Quite a lot of people who have never played real poker let themselves get fooled by the illusions of the gameplay that they see in the movies. You can see four of a kind being well beaten by a royal flush, a brave movie character bluffing their enemies and opponents at the table. Yes, this looks fairly attractive, but it’s not poker – just Hollywood. Everything looks different in real life and in real poker. The reality requires players to avoid any mistakes and use every single chance they’ve got. And poker tournaments have it all.
Multi table tournaments (MTT) are competitions requiring a certain level of training, skills and commitment. First of all, you have to be familiar with the theoretical aspects of Texas Hold'em gameplay. Secondly, a poker player must be tough and have a lot of stamina. Just think about it – a poker tournament can last up to 13 hours! And obviously, you just can’t afford to relax your vigilance, even for a second! Just one small mistake can ruin your performance. Hours of work could become nothing more but a waste of time.
MTT allow players to build impressive bankrolls. For instance, over $7 million was given away as a prize during the latest Sunday Million Anniversary organised by PokerStars. The three finalists have won more than $800 grands each! Everyone who has ever played online poker dreams about this kind of money. But first of all, you have to eliminate your mistakes. So, let’s talk about the DO’s and DON’Ts of MTT.
1) Fear of Mistakes
The fear of mistakes is a widely spread issue among poker players. Beginners who do not have enough poker experience want to minimize their risks. Unfortunately, everyone has to take the factor of luck into consideration. Poker is not chess. Sometimes you have to rely on your luck. In addition, it is very important not to miss your chances. You can’t let yourself just sit and wait for pocket monsters like AA, AK, KK, etc. In situations like this, you will be able to float for 1–2 hours. At the same time, you should remember not to go to extremes. An MTT player should only play suitable starting hands.
2) Desire to sit on the fence
Here, we would like to talk about the MTT strategy. It is very important to find the right balance between aggression and prudence. However, beginners tend to forget about it. Let’s say that a player doubles or triples his stack with the help of pocket aces in the very beginning. The lucky player’s chip count goes up. I bet everyone in his place would wish the tourney ended instantly! Go ahead, dream on! In reality, you will have to survive through hours of play. Then, the pay zone will come into play and you will be able to win your money. The strategy of sitting on the fence is ineffective. If you were lucky to gain advantage in the very beginning, you should build up your stack. Use your stack as a weapon, threaten your opponents, steal blinds, etc. If you decide to wait and avoid any action, you won’t be able to achieve good results. At best you will crawl to a bubble – and there is no guarantee that you will win this bubble battle. You have probably dreamed about better results, haven’t you?
On the other hand, there are some situations when you should play wisely and avoid any risks. Let’s have a look at the example below:
MTT – a thousand registered players. The pay zone is from the 1st to the 100th player. The hero is on BB, the stack is $13 000. The level is $500/$1000. There are 101 players left, the game is at the bubble stage. The villain who has $14 000 is preflop all-in. The hero’s hand is AT. What should he do? Well, the answer seems to be clear. It is obvious that the villain tries to steal the blinds using advantage of his position. The hero’s cards are good enough to protect the blinds. But it is very important to analyze the possible outcome. The villain is all-in, it is impossible to protect the blinds without risking the loss of the whole stack. If our hero calls, there are two possible outcomes: either he doubles his stack or gets knocked out of the MTT. The second outcome means that the hero is our bubble boy, who has played for hours without winning a cent.
Let’s try to analyze what kind of cards our villain could have. It seems like his hand is OK, but not great – for instance, a suited connector or a pocket pair from 22 to 99. It can also be an ace plus a low kicker. The best possible situation in our case would be if the villain had an ace plus a low kicker. In this case, the winning chances of our hero are 73%. However, what would happen if the villain held a suited connector? Let’s say 78. Chances of winning decrease to 61%! What about the case when the villain has a weak pocket pair, like 66? Here, we have a typical coin-flip situation with a small advantage on the side of the villain. Even if he bluffs about keeping some weak cards like 72, the chances of our hero are not as high as he would wish – only 68% to be precise. So the question is the following: is it wise to risk staking the pay zone result when our hero could wait for 1–2 minutes to win some money? When you play MTT, you should be guided by common sense. The perfect result for a beginner is to reach the money stage. Therefore, sometimes you should hold your horses and avoid clashes.
3) Frequent coin-flip play
Poker is the game of skill.However, luck plays an important role, too. The real torture and a challenge for the nervous system of any poker player is the tossing of a coin. It is simply impossible to avoid coin-flips. Sooner or later, your QQ will run into AK or your KQ will be challenged by TT of the opponent. However, you should avoid coin-flips if it is only possible. Just think about the cruel nature of poker. Just one lost hand can cost you the whole tournament! Nobody would be interested in the reasons for your failure. Nobody would compensate your loses because of bad luck with coin-flips. More importantly, you would not care about reasons for your failure. You are out of the tournament, and your dreams about huge winnings are completely ruined.
