Poker tournament strategy that you should learn!
A winning poker tournament strategy requires a full understanding of many different topics. Today, games are entirely different than it used to be a few years ago and MTT strategy that used to work in 2010 is not very efficient now, so knowing Texas Holdem poker hand rankings or rules of the game will not be enough anymore.
Tournament poker is probably the most popular form of poker around the globe, and there are a variety of reasons for this. In theory, anyone can win in a single tournament and take home a big chunk of money (relative to their buy-in). Also, tournaments provide you with a lot of play and represent an excellent learning ground giving you the thrill of the action and opportunity to win at the same time.
Thus, if you want to master poker tournament strategy as fast as possible, you should build good fundaments and only then jump to advanced topics. To help you out with this, I created a list of the best poker tournament strategy tips that will help you start in the right way.
Know the difference between cash play and poker MTT
Knowing the difference between these two games of poker is vital. In fact, if you do not understand how each type is different, you are likely to struggle with both. Since we are discussing poker tournament strategy, I will concentrate mostly on that, just barely touching cash games.
There are few main differences, which you need to be aware of in MTT strategy. Firstly, there are two factors, which you need to take in consideration when making a decision:
- An amount of chips you have in your stack
- How your stack looks compared to other players
In cash games, your chips have a value that does not ever change. One-dollar chip is always worth one dollar, and a fifty-dollar chip is always worth fifty dollars. This is by far not the case in tournaments.
You may be wondering why this difference is such a big deal. The answer is relatively simple, in a cash game you are never “out.” Even when you bust, or go all in and lose, you can always buy more chips. In a tournament, when you lose all your chips, you are out for good. Therefore, your strategy hinges almost entirely on how your stack looks relative to the field (other players) and how much you stand to gain by outlasting your opponents.
To illustrate this even further, we need to be familiar with the Independent Chip Model (ICM). ICM – is a mathematical model used to calculate player’s equity in the tournament according to a number of chips he is holding. Therefore, this model plays a huge role in effective poker tournament strategy.
If you find yourself playing on the bubble of any poker MTT, busting out means, you are getting nothing and reaching paid places ensures at least a minimal payment. In this spot, your goal is to preserve chips and try to build your stack by attacking other players. ICM dictates that you could be shoving all-in very aggressively with a wide range and making big profits, but you just cannot be calling other player’s shoves with the same range. In most cases, you should be more willing to risk your tournament life by showing aggression yourself. It also applies to final table play, where you have big money jumps.
If you want to get better and learn poker tournament strategy, you have to learn this concept. Therefore, study ICM situation using any of the tools available online and make sure to understand what it stands for.
Your MTT strategy should change according to the stack size
Most live events and significant buy-in online tournaments usually start deep stacked. That is with 100 big blinds (bb) or more. At this stage of a tournament, despite my previous statements, you will be playing a strategy similar to a cash game:
- Carefully select the hands you play
There is no point to force the action at the beginning of the tournament. This is the spot, where careful card selection comes into play. Most of the time, weak players will be playing way too many hands, so your goal is to play strong ones and gradually build your stack.
- Be patient and disciplined
Sometimes it is not as easy as it looks, especially if you are not getting any playable hands. However, these skills are necessary if you want to be a successful poker tournament player. You should spend your time observing your opponents, finding their mistakes, seeing who is tight or passive and punishing them for it when you have a chance instead of chasing opportunities to play weak hands.
They tend to make many mistakes and to overvalue their poor holding. This gives you a tremendous opportunity to build your stack early on. So instead of battling with regulars from the beginning try to concentrate on weaker players. If you choose your opponents correctly and do a bit of observation, you will know when to value bet light or fold a reasonably strong hand facing aggression.
This can be used at the beginning because you end up playing deep stacks almost all the time. However, to build a winning poker tournament strategy, you need to learn how to play with shorter stacks because this is where you spend most of your time.
When you get down to around 50 BB, you should start stealing more. A lot of the time, you will have antes in your game, and this is a good spot for widening your ranges. More than in any other format, poker MTT requires distinguishing the difference between your opponents, because you will end up making many decisions based on the situation and your competition instead of just looking at your hand.
This is where the information that you gather earlier comes into play. Ultimately, your mtt strategy at this point will be to get involved with players that you have a position on, and against anyone on who you have a solid read or understanding of their hand range. You want to bully anyone you can, which will likely be a smaller stack. Raise pre-flop wide and look for signs of weakness. Be willing to risk going all in if you have some equity when called. The worst thing you can do when you have a medium stack is given someone the chance to catch up. So always, keep the pressure and try to build your stack implementing an aggressive strategy when you can.
