MTT Poker Basics & Rules
An MTT is a multi-table tournament and is a poker tournament that is played across multiple tables. You'll find that most poker tournaments you enter are classed as MTTs as it's pretty common for more than 9 or 10 people to enter. Most tournaments that are limited to one table are sit-and-gos which are limited to a set number of players and will begin once that number has been reached.
For the uninitiated, tournament poker is a poker game where players compete to win a portion of a collected prize pool. Players pay a fee to enter and are given a set number of chips. Once the tournament begins, poker is played following the standard rules and the blinds start at a low level compared to the starting stack size.
After a set amount of time, the blind levels increase and will continue to increase whenever that set amount of time passes for the remainder of the tournament. Additional forced bets, called antes, are introduced after a handful of levels. Once a player loses all their chips, they're eliminated from the tournament.
As players are eliminated, tables are merged to ensure that there is an equal number of players at each table. Most tournaments pay 10-15% of the field, so once that number is reached, players are considered "in the money" and anyone who is eliminated from then on will receive a cash prize based on their position.
Play continues until there is one table remaining, aptly called the final table. It is in these late stages of MTT poker where the biggest prizes are given to the players. Once one player has accumulated all the chips, this person is declared the winner and is given the top prize.
MTT Poker Strategies
There are a few different ways you can look at MTT poker strategy, and the best players consider all of these factors whilst playing:
MTT Strategies by Periods
The first way to look at tournament strategy is by periods. Unlike cash games, MTTs have definable stages to them and the best way to play will change depending on the stage you're in.
In these early periods, the blinds are a small fraction of your stack and the majority of players are still in the tournament. The instinct for a lot of new players is to play a loose-passive style and to play a lot of hands because "Hey, it's not costing me much!". This is in fact, the opposite of what you should do.
Having the mindset of "it's cheap to call" will catch up with you in the long run, the same way that spending $5 on coffee every couple of hours will quickly leave you broke! These stages are about chip conservation.
There is little to gain from stealing the blinds as they're so small, so you should be playing a tight preflop range to take advantage of the players playing loose ranges.
In the middle period of a poker tournament, the blinds start to increase and antes are introduced, meaning that if you don't want to get blinded away you need to start playing more hands. This is where we move away from the tight preflop ranges we were using in the early game and start to open up more.
This involves stealing the blinds more often from late position, re-stealing against late position opens, defending your blinds wider. We can expect that other players will also start to loosen their ranges which is why we can fight back against their open raises by 3betting them more and defending our blinds more often. By doing this, we give ourselves a great opportunity to pick up chips from weaker players
Chip accumulation is vital at this stage of the tournament as it sets up how you'll be able to play once we enter the bubble/money phase of the tournament.
Bubble and Money Period
This is arguably the most important phase of the tournament as this is where we're going to be fighting for real dollars instead of just chips. The "bubble" phase is the period just before you make the money.
Your stack size will dictate how you're able to play during the bubble phase. If you have a big stack, you're able to play extremely wide and put a lot of pressure on opponents that have short stacks. This is because if they go all in and lose they're eliminated from the tournament and make $0, whereas if you put them all in with your big stack and lose you're still in the tournament.
Conversely, if you have a short stack on the bubble you should play very conservatively in an effort to try and make the money as often as possible.
Once you make it into the money you can still apply pressure if you have a bigger stack as there are "money jumps" where the prize you receive is increased after a certain number of players are eliminated.
MTT Strategies by Stack Size
Another way you can look at MTT strategy is by your stack size. The number of chips you have should dictate how you play in a tournament.
Deep Stack (100BB MTT Strategy)
When you have 100bb or more, the blinds and antes are insignificant to your stack and are much less of a concern than when you're short stacked. This means that there is no need to go crazy trying to steal the pot preflop and you should focus on playing a tight-aggressive strategy to exploit the players who are playing too loose.
The only caveat to this is if you've managed to accumulate such a stack on the bubble stage of a tournament. In this case, it's very profitable to play a loose-aggressive strategy and try to steal as many chips as possible. This is because you're unlikely to be played back at and will be free to accumulate chips until the bubble has burst.
