Turbo poker tournaments 101: How they work & how to play them


Turbo poker tournaments are a popular type of MTTs (multi-table tournaments). All the differences between regular and turbo tournaments sprout from one structural tweak. Turbos have a shorter duration of blind levels. This small change in structure has a snowball effect on the gameplay. 

Turbos are especially popular because they don’t take as much time as regular MTTs. Regular MTTs can last for ages, while turbos can end in a flash. Most people don’t have time to play regular MTTs since they can sometimes last for half a day. Small stakes tournaments usually have very large fields with thousands of players.

I remember playing Scoop this Sunday with 20 thousand people in it, and after 9 hours, there were still 1,000 players to go. Very grueling hours of play, and if you don’t win or final table it, you barely get paid any money. Not just that, regular tournaments take extra time; they demand a lot of mental focus throughout the mtt, which can be really hard after that many hours.

how turbo poker tournaments work
Guide: how turbo poker MTTs work and wow to play them.

Turbo tournaments are a much friendlier version of multi-table tournaments and can take up to 3 times less time on average then slower or regular speed mtts. 

Why turbos are a better option for a recreational player

Non-professional poker players usually don’t have time to speed whole afternoons and nights playing poker. Before registering mtt, you have to assess your time situation realistically. You really don’t want to register a slow mtt at 8pm if you have to be at work at 7am. Not that you just might have to play it throughout the whole night, you might subconsciously self destruct and gamble way too much because you know that you have to go to work in a couple of hours.

Not only that, turbos are just a lot less time consuming, but they also offer a lot better “value” if you are a recreational player. It is still going to be a mostly negative value if you are not a profitable player but will lose less on average than in the regular mtts.

Turbos generally reach the push/fold faze of the tournament very fast.

Professionals have a very high bb/100* when playing deep stack since they can capitalize on their post-flop edge. In turbos, there is a very limited time when you play deep stack. Even if you build a big stack in the early stages, the average or effective stack of mtt will still be pretty low. It’s much less catastrophic when somebody gambles with a bad hand for 10bbs, then let’s say 45bb. Shortness of stacks in one way kind of evens the field a little bit. 

*BB/100 is one of the measurements that shows you how much you are winning in poker. This one specifically tells you how many big blinds you are winning per one hundred hands. You can check this stat in your Poker Tracker or Holdem Manager.

Profitability of turbos

The difference in winrates between regular and turbo tournaments.
Image 1: Comparison between the turbo and regular speed tournament results among Winamax regulars.

Turbos are a lot less profitable than regular mtts.

Post flop edge that good players have is mostly diminished in turbos since the play is so shallow. Especially in late stages when real money is made, the play is mostly just push or fold where edges are tiny. When players make mistakes, they are not punished so severely because the play is not that deep. It might be terrible to call 50 BB all-in with AT and just slightly wrong with 25bb.

With the help of a tool called Sharkscope**, we analyzed the tournament results. We created a group of players who played the most substantial volume of mtts on Winamax. These are mostly professional players. We checked how this group of players fared in turbo versus regular mtts. With the help of filters, we isolated turbo and regular speed tournaments and compared them with each other.

The results of our analysis can be seen in image 1. The most important stat that we are interested in is total ROI (Return on investment). This stat shows us how much money a player makes on the average per tournament. If somebody has a 40% ROI in a 10 $ tournament, he should win 4$ per tournament over the long run.

We can see that players have much higher ROI in regular speed mtts then turbos.

In slow tournaments, professionals have more time to implement their skill sets, while recreational players have just more time to make a mistake. In turbos, the average stack is quickly decreasing, which lowers the overall profitability of professionals since they have fewer options to maneuver. They are forced to play a lot more all- in situations that increase variance.

*Sharkscope is an online database that tracks poker players’ online results.

The faster the tournament, the higher the variance

Because of low achievable ROI in turbos, you are going to suffer a lot more variance consequently. Some poker players simply don’t have what it takes to play tournaments for a living. If you have what it takes, then tournaments will be very profitable for you if you put in the work, as they are softer than standard cash games.

A higher variance means that the probability of loss over a large sample is still going to be significant even if we are a profitable player in the game.

That means that you are a lot more likely to lose over let’s say one thousand 11$ turbos then regular speed mtts. We can estimate a probability of loss with the help of a Tournament variance calculator. When we, with the help of TVC, simulate the play of 1000 mtts with 10% ROI, we see (look table 1) that the probability of loss is 32%.

40% ROI wirnate and the variance you can expect.
40% ROI in regular MTTs, sample size 1000 torunaments.

That is quite a lot if we consider how much time it takes to play 1000 mtts. On the other hand, if we play 1000 mtts with the same BI but with higher ROI (slow structure mtts), we see that the probability of loss is tiny.

TypeROIProbability of lossEV ($) over 1000 MTTs
11$ Turbo10%32%1100
11$ Slow40%3%4400
Table 1: Probability of loss between turbos and slow speed mtts.

Yes, it takes much longer to play 1000 regular mtts, but with this demonstration, we just want to illustrate what it means when people say, “There is a lot of variance in turbo tournaments.”

