Despite what many live and online poker players will tell you, there is no one formula for success in multi-table tournaments. In fact, a successful tournament poker player must master several different strategies that will be employed during the various stages of a multi-table tournament.
At some point you will likely become short-stacked. At others you may find yourself in the role of table captain. When antes kick in and blinds skyrocket, position becomes even more important. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the final table or two, depending on the size of the field, then your push-fold game comes into play.
However, one skill is critical for all phases: the art of folding a big hand. Anybody can fold when their suited connectors completely miss the flop and their opponent fires out a pot-sized bet. Learning to fold a set, small straight or flush when playing Texas Hold'em poker is the more difficult choice. One misstep can result in a significant chunk of your chip count being pushed to someone else and hasten your demise from the tournament.
When trying to figure out if your opponent has a monster, you need to first come up with a general impression of his style of play. Does he limp into a lot of hands? Does he always raise when he plays a hand? Do you think he knows what he is doing? This is why it is so important to pay attention when you are at the poker table, even to hands you are not involved in. You need all the intelligence you can get in a tournament, because players change tables frequently and you won't have many opportunities to assess their skill level.
For the particular hand, you need to know what he did on each street. Did he show pre-flop aggression, check the flop and come out firing on the turn? Did he call your pre- and post-flop bets, then unloose a check-raise bet on the turn or river? Both of these scenarios scream strength for your opponent and should be a signal to proceed cautiously, even if you have a big hand.
Raise Pre-Flop to 500
the big blind).
Consider the following scenario. You have Kh-Qs and raise pre-flop to 500 (2.5 times the big blind). The BB calls, putting 1,100 chips in the pot. The flop comes up J-10-8, all clubs. Your opponent checks. You have an open-ended straight draw, but that is a scary-looking board considering you don't have any clubs. You decide to check back.
The turn is the 9 of diamonds. You now have a well-disguised king high straight. Your opponent checks again. You believe that he wouldn't check twice in a row if he had flopped a flush, so you bet 1,000 to make him pay if he is indeed chasing a flush. He quickly calls.
Now let's say the river is the 9 of hearts, putting a pair of 9s on the board. Your opponent again checks. You feel confident in your king high straight and that your opponent missed his flush draw, so you go for a value bet of 2,500. Instead of folding, your opponent decides to check-raise to 8,000.
In this scenario, it's reasonable to assume one of two things - he's either bluffing, or he's got a really strong hand. The chance a player would check-raise on the river with a marginal hand -- say a jack high straight or three 9s -- is very low considering the texture of that board. It's highly likely either a stone-cold bluff or he's sitting on a monster - either a flush or full house.
You debate for several minutes before folding. Your opponent flips over an 8-9 for a full house.
These are the scenarios that separate the poker champs from the chumps. Getting the correct read on your opponent there saved you 5,500 chips and ensured that you live to fight another day. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "A chip saved, is a chip earned."
There is a distinct difference in play in the early levels of an MTT (before antes kick in) and the latter stages (after the bubble bursts).
Your starting chips 5,000
Big Blind 20
Big Blinds Amount250
The typical online tournament may have a 5,000 starting stack with a big blind of 20, giving each player 250 blinds. Players generally won't get too out of line with their betting
in the beginning just because there is no real reason to, so if a player puts in a 3-bet or 4-bet, chances are probably at least decent he's got a good hand. Pots are generally smaller, too, so it's a little easier to stomach losing with a monster if it only costs you 10-15 percent of your stack.
Your chips x. xxx
Big Blinds Amount50
Once the bubble bursts, style of play tightens up considerably. The average stack in the beginning may be 250 BBs, but when the bubble bursts, the average stack may be down to 50 BBs.
As a result, most hands are decided with pre-flop aggression. Players will 3-bet and 4-bet with air to take advantage of the opposition's tighter play. That's when you have to ask yourself, "Do I really need to win this hand?"
Let's say you're in a large MTT with more than 1,000 runners. The top 117 make the money, and there are 155 players left. Your chip stack is well above the average. You have more than 70 BBs, have been playing great and are positioned to make a deep run.
You have a Kc-Js and bump it up to 2.5 BBs pre-flop. The big blind calls. The flop comes up Qh-10h-7c, giving you an open-ended straight draw. It goes check-check. The turn is the 9s, giving you a nut straight. Your opponent checks. You bet 8 BBs into a 7 BB pot. Your opponent tanks and then calls. A third heart lands on the river, and your opponent leads out with an all-in shove of his last 35 BBs.
You are down to 66 BBs. Are you willing to risk more than half your remaining stack - a stack that took you hours to accumulate - on a straight when there is a flush draw on the board? Or would it be more prudent to cut your losses, fold a potential winning hand and look for a better situation later, a situation where you can be the aggressor and put your opponent in the unenviable position of making a huge decision?
If you fold, you've still got more than 60 BBs, are still well above the chip average and are still well positioned for a deep run. If you call and win, you would have more than 100 BBs but your overall chances wouldn't necessarily have improved that much. After all, you were already well above the chip average and deep stacked.
If you call and lose, you're down to 31 BBs, which puts you close to short-stacked territory. You're ability to play speculative hands is reduced, and as soon as the blinds go up you'll be down to 25 BBs. You would be one mistake away from being eliminated - all because you could not fold a losing hand, albeit a strong hand.
Learning how to fold in poker, particularly when you have a really strong hand, is arguably the most difficult skill to master. Nobody wants to fold a winning hand, but overplaying a losing hand of Texas Hold'em will have far worse consequences.