Discover Pokers Most Profitable Early Game Strategy. The beginning of multi table tournament (MTT) play is crucial. But often times we see extremely aggressive play right from the jump. That doesn’t mean it’s all we see in the early stages. In fact you may find that you’ll also notice a lot of players that just sit out of nearly every hand entirely. So which style is best? Or is it neither of those??
Let’s See What Kid Poker has to say about it…
You Cannot Win a Tournament on Day 1 but you can Definitely Lose a Tournament on Day 1. -Daniel Negraeanu
Mr. Negreanu brings some very insightful ideas to this discussion and to my choice for best Early Game strategy. His point is exactly why when we play it’s much more important to conserve than it is to try squeeze blood out of a turnip.
The main goal is not to lose a significant amount of chips in a single hand. Or even over the course of a few hands for that matter. More often than not we should probably folded pre-flop in most cases where we find ourselves too deep in a pot and regretting our previous decisions. It only takes a Chip and Chair to win but having less chips early makes you losing that last one and your chair along with it that much easier. So to our first point on how we should be playing in the early stages of a multi table tournament…
Usually it’s the inexperienced players that think they should be taking shots on mediocre hands in the early phase of a tournament. To be honest, I used to play that way in the beginning stages.
I remember justifying the that style of play by thinking, “the blinds are very low at the beginning I can see the flop without having to pay too much and possibly win some pots that the more timid players would pass on.”
That way of thinking is naive at best but more likely is that it’s just plain ignorance. Either way it’s dumb.
The truth is that the complete opposite is correct. There is little or no reason to play average to below average hands because the blinds are still small in relation to the stacks. We play this phase just about as tight as possible. Only playing our premium hands relative to position and table dynamics of course, is not just ideal, it’s necessary. And if you’re worried that you won’t be stacking enough chips to be competitive later on when you face already deep stacked opponents, don’t worry. With this gameplay style you’ll reel in a few looser styled opponents (fish) and take down sizable pots with ease. Now let’s break that down a bit more for you.
Let me explain more about what I mean when I say we only play Premium hands in regards to our position and the table dynamics.
In the early going of the tournament and in the early positions on the table, particularly when we are “Under The Gun” (UTG) and even when we are in “Middle Positions” (MP) play only these premium hands:
- Ace-Ace (AA)
- King-King (KK)
- Queen-Queen (QQ)
- Jack-Jack (JJ)
If we focus on these hands exclusively we will often be able to knock one or two bad players out of the tournament. Not to mention the fact that we might take down a couple of properly built pots too.
From the “Cut Off” i.e. “The Button” in addition to playing only the aforementioned Premium hands we could still play smaller pairs like 7-7 and smaller. Along side suited connectors such as 7H-6H.
But be advised that if the flop brings cards that your small pair could lose to and a player is betting when you’re checking or raising your bets and even just calling your bets, it’s best to just through that small pair or gut shot straight draw, or flush draw in the muck, than it is to be behind because you didn’t have the discipline to stick to a tight gameplan.
Remember this cliche: “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
You can easily become discouraged by your own play if you allow yourself to get drug into a deep pot that you end up losing because you thought the opponent was bluffing, or because you were sure a set, or flush would come floating down the river for you.
Another common mistake is playing cards that are easily dominated by hands held by those who are raising from UTG or MP. This happens most when we think too highly of hands like A-Q, Q-K and A-J. These hands are weak when we are playing them against hands that reasonable players typically raise with in early position (EP).
The tight game usually has two objectives:
- Get to showdown with cards that should win. Good starting hand selection makes our decisions in later rounds of betting considerably easier less stressful.
- 2nd- We want to be perceived as a Player that should be feared in the later rounds of the tournament when the blinds are higher. We want to be seen as the Executioner who plays only deadly hands and knocks out opponents for even daring to play in inferior ways. If we can mold our image to be one that the other players fear then when are dealt bad hands, we’ll still have the ability to steal a pot or semi bluff to victory.
There is one problem with this way of playing, though: when we are dealt good hands, we often get less action from our opponents. If a player continually folds and raises only once every twenty hands, even the most unobservant of opponents will become suspicious and fold the weak hands they would normally have resisted folding against other players.
