Whether you’re playing your first tournament or you have already played several thousand of them, you probably questioned yourself: “Are multi-table tournaments profitable?” or “does it pay off to invest so much time to play MTTs?”
The answer to both of these questions is yes.
Poker tournaments are one of the most profitable forms of poker.
And in this post, you’ll find information on how to improve and be a winner, if you choose to invest time. We’ll discuss the most critical factors you should consider while playing tournaments and the best ways to improve your game. The goal of this post is to help you understand the nature of tournament poker, eliminate uncertainties, boost your motivation, and give you tips you should implement in your game to survive in the long run.
Let’s start with providing you the proof first, so there will be no doubt about profitability.
Here are the graphs with winnings of some of the worlds best online players:
- Samuel »€urop€an« Vousden
- Francisco »Tomatee« Benitez
There are no graphs for live tournament poker, but you can check all-time winners on this link.
The beautiful thing about tournaments is that there is always a chance of winning and taking home a whole lot of money, no matter how good you are (obviously, better you are, better chances you have).
Even events with low buy-ins attract so many players that winning can be life-changing. If you invest 100$ into a cash game, and at the end of the night you end up running it up to 500$, the session can be marked as successful. If you invest 100$ into a right tournament, where guarantees cross a million-dollar mark, a first-place can reward you with a six-figure score. Nowadays, you can, few times a year, win a six-figure score for a buy-in of just 11$ at PokerStars with their Sunday Storm tournament.
But the focus will be on giving you tips, tricks, and strategies that will make you a long term winner. Scooping a colossal score is, of course, nice and one of the reasons we are playing tournaments, but if you are losing player, things can go horribly wrong.
TIP #1: Bankroll Management
If you want to be successful, this is the most important tip you’ll ever receive.
Bankroll management is sacred. It’s what will keep you alive when the sky gets dark. Without it, you’ll eventually lose everything, even if you are a winning player!
Even if you are somehow the best player in the world, luck effect and variance can be cruel, especially in multi-table tournaments, so take measures of precaution.
Principles of bankroll management for tournament poker:
- Try to restrict yourself to a maximum of 2 percent of your bankroll for a single buy-in, and even that is pushing it, as 100 buy-in swings are standard in the current poker environment. So if your bankroll is 500$, don’t play tournaments with a buy-in higher than 10$. The majority of tournaments you play should be even smaller, so average buy-in is around 5$, and you have at least 100 buy-ins.
- Higher the stakes, more buy-ins you should have, as your opponents get better, ROI drops, and variance gets bigger. So if you are playing 5$ tournaments with 100 buy-ins, you should have at least 150 buy-ins for 10$ tournaments, 200 buy-ins for 20$, and so on. Stricter your bankroll is, less chance there is for busting your account.
- If you start losing money, set yourself a limit and, if necessary, take a step back. Let’s say you have 200 buy-ins for 20$ tournaments. The downswing comes, and you lose 50 buy-ins. The right thing to do is to lower your average buy-in until you re-build back to a comfortable number of buy-ins.
- Another important factor is your life roll and other income streams. Someone with limited resources and no option of additional deposits should have much stricter bankroll rules than a person with a lot of income that can afford to re-deposit. Even to some poker pros having additional sources outside of poker winnings is essential.
- When selecting a bankroll management strategy, each individual should consider their mental composure. If you are feeling more relaxed with two times bigger roll than suggested, than proceed with that. You should never play tournaments or any sort of poker if you are scared of losing money. So find your comfort zone.
Like mentioned, you should have the safety net of at least 100 buy-ins because tournament poker has a higher variance than cash games. Let’s take a look at how much effect can variance have.
In theory, if you play a thousand 10$ tournaments with 1000 players and your ROI is 20%, you should earn 2000$.
For those who don’t know, ROI stands for Return on Investment. It’s a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment. In poker, it’s expressed as a percentage.
As you can see, even if you are a winning player with a 20% ROI, there is a 26% chance for a negative result! In the worst-case scenario, you can end up losing more than 5000$. That’s more than 500 buy-ins. So never underestimate variance and learn how to love it. “She” can be a nice bitch too. As you can see, even if you are expected to win 2000$, there is a chance, in the best-case scenario, you’ll earn more than 16.000$.
TIP #2: The volume
So if you keep playing the same tournament and your ROI stays at 20%, there will be break-even or even losing streaks, there is nothing anybody can do about that. It’s just the nature of tournament poker.