Mid Stack (50BB MTT Strategy)
50bb stacks can be quite tricky to play for a lot of players as you don't have the comfort of a 100bb stack but also aren't in the push/fold mode that you would be if you were shorter. When you're sitting on this stack size you want to be trying to pick your spots at the table.
You want to be raising a decent range of hands, wider than you would with 100bb but not quite as wide as when you're short and looking to pick up chips. Avoid tangling with the big stacks if you can help it and if you're approaching the bubble try and find some short stacks that you can take advantage of.
Short Stack (25BB MTT Strategy)
If you get to a sub-25bb stack, you're getting close to the "danger zone". That is where the most profitable way to play is either going all-in or folding like you would in a short-stacked tournament. Between 10-25 there is often more room to play and you can still make a normal open-raise but if you get below 10bb you should just be going all-in or folding.
Stealing the blinds and antes becomes vitally important at these stack depths as they can represent a significant increase in your stack size. Raising off of 20bb and winning the big blind, small blind, and antes can be an over 10% increase to your total stack size. This means you'll want to be raising very aggressively from late position as that gives you the best opportunity to win them.
MTT Poker Profitable Tips
No matter what stage in the tournament you're in or what stack size you have, these MTT poker tips will help give you an edge:
MTT poker requires a lot of patience to play well. The chips you have in tournaments are valuable and need to be looked after as once you lose them all you're eliminated from the tournament. It's not like a cash game where you can just buy back in and keep playing at the same table (unless it's a rebuy tournament).
This means that we need to choose our spots carefully and not be wasteful when we're putting chips into the pot.
We want to have well thought out preflop ranges and we want to make sure that when we're c-betting we're doing so in an advantageous situation. A chip earned is a chip saved after all!
Exploit Overly Tight Players
Tournaments are all about chip accumulation. If you don't win enough chips to keep up with the rising blinds and antes you'll be eliminated from the tournament. Overly tight players are a great source of chips as they don't protect their blinds often enough and are often passive postflop.
This means that you can raise a lot wider when they're in the big blind, anticipating that they'll often fold and you'll get to win the blinds and antes. If you do ever end up playing postflop against them, you'll be able to gauge the strength of their hand by how aggressive they are; if they check they've likely missed, and if they bet they've likely got a strong hand.
Apply Pressure with Big Stacks
Having a big stack in a poker tournament is a lot of fun, especially when you get to the bubble stage. Knowing that if you lose a pot it won't affect how you play, and knowing that if your opponents lose a pot it can drastically affect their chances of making money, opens the door to a lot of chip accumulation. As they say, money makes money.
When you have a big stack you're able to bully and steal pots off of people who are trying to play conservatively and make the money by applying the pressure with big overbets. It's not advisable to get into battles with other big stacks as one wrong move can send you tumbling down the standings!
Steal the Blinds When Possible
This is at the heart of pretty much all tournament strategy. You need to keep winning blinds and antes to be able to afford to pay them when they come round to you. If you play a tight preflop range for the whole tournament, your stack will get blinded down into nothingness.
The bigger percentage of your stack that blinds and antes represent, the more valuable it is to steal them. In the late stages of some tournaments, you can increase your stack size by over 10%, just from winning the blinds and antes!
Be Wary of C-Betting Too Often
It can be easy to fall into the habit of c-betting every time you raise preflop and get called. However, c-betting all the time like this leaves you open to being exploited and you're going to have a hard time defending against a check-raise or playing the turn on certain boards.
You want to avoid c-betting on boards that are good for the preflop caller and focus on c-betting boards that are good for your range. You'll also need to tighten up your c-betting range if you're up against multiple opponents as you're up against two different ranges instead of just one. This doesn't mean you should never value bet, just be cautious when a c-bet represents a large portion of your stack.
Avoid Being Too Tight During Mid and Later Stages
During the middle and late stages of tournaments, blinds and antes can be a healthy addition to your stack if you win them preflop. This means that we need to widen our ranges to try and steal these as often as we can, but without going overboard.
We still want to play fairly conservatively from early position, but from late position, we want to be very aggressive if the action folds to us as these are the best positions to win the blinds from. If we play too tight in these stages of the tournament, we'll end up getting blinded out and will quickly find ourselves having to play "shove or fold" poker.
