumb, most tournaments employ a structure where 10% of the entire field gets paid. If there are 1,000 players in our tournament, 100 get paid, and the rest go home with nothing. After the 101st player is eliminated, everyone else is guaranteed a profit. This stage of the tournament is crucial for accumulating chips if we want to make a run at the final table, and book the win.
To play as optimal as we can during these stages, we must have a solid grasp of two fundamental theories:
Please make sure you have an understanding of these two concepts if you want to succeed and maximize your potential for profit in multi-table tournament poker.
Exploiting The “Money Bubble”
Taking the “M” ratio and ICM model into account, we must plan an approach to accumulating as many chips as possible when we approach the money bubble stage of the tournament.
If we have an average or an above-average chip stack size, we can apply pressure to the opponents with smaller stack sizes than us due to the fact that they will not want to bust out before the money bubble bursts.
Many players will play extremely passive during the money bubble stages hoping to slide their way into the payouts, and we can exploit this by raising and re-raising them when we see best fit. We want to put them to the test, and force them to make decisions for their tournament lives.
We can also exploit the fact that many opponents will treat our raises and re-raises as a sign of strength during this stage because they will think that we are not trying to be eliminated, just like they are.
Our bets and raises will get a lot more credit than they normally do, due to the fact that not many players are willing to put many chips at risk without a premium holding.
If we have a below average chip stack, shoving all-in pre-flop is our strongest play in our arsenal. If we are hovering around 10-15bb, we can open raise all in and steal a large percentage of pots, and we can also re-raise all-in and re-steal a lot of steal attempts from players in late positions.
Understand that if we re-raise all-in to re-steal an initial steal, we will need fold equity on our side in order to achieve our desired result more often than not. If our opponent has so many chips that he simply will not raise and fold to our all-in, we want to be shoving all-in with strictly premium hands.
If we have fold equity on our side, and we know that our all-in will put our opponent at a decision for a large percentage of his chip stack, we can re-shove all-in with hands as weak as Q-10 suited.
We will win the pot uncontested a large percentage of the time due to our fold equity, and if we do get called by our opponent, we can get lucky and also win the pot against hands such as A-K which we are not a large underdog to.
We do not want to be shoving with hands that don’t have good equity against our opponents perceived range. We want to avoid re-shoving all in with hands like A-2, due to the fact that when we are called, we are often dominated and will bust the tournament a larger percentage of the time than not.
Even though Q-10 is a weaker hand than A-2 statistically pre-flop, we will have a better chance of winning with Q-10 instead of A-2 vs hands like A-K/77+. It is vital to understand how your opponents are reacting to each maneuver during these stages in order to pin them on a range of potential hands that they will avoid getting involved in for a lot of chips. Experienced tournament players are more prone to making lighter calls against us when they know we are shoving all-in very wide. We should avoid trying to get involved with them and instead, pry on the opponents we perceive to be weaker and more passive.
If all goes according to plan and we crack the money bubble, we can be assured we are going home with some profit. This is a nice feeling to have, but understand that any result other than winning the entire tournament is not desirable if we are looking to maximize our return on investment. The top prize is reserved for first place, and we want to set ourselves up to have the best opportunity to win the entire tournament.
After the money bubble, you will notice a lot of players having no fear of going bust due to the fact that they know they will be getting paid. We will be able to steal less pots during this stage, and we really don’t want to get involved and risk too many chips without a strong hand. We want to be patient and wait for strong hands, and let our opponents make the mistakes for us.
If we are lucky enough to survive the post money bubble stage and build up a good chip stack, we will have a solid chance of taking down the final table and winning the top prize.
The Final Table “End-Game” Stage
A final table of a multi-table poker tournament plays much like a sit-n-go tournament.
We have just one table of players left, and each player that gets eliminated results in a large pay jump for all the remaining players. The difference in terms of money from finishing 9th, and finishing 1st, can be astronomical depending on the size of the tournament.
Knowing this, we want to weigh each and every decision we make very cautiously as we narrow down the field of remaining players.
A final table starts as a full table of players, a change from the short-handed play experienced before reaching the final table. During the short handed stages of the final 2 tables, starting hand requirements are much wider, the blinds hit you more often, and you must get in the action if you want to build a healthy stack for the final table.
Once the final table is reached, starting hand requirements become more stricter, the blinds hit us less often, and we can play more patiently without having to be forced into the action. We generally don’t want to get out of line if we don’t have a top 3 stack, it makes more sense to sit back and wait for a good hand and hope to double up. On the contrary, if we have one of the leading stack sizes, we want to open up our hand requirements to exploit the weaker, more passive shallow stacks.
We must keep in mind that when faced with resistance from a smaller stack, more often than not, we will have to fold and save chips. We do not want to donate a large amount of chips to a smaller stack and have our power be diminished. We can afford to be patient and wait for the correct opportunity to eliminate our opponents.
As players are eliminated from the final table, we resume a short-handed strategy of wider ranges of hands to open raise with. We want to steal chips from the smaller stacks when the situation is ideal, and exploit the ICM model as much as possible. When we are in a hand with an opponent who has more chips than the smallest stack, we need to be aware that they will be more hesitant to commit all-in when the odds are the remaining opponent with a smaller stack will bust earlier. We can exploit this with aggression, but when faced with resistance, often times we will be up against a strong hand that we cannot afford to play against.
Often in tournaments, when there are a few players remaining, a tournament deal will be reached where the remaining players “chop” the remaining prize pool based on how many chips each player currently has.
Each opponent will take a sizable payout, and additional money will be reserved for first place.
In one of the most famous tournament deals of all time, poker pro Dan Smith was able to negotiate a deal which saw him walk away with MORE than the first place prize money.
Dan’s angle was he wanted to be paid a premium if he was to make a deal because he felt he was a stronger player than anyone remaining in the field. He wanted additional guaranteed money if he was to agree to a deal due to his perceived skill edge.
Quite the feat!
Opportunities to take down a final table do not come very often, so when you have the chance to take down the top prize, make sure you remain focused on optimal strategy for each variable that comes into play. Large tournaments can go on for hours and hours and if you cannot remain fully focused on the task at hand, you will find yourself making fatal errors that cost you a shot at a big score.
The more experience you accumulate from playing tournaments will prove valuable when you reach the later stages, and need to outplay your weaker, less experienced opponents.
Understand that an overwhelming majority of opponents at your final table will more often than not be solid, winning players, and will be trying to outsmart you each step of the way. It is solely up to you to expand your poker knowledge, and expand your arsenal of maneuvers to counter these strong opponents.
Ultimately, winning a tournament requires a lot of luck, and if you have this luck on your side, your skill advantage will help carry you the distance.
Good luck at the tables! 🙂
For additional poker strategy, please check out our extensive poker strategy section!