Mid-Stage MTT Strategy: Guiding You Through The Mid-Stages of a Poker Tournament

Following on from our article on playing the early stages of a multi-table tournament (MTT), the Tip Top Fox guides you through the middle-stage minefield of tournament play

It’s actually pretty hard to define when exactly the mid-stage of a multi-table tournament (MTT) begins and ends. In general, it’s between the time when antes kick in and the tournament gets down to final three tables or so, though it really depends on the field size.

Since it’s so hard to include every aspect of tournament play in a single article, let’s break it down into a couple of points that you should be aware of during the mid-stages of play:

Key Points

  • With the antes is in play, it’s now worth stealing blinds and trying to take the pot down uncontested. However, when stealing the blinds there are many variables to consider – it’s not as easy as just opening a pot in late position and then praying everyone behind you folds. It comes down to picking your spots carefully and you need to be very aware of stack sizes and table dynamics. The ideal time to blind steal is when the Big Blind has a stack of around 20-25BBs. This directly prevents them from three-bet shoving against you too light, as due to their stack size they need a decent hand to do this with.
  • In addition to that, a player’s tendency to three-bet and/or defend their blinds is a big factor to consider when deciding whether or not to steal. Actually, you need to consider all the players behind you, not only the targeted blinds. Are there any big stacks left to act that can flat call? Is there a habitual three-bettor still to act? Are the Small or Big Blind capable of three-betting light or are they nits who only defend with premium hands? Nowadays, there are more and more early position steals, very often from under the gun (UTG) and UTG+1 so it pays to be aware of who is raising, and from which position. 

“The concept of ‘tournament life’ is overrated. If you are too afraid to get your chips in the middle when you have to you’ll never get anywhere in a tournament.”

No Fear

Do not play scared and don’t worry too much about your ‘tournament life’. This is directly influenced by your bankroll; that’s why good bankroll management is so important. Not only will it prevent you from going broke, but it also enables you to play your best in a tournament, especially at a lot of crucial points where you need the guts to make the right play.

You can read more about bankroll management HERE

For example, a player on your left is three-betting you non-stop and you are not deep enough to flat call their three-bet. It is not generally recommended to flat call a three-bet out of position without a plan. Even if you are deep and you know a player’s range is wide, you are just burning money/chips.

This is where an understanding of a player’s hand range can come into play. Perversely, if you do want to flat call it is better that an opponent’s range is tight, ideally QQ+ up to ace-king as you have a better idea of where you may be in a hand after the flop comes down.

The best way to deal with a habitual three-better is to four-bet bet shove. Having the mindset of ‘I will wait until I have aces to punish you’ may work in a cash game against an unobservant opponent, but in a tournament, you could well end up waiting for a hand that may never materialise, or by the time it does you are so short that multiple players will call your short-stacked shove and you will have to take your aces into a multi-way pot.

The concept of ‘tournament life’ is overrated. If you are too afraid to get your chips in the middle when you have to you’ll never get anywhere in a tournament.

Stack-size Dynamics

In the mid-stages of an MTT, it is important to have a clear understanding of what you can do with the stack size you have. This is especially true when it comes to playing out of the blinds.

Many players make mistakes like flat calling an early position open raise holding small pocket pairs in the big blind with a 20BB stack. This is an extremely –EV (expected value) play, as you are just not deep enough to set mine.

Even if you are getting better pot odds to call from the blinds you still won’t be getting the correct odds. The odds of hitting your set are around 7-1 and you actually need to be getting around 15-1 to make up for all the times you hit your set and everyone folds because they haven’t got anything. In addition, reverse implied odds become very important at this stage because one misstep can cost you the tournament.

Calling raises out of position with hands like ace-jack or pocket eights can have huge reverse implied odds, as they do not necessarily play well post-flop. What are you going to do on a low board facing a lot of aggression from a raiser?

The very best way to play hands like this in the mid-stages of a tournament is to weigh up your options pre-flop and decide how you are going to play post-flop (taking into account the board texture). Sometimes there is no shame in folding pocket eights to a single raise from early position. 

It’s very hard to include every aspect of tournament play in a single article, but we will explore the concepts of early position blind steals in a future article, as well as bubble play and making the money. Until then, good luck at the tables.

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