Multi-Table Tournament (MTT) Poker Strategy

  • Avatar for WSOP Winner Chris 'Fox' WallaceReviewed by  WSOP Winner Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace

Multi-table tournaments are poker tournaments on a large-scale, often with a huge pool of players and similarly large prize pools to go with them!

Everyone buys in for the same fee and gets the same starting stack, before being seated at multiple tables. The blinds rise at pre-determined intervals until just one player remains, taking down the big win, but usually the top 15-20% of players are also rewarded with prize money.

Success in a multi-table tournament requires an understanding of several different playing styles, as well as when to ‘switch gears’ and change up your poker tournament strategy. This is because the constantly rising blinds and continually dwindling field mean your tactics must be dynamic as you progress through the tournament.

Check out our in-depth guide for tips and different strategies you can implement when playing in a multi-table tournament.

A World Series of Poker champion's bracelet, on a poker table.
To win a WSOP tournament, and the bracelet that comes with it, you’ll need to learn how to change gears. (Image: Chris Wallace)

MTT Tournament Strategy


    The First Few Levels

    A typical tournament might have a starting stack of 5,000 and an initial big blind of 20, giving each player 250 big blinds. Blinds are low and effective stack sizes are huge early on in the tournament, so keeping the pots small allows you to expand your range and see more flops. This allows you to play a few more speculative hands, as long as you keep the pots relatively small. There’s no reason to risk half your stack chasing a flush in the first blind level.

    The opening levels are also a good time to get a feel for how your tablemates are playing. Try to determine who the strong players are (i.e. the ones you want to avoid getting into hands with) and who the weak players are. If you’re using a HUD, pay attention to a player’s VPIP statistic (voluntarily puts into pot), their pre-flop raise, and flops seen percentages. Keep in mind that they may be a little higher than normal because of the larger effective stack sizes.

    A tournament is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t win a multi-table tournament in the first few levels, but you sure can lose it. A good goal for the first phase of a multi-table tournament is to have doubled your starting stack.

  2. 30-60 BIG BLINDS

    The Tournament’s Middle Stages

    When the tourney reaches its middle stages, effective stack sizes have been reduced considerably. If the big blind started at 20, by the time it reaches 100 you will likely be entering the middle stages: most players now have less than 60 big blinds (BBs), and many are down in short stack territory (30 BBs or less). This is the time to tighten up a bit.

    At this juncture you want to avoid multi-way pots. A 9-4 offsuit and a five-way pot is a terrible combination, no matter how good the pot odds are. It’s time to start treating your chips like a precious commodity.

    This is also the time to really start paying attention to position. You can’t afford to waste any chips; fold all but monsters in early and middle positions, especially if you have known aggressive players behind you.

    Before betting, always ask yourself: what will I do if I’m re-raised? If the answer is fold, then do yourself a favor and fold before you put any chips into the pot. No reason to take a chance that your bet will make it through.

    By the time the bubble stage hits, you want to have achieved your second double up.


    How Big Is Your Stack?

    As you get closer to the bubble, it’s time to really pay attention to your stack size because it will have a big impact on your strategy for this stage of the tourney.

    If you are under 20 BBs, tighten up and stop limping, bluffing or blind stealing. You’re looking to play premium hands that can pay off big so you can build your stack back up. The last thing you need to do is start frittering away chunks of what’s left of your stack chasing flushes or straights, or making bad bluffs.

    If you are significantly above the chip average, it’s a good time to turn up the pressure. Play the role of table bully and take advantage of the short-stacked players who are hoping to sneak into the money and will fold almost everything. Your objective is to make a deep run, not just get into the money, and now is a good time to build on your already impressive stack.

    Play slows considerably at this stage. No one wants to go out on the bubble and miss out on prize money, so patience is key until the bubble bursts.


    The Bubble Bursts

    Immediately after the bubble bursts, the small stacks are itching to shove so their range widens considerably. They’ll often play any ace, any suited connectors, or any pocket pair. If you have a big stack and can afford the risk, take advantage of these players’ desperation, especially if you can isolate the small stack.

    After the bubble bursts you may lose 10-15 players in the next 10 minutes, but once it gets down to the final handful of tables the rate slows considerably. Position is critical at this stage, and blind stealing and blind defense take on more importance. The ability to steal blinds and defend your blinds can help keep you afloat long enough to wait for that monster hand to deliver that huge double up you need.

    This is when table image is key. Loose, aggressive players will almost always defend their blinds, and are also more apt to try to steal blinds. As a result, you would be better off not trying to steal their blinds but being more aggressive when defending your blinds against them. At this stage of the tournament, most hands are decided pre-flop. One pot can shoot you up the leaderboard, and one mistake can signal the end.

    Once play reaches the final few tables, pay jumps are much more significant and frequent. Pay jumps will increase more frequently as more players are eliminated, for example after every nine players are knocked out, then after every three players, and so on until you get to the final table, when the pay jumps with every elimination. For larger fields, the more rapid pay jumps may start at the final 27 or 36 players.

    The most critical skill in this stage is patience, as play becomes very tight. Depending on the speed of the tourney it may take several hours to play down the final two tables, so be prepared for a long haul. You’ve also got to be mentally prepared to handle huge chip swings. If you lose half your stack when your opponent hits an unlikely winner, shake it off quickly and stay focused. This is not the time to go on tilt.

    Making it to the final table is a tremendous accomplishment, and one that should not be taken for granted. When you get those rare opportunities for a big pay day, you need to do everything you can to maximize your achievement.

Strategy Summary Chart

Open range to include speculative handsTighten up rangeSmall stacks – tighten up, play premium handsEmphasis on blind defense and stealing
Keep pots smallStop limpingBig stacks – play aggressivelyTable image and position important
Avoid disasterFocus on positionPut pressure on small stacks trying to cashPatience is key

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