This is why you should avoid coin-flips on early stages of MTTs. Moreover, you should not be preflop all-in on early stages with small pocket pairs (22-99) or AK if it is not absolutely necessary. Why do that when the growing blinds don’t force you to take the risk? Why put your success in poker at risk by tossing coins? In this case, it might be wiser to switch to roulette and putting bets on red or black. You would have the same coin-flip with small house advantage because of the zero. Once again, remember: you shouldn’t play coin-flips without absolute necessity. Such necessity typically occurs during the latest stages of MTTs. The growing blinds force short-stacked players to risk. If you become short-stacked, you will have to rely on your luck and keep your fingers crossed.
We bet that every experienced poker player knows how it feels when your pocket aces or kings are beaten. It is quite difficult to calm down after such a disappointment. Some players are prone to believe that poker-rooms cheat, helping others earning money. Well, sometimes pocket monsters lose because of bad luck. But at the same time pocket aces and kings quite often get beaten because of a poor play. Limping is one of the most horrible aspects of poor play. You should clearly understand that limping with pocket aces or kings is one of the most possible stupid decisions. A limper who invites more opponents to the game plays with fire. Some figures prove it. Just use the available poker calculators, for instance – Poker Stove. Let’s say that your AA plays against just one opponent with random cards. In this case, the equity of your hand (the chances of winning) is 85%. If you let two players continue this hand, your cards equity will decrease to 71%! Let’s imagine the situation when there are four opponents and you with AA. In this case, the equity of your hand will be only slightly higher than 50%! Don’t be surprised if your competitor completes his draw with some crappy cards like 78 or get two pairs. Don’t cry when he takes all of your chips. Do you still want to limp?
Of course, we don’t say that you should never limp. This trick can be very effective when you play against extremely aggressive players who tend to raise the pre-flop. You can use limp to set your traps. Aggressive players raise and you instantly re-raise taking them into your trap. But in this case, you have to be absolutely sure that aggressive opponents will raise the pre-flop. Well, but what are you supposed to do if nobody raised your limp? In a case like that, you should be very careful. Your opponents’ hand range is extremely wide. Your pocket aces don’t guarantee winning. Place your bets but get ready to fold. A board with draws is too dangerous to call bets in such situations.
5) Misuse of bluffing
As we are now moving on to the subject of bluffing, we would like to refer you to the introduction to this article. You can see how characters in movies use bluffing to outclass their opponents. But don’t think that Texas Hold'em is all about bluffing. A successful pure bluff (when a 23-hand beats QQ or AK) is quite rare in poker. Just browse YouTube and you will easily find such hands.
During an MTT, it is fine to use the so-called semi-bluff. A semi-bluff takes place when the player places bets taking into account that his hand can turn into a winning combination. A good example of a semi-bluff is completing the flush-draw. This means that you should be aware of the winning potential of your hand from the very beginning.
There is another element in the ABC of poker and bluff. You should use bluff only when playing against a small number of players. There should not be too many opponents left in the game. The more players you face, the less chances of success your bluff has.
6) Unwillingness to watch the opponents
In poker, we have something called ‘poker tells’. Poker tells are signals sent by players. For instance, some poker players start to scratch their noses when they get nervous or unsure about decisions. Such tells/signals can be easily recognized in live poker. When you play online, poker tells are harder to find. However, it doesn’t mean that you should let online games drift away. As soon as you fold your cards, you should switch to the observer-analyzer mode. You should carefully watch your opponents, trying to catch some poker tells, to read them. This kind of information is crucial. It can become your powerful weapon at the poker table. Unfortunately, most beginners don’t take it too seriously. They just switch off when cards are folded.
7) Ignoring the opponents’ hands
Beginners are usually told that they should play only a small range of starting hands, let’s say premium starting hands. Well, this is true, but there are also some MTT specifics worth paying attention to. For instance, you just can’t allow yourself to sit and wait for pocket aces and kings all the time. If you use this kind of strategy, you are doomed. The growing blinds will knock you out of the tourney. Therefore, it is extremely important to evaluate the strength of your opponents’ hands. This should be a crucial aspect of your strategy. You should never ignore the opponents’ hands. Don’t mislead yourself into thinking that you can attack with your pocket cards (even if you have AA), regardless of the current situation at the table. This kind of aggression might cost you a lot. Let’s have a look at this example:
MTT – a 1000 registered players. The pay zone is from the 1st to the 100th player. The hero is in the middle position, the stack is $10 000. The level is $200/$400. There are 205 players left. The hero’s hand is QQ. All players sitting to the right have folded. The hero raises 3 BB. The villain on the button calls (his stack is $12 000), the big blind player folds. The flop is 2KA. What do you do now? Let’s say the villain calls every bet with ease. In this case, the probability of losing is quite high. The villain might have an ace or a king. This means that our hero should not risk with such a flop. However, many beginners would find it difficult to fold pocket queens regardless of the flop.
Naturally, our list includes only the most typical poker beginner mistakes. In order to be a successful MTT player, you have to be patient, work hard and eliminate any possibility of making a mistake. Your hard work will be rewarded sooner or later. Finishing in the pay zone is a real joy. Moreover, winning an MTT will make your dreams come true. You will never forget this brilliant moment. Good luck at the table!