When Multi Table Tournaments Brought the Fun Back
Having recently given up poker as my full-time profession to focus on writing, coaching and growing my own poker strategy site, I have felt my love for MTTs – which had faded over the years due to the extreme time-commitment required – return in a way I hadn’t experienced in quite some time.
Perhaps it was due to knowing that it no longer mattered if I won or lost (in a more concrete and less philosophical way than the old “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” mindset), or perhaps I had simply taken a long enough break to rekindle my passion for the poker tournament format.
Regardless of the specific reason though, once I put some thought into it I realized I hadn’t enjoyed MTTs in this way since I had first made the transition to Heads-up SNGs a number of years ago. In fact, it quickly dawned on me that the way I felt now was reminiscent of a simpler, more joyful time, a time when poker was about fun and competition, not hourly and expectation, a time when winning a tournament for $500 felt just as good as winning one for $5,000, a time when sitting at the computer for 12-hour sessions was a privilege, not a requirement.
Not only that, but I was also only playing one or two sessions per week, maxing out at a quarter of the number of tables I would generally play, and having a grand old time! It’s true, I soon realized, I was living the life of a fun-player again…and I was LOVING it! Therefore, in honour of my newly ignited love-affair with tournament poker, I wanted to outline some of my first impressions on how the low-midstake MTT landscape has changed over the past couple of years, as well as share some advice for those of you who might find yourself in a similar situation.
But before we get to that, let’s take a quick look of why we should even bother considering MTTs in the first place.
3 Reasons Why MTTs Are Awesome
- Opportunity To Change Your Life.
There are a lot of good things about transitioning from poker tournaments to SNGs/Cash games, not the least of which are that the hours are better & the variance is lower. However, until very recently, the toughest aspect of making the change for many former MTT players was the loss of the ability to change your life in a day. Or even a month.
Essentially, the way I’ve always thought of it is that cash game and SNG players are the real “grinders” – as used in the infamous scene from Rounders below – counting on their abilities to earn a comfortable but unglamorous living, while the average recreational and non-professional tournament player is much more willing to withstand extreme variance for a shot at the gold.
And while the addition of Jackpot SNGs have changed that reality somewhat, the small edges and tough competition found in these games make it an equally “hard way to make an easy living”. Therefore, as it stands now, online poker tournaments continue to present the average player with the best opportunity of having the game significantly impact their lives.
- Big Money, Big Edges.
There are very few places in the world that you can face-off for thousands of dollars against complete amateurs, and poker is at the very top of the list. By playing MTTs, not only are you giving yourself an opportunity to change your life overnight, but, when it matters most, the only thing standing between you and doing so could be a group of players who, from a skill-level perspective, really have no business being there at all.
This is not to say you will triumph over your opponents every time of course, but can you imagine Tiger Woods’ reaction if he showed up to the Masters and realized half his opponents had spent less time on the golf-course than he had during kindergarten? I suspect it might look something like…
- Less Stress, Less Tilt.
Although there are very few worse feelings than taking a gross bad beat deep in a major tournament, MTTs still remain the tilt refuge for poker players. Sure, it’s still relatively easy to punt off a couple of tournaments and lose a few buy-ins, but, generally speaking, it is much tougher (and less appealing) to ignore bankroll management guidelines and dust off your entire roll in MTTs.
I don’t know many people who bust on a final-table bubble and tilt by registering for another 12 hour session. Besides, for most recreational players, playing a Sunday schedule is akin to betting on NFL games; they are investing their money for the enjoyment of the experience, not for the expected value of their return.
Modern Day Tournament Observations From A Former MTT Pro
- Tighter Ranges.
It seems like only a few years ago, as poker and poker-strategy resources expanded, that the game became noticeably more aggressive, with everyone trying to play like Durrrr. However, coming back to MTTs now, I was a little taken aback by the lack of spew I witnessed from my opponents, even at the lower limits.
Players still punted all over the place of course, but it definitely seemed to be at a much lower frequency than before. And although I have no evidence to support the theory, my suspicion is that with the mass growth of professional poker twitch channels, many recreational and non-professional players have now seen enough top-level play to understand just how important it is to play solid ranges and, more importantly, how those ranges should be composed.
When adding this to the fact that people are now calling much closer to optimal in many spots due to increased understanding of bluffing-frequencies and hand-reading, it’s not hard to see why the hyper-loose-aggressive style of yesteryears is much less common than it was just a short time ago.