You should know one thing – volume beats variance.
So let’s see what happens if you play 10000 tournaments instead of 1000.
Now that you have played 10, 000 described tournaments, chances of going broke are still there, but at the low 1%. With volume, if your ROI is realistic, you eliminate the impact of the variance. Your bankroll just needs to be big enough to survive downswings.
TIP #3: Smaller Multi-Table Tournaments
There is one more thing that impacts variance, and that’s the number of players in the tournament. The bigger the field, the bigger the variance, simple as that. You should include tournaments with smaller fields in your schedule too, so you reduce variance.
If you play tournaments with 200 players, there is an 8% chance of you losing, compared to a 26% chance of negative results in tournaments with 1000 players. The point is, if you’re playing mostly big field tournaments, you’re bankroll should be bigger.
TIP #4: Surround yourself with like-minded people.
Don’t be alone on this journey.
A bad streak will inevitably come. You’ll start doubting about your decision-making process and lose confidence.
That’s something every poker player faced at some point. It will be much easier to overcome those situations with the help of others. You can talk about how you feel, so you don’t accumulate negative feelings and start tilting as soon as you open a poker client.
But more importantly, you should always share hands and discuss spots, so you are sure it’s just variance, not a series of bad plays. It is super important to take notes and save (if playing online) or remember (if playing live, although you can even take notes at a live table – check this article how) hands that occurred and left you clueless.
Even after playing years of poker, there will still be hands in every session you won’t be sure about. So mark them somehow and review them after the session or the next day. That way, when a similar spot happens in the future, you’ll know how to approach it correctly and expect the highest return possible.
Don’t post hands that you played perfectly just to brag or bad beats – nobody cares about them.
You need to open yourself up, control your ego, and share hands that you misplayed, which cost you chips or your entire tournament life. Even if there is a chance you played the hand well and you just aren’t sure about it, share it. When other poker players surround you, you’ll receive opinions and be able to see things from different perspectives. There are not a lot of better ways to improve.
Another option is to buy expensive courses or poker coaches. While still effective, but the more affordable option is to read poker books.
A lot of times, what stands between winning and losing, in the long run, is a player’s ego. It just stands in the way, and it’s not willing to let others help you. Be better than that, listen to the advice you get, and channel your ego in the right direction, as it needs to be there because it’s what drives you to improve and be competitive.
TIP #5: Preparation
There is already a post about preparing yourself before entering and playing poker tournaments. They can be long and draining, so you shouldn’t just sit down and start playing, but you need to invest time in preparing both your body and your mind for a “marathon.”
You can read the post about tournament preparation for the best results here and avoid the mistakes that many players do.
Now, after we discussed some of the fundamentals of tournament poker that are not directly connected with strategy, but we need to understand in order to be successful, we can focus on plays and strategies.
How you play is dictated by tournament stage, stack sizes, and opponents you are playing against.
TIP #6: Early Stage
- In the pre-ante phase, there is no reason to play any different as in standard 100BB cash games. The only reason to deviate a bit is your tournament life. In cash games, if you lose a hand you just rebuy for another 100BB and continue playing. In a tournament, if you’re busto, it’s game over. So it’s okay to skip some of the marginal spots in order to survive. Respect your tournament life.
- Observe your opponents and take notes. Everything that happens gives you the information you can use later on to exploit your opponents.
- In the early stages, there will be a lot of recreational and bad players seated at your table. Some of them will try to survive and reach the money, some will even go very far, but a lot of them are just there to gamble. Recognize the type and be the one that punishes them and profit as much as possible.
- Preflop raises should be big as stacks are deep. Especially in the pre ante stage, you are opening mostly with strong hands and you want a lot of chips in play while holding a monster and playing against bad players. You can go even bigger than 3BB, as they will call your raises with the same frequency regardless of your sizing.
- Your 3-bets should be on the larger side as well. In position, you can go 3-3.5 times the raise, out of position you can easily go 4x times the raise. Don’t give the bad player a chance to suck out on you for a cheap price.
- For the same reason, when you hit a big hand, go straight for value. There is no reason to play fancy or game theory optimal and c-bet 1/3. Why would you c-bet 1/3 of the pot if you can get more money in? You should play exploitative and not worry about balancing your range against a player you’ll probably never see again.
