Saturday, August 04, 2007

Low Stakes MTT Strategy

If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.- Sun Tzu, the Art of War

I am going to discuss my approach to low stakes multi-table tournaments with large fields of 800 or more entrants. Some folks call these "mine fields" or "lotteries". I don't totally disagree with them but I can say from experience that these games can be profitable. I've been playing them for over 4 years and my return on investment of dollars is over 100%. I will state that your hourly return for time invested is probably not going to be huge but there are a couple of advantages to playing these vs. cash games or large buy-in tournaments.
The first advantage is: Low investment of dollars. You know going in you are not going to lose any more than 2.25, 5.50, or maybe 11 bucks even if you play your very worst poker ever.
The second advantage is: You are giving yourself a chance to win 500 or 1,000 bucks for a 5 dollar investment in a relatively short amount of time. That being said, more often than not you are going to play for a couple of hours and finish with nothing or very little to show for it. If you are looking for a consistent chance to win triple your buy-in you should probably work on your cash game, but if you are looking to play a lot of poker for a small investment of money with a shot at a nice payday every now and then, then small stakes MTT's may be for you. If so, read on and I will share some strategies with you.

Let's start where the game starts. You're in a dead even race to the finish with a full field of opponents after the same prize as you. Most people start out either very loose or very tight. I used to play very, very tight in the beginning to let the super-aggressive players kill each other off. I've opened my early stage game quite a bit these days and I like to see a lot of cheap flops as I feel I can outplay most of the players in the tournament post-flop and I like to get them in to some tough post-flop decisions when I hit a big hand. It's very important to remember that the majority of the players will not have a fold button so save your fancy bluffs for someone that will appreciate them. Straight up post-flop aggressive poker with made hands is where it's at. You can slow down if you hit a huge monster and let them do the betting for you. Here's a few of my favorite moves early on that work well. If you are the raiser and you have a caller or two behind you and hit a set on the flop, do not slow play. Bet out a "continuation" sized bet. This will often get a re-raise from an aggressive player that thinks they can buy the pot. If they bet big enough to get pot-commited go ahead and get them all-in. If not, I like a smooth call of the re-raise and a check raise on the turn. Another of my favorite early moves is to get in from the blinds cheaply and the board pairs missing you entirely. I like to check raise here. It will work a lot. Just be careful not to overcommit because there is a small chance they will play back and you have to be prepared to let it go if they do.
Middle stage: When you get to the first break, you will be in one of three positions. Huge stack, average stack, or small stack. If you are a small stack just play very, very tight and look for chances to double up. If you are a medium stack, you can still play around a little but you have to be a little more selective. If you are a huge stack, then you need to continue to be aggressive. Don't tighten up too much or you will be an average stack very quickly. If you are a huge stack, you can broaden your range and see a lot of flops and/or pick up a lot of pots uncalled.
Re-evaluate your position to the rest of the field at the second break. Watch table conditions. I like to say "Observe the masses and do the opposite." If they are going crazy, tighten up. If they are way too tight, loosen up.
Approaching the bubble: I'm not playing for the small win, so I'm looking for hands to play near the bubble. If you have enough chips to buy some pots, look for medium tight stacks to pick on. Watch out for any stacks that will consider you small and don't tangle with them unless you have a really strong hand.
In the money: I like to tighten up a little right after I'm in the money, as you will see about half the remaining field fall out within 15 minutes or so. After that it will tighten back up again and you can go back to work. The money will start to go up and people will want to make it to the final table so you can pick up a lot of "orphan pots" with a nice scary raise. If you lead in to a pot with a raise and get re-raised, you almost have to give them a little respect this late in the game. I think it's a huge mistake to stay involved in a re-raised pot with a less than premium hand at this point.
End game: When it gets down to two tables you will be approaching the final table bubble. A lot of these players will probably be in new territory for them and they will want to make it. Just watch out for the huge stacks and don't tangle without a nice hand. Do not slow play a strong hand at this point. In my opinion, the biggest percentage of suckouts are from fancy play of the strong hand allowing someone a cheap flop.
Upon reaching the final table, expect the smaller stacks to be looking for a hand to push with. If you are a decent sized stack, I like to sit back and let 3 or 4 players get knocked out before I tangle with the big stacks. If you are a big stack, weigh your odds and if you are getting anywhere near a coin flip against a small stack take your chances. Just make sure it's a small stack and not a medium stack that you are racing with. If you can get in to a 3 or 4 way call to see a flop, I broaden my range and look for a chance to quadruple up. If it doesn't hit you hard though, you have to be ready to let it go. As it gets down to 5, 4, and 3 handed broaden your range of all in hands and get your chips in when you have position and a good starting hand. It will get a little loose and crazy and you can't get tight and let them blind you down to nothing. You have to go for it a little if you want to stay up.
If you make it to heads up, just play optimum heads up play. I would practice some heads up sng's to work on your heads up game. I almost never limp in heads up. I almost always raise it up 3-4 times the BB when I play a hand...and I play a lot of hands. Keep the pressure on the other player and force them to make the tough decisions. If they are weak and let a lot of hands go to a raise, steal away. Just lay it down when they play back at you and keep picking up 80% of the pots. They will be short in no time. If they are strong and play back, then it's going to be a little tougher. You may have to pull out some of your very best moves. If I get heads up against someone who is obviously good heads up, I like to change gears entirely and start placing bets that make no sense as related to my previous play in the hand. Keep them off guard and throw out weird amount bets. It will frustrate them and hopefully throw them off their game. If you see you are outclassed heads up then you have to push or fold pre-flop. This takes away most of their advantage and gets you back on an almost even playing field.
Best of luck and I hope this helps you wade through the huge mine fields that are the low buy-in multi table tournaments.