This is what makes tournament poker so fun! When you get down to shorter stacks, it is time to unleash the power. Sitting around just waiting for AA is a bad idea, because likely, you will be blinded down to just a few BB. When this happens, no poker tournament strategy in the world can help you much.
To avoid this scenario, you should start playing aggressively before it is not too late. When you gave a reasonable stack of 20 BB, a bit more or less, you should be actively looking for spots to re-shove.
In this case, opening many hands will not help you build the stack. However, if your competition is very tight, you should be trying to steal their blinds quite aggressively from later positions and raise hands, which have good blockers, such as Ax or Kx instead of playing low connected hands. Nevertheless, most of the time opening many hands will be a mistake, because you end up facing 3bet jams and drastically reducing your stack when forced to fold.
It is much better to be the aggressor yourself and add some bluffs in your 3bet shoving ranges. A quick example:
- The blinds are 100 and 200 with 25 chips ante on a 9-man table. So even before your hand is dealt, there are 525 chips in the pot. Imagine you are sitting on the button, and your opponent in CO raises to 500. You decide to re-shove all-in for the remaining 4000 (20 BB), and he folds. You just added more than 25% to your stack and instantly moved from 4000 to 5025 adding extra 5 BB.
This is an enormous boost, and just a few strong moves like this one can bring you back to the playable stack. Remember, patience is your friend here, and you should choose the spots carefully. As we already discussed, most of your decisions will be based on the situation and your opponents. However, most players tend to open too much and then not defend as often as they should facing a shove. That is why it is so profitable to push some extra hands as a bluff, such as A-high suited, small pocket pairs and few other blockers.
It is not very easy to list all possible scenarios where you should be choosing this line. Therefore, be aware that you need to learn much more about the implementation of it on all different stack size levels and you can do that addressing MTT preflop strategy!
A tiny stack
The last phase of any poker tournament strategy is open shoving spots. This is the final stage where your primary goal is to double to keep fighting for the title.
If relative stack size is down to 10 BB you have only two options – fold or raise all-in. At this point, you are trying to get all your chips in most of your Ax hands, pocket pairs or any combination of Broadway cards.
When you have an even smaller stack of 6 or 7 BB, you need to remember that you will get called very light, as your opponents are correct to do so. In this instance, you should keep your bluffs to the minimum and use it just in very specific spots. It is very likely that at one or another point of your tournament you will be in the area where double up is needed and choosing these spots correctly will increase your chances to take down any poker MTT that you play.
Defend the big blind with a wide range of hands
This is incredibly overlooked when it comes to poker tournament strategy. The fact of the matter is that two crucial things occur in tournaments that make it advantageous to defend your bb with a very wide range:
- You will often be getting correct odds to call.
Many players are just min raising or putting 2.2x raise in later stages. Moreover, almost in all cases, you will have antes that make your odds ridiculously good. Let us take a similar example as before:
Stakes are the same: BB – 200, SB – 100 chips + 25 ante. Your opponent raises to 500, and you have to call another 300 to see the flop with 1325 chips in the pot (including the amount you call). Therefore, you only need 22.6 % equity to make this call.
You will be surprised that almost any suited card will have at least this amount of equity. As you see in the picture, even 52s has much more than that.
Obviously, it will not be easy to realize that equity every single time because you play out of position from the BB, but you still should be defending very wide in this spot. What if another player already called and a raise and you are getting even better odds? Well, you should go crazy and defend a lot; I would say all playable hands.
- People will steal less when you defend wide
It is critical to defend wide because most players are looking for an easy target. If they see a tight player who is folding a lot in the BB, they will raise very often trying to take the pot, and you do not want to be in this place. If you are recognized to play aggressive and defend your blinds, sometimes everyone will fold around, and you take down the pot uncontested or at least they will be stealing less.
Do not be afraid to play even marginal hands; you will have to make your stand at some point and getting ridiculously good odds to see a flop is always nice. I wrote a full article about MTT poker tournament big blind strategy so make sure to read it and get full insights for your game. Moreover, if you want simply crush your opponents and gain an ultimate edge, I highly recommend our Big Blind vs the world strategy course!
The Best Way to Master Poker Tournament Strategy
It is not very easy to develop efficient MTT strategy, to begin with, but if you read all the article it means you are ready to take one step further and improve your game even more!
To become a world-class poker MTT player, you need tremendous dedication and willingness to study the game. Many professionals already spend thousands of hours developing their skills and strategies to beat the game, and you need to catch up if you are just starting out. Maybe you heard about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule:
It states that to become world class at anything you must perform 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. The 10,000-hour rule is accepted as a standard for becoming an expert or high-level performer in any field.
