Large, multi-table online tournaments can be an extremely frustrating experience for even the most seasoned of poker players. You need to be able to survive lots of landmines just to make the money, and once you’ve done that, you must continue to be both skilled and fortunate to get to a position where you can make enough money to make the number of hours you’ve invested in the tournament worthwhile.
In order to make up for the large percentage of times that you fail to cash, you need to carry a bankroll that is many times your average buy-in, or risk going broke. Fortunately, for those who prefer tournaments to cash games, there are a variety of multi-table sit-n-gos on every site that can give you the type of action that you want, while requiring less of an investment of time, with the potential to still make a nice return on your money. Today, I’m going to focus in on one of my favorite quick tourneys, the Poker Stars 18-player, $6.50 turbo no limit holdem games.
Whereas you want between 100-200 buy-ins in your account to play the larger tournaments regularly, an average player should cash 22% of the time in an 18-player game, and a skilled player should do even better than that. Therefore, a bankroll of even 10 times your buy-in should be sufficient for you to work with, and a first place will return almost seven times your investment in the space of an hour or so! In working on re-building a bankroll that I had largely cashed out from the site, I decided to focus on the $6.50 games. In the last six tourneys I played, I finished 1st once, 2nd three times, 3rd once and 4th once. Here’s how I’ve done it.
The first thing to realize in this type of tourney is that, although it is a turbo, you do have a little more time than you might think before you have to make a move. What I’ve noticed at this level is that there are usually 1-2 players who will push hands very early on in the game. If you can hit a flop for a big hand, you can bust these eager beavers and put yourself in a position of strength right off the bat. Failing that, my recommendation is to play the early blind levels very tightly, seeing cheap flops if possible with more speculative hands, and making solid raises with stronger hands. If you don’t hit your hand, don’t worry about throwing it away if you meet strong resistance. The most important thing to realize is that you are not trying to gradually build a stack, because the blind acceleration won’t allow you to do that. In the early rounds, it is better to muck marginal hands, and save chips for big, aggressive plays later on.
Despite the fact that the blinds are increasing every five minutes, a stack that stays right around the starting point of 1,500 is still adequate up until the 75-150 level, which begins 20 minutes into the tournament. If you are being dealt bad cards, stay patient, as you want as much ammunition as possible for when you are dealt a good hand. In an 18-player tournament, if you just double up twice you will be an average stack when the money bubble bursts. Also, by being patient and establishing a tight table image, you will be able to strategically time raises to take the blinds and antes when you need to, even if your cards continue to be poor.
The final table of nine players usually begins around the 100-200 level. Ideally, you will have doubled up by this point, putting you in the middle of the pack, but if you haven’t, you will need to act more aggressively to have enough chips for when the antes are added at the next level. Picking a hand or two and pushing all-in with them, especially if you have been playing very conservatively, will enable you to amass enough chips to keep you out of danger in the first ante round. If possible, look for opportunities to go up against shorter stacks that are going all-in. If you win the showdown, you will greatly increase your chances of cashing, and even if you don’t, you will still be alive in the tournament.
By the time you reach the 200-400-25 level, you will either be in a very solid position where you can pick and choose your battles, picking off desperate short stacks with your stronger hands, and folding patiently with your weaker ones while the other players knock each other off, or you will be a short stack yourself, forced to push hands that have a chance to win at showdown. If you are in the latter category, almost any ace, and pairs bigger than threes, are worth going to war with, especially in a later position when you may get everyone after you to fold. As in any tournament, when it gets down to the money bubble, with five or six players left, aggressive play can often allow you to dominate players who are anxious about getting into confrontations so close to the money. If you are the chip leader at this point, you can put distance between you and all the other remaining players, setting you up for a much better chance to win the tournament.
By the time you’ve made the money, the blinds are usually so big that everyone other than a big chip leader is usually reduced to raises that are either all-in moves or ones that come close to pot commitment. At this point, when in doubt, be aggressive, as the majority of players you will be up against will fold all but their best hands. If you happen to run up against a premium hand, so be it, but otherwise, you will be able to stay ahead of the game and make it much more likely that you will reach heads-up.
If you are fortunate enough to be one of the final two players, your strategy will largely be based on whether you are ahead or behind. If you are in front, try and keep the pressure on your opponent whenever possible, without becoming too obvious. If you are behind, and your opponent is passive, challenge him/her with aggressive moves. If he/she is keeping the pressure on you, use that aggressiveness against them by check-calling or check-raising your strongest hands. Don’t be afraid to put yourself all-in with a better-than-average hand, as your opponent may fold, and you will often win the showdown if he/she plays.
Following this strategy has allowed me to cash 80% of the tourneys I’ve played at this level. By getting a feel for the other players at the table, and using these ideas when appropriate, I’m sure that you can duplicate my success. See you at the tables!