Multi Table Tournament Strategy
The multi-table tournament represents the most popular style of poker play. Two of the most famous multi-table tournaments are The World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour. Due to the massive amount of opportunities to win a seat to the big multi table tournaments, it is interesting to note that the majority of World Series of Poker tournament players now earn their entry to the event through online qualifying tournaments. Chris Moneymaker (2003) and Greg Raymer (2004) both won their buy in to the World Series of Poker at Poker Stars and went on to win millions of dollars, and now represent Poker Stars to the world.
The structure of these tournaments is quite simple. For a "buy in," or set amount, players are entered into the tournament. Every player is then given the same number of chips and seated at as many tables as are necessary, and the elimination begins. When a player "busts out," he leaves his seat, and remaining players are moved around to ensure equal numbers at each table. As you can imagine, this takes hours and even days to complete large multi-table tournaments.
All of this concentration, work and drama, for what? Only the top few finishers will earn money. If the tourney pays top 10 finishers, and you finish #11,you have put in the maximum amount of time and effort for the least return. Otherwise known as being on the bubble. For many players who have had great success in regular ring games, the multi-table tournament is a cruel effigy of failure. This can be directly traced to the fact that most players do not grasp the changes needed from their ring game style to a tournament style. Consider some examples:
You hold Ax suited in a regular ring game. Your course of action would probably be to call at least one, possible two bets, and even raise in late position, if everyone has folded in front of you. On the other hand, what to do with Ax suited in the early stages of a multi-table tournament? Almost without fail, tournament experts will tell you to dump those cards without wasting a single bet.
How about QJ offsuit? In ring play, I probably wouldn't give this hand the time of day. However, at the final table of a multi-table tournament, this can represent a very playable hand! This might seem a bit contradictory so we'll go through an explanation on how strategy shifts occur depending on what stage of the tournament you are in.
Lets begin by breaking the multi-table tournament into three periods: Early, Middle and Final Tables. Early tournament play would obviously be the very beginning of the tournament, and characterized by lots and lots of fish and suckers. The middle time period will be after almost all of the fish have busted out, except for a lucky few, and the remaining players are fair to excellent poker players. The final tables then would be represented by excellent players, and maybe, just maybe, some fool whose on a hot streak, or a fair player whose having a good day.
As you can tell, this is not an exact science. You really can't put a number on when you move from early to middle and even to final tables. It all depends on the nature of the tournament. In a tourney filled with great players, you may be into middle play very early. In a loose tournament, the final tables, may not come until the last 15-20 players.
Multiple Table Tournament Poker Strategy - Early Stages
Play in the early stages of a tournament should be extremely tight. Most players think that since the blinds are cheap in the early stages, that this is the time to go in with marginal hands. NOT SO! In fact, the opposite is true. Since the cards are coming so cheap, now is the time to be picky about what your play with. One particular author I read went as far as to say that he only plays 2 hands in early tournament play, AA and KK. With both of these hands, he bets hard and does not try to trap. He would consider playing QQ in certain positions. While I consider that a bit too tight, it does make the point that early stages you play tight hands. You want to gain the reputation of a stone cold rock.
Hands that to play in the early stages: JJ, QQ, KK, AA, AK suited. I will occasionally deviate from that list, but only in good position. I never bluff in the early stages of a tournament. Why so tight? This style of play will let the weaker players bust out, without taking you with them. It's a great idea to take advantage of the lesser skilled players however, there is always the risk of having your aces cracked by a deuce four who make two pair. It happens all too frequently in the early stages of the tournament. Even playing those top 5 hands, it can still happen to you, but hopefully a lot less.
Play ultra-tight early and do not bluff. Remember, only the top positions pay, and that's your goal.
An alternative strategy of playing more flops is advocated by the new breed of poker players such as Phil Ivey. They play a lot of flops early on, and when the flop hits them hard, they seek to scoop up a lot of extra chips and build a stack that they can bully with. This style works well if the tournament starts you out with plenty of chips (100 big blinds or more).
Multiple Table Tournament Middle Poker Strategy
After you have given your opponent the opportunity to throw away their chips and you are at the table with fair and solid players, now is the time to loosen up and play your regular game. Your hope at this point is to rake in a good number of chips, so that you make it to the final tables with at least the average amount. Middle stages are also prime time to bluff at a few blinds. You have two things going for you in this case. First, as more players are eliminated, the thought that "we dont have too far to go to make money," begins to settle in on everyone's mind. Many players will completely lock up as they move further into the tournament. Secondly, you have hopefully gained that "rock" tight image. A bet or raise from you will be respected. This translates hopefully into a few stolen blinds.
A word of caution: you're still a good ways off from the money, and so a stone cold bluff with rags would not be advised. However, QJ, offsuit in late position where you only have one caller, or the blinds to go might be worth a raise.
In summary, middle tournament play should resemble your regular style of ring game play. You're looking to gamble a little and collect enough chips to be a force at the final tables. If you bust out in the middle stages with good cards, then so be it. Better to lose it on a good play, than to make it to the final tables, short stacked and get blinded away to finish just outside of the money.
Multiple Table Tournament - Final Table Poker Strategy
What's the strategy at this point? Loosen up even more! Be bold and take risks. Don't take foolish risks but keep in mind that now is the time to put those short stackers all in, if you have a decent hand. Every person you knock out of the tournament now is very significant and increasingly profitable. In the same sense however, be careful of challenging the huge stacks, unless you have an excellent hand or they are locked up and letting their chips get blinded away.
Another final tables strategy is not to get locked up in multi-way pots. If you have a great hand, then by all means play it, but consider before jumping into the fray between two other players. Let the other two players do battle, and when one of them loses and gets short stacked, pick them off.
In summary, at the final tables, flex your chip strength, put the cripples all-in, play somewhat loose and take risks.
Multiple Table Tournament Poker Strategy Conclusion
When watching the final tables of the World Poker Tour and the WSOP, it's sometimes amazing to see the seemingly ridiculous and seemingly wild, loose play. Stone cold bluffs with rag hands, all in with K 8 offsuit, etc. We are then lulled into thinking that this style of play is characteristic of these players, and that playing with wild abandon has gotten them to this point. This perception couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, this is one reason why online poker is so lucrative right now. Thousands of players flock to the online casinos, after watching final table play of the WSOP on YouTube, and think that's the way to play poker.
Before dropping $10,000 on a buy-in to the World Series of Poker main event or even any of the other smaller events , you should seriously consider gaining valuable experience online. Some of the best players in the world have rapidly increased their skills due to playing online. The reason these players have been able to get so good so fast is because playing on the computer happens at an incredibly fast rate. Especially when playing multiple tables.
Besides the host of satellite tournaments allowing you to win your way to the World Series of Poker, a good player can make a living from all of the low buy-in guaranteed tournaments online. Many of the pros are making their living online through lucrative multi-table tournaments.
Overall, the one big poker strategy that takes the chips is this... tight early, aggressive play midway, and extremely aggressive and taking bigger risks at the final table. This has repeatedly been a poker strategy that is a proven winner in multi-table tournaments.