This certainly applies to tournament poker as well. If you spend 40 hours per week playing and learning the game, it would take around five years to reach that point. However, most players can easily devote up to 80 hours per week, reducing this time to a bit more than two years. But who wants to wait for so long to finally start crushing the games? Certainly not me.
Let us be realistic here. Malcolm takes into consideration all the time you will spend making mistakes and learning new concepts, as well as implementing it and failing along the way because you lack the correct information. But what if we can eliminate the biggest part of mistakes from your game?
I am not saying you will become the best in the world after a month, but getting the right directions at once, can save you thousands of hours. This article is a great start for that because here you will find the essential principles of poker tournament strategy. However, by far the fastest way to start winning poker MTT’s and improving your game is getting enrolled in poker training video courses or joining a dedicated program!
In this article, I will look into one of the most comprehensive and detailed courses devoted to MTT poker – Tournament Master Class and bring you an honest review of the class. If you’ve been thinking about investing money into improving your poker tournament strategy, this review should help you immensely to decide if Upswing offers what you need.
Tournament Master Class at a Glance
The first thing (you might already know) about Upswing Tournament Master Class is that it is hosted and taught by Pratyush Buddiga, a player with $6.5 million in live tournament earnings and one of the best MTT grinders around. There is no questioning his credentials – Buddiga certainly has ample knowledge to share with any aspiring poker player, but does it show in the course?
What you’ll notice when you log in to view the course is that it is broken into a few dozen lessons, grouped by the most relevant aspects of play: introduction, pre-flop, flop, turn, and river. Then, there is an entire section devoted to tournament dynamics in general (bubble play, final tables, etc.). Finally, there are numerous examples from actual tournaments, showing different concepts discussed throughout the course.
All big groups are divided into smaller sub-section, with video lessons lasting 10 to 30 minutes, and you also get to download slides with the most important concepts from each of the lessons. This highly structured and segmented approach to teaching poker tournament strategy really takes one thing at the time, while simultaneously referring to concepts discussed in other videos, creating a fully encompassing MTT poker class.
With that introduction out of the way, let us dig into the substance of each of the modules briefly to at least give you an idea of what you can expect to find inside.
Preflop Play: Raising Ranges, 3-bets, and Blind Defense
The preflop play is the most extensive module of the Tournament Master Class, which makes sense given how vital segment of the overall poker tournament strategy this is. What’s really great about this (and all other modules, for that matter) is the fact they pretty much start at the beginning, so you don’t have to be an advanced player to understand the concepts discussed in them. Instead, Buddiga begins with some fairly basic stuff and builds on from there.
So, the first few modules discuss your default preflop raise-fold ranges. For players who have been playing for some time, there isn’t too much new information here, but these videos do give enough space for necessary adjustments, especially when playing in weaker MTTs. I believe this is something many players will find refreshing as this course, as well as the rest of the Master Class, don’t try to preach rigid, unchangeable ranges, but recognize the fact poker tournaments are a universe of their own, and you need to adjust your play depending on the general tendencies as well as particular reads you pick up along the way.
After explaining how to construct your raising and calling ranges, the class moves on to 3-bets, covering the topic quite extensively. Although not all of the videos on the subject are in succession, you’ll find plenty of information on 3-bet pots. Over the course of several video lessons, Buddiga breaks down the entire concept of 3-betting, explaining the motivation for it in various spots, proper sizing depending on yours and other stacks at the table, position, and other relevant factors. After watching all the videos, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have much better understanding for 3-bets in MTT play. One lesson also touches on the topic of 4-betting, and this is quite useful as 4-bets are expensive per default so this is one segment where you want to avoid mistakes at all costs.
Other concepts explained in this part of the class explain playing from the blinds, short stack play, and re-steals. In these lessons, Buddiga once again digs under the surface and explain the motivation behind different options available to you. In these segments, you’ll find good information about fold equity, proper balancing your ranges, and some non-standard ideas about widening your big blind calling range against small-sized opens.
All of the lessons are accompanied by numerous hand examples and breakdown of ranges, so you don’t just get theoretical explanations but actual, real-life examples of situations discussed in the videos.
Flop: Board Textures, C-bets, and Check-Raising
After the extensive analysis of the preflop play, the class moves on to flop play. Once again, Buddiga starts by explaining some general concepts about playing flops, ideas behind c-bets, and general types of hands you want to play in particular ways. Thus, even those not very experienced with poker tournament strategy can keep up and stay in the loop.
The first thing discussed across several videos is c-betting, another crucial part of MTT play. The idea of c-betting is not foreign to any tournament player, but the fact is many people struggle with understanding when c-bet is merited and when it is better to check the flop and play for the following streets and especially how to adjust your strategy with shorter stacks in MTTs.