Although this type of game is generally to be recommended, it does have a further disadvantage for good and very good players. They could make something out of weaker hands such as smaller pairs, e.g. , or high Broadway cards, e.g. .
The optimum type of game thus includes playing a few hands that are not quite as strong but which nevertheless have potential. This applies above all to hands played in the later positions.
- Small Pairs
Small pairs, i.e. all starting hands from to can rake in a respectable number of chips as soon as they become a set. If we don’t hit a set, though, these hands are worth nothing. With cards like these we try to see the flop cheaply and hope for a set. “Cheaply” means that we either limp if we are in middle or late position or are one of the blinds, or that we even call a raise up to a maximum of a tenth of our stack if we are in late position. In early position we always fold because, out of position and pre-flop, small pairs are too weak to hold out against a possible raise.
- High Pairs
irs from to should always be raised pre-flop, not only because they can make us a lot of money, but also because they need to be protected by a raise so that our opponents aren’t able to improve their hands cheaply. If players before or after us raise more than once then we can fold hands such as and , and even if there is only a single raise after ours we should consider folding this hand and waiting for a better opportunity. However, this decision depends largely on the opponent.
- Big Broadway cards
, & co. are also strong hands, similar to high pairs, and should correspondingly be played similarly pre-flop – like aces and kings, and like a pair of tens, for example.
- Small Broadway Cards
Small Broadway cards such as , , , etc. must be played with extreme caution in this phase of a tournament. The first rule is: if the small Broadway cards are not suited, or if there has already been a raise, then fold! An exception would be the situation in which we are in late position with six players ahead of us who only paid the big blind or called a minimum raise: then, naturally, we could also play. The big problem with these hands is that they are often dominated by better hands. For example, or will seldom win against hands such as or . With small Broadway hands we mainly want to hit monsters like straights or flushes, which is why it’s important to see the flop cheaply with these hands. If we only hit a weak pair or not at all then we can quickly fold.
- Suited Connectors
Hands like or can be played similarly to small pairs. Obviously we are speculating on a flush or a straight here.
- Other Starting Hands
All starting hands not listed above are folded without exception.
Stealing the Blinds
In the early phase of a tournament the blinds are unimportant as they are very small in relation to our stack. In the early phase of a normal PokerStars tournament we have a stack of 1,500 chips and the blinds are 10/20. In other words, we have 75BBs, and winning the blinds increases our stack by only 2%. And this must be seen in conjunction with the risk of losing a lot of chips if we go wrong.
For this reason we should pass up on stealing the blinds with weak and marginal hands in the early phase of a tournament. However, this does not mean that we shouldn’t attack the blinds when we have stronger hands such as pairs, aces with strong kickers and suited connectors.
The post-flop Game
The flop is a decisive moment in Hold’em, and the really important decisions are made here.
Just like the pre-flop game, the post-flop game is also very tight. In general we can, as mentioned above, keep to the recommendations made in connection with the full ring no-limit cash game (BSS) as our solid basic strategy. Nevertheless, let’s look at some special situations.
Heads-up on the flop
- Pre-flop Aggressor
As the pre-flop aggressor we should make a continuation bet regardless of the flop and our position. How much to bet is a question of playing style; a continuation bet will normally be ½ to ¾ of the pot.
- Not the Aggressor, Out of Position
If we hadn’t grasped the initiative pre-flop (i.e. we only called another player’s bet), then as a rule we should fold weak hands when we’re out of position. With strong hands we can decide whether to:
- check raise or
- bet out.
Check/call has the advantage of keeping the pot small and avoiding a re-raise if the hand isn’t strong enough.
- Not the Aggressor, in Position
If we are not the aggressor and in position we have considerably more opportunities for playing our own game, but normally, we should still fold a weak hand.
With strong drawing hands like flush draws and straight draws it’s a good idea to vary one’s game. Let’s assume that the pre-flop aggressor has made a continuation bet: we now have the following options:
- We can semi-bluff (i.e. raise), in which case we should usually also bet the turn if our opponent checks it.
