It's pretty much the general consensus with anyone who knows anything about poker strategy that in the early stages of a mtt poker tournament you should be playing tight. Some people recommend and ultra tight strategy where you play very few hands, I however play the early stages similar to how I would a cash game.

Stacks are deep, depending on the structure you will probably have around 100-200 big blinds or more. Lets just use the standard Pokerstars tournament structure and say that this article will be talking about the 10/20 and 15/30 blind levels in the 3000 starting chips stack size. The blinds are only worth a small addition to your stack so your primary purpose wont be steal the blinds. Stacks will be deep enough so that there is alot more chips behind for postflop. Because of this, position becomes very important and implied odds hands become really important. Whereas hands like offsuited high cards become alot weaker and will be what I call “trap hands”.

Your opponents will be playing very tight preflop and postflop, so alot of value will come from the following:

Raising preflop and taking down a heads up pot on the flop with a c-bet.  If called I will frequently be giving up because I know my opponents will most likely be playing fit or fold postflop.

Making a set with a pocket pair and playing it fast.

Playing suited connectors hands in late position and playing it fast when you flop two pair to stack there overpair or alternatively, flopping a draw, hitting it and then extracting value by betting and raising your hand. The key to playing implied odds hands is your banking on your opponent not being able to fold one pair when you have better than one pair and play your hand aggressively. The other trick is not getting caught up and calling down marginally when you don’t flop massive. Remember, your playing the 89 suited in position for the flush draw, the straight draw or two pair. Not to hit a pair of 9′s!

Preflop ranges for early stage MTT play.

Early position: Assuming a 10 or 9 seater table, from early position you should be playing very few hands. I would probably only raise preflop with AK and any pocket pair during the early stages of a tournament. You will be playing the smaller pocket pairs to flop a set and bet bet bet with it. If you miss your set, you can continuation bet if the pot is heads up and give up if your called. If you are playing at a table where your early position raise will always become a multiway pot you may want to limp your small/mid pocket pairs but by default I usually raise to keep the initiative.

Mid position: As you go further around the table you can start integrating more hands. I will be raising the premium broadway hands such as AK, AQ. Most suited broadway hands like KQs. Any pair.

Late position: Here you can raise a few more hands, all of the hands previously mentioned, suited aces, suited connectors, offsuit broadway.

Preflop calling ranges:

From early position I will only an UTG raise with pocket pairs and ace king. If I had pocket aces id consider 3-betting to try and cooler KK preflop but for the most part I will only be flatting hands.

From mid position I will be flatting early position raises with pocket pairs with the intention of making a set. For the most part I will be folding suited connectors and suited aces from mid position because they play better from late position and there's lots of people behind me left to act and could entice a squeeze or more callers behind, remember, implied odds hands are much better in position.

From late position if its raised in front of me I will be calling a wider range of suited aces looking to flop the nut flush draw or two pair. I will be calling with suited connectors hoping to flop a flush draw, two pair or a straight draw. I will be calling with pocket pairs trying to flop a set.

From the blinds I will be flatting with pocket pairs only for the most part. I will be folding my suited connectors and suited aces. I will be folding most of my offsuited broadway. If the raise comes from late position its possible that I will call with quite a few suited broadway hands such as KQs AQ etc because I will dominate an opponents late position opening range.

Preflop 3-betting ranges in early stage of MTT tournaments

For the most part I leave 3-betting out of my game in the early stages. Against early position raises I might 3-bet aces to try and cooler another hand that cannot fold. From late position I will 3-bet other late position/mid position raises with hands like QQ+ AK+ hoping my opponent wont believe me. However if stacks are deeper than 100bb I may just flat these hands. 3-betting a hand like QQ and folding to a 4-bet really sucks alot, so if I think I cant get it allin preflop profitably, I will flat it. If your playing against predictable opponents who will call your 3-bet out of position with a number of weak hands but only 4-bet you with better, its great to 3-bet fold a strong hand like TT-QQ, AQ, AK, but if you lack the reads or the discipline to get away from it, you might want to think twice before 3-betting. The key is always know what your going to do to all of your opponents action before you make any bet/raise.

I advise against balancing your range by introducing bluff ranges. Put it quite simply, you don't need to balance if your opponents will still pay you off. However, if your constantly playing high stakes tournaments with lots of opponents you play with on a regular basis, you may want to integrate some hands into your 3-betting range so you cant be pegged as having an exact hand range.

Common mistakes made in the early stages of MTT

Playing offsuited broadway and ace rag: These hands suck most of the time. There often dominated but look pretty, a hand like Ace Jack offsuit may look pretty but its definitely a trap hand that many people play wrong in the early stages of tournaments. When stacks get shallow, Ace Jack becomes a lot stronger but when your playing 100 blinds deep, the only time your going to get action from a hand worse than ace jack is when your beat.I will add it to my raising range from the button and cuttoff if everyone else has folded to me, I will never call with it preflop in the early stages, it just sucks! The same applies for other offsuited face card hands like King Jack, King Queen, Queen Jack etc.

Hands like ace rag are awful pretty much all the time and should be folded. I don’t have much more to say than that, fold them!

Don’t steal the blinds: The blinds are pretty much worthless. It's much better to preserve your stack for the later stages (So you have stack leverage opportunities) than to make the mistake of playing speculative hands from late position trying to steal the blinds. Remember, poker is all about edges and leverage, play a patient and disciplined early game strategy and you will get rewarded in the long run!

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