The class breaks down the topic of c-betting in detail, paying particular attention to three groups of flops: low card, high card, and paired boards. Within respective modules, Buddiga goes on to explain how to approach these different subsets of flops in terms of deciding whether to c-bet, sizing your bet properly, and, most importantly, understanding why one action is superior to another in different spots. If continuation betting is a part of poker tournament strategy you struggle with, you’ll find plenty of answers and explanations in these videos.
The course then switches roles, putting you in a position of the player facing a c-bet. Many of the concepts described in earlier videos apply in this discussion as well, so you should definitely watch them in order. The segment about playing against a c-bet really digs deep into figuring out how your range stacks up against the opponent’s perceived range, how big of a role the size of the bet plays in your decision, and, perhaps most importantly, trying to figure out how the hand will play out once you do decide to call on the flop. All of these things need to be considered together to make best decisions when facing a c-bet, and Buddiga does a great job explaining it.
Finally, one very interesting segment deals with check-raises, a more advanced play and one definitely not often seen in lower buy-in tournaments. This video discusses when to go for a check-raise and why, and it is a really valuable resource seeing how this is something that’s not easy to come up with on your own.
Playing the Turn: Delayed C-bets, Floats, and Weak Leads
The turn and river segments are somewhat shorter than the first two, simply because there isn’t as much ground to cover, especially in MTT play. However, there are still some very valuable lessons here and, once again, Buddiga manages to cover several aspects that tend to be problematic for many players, even the ones with more experience.
For example, a video discussing delayed c-bet explains how powerful it can be as a bluff once your opponent checks to you twice. Pratyush actually pulled the information out of his own database, and the success rate of such bets is in the 80% territory, which is really telling. The video explains how people are often ready just to give up when they check twice and how turn c-bet is quite credible so it should be incorporated as an important part of your poker tournament strategy.
Another excellent video from this module deals with infamous floats. Now, the idea of floating is somewhat new, at least in terms of having its own name, and people love to float, but this is another area where there is a massive difference between mindlessly calling a bet and actually going in with the plan. Buddiga discusses several groups of hands and explains which hands make for better floats (focusing on the idea of making things fairly easy and straightforward on the river). In this video, he also talks about another important concept, and that’s the (bad) tendency of many MTT players to merely call with fairly weak holdings, hoping for a check on the river and cheap showdown.
Other videos of this module reveal some more interesting concepts, such as the idea that you should actually have the highest percentage of folds on the turn. Once explained, it makes a lot of sense, but it is another idea that can easily slip under the radar as it isn’t something you’ll just stumble upon.
The final topic of this module discusses weak leads, i.e. betting into the original raiser after they skip on the flop bet. This isn’t a particularly used or hugely profitable concept, but Buddiga does make a case for particular board textures where you could do it pretty much 100% of the time, as long as you size your weak leads properly.
The Final Street: Finessing the River
The river is an important street in Texas Hold’em, in MTT play and cash games alike, seeing how pots and relevant bets are always biggest on the river. However, a lot of what happens on the river is already defined by previous streets, so there isn’t as much to look at in isolation. That’s probably the reason why this is the smallest of all modules, with just four lessons.
The first module talks about river c-bets and making sure you don’t have too many bluffs on the river (but still have enough to balance your range). Furthermore, the video goes into sizing your river bets and weighing arguments pro and against having a standardized bet size on the river. However, once again, Buddiga recognizes that in certain situations and against certain players, there are spots where you want to switch your bet sizing, even if it is, in general, safer and easier to have one sizing.
The second video talks about the other side of the medal: what to do when facing a c-bet on the river and how to proceed in these spots. Buddiga focuses a lot on the fact that many MTT players gravitate towards absolutes (always calling or always folding), which can be a significant gap in your poker tournament strategy. Adjusting your calling range based on your read of the opponent and the situation is fine, but over-adjustments can be problematic.
This module also talks about situations where you get to the river where turn goes check-check. This is actually quite a common situation, so Pratyush gives an in-depth explanation of how important it is to approach these situations in a correct way. The video considers a number of different scenarios and types of hands, constantly emphasizing the importance of playing these situations correctly.
Beyond the Card Distribution: Understanding Tournament Dynamics
While the same set of rules applies as far as the game is concerned in both cash games and MTTs, poker tournaments are very different from cash games because they have their own laws and dynamics that don’t really apply at the cash tables. When you play ring games, every chip you win you can cash out at its cash equivalent, and you’re free to get up whenever you feel like it and walk away.
