One of my favorite formats to play online is the multi-table sit n go turbo tournament. While most normal tourney structures require a time commitment of a minimum of three hours and usually more, the faster blind structure of the sit n go turbos allows you to play against anywhere from 17 to 179 other players and finish the game in about an hour. On PokerStars, where I normally play, there are always a variety of these tourneys running, encompassing a wide variety of different poker games, at buy-ins running from as little as $1.10 to as much as $555, with either 2, 5, or 20 tables. There are also single table turbos being played constantly on this site and others. For someone who enjoys tournament play and likes the possibility of a much larger payoff than a single table brings, but has a very limited amount of time in the day to be at the tables, they are ideal formats, however, they require a somewhat different style of play.
Before starting any tournament, one of the things I like to do is to determine what an average stack will be at the point when the money is reached. For example, in an 18-player tourney, with four places paying out, the average stack at the money will be a bit less than 7,000, or just over four times the starting stack. In the 45-person game, with seven spots getting paid, the average will be just under 10,000 (more than six times what you start with), and in the 180s, with 18 paid, it will be 15,000, or 10 times your initial stack. I use those numbers as targets, and in addition to keeping a close watch on my M value at all times (the number of complete circuits I can last without playing a hand at the current blind and ante levels), always balance my play based upon where I am in relation to my ultimate goals, which are to cash, and then win, the tourney.
Unlike slower blind structures, it is much more difficult to slowly chip up in the multi-table turbos. There are simply not enough hands dealt before the blinds require pre-flop pushes from many of the remaining players.
Therefore, I feel it is imperative to look for opportunities to take down larger pots whenever possible. I believe this dictates a strategy of pushing harder with made hands, as other players, feeling the time pressure, will often call with more marginal holdings than in more leisurely formats. Conversely, though, I will often back off in smaller pots with hands that actually may be winners, conserving chips for opportunities to double or even triple up later. At the early blind levels, I will try to see some speculative pre-flop hands cheaply, either in position or in the blinds. Since many players in the lower-stakes tourneys tend to over bet their hands early in these games trying to build a stack quickly, you can effectively trap when you hit a good flop with a less than premium starting hand.
As the blinds and antes grow and as the money approaches, M values quickly shrink for all but the few largest stacks. If you are one of the fortunate few at the top, you can still take your time and wait for top hands that enable you to pick off the short stacks that are pushing all-in around you. However, if you are one of those shorter stacks, you will need to pick a hand and simply shove all your chips in the middle and hope that either everyone folds or that you win the showdown. Passive play at this point will only get you blinded off, and you will either bust just short of the money or barely cash. Since most of the prize money is in the top places, it is worth taking some risks in the end game, particularly close to the money bubble, to give yourself the best chance to either win or finish in the top 2-3.
Let me take you through the highlights of a five-table turbo I played. On the very first hand, I woke up to A-A two off the button. Fortunately, the player under the gun raised the $20 blind to $200. In these tournaments, a pre-flop over bet like that is not uncommon, and I’ve found it usually means two things: 1) I’ve got a big hand, but not A-A, and 2) I will call any reraise you make. As a result, my best action was clearly just to push all-in. I did, and picked up an additional caller besides the initial raiser! The raiser showed Q-Q and the other player revealed 7-7 (one of the things you will see in the turbos even more than in the regular tournaments is people overplaying small pairs).
Five uneventful cards later, and I had tripled up!
Tripling up gave me a lot of potential flexibility for play in the first part of the tournament. The 4,500 in chips would mean that my M could stay at 20 or above for the first five levels, which, in terms of time, is almost half the tournament. I could choose to try to bully the other players, using the leverage of the big stack and the threat of elimination for anyone who dared to cross me, or I could play a more passive game, seeing a few more flops with suited connectors and the like, and taking advantage of position more aggressively. I chose the latter course of action, but unfortunately, the cards weren’t cooperating. The table I was at was extremely aggressive, my average hand was 9-3 offsuit, and my chip stack began to dwindle. Fortunately, the initial triple up meant that I didn’t have to panic, but my position in the tournament slipped from first, to second, to sixth, to 10th, and to 15th. At the same time, my M began to get dangerously low, and, having been moved to a new table, with the blinds having gone up and an M of just 3, it was time to push.
I waited out three dismal hands, and found Q-9 suited under the gun. I had 2,500 chips at this point with the blinds at 200-400 and an ante of 25. Despite the hand not being a premium one, it is almost always better to be the attacker and force your opponents to make the decision for a large portion of their stack than it is to have to make that tough decision yourself. I pushed, and the person next to me also went all-in with slightly fewer chips than me. Everyone else folded, and he showed 4-3 suited! I guess he figured he had two live cards, or else he had somewhere else to be (you never know in an online game, do you?) Regardless, I flopped a nine and doubled up to 5,000, a more threatening stack to play with, and a more comfortable M of 6. I was then able to take down a few more pots with uncalled raises, as play got tighter as the final table approached.
With 10 players left, I had a little over 7,800 chips, and found A-K offsuit on the button, with the blinds at 400-800, and antes of 75. The players in the blinds each had stacks that were smaller than mine, but comparable. I decided to raise to 3,200, the small blind called and the big blind pushed all-in. I called, and found the small blind with K-Q and the big blind with A-Q, both offsuit. I avoided the last two queens, eliminated them both, and we were down to the last 8 players, with me at 21,000, holding close to one-third of the chips in play, and with double what any of the remaining players had.
Of the remaining players, three were very short-stacked, and were quickly eliminated.
The other smaller stacks went to battle while I picked spots to steal blinds, and three-handed play began with me holding half of the chips in play.
The player to my left picked up a few pots and we were close to even, with me having about 29,000, him having 27,000 and the third player down at 11,000 and playing very passively. In the small blind, I found K-4 of clubs, with blinds at 1,500-3,000 and ante of 150.
I called, and the big blind checked. The flop came . I bet 3,000 and he called. The turn was the . I bet 3,000 and he raised to 6,000. I called. The river was the . I checked, and he went all-in.
I tried to reconstruct the hand very quickly. I knew that if I folded, I would still hold a chip lead over the third player, but if I called and lost, I would almost certainly finish third.
I saw that the hands that could beat me were Q-J (the nut straight), any ace, a set, two pair with some starting hand like 10-8 or 10-3, or a king with a better kicker. I reasoned as follows: If he had an ace, he would most likely have raised pre-flop, as he had done that previously with his better hands. A king with a better kicker would have probably pushed on the turn, since he would have reasoned that I also would have raised with an ace pre-flop. Q-J would almost certainly have folded the turn bet, if not the flop bet. The hand that actually made the most sense to me was a busted diamond draw, now trying to steal the pot away. There were just too many holes in the story he was trying to tell, unless he had been slow playing a monster all along. I called, and he showed J-2 offsuit, a complete bluff!
From there, heads-up went fairly fast. I took the last of the chips with K-10 against 7-7, when I flopped a set and turned quads.
What I hope that you notice about the play is that these tourneys usually come down to a very few big hands, as opposed to the many smaller pots in a longer tournament. There is usually a coin flip in there somewhere, a powerhouse or two, and a tough call to make that pays off. If you put yourself in a position where you have enough chips to force your opponents to make the harder decisions most of the time, you will be able to cash these events consistently and take down more than your share of them.
See you at the tables!