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Poker Tournament Strategy for Every Stage

Poker tournaments, especially big, multi-table tournaments (MTTs), bring the excitement. They are higher variance than cash games, meaning that you’ll win more chips less frequently.

Winning more chips is all about finding your edges, preserving your chips, and knowing when to pull the trigger.

Prepare for your next tournament by studying how your tournament strategy should change throughout the different stages.

Beginning Stage

In the first few levels, play is more reserved. Patience is key, and there’s less incentive to win pots. Instead of getting too involved, take time to observe and make reads on your opponents. Especially since everyone is so deep-stacked, it’s not a good idea to play huge pots.

Ranges are also narrower in the beginning, so don’t make too many hero calls or run big triple barrel bluffs. Instead, 3-bet a linear range and take advantage of the fact that the field is the softest that it’s going to be before the weak players bust out.

Middle Stage

As the blinds start to raise and more people bust out, play becomes faster, more aggressive, and more volatile. That means you should open your range up and fight harder for pots.

Blind stealing is particularly key for building your stack to carry you into the late stage. Defend your button wider, open wider in late position, and use the edge that position gives you to take more blinds. That also means 3-betting more aggressively, c-betting, and throwing in the occasional check-raise bluff.

The Bubble

This stage is unique because it’s right before the money. Whoever busts here will go home without any chips to show for it. That means you really need to be aware of who the threats are. Watch out for big stacks and big egos, and don’t get into unnecessary wars.

Check back more often. Do some pot control. If you can help it, don’t get into huge pots. short stacks can stall a bit to try to make it past the bubble, but don’t do so excessively.

Most importantly, chill, breathe, and relax. Then look for other players who are stressed out about busting on the bubble and use that to exploit them with aggression.

After the Bubble Bursts

Now is when the action really starts. People who just wanted to cash are gonna try to get their chips in to double up, and others are going to shove incorrectly because they’re happy that they made it into the money and they don’t care anymore. This means there’s a lot of volatility.

Tighten up, stay sharp, and bluff catch post-flop more often to take advantage of your opponents’ wider ranges. By the same token, you can also go for thinner value because people will call wider.

Late Stage

As you move towards the final table, the intensity level ratchets up to 100. There’s lots of chips at stake, so focus on every play and look for low variance lines so that you can leverage your skill edge.

Be aware of pay jumps but don’t sweat them. It’s all about keeping your head in the game. That also means staying off your phone—social media can wait to hear about your accomplishments until later!

If you’re the big stack, you want to focus on busting the short stacks until it’s big vs big action. If you’re a short stack, look for a place to get it in good, and accept your position. Just don’t let nerves affect your game, and you’ll maximize your chances at taking home the trophy.


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