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Playing the Early Stages in MTTs

The early stages of a tournament are when play is slow and everyone sits back and waits for big hands. While there is certainly value in a passive approach when the blinds are low, it will also be an opportunity to cash in on the apprehensiveness of others. You don’t need to put your tournament life on the line in order to build a stack early.

The early stages are when you should maintain a moderately tight range of pre flop hands, but don’t be afraid to go after the uncontested pots. For example, say your opening range was AJ+ and 22+. If you make a raise with AJ pre flop and get called, you should not be shutting down on the flop if you miss.

Go ahead and make a continuation bet and follow up on that aggression. Now, that is what you should do, but what you shouldn’t do is double and triple barrel. There is no need to double barrel when it is this early in any tournament. Double barrel’s should have an equally balanced amount of risk and reward, but your risk in the beginning of a tournament is going to be fairly high when you double barrel, whereas the reward is very low.

You might improve your stack size by 10% if you can pull off a successful double barrel, but it is not going to get you much closer to cashing or making a deep run. The end game strategy should always be your primary concern, even when making plays in the beginning of a tournament.

If you manage to make a big hand in the early stages of a tournament, you should be doing everything you can to string your opponents along. This is often going to be your biggest struggle because a lot of players would prefer to ditch their hands altogether unless they are exceptionally strong. Value betting is incredibly crucial in any stage of a tournament, but it will be your only hope to extract any money when you are playing against very passive players.

Sometimes it will be clear that another player is not looking to come along for a ride, so it will be better to get a little bit of value than it is to get none at all. The only precaution that you should take when extracting minimal value is that you don’t allow other players to catch up. If you are shooting for small value as opposed to no value at all, you should be 100% sure that the other player is not going after some type of draw that will have you crushed.

Don’t Overdo It

Don’t go wild in the beginning of a tournament. Stick to the same general plays that you would be applying in the middle or late stage of a tournament. For example, make your pre flop open raises to 4x the big blind, or whatever you make in any other situation. The blind amounts will make any of your bets seem relatively small when compared to bets later on in an event, but you can’t let it alter your strategy.

In the end, you need to keep everything in perspective. Play the early stages of a tournament like they are the early stages of a tournament. You can’t possibly win in the first few blind stages, so there is no use in putting your tournament life at risk with absolutely nothing to gain.

If you are going to be making short term risks, there should be some significant short term rewards. You might bulk up your stack temporarily if you make 10x big blind open raises and then bomb the pot on the flop and turn, but you will be killing your chances of a deep run if you lose those first few hands.

If you make big plays early on and win, you have a small edge over the field, but if you make big plays and lose, you are going to be at a significant disadvantage (or even eliminated).

Preparation for the Later Stages

Adhering to a sound strategy in the early stages of a tournament is important, but it is also important that you are ready and able to shift into the next stage of any event. The early stages are just as much about preparing for the later runs as they are about adding chips to your stack. Use this time in the tournament to get a feel for how the other players are playing and figure out what your game plan is going to be for when the event progresses.

One of the biggest killers for any tournament player is a lack of preparation. Focus on the hands that are right in front of you but also use them as an aid for later on.

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