- We can also simply call on the flop and wait to see the turn card. If this is helpful we can then bet on the turn or raise our opponent’s bet.
With very strong hands such as top pair/top kicker or better we also have various options:
- If our opponent checks we should always bet, for the simple reason that the pot is still relatively small and we want to generate a big one. We can make a classic value bet here.
- If our opponent makes a continuation bet on the flop we should vary our game: sometimes we’ll call, at other times we’ll shoot back with a raise.
- With the Initiative
If we didn’t hit on the flop there’s not usually much point in betting if we have several active opponents. This applies even more so if we’re out of position.
However, if we’re holding a strong hand we should always bet on the flop. It’s a big mistake to risk everybody checking when we’re playing a strong hand against several opponents. This gives away a free card, which could in the end give an opponent a better hand.
- Without the Initiative
Especially when we’re playing against several opponents we should always fold weak hands. Playing on with hands such as small or medium pairs is a common beginner’s mistake. Good hands, though, should be protected against drawing hands by means of bets and raises.
Drawing hands can often be played very well against several opponents. The reason for this is that the pot odds are better when several players call and we will possibly win more chips if we hit our draw.
- Limped Hands
In the early phase, merely calling before the flop is quite legitimate. Similarly, in an early position we can call with a variety of hands. Amongst these are small and medium pairs, suited connectors, and even hands such as or . Another possibility is calling when one or more players have already called before us. Depending on our position, we can do this with a lot of hands. In particular when we’re on the button and several other players have called, we can limp with just about any cards.
If we’re in middle or late position, the players before us have folded, and we decide that we want to play the hand, then as a rule we should raise.
In limped pots we should only continue playing if the flop is really good. It is hardly worthwhile bluffing in these pots because they’re very small and it’s difficult to gauge the opponents’ hands as the range of limped hands is extremely broad.
Small pairs are especially suitable for limping, if possible when other players are already in. However, small pairs must always be folded if we don’t hit our trips.
Turn and River
On the turn the pot is often very big in relation to our remaining effective stack.
“Effective stack size” is the term for the size of the stack of the player with the fewest chips who is active in that hand. If, for example, there are still three players left in the hand, and
- player 1 has 1,000 chips,
- player 2 has 500 chips, and
- player 3 has 200 chips,
then the effective stack size is 200 chips.
Rule: if the remaining effective stack is the same size as or smaller than the current pot, it is (almost) always right to play all-in if we want to bet again.
When the effective stack is small
With a strong hand we should always bet or go all-in. The aim is to get paid for our good hands. Especially in tournaments we will always see players who throw their chips around carelessly and who will also pay us if we show strength. The goal is of course to win as many chips as possible with our good hands.
With a weak hand we have to weigh up whether we want to go all-in or not. This problem can be solved mathematically:
- Assuming that the effective stack is exactly the same size as the pot and we’re sure that we won’t win the pot if we’re called, then our opponent must fold at least half the time in order to make the push profitable.
When the effective stack is very big
If the effective stack is still very big in relation to the pot then the game becomes much more complex, especially if we’re out of position.
- In Position …
… in some cases it’s right to check even strong hands such as overpairs on uncoordinated boards. The reason for this is simply that we don’t want to make the pot too big, and we thus avoid making a difficult decision if our opponent raises.
On coordinated boards there would be less sense in checking because if our opponent is holding a draw he would accept the free card right away.
- Out of Position …
… we should often play carefully if our opponent shows a lot of strength, even when we’re holding strong hands such as top pair. This keeps the pot small but doesn’t stop our opponent from continuing a bluff. The disadvantage is that our opponent may use the opportunity to get a free card, or even that he ends up making a better hand after a (cheap) turn bluff.
If there are several opponents in the pot we must obviously play more carefully. Draws with which we called the flop but which haven’t hit will lose considerable value on the turn because only one more card will be dealt – the river. We should fold our draws on the turn against bets that constitute a substantial percentage of our stack and of the pot.
We should continue playing very strong hands such as sets and top two pair aggressively.
In the early stage the aim is to win chips with our very strong hands and at the same time avoid marginal situations as far as possible.