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Playing the Late Stages in MTTs

The late stages of a tournament call for a solid mix of luck and skill. You can’t possibly advance without one or the other, but there is just about nothing you can do to control just how lucky you might get. The late stages of a tournament are the primary reason why tournaments have so much variance. You can play perfect poker for 10 tournaments in a row and never end up with anything better than a min cash.

Nothing is more frustrating than making a deep run only to bust out in the late stages because you lost a few coin flips that you had no control over. Ask any past World Series of Poker Main Event final tableist how they got there. The odds are that they will say that they got very lucky. Ask those same players how they busted out and they may very well tell you that they got a little unlucky. This is just how tournament poker works, for better or worse.

Of course, nothing is more exhilarating or fun than being able to put together a good run that is aided by some good luck. The late stages of tournaments are as close to pure gambling as poker gets. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to control your own fate if the poker gods have other plans, so you may very well have to flip a number of coins and hope for the best. How about that for poker tournament strategy?

While there is an obvious amount of luck involved in tournament play, it does not mean that all skill is void and useless. The truth is that there are a lot of skills required for successful late stage tournament play. The skills are more about identifying certain situations than they are about making complicated or intricate plays.

For example, you aren’t going to worry about making a triple barrel or check raising on the flop, but you will need to know when you should be going all in and when you should be folding. This is what is widely known as push fold strategy. Going all in or folding become your only two options because your chip stack will be very small in comparison to the blinds. You can’t possibly afford to make plays when you only have a handful of big blinds to work with, let alone expect them to pay off. You have to play with a fearless attitude in the later stages of tournaments. Where passiveness and selective aggression is all the rage in the beginning and middle stages of tournaments, it will be deadly to your chances of survival as you move into the later stages.

Before the Final Table

The late stages of a tournament are well after you have already made the money, so the next logical step is to prepare for the final table. You should be ready and willing to take chances that will put you in position to actually win the tournament. There is no space for unnecessary risks, but it is OK to flip a coin for a chance at winning.

The problem with this approach is that you never want to actually risk everything on the flip of a coin. You should be trying to create significant edges, 65/35, 75/25, etc., and be happy if you end up getting in a few flips. There is a major difference between aiming for coin flips and winding up in a coin flip. In the end, coin flips should be a worst case scenario when you decide to make a big play. If you get your money in worse than you had expected, and are still even money, there is no reason to be all that upset.

Blinds Are Important

The blinds are initially in place to help pick up the pace and to force players to get involved, but when the blinds equate to 10% of your stack in the later stages of a tournament, they are very well worth fighting for. Your stack could be 200,000 and you could be playing with the blinds at 10,000/20,000. This will mean that a simple blind steal will increase your stack by around 15%. Steal a few sets of blinds and you are suddenly 50% richer.

Advanced tournament players are able to consistently pick off the blinds in an attempt to really build up their stack. This isn’t a risk free way to go about winning pots and increasing your equity, but it is safer than going all in and hoping for folds all around. The general rules for stealing the blinds will still apply. Look for late position steals against tight players. These are the types of plays that will actually work, whereas steal attempts from middle position against loose players in the blinds will fail at a fairly high clip. Stealing blinds is a valuable way to accumulate chips and it could decide whether you run over your opponents or have your stack melted away.

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