10% ROI
10% ROI in turbo MTTs, sample size 1000 torunaments

How to find a good turbo mtt

One of the most important factors when looking for a good turbo mtts is rake. Obviously, for professionals, the most critical factor when choosing any kind of mtt is the softness of the field. The softness of the field just means how bad the players that play the tournament are.

But especially in turbos, the size of the rake plays an important role. As we know from previous chapters that edges are small in turbos, so we want to pay as little as possible to the poker room to play them.

Poker sites often vary their rake on speed type of the tournaments. That means that they charge less rake for turbo tournaments.

We can see in table 2 that there is a huge rake difference between turbos on Pokerstars and Partypoker. You are paying more than double the rake on Pokerstars for the same buy-in. Also, you get automatic 20% rakeback on party poker while rakeback on Pokerstars is basically non-existent.

The blind structure should also play a significant role when selecting a turbo mtts. Some turbos are basically crap-shot from the beginning, while others offer decent playability throughout the mtt. 

Check the structure of mtt before playing it and if it is too “crappy”, go and find another one. New turbo mtt is literally starting every minute online.

Poker siteBI (without rake)Rake% of rake per BI
Pokerstars9.81.210.9
Winamax9110
Partypoker10.50.54.5
GG9.20.88
Ipoker9110
Table 2: Size of the rake in different online poker rooms

Early stages 

Early stages of turbos play the same as any other mtt. You start with a deep stack that quickly begins to dwindle with the progression of the tournament. 

You should always play the turbos from the beginning. A lot of value gets generated in the early stages because the level of play is terrible/weak. Most recreational players make huge mistakes when playing deep stack that can lead you to double up easily. They put way too many chips into the pot preflop with weak holdings and stack off post-flop with weak draws and pairs.

The most simple strategic advice that I can give you is:

  • be patient
  • wait for big hands
  • once you get a big hand play it aggressively
  • collect reads on other players

It is important you spot the bad players early. Bad players usually:

  • limp a lot
  • use uncommon bet sizings, both pre, and post-flop
  • call too wide

Try to locate weak spots on the table and also figure out who the good players are. You can quite quickly recognize bad players. The most common leak that they have is that they like to limp a lot. That should be the first signal to you that something fishy is up. Weaker players use a lot of unorthodox sizings pre and post-flop. They like to change their sizings like min-raising in one hand 4x in the other or maybe just go all-in for 70bb in the next one.

Watch the showdowns of hands that you don’t play and look for some tendencies that you can exploit later versus them. The most common one is that they call way too wide. Did they call down three streets with a third pair or maybe call preflop all-in with AT for 78 BB. 

If you use a HUD (heads-up display), which I highly recommend, you will be able to recognize if somebody is playing fishy quickly. Just two stats vpip (Voluntarily put in pot) and pfr (preflop raise) can give you a quick glance on how somebody is playing. If you’re playing with somebody that has 70/4 stats after 50 hands well congratulations, you most likely have a whale at the table. The more significant the difference between these two stats, the bigger are the chances that something fishy is up.

For gathering information about your opponents, you can use online sites that offer players results statistics.

You can enter your opponent’s nickname in their search engine and see how good their results are. If you see somebody that played 10k mtts with ABI (average buy-in) of 10$ and won $20,000, you can pretty safely assume that they are regular. Most sites provide a couple of free searches (Table 3) per day, so go ahead and use them. 

The safest bet when it comes to the overall strategy in the early stages, especially in low and mid-stakes, is to play tight. You should have a solid preflop hand selection. Play hands that can hit big hands (like sets) and strong draw (nut flush draw). Avoid playing big pots in marginal spots and save your chips for premium situations. 

pokerprolabs.com3 free searches. Get an extra 10 upon free registration.
sharscope.com5 free searches per day
officialpokerrankings.comLimited stats for free.
Table 3: List of sites that track poker results 

Middle stages 

We will define the time frame of MS (middle stages) with the end of late registration and the beginning tournament money bubble. In the Middle stages, the average stack drops to somewhere between 25 and 40 bb. If playing tight was the ES (early stages) strategy, now is the time when we start to open up our game.

Stealing blinds and antes are important. By now, we probably played a couple of dozen hands with our opponents, so we should have acquired some reads on them. That, of course, if our table did not break, which happens more often in turbos since players bust faster. Not that we gain complete insight in their game, but now we should figure out if somebody is playing extremely nitty or fishy.

Knowledge of these tendencies will allow us to adjust accordingly. If somebody is playing too tight, you can steal their blinds with a broader range and open lighter when they have a position on you since they won’t 3bet and cold call you that often. If you are playing vs. a whale who doesn’t like to fold, limit your bluffs to strong draws and take him to value town with big hands.

Light re-shoving vs. loose openers is a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal. 

In the next example, we will demonstrate how having reads on your opponents can help you exploit their tendencies. In our imaginative scenario, we sit on the BB with 25bb and face three different types of villains from the cut-off.

In the first case, we have already played 250 hands with this particular villain, and our HUD tells us that he is playing 14/12. These are very low stats that tell us that our opponent is playing very tight.