This also has a direct effect on the 3b/4b game, where players appear to have a much better understanding of which categories of hands to 3bet and thus, by default, have a much less erratic or “spewy” strategy. Essentially this creates a small-ball ecosystem with a heavy-emphasis on postflop play, which is great if you’re the one with edge at the table.
However, with all that said, it’s important to note that this is not to say that a tighter approach is necessarily the “right” one for all players, as I still felt extremely comfortable playing relatively wide ranges (I am a fun player after all!) and, as always, putting a heavy emphasis on aggression.
- The Big Blind.
The one place that ranges are much wider that they used to be is in the big blind. This is, in my opinion, another possible side-effect of the Twitch effect, where people have spent enough time watching and learning from top players such as Upswing founders Doug Polk and Ryan Fees, amongst others, and are therefore much more aware of just how important it is for them to employ a wide Big Blind range.
Something I immediately noticed upon starting to dabble in MTTs as a fun-player again, is just how painful it was to play the game from a poker A.D.D. perspective.
Not only are players much more aware of how big of a disadvantage it is to play more hands than their opponents near the bubble and are therefore “stalling” relentlessly in these situations, but there also seems to be a new fad of players timing-down every single hand in an effort to, I can only assume, mask any timing-tells they may potentially give away. And while maximizing your equity by slowing down the action near the bubble is something that, logically, makes a lot of sense, as a fun player with only a couple of tables running, I can’t even imagine how infuriating it must feel to be at a table full of players timing-down before every single action. Because, although it might make sense for someone like Doug Polk to ensure consistency while streaming high-stake cash games, doing so in the first hour of a $27 MTT is beyond ludicrous.
In a situation like this, the value gained from keeping your timing-range balanced is vastly outweighed by the fact that everyone at your table is considering early retirement from the game…potentially by jumping off a bridge. So, please, for the love of all that is good, unless you have an extremely specific and sensible reason for not doing so, play faster!
Quick Tips For Poker Tournament Play
- Pay Attention.
In a game of incomplete information, each little piece you get can have massive implications not just down the road, but literally in the very next hand! For this reason it’s criticat, if you can afford to mental-capacity to do so, that you pay extremely close attention to the happenings at your table in anticipation of the crucial decisions you’re likely going to have to make at some point in the near future.
My general strategy when sitting at a new table is to play my default ranges during the first readless orbit while remaining alert to the “mood” of the table, and then begin to employ the necessary adjustments as soon as I have a better sense of what I can get away with. However, with that said, whenever the opportunity presents itself early on, I tend to err on the side of aggression since I know players won’t have reads on me either and thus, in my experience, are much more likely to make tighter folds. Besides, if you’re like me and like to play a lot of pots and therefore have a more vulnerable table-image, these early pots (in relation to time spent at the table, not the stage of the tournament) might be some of the only opportunities you have to get your opponents to make big folds.
- Play Satellites.
There are many good reasons to play satellite-tournaments, all of which have been wonderfully covered by fellow Upswing contributor Jason Lee.
- Play More Heads-Up.
I can honestly say that nothing has helped my poker understanding more than working on my heads-up game. Not only is it a total blast to do, but it will undoubtedly pay huge dividends regardless of how many players are at the table!
- Do the Opposite of this Quote From Amir Vahedi.
And finally, although I generally preach a pretty aggressive approach in most spots, I am consistently amazed by just how willing people are to get it in in marginal spots during the early to middle stages of a poker tournament. Put simply, the willingness to die is highly overrated!
Sure, the point of poker tournaments is to collect all the chips, but that doesn’t mean it has to happen right now! MTTs are about survival, not about ego. Poker is a wild game, so whether you get to the final-table as the chipleader or the shortstack, you always have a shot at taking it down. The only time you definitely can’t win it all is if you’re not even there. So while it’s mostly true that “scared money don’t make money”, more often than not, neither does stupid money! So while you it’s important to stay aggressive at the table, it’s equally important to keep in mind that you’re in it for the long-haul.
So, rather than using Mr. Vahedi’s quote to justify risking 100bbs with AJ early in a tournament, perhaps it makes better sense to look elsewhere for inspiration…don’t you think?
Yaniv Son, known online by the poker moniker Sentin7, is a professional player and author with over a decade of poker experience who owns and operates the poker strategy site spinandgostrategy.com