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Multi-Table Tournament Strategy

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One of the biggest reasons for the explosion of participants in the poker world has been the televising of large multi table tournaments. ESPN and the Travel channel have both shown various poker tournaments, from the World Poker Tour, to the World Series of Poker. While there may be more money in daily cash games and the Internet sites love the sit and go tournaments, but the fame comes with learning to master the large multi table tournaments.

Like any form of poker, multi table tournaments have their own rules, strategies, and attitudes. One of the first things to remember about a large multi table tournament is this: early on you’re not playing to win, you’re playing not to lose. There are so many players who are bad players, chasers, or so loose aggressive that many times (especially with online multi player tournaments) you can get into the top 1/3 without even playing a hand. If in doubt, play conservative. Many of the most successful multi table tournament players are the ones who know how to bide their time.

The problem with the tournament is you can’t re-buy, but even being conservative you still need to acquire chips along the way in order to survive the gradually growing blinds so they don’t get so large as to back you into a corner. Like any other form of poker, learning to read your opponents is critical. When you have a strong hand, you can’t be afraid to push it, and you have to be willing to steal blinds and follow with a continuation bet to take down the pot when everyone misses.

The most important aspect of surviving multi table tournaments is knowing when to throw away a strong hand. There are pro players who have thrown away pocket kings or even pocket aces pre-flop. This is hard to nearly impossible for most of us, and this is surprising to most people, but for many players the next step is learning to throw away that big hand when it’s in a bad situation. This is hard to do, but you don’t lose the most money with bad hands—you lose them with A-Q with ace on the board against A-K.

Here’s an example pre-flop. You’re holding pocket kings from the dealer position. The high stack at the table is 6,000 chips and sitting on the big blinds. The low stack is 900, and the blinds are up to 300/600. You are just around the middle at 2,500. There are ten players at your table. The first to act goes all in with 1,100 chips. The next three players fold, but then the next player not only calls, but also goes all in with 2,200 chips. The short stack also goes all in, and it reaches you. Do you know what the right call is here? It’s to fold—especially if you’re not in the money, or especially if you’re heading towards the final table.

Why? Because at this point there is a fair chance that if the large chip stack has a hand, he will call, making it 4 players. Even if he doesn’t, you still have three hands against you. Pocket aces against three other hands is almost never much above 50%, or a coin flip, to win. This isn’t a cash game where you can re-buy, if needed. Once you’re out, you’re out. In this situation, those pocket kings are no longer strong enough. You are definitely facing an ace, probably some double face paint, and most likely any straight or flush draw has to worry you. With so much of the deck that could act as outs, just get out of the way and let the other players knock each other out.

Find a good poker odds calculator and run the numbers. With four or five hands played, the pocket kings are surprisingly mortal, and you can see why with all these potential outs for other players why you should simply muck and wait for another hand, another time, when the odds are much more in your favor. Work on reading your opponents and learning to fold strong hands when you suspect your opponent has you beat, and you’ll cut back on the hands that count as staggering losses—and with that you will make more money, place better, and may finally take that last step to not only reaching, but winning, the final table.

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