In the second case, we have just been moved to a new table and checked our opponent’s tournament results on the Sharkscope. The villain that we are facing is a very good reg that has won over 100K at ABI 20$. We can assume that he is a very good regular that is going to be opening very liberally and trying to steal blinds and antes as often as possible.

In the third case, we face a limp from a villain with whom we played for a couple of orbits and saw him limp all kinds of trash from all positions. Now that we have some information on our opponents, let’s see how we should adjust versus them

With the help of Icmizer, we created a model for all three different villains and checked how wide we could re-steal. Versus tight player (17% RFI) we can see (Gallery 1), that we have to shove a very “honest” range since he doesn’t open with that many hands, to begin with. We are expecting to get called quite a lot from this villain.

We can shove much wider vs. loose-aggressive player (27% RFI) because he will not be able to defend his range correctly and will have to fold way too much. His folds will generate the most value vs. this player. When we shove over his open, we will win a lot of pots preflop without a showdown.

We can jam the widest vs. limper since he will play the weakest range (37% limp). You can notice that jams against him will not be that profitable overall because we are fighting for a pot that has 1 bb less since he only limped.

If we have a big stack, we can really start applying pressure on our opponents. We can do that by including some lighter opens and 3bets. We can also ramp up our post-flop aggression and put our opponents in some nasty spots. By that, I mean endangering their tournament life in marginal situations.

To do that, we have to have at least some judgment whether they are capable of making the hero fold or just shrug it off and call us off too light. We can never know for sure how villains will react, but if we collected some information during ES, we would at least be making an informed decision.

Approaching the bubble with a big stack, you can really apply a lot of pressure on low and medium stacks since they are disincentives to play pots with you and risk elimination. As a medium stack, you can still attack small stacks and re-steal vs. big stacks who play to lose. As a low stack, your main goal before the bubble is to stay alive but not at all cost. You should still take favorable spots and try to double up to have a shot of a deep run in the tournament and have a chance to win some real money. 

Late stages

The bubble just burst and especially in turbos, fields are going to be fueled with extreme shorts stacks who were just hanging by to reach the money. The average stack is going to dwindle to around 20bb, limiting the play to mostly push/fold strategies. In regular tournaments, we are still going to have some luxury of deep-stacked poker in LS (late stages), but in turbos, the reality is that we are mostly going to end up with a short stack.

Knowledge of push/fold strategies is crucial in the late stages. It’s impossible to be profitable in today’s poker environment without solid push fold strategies.

Since the stacks are so shallow, there won’t be much room for post-flop play, so you have to gain your edge preflop. With the help of push/fold tools and a lot of studying, you can learn them pretty quickly. We will detail some of the key concepts later in this article. 

Final table

Unfortunately, turbo mtt final tables play extremely short-stacked. It is not shocking to see a final turbo table that has an average stack of around 10 BBs. As we know, pay jumps dramatically increase on the finale table, so adjusting our strategy is crucial. You are more inclined to make a deal on the final tables of turbos since even if you are a better player, your edge will usually be tiny, and the variance very high.

On FTs (final tables), we can potentially win money just by folding. That is because we allow other players to tangle with each other that can lead to elimination from the tournament, which guarantees us a pay jump. To win money in short-stacked finale tables, you have to have an understanding of the Independent chip model (ICM). This is a massive topic that you have to study off the tables, and can’t be discussed here in detail, so we will just demonstrate a couple of key concepts.

ICM vs. chipEV

When analyzing a poker hand, you can use two different models: ICM and chipEV. ChipEV model is used for the analysis of the hands before FT while ICM is used for hands on the FT. ICM takes into consideration other stacks sizes on the table and the probability of players busting.

This is especially important for turbo FTs because everybody is so short stacked and in constant danger of elimination. ChipEV model analyses a hand in isolation and ignores other stack sizes and potential pay jumps.  

In the next example, we will demonstrate how ICM differs from chipEV in spots when we are facing all-ins. Let’s analyze a hand that can be seen in image2 in ICM and chipEV model. We can see in gallery 2 that in an ICM situation (FT), we have to call much tighter even though the villain is shoving ATC (any two cards). ICM will suggest much tighter calling ranges when we face potential elimination, especially if there are shorter stacks present

Big blind vs. small blind shove
Image 2: Hero facing an all-in.

You can see in Gallery 2 how much exactly our calling ranges differ when we compare the same hand analyses results with ICM and chipEV model.

Conclusion

Turbos are a great option for professionals and recreational players. Pros can put in a lot of volume and minimize the effects of variance. Turbos are more time-friendly for recreational who will get outplayed less often since the stacks are so shallow. 

Strategically, you should start by playing tight from the beginning and start opening your game with the tournament’s progression. Don’t wait for better spots too long in turbos because blinds are going up fast, and you just might not get a better chance to put your chips in.

If you want to be good in turbos, you have to start improving your game with the help of push/fold (Icmizer, HR) tools. Play games that have a low rake and avoid overraked games. You should especially avoid live turbos that sometimes have absurd rake like 80 + 20, which leaves you with a very small margin to make some money.

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