MTT Poker Pros & Cons
As with all poker formats, there are pros and cons to MTT poker:
- Huge rewards - One of the biggest pros of MTT poker is the large cash prizes on offer for winning or placing high in the standings. You can enter for a low buy-in amount and win the tournament for a huge return on your investment. Most low-stakes tournaments give you the chance to 100-500x your buy-in (or even higher in some of the biggest tournaments!) which is something you could never possibly achieve in one day playing cash games.
- Softer fields - A lot of beginner players are attracted to MTTs because of that potential to win big from a small buy-in. This means that the average player is worse in an MTT than they would be in a cash game, making it easier to win if you put in the hard work to become proficient at tournament play.
- Dynamic play - The ever-changing stack sizes and increasing blind levels in tournaments make for more interesting play. Cash games can end up being quite robotic in the way they play as most people have the same stack size and stick to predetermined strategies.
- One downside of playing large-field MTTs is the length of time they take to complete. The average MTT will take between 5-8 hours and can take even longer the greater number of players there are. This means they require a huge time commitment and can be inaccessible if you have a busy life as you need to be available for all that time.
- Only 10-15% of people will cash in each MTT, meaning that most of the time you play an MTT you're not going to cash. This can be discouraging for a lot of players and the large time investment coupled with consistent disappointment means you need to be emotionally resilient.
- The variance in tournament poker is some of the most extreme variance you can encounter if you are playing poker seriously. Not only do you have to deal with being eliminated before the money in the majority of your tournaments, but where you place once you do make the money has a huge impact on your win-rate. As most of the money is rewarded for finishing at the very top, being eliminated in 20th compared to 5th a few times could be the difference between losing big and being up a lot.
MTT Poker: FAQ
We've collected and answered the most common questions about MTT poker:
What is MTT poker?
MTT poker is poker played in a tournament format over multiple tables - MTT stands for a multi-table tournament.
How is a sit-and-go game different from MTT formats?
The difference between a sit-and-go and an MTT is the fact that MTTs are played over multiple tables as a rule, whereas the majority of sit-and-gos are played over one table.
Are the prizes better at MTT than with cash games?
The potential returns for winning or making the final table of an MTT far outweigh what's possible to achieve from a cash game session. Most tournaments offer 100-500x your buy-in amount for winning.
What are antes during MTT poker?
Antes are forced bets made by every player at the table, in addition to the small and big blind. These are introduced after several levels of tournament play and are designed to create action and incentivize people to play hands.
What is the bubble stage during MTT poker?
The bubble stage of a tournament is the stage just before the money is reached. It is usually considered to have started when around 5% of the field needs to be eliminated before the players reach the money and ends once players are in the money.
What makes the bubble stage difficult?
The bubble stage is difficult to play as one decision could be the difference between finishing in the money and finishing with nothing. Good players will also pressure players with shorter stacks, knowing that they won't want to be eliminated so close to making the money.
Should I play conservatively during the first stage to protect my stack for the bubble stage?
Your stack size should determine how you play during the bubble stage. If you have a large stack compared to players at your table, you should play aggressively to apply pressure to them. However, if you have a short stack you should play conservatively to try and make the money.
How do cardrooms profit from MTT poker?
Cardrooms make money from MTT poker by charging a fee alongside the tournament buy-in. For example, if a tournament entry is $100, on average $85 of that will go to the prize pool and $15 will go to the casino for hosting the event. The size of the fee as a percentage of the tournament entry will vary from cardroom to cardroom.
Is it feasible to multi-table MTT poker?
Multi-tabling is where a player is active in more than one game. As long as the player is focused and can keep up with numerous opponents, multi-tabling allows them to maximize their earnings in MTT poker games.
Is MTT poker worth playing?
As long as you enjoy it, MTT poker is certainly worth playing. If you put the time and effort in, pretty much every form of poker can be profitable so it comes down to choosing the one you enjoy the most.
Following these helpful tips will give you the best opportunity to get yourself to the final table of an MTT poker tournament where you can play for the big bucks!