None of this applies to MTTs, and so solid poker tournament strategy must consider appropriate adjustments. That’s why it is really great to see the Tournament Master Class has an entire module devoted to tournament dynamics, exploring different stages of play through several videos.
The first video of the module deals with the dread bubble, a period of play just before making money in the tournament, which is probably the tensest period in any event. Buddiga discusses several strategies you’ll need to consider when nearing the bubble (including stalling, which gets an entire separate video). Of course, bubble strategies change with the size of your stack. When on a short stack, it is better to stay on the tight side and defend tighter so as to give yourself a good opportunity to make the money first. The strategy changes as the size of your stack changes, and when you are a big stack at the table, you can be the one running the action, and it can be advantageous to you to keep the bubble going.
The final table is where all the big money is at in any tournament, so it is no surprise there is a video focusing on final table play. Some of the considerations from the bubble play still apply, since most final tables are basically at a constant state of a bubble. You need to plan your shoves well, and call shoves tighter so as to preserve your chips and don’t double up short stacks liberally.
Most tournament players are familiar with the concept of ICM poker strategy, but not everyone understands it correctly. Many people are overly concerned with making the final table and often justify their bad plays by ICM, while missing on the opportunities to gather chips that they need to make it into top two or three spots. Buddiga tries to explain it is important to go for the top place and take marginal spots at the final two tables to put yourself in the best possible position.
Live tournaments are a different beast when compared to online, which means live MTT play merits certain adjustments. This video talks about playing against worse players (in general), accounting for the boredom factor, ego wars, and thinking about live tells. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should go too crazy, and we should still stick to solid theory, but there are certain adjustments that can work in our favor. If you often play live games, be it cash or MTTs, you should certainly check Live Game Masterclass and learn how to crush live games without any struggles by making vital adjustments, learning to read your opponents and much more.
The final two videos in this module deal with two big issues tournament players face, and this can influence your play significantly, even if you have a very solid tournament strategy. The first thing is the focus – whether you play live or online, you don’t need distractions. Online, this means getting away from Facebook and Twitter and live, you’re probably better off staying away from your phone. Staying focused is very important because it is all too easy to make marginally bad decisions when you aren’t 100% into it.
The last video of the theoretical part of the course deals with an all-important topic of downswings and how to handle them. Now, downswings are a part of any MTT player’s career, and there is really no way around it. The way you approach them, however, can make all the difference in the world. It is important to keep in mind that downswings do happen to everyone. Furthermore, you need to be aware of your play level and going too crazy after a big score and jumping into much higher games can lead to big downswings because you’re playing in tournaments you aren’t +EV in. Even if you stick to your level, downswings will happen, and Buddiga offers some advice on how to deal with these efficiently.
Hands on Examples
For most people, understanding theory is much easier when accompanied by practical, real-life examples. Although nearly all videos in the course include several examples, there is an entire section entitled “Play & Explain,” where Buddiga takes some actual examples from his database to break down some of the most difficult spots.
This includes things such as playing in 3-bet pots in and out of the position as a caller, playing 3-bet pots from the big blind, as well as play on the bubble and during the final two tables of an MTT. Finally, there are two entire tournaments analyzed in detail. These are a $5,000 MTT on Party and a $10,000 WCOOP event, so the level of play is probably quite higher than what you’d expect in a $1,500 WSOP event, which Buddiga often mentions as an example, but these are still great to look at and learn from.
Conclusion: Is Upswing Poker Tournament Master Class Worth the Buy?
There are many poker training resources out there, and there is no denying that the Poker Tournament Master Class comes with a somewhat hefty price tag attached. There are decent products teaching poker tournament strategy out there at a much lower cost. So, should you spend your money on this one?
First of all, this course was tailored in a very detailed and matriculate way, and it covers almost any topic you could possibly struggle with. It is geared a bit more towards live tournament players because HUD stats and such aren’t given a lot of room. And, live tournaments are, on average, much more expensive (you won’t find many $1 or even $10 live events). So, if it can help you become a winner in $1,000 – $5,000 live tournaments, then the price is no longer an issue.
Considering how extensive the course is and the fact Buddiga really explains all the concepts extremely well, there is no reason to think this course can’t teach you very solid, winning poker tournament strategy in online MTTs as well. All the tools you could possibly require are there, and the Master Class will probably be most useful for the players that already have some tournament experience but are struggling with certain areas of their play.
All in all, this is one of the best poker tournament strategy courses you can get your hands on. The price is arguably a bit steep, but the program will be worth every penny you invest as long as you put in the time to really go through it and do your part in accepting and implementing tweaks and strategies laid out in the videos.
All things considered, this is an investment in your future, not the cost!