- Don’t bluff too much. If you are a beginner, don’t bluff at all. Tournament players hate folding and there is no reason for you to throw away chips against a calling station. Chips you lose are worth more than chips you win.
- It will happen that you’ll lose a big pot early on. Chips that you have left are still worth something, so don’t just stupidly throw them away. Don’t punt! There will be a lot of 4, 5, or even 6 handed spots, that you can profitably 3-bet and accumulate lots of chips. If you double up soon after that, you are almost back. So be patient, a good spot will come and enable you to be in a good position again. Fight until the end.
In the early stages, just play ABC poker and don’t go too crazy. Remember, it’s impossible to win the tournament in the first hour.
TIP #7: Middle Stage
- When ante is introduced, you should widen your range a little and start playing more hands. Before antes, stealing the blinds is less important, but now you should start collecting chips.
- At this stage, you should already have notes on players sitting around you. Use them, exploit opponents mistakes and weaknesses.
- As players are, same as you, starting to steal more, you should have a wider 3-bet range from later positions and blinds to re-steal and accumulate chips. If in pre-ante phase you only 3-bet premium hands, you can now 3-bet someone with a polarised range. It means that you still re-raise with top hands, but you can include some of the suited connectors and one gap suited connectors. They will fold a lot to your 3-bet, but when they call, you have a playable hand in position. And even if you miss, you’ll take down the pot with c-bet a lot. 3-bet sizing is still big, around 3 times the raise in position, and 4 times the raise if you are out of position.
- Preflop raises should now be a bit smaller. You can’t go wrong if you are opening 2.5BB at this point.
TIP #8: Bubble Time
- Your strategy here will depend mostly on your stack size.
- If you have a short stack of 25 big blinds or less, then you should play relatively tight and wait for good hands. It really is the worst time to spew off chips just before payouts begin. But when a premium hand is dealt to you, play it aggressively and pick up valuable chips. Also, if there is a possibility to steal from players with even smaller stack sizes, you need to take the opportunity, as they will be super tight.
- If you have a big stack at this stage, you can play really loose and aggressive. It can be extremely beneficial later on. This is the perfect opportunity to additionally increase your stack, as even in micro stake tournaments, players will avoid being thrown out. It results in you getting lots of folds.
- When you face all-in from someone who’s been playing tight and you know he’s trying hard to reach the money, then you shouldn’t call lightly. Most of the time, they woke up with a premium hand.
TIP #9: Late Stage
- If you have reached the late stage, congratulations, you’re in the money. Immediately after bubble bursts, things can get really insane. A lot of players that folded every hand for the last 30 minutes, will shove their short stacks light with hopes of doubling up. So you should take your leg of the gas pedal and play relatively tight. Still, don’t be afraid to call off all-ins when you are dealt a good hand.
- If you were among those with short stacks prior to the bubble bursting, you should find the opportunity to double up and re-build your stack, so you can be in a good position before and at the final table. Payout structures of multi-table tournaments are top-heavy. Top finishers receive most of the prize pool and with a big stack, you have a greater chance of taking one of the top positions.
- Again, as always, be observant. Your strategy will depend on what kind of opponents you are sitting with. If you have tight, scared players at the table, that are trying to ladder up, continue with aggression, and keep collecting chips. Most of the bad players have already been eliminated, and closer to the final table you are, tougher opposition you’ll face. So every information you receive and every mistake you recognize carries a huge value.
- One of the greatest pieces of advice you will ever receive is to hero fold instead of a hero call. It can be hard to believe, but most of the money you’ll make is the result of folding hands others wouldn’t. Even when you have a good hand, if you are facing aggression from a tight player, don’t be afraid of him trying to bluff you. He has it. How many players, especially at micro stakes, will try and bluff you with so much money on the line? Fold and don’t be reckless.
At the final table, most of the stacks will be short. For additional information, read about how to play short stack poker at the final table here and avoid very costly mistakes.
Poker tournaments are not for faint-hearted. They can be painful and soul-crushing. It will happen, more than once, that you’ll go through breakeven and losing streaks for weeks or even months. But with the correct attitude, good bankroll management, and enough volume, you’ll surface as a winner. Your moment will come. There is no better feeling than winning a huge tournament. Good luck!
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- Avoid costly mistakes, and learn to master early, mid, and late stages, and crushing at final tables on this coaching website