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Taking Calculated Risks in MTTs

Calculated risk is a term that is thrown around in many different facets of life. Tournament poker is the time where calculated risks can be seen in action. Without a number of calculated risks, no tournament player is ever going to be able to generate a profit. The risk aspect is what make tournament play so full of variance, but the calculated part is what will allow the solid players to win out in the end.

Defining a calculated risk can be a challenge in and of itself. Making the most +EV play is often a product of experience more than the ability to calculate any sort of odds. One of the biggest misconceptions in poker is that good players are able to figure out any type of odds right off the top of their heads. While it is true that having a general grasp on odds can be helpful, it is not going to make you a ton of money. Anyone can work on calculating odds, but only a skilled player will be able to critically analyze a situation.

How you calculate your risk is the only thing that matters. If you estimate that you are going to force a fold about 40% of the time that you go all in, but are actually only going to get a fold around 10% of the time, what use is the number that you just came up with? This is the reason why experience is so incredibly valuable.

There is no question that making an accurate calculated risk is infinitely harder than coming up with any calculation at all. When and how you make a calculated risk will depend on your image at the table, the stage of the tournament, and any opponents who are still involved in the hand. If you can run through this checklist and figure out where you stand, you are probably going to be right a fair amount of the time.

Your Image

Your image at the table will matter in any type of game that you play, and tournament poker is no exception. Think about all of the hands that you had played up to this point. Were there a number of hands where you made big bets and were caught bluffing? Did you always show down the nuts when it came time for showdown? You should always be aware of how the other players are viewing your play. Once you have this in check, you can then decide whether a certain play is likely to succeed.

Say you just flopped a big flush draw after making a pre flop raise. You had previously shown down a complete bluff when you were caught on the river. If you make a bet on the flop, get called, and brick the turn, what is your best course of action? Some players might think that going all in will maximize their fold equity. They would also consider that there is a shot they will get called and end up hitting their hand on the river.

While all of this might be true in a vacuum, the fact that you recently showed down a bluff will make your opponents that much more likely to call. This is a spot where going all in on the turn is a risk, but checking on the turn is calculated. If you had a tight image at the table, however, you would be making a calculated risk. If your image was that of a tight player, the other players would lean towards a fold for fear of you having a hand. Reputation and past hands will be a helpful guide in determining what your next move should be.

Stage of the Tournament

The stage of the tournament will come into play with nearly all of the decisions that you make, whether they are large or small. If you are thinking about pulling off any type of big play, take a look at what you stand to gain and what you stand to lose. Are you already in the money and gunning for a big chip lead, or are you working with a short stack trying to make a min cash? Of course, a big stack will allow for a lot more leverage and aggression than a short stack, but the stage of the tournament will matter even more.

A short stack who is nowhere near the money is better off going all in than a short stack who could make the money if just one other player busts. You shouldn’t aim for a min cash, but sometimes it is better to go after something rather than nothing at all. This is an example of how a short stack would calculate its risk differently depending on where they are in the multi table tournament.


Your opponent should be the most glaring and obvious aspect of virtually any play that you make. Knowing how a player tends to play will make your life a thousand times easier. This element of making calculated risks in tournaments is very straight forward. Don’t bluff the players who never fold, don’t call the players who never bet, and so on and so forth. Assuming that you have been paying attention to what is going on at your table, knowing how to play against any particular player should be relatively easy.

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