top corner

Playing the Middle Stages in MTTs

The middle stages of a tournament are when you will be slowly moving from a passive to more of an aggressive playing style. It is not quite time to be pushing really hard to win big pots, but you should start looking for ways to gain an edge over the field. If you wait too long to make any moves whatsoever, the odds are that your stack will be much too small by the time that it ends up mattering.

Your pre flop hand selection needs to expand a little from what it was when you first started the tournament. This will not typically be a big, sudden jump, but instead a slow transition. For example, you might have been playing AJ+ and 22+ when the tournament was in its infant stages, but once you are a few blind levels in, widening your opening range to A9+ or AT+ is likely to be in your best interest.

A lot of your opponents will be stuck in that very passive stage where they don’t want to play too many hand. This is when you can take advantage of their laid back approach. It makes sense to attack the passive players much more now than it did early on because you now have something that is worth fighting for. In the beginning the blinds were small and the field was sizable, but now that players are getting knocked out and the blinds are going up, there is a legitimate reason to attack what were once small pots.

Take it Slow

As was the case in the early stages, the middle stage of a tournament is not when you should be putting your life on the line. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. For example, if you have dwindled your stack size down to where it is relatively powerless, it would only make sense to see if you can achieve a double up.

The players who should not be looking to force a double up are those who are hovering around, above, or slightly below the average stack size. If you are still working with what is considered an average stack, it means that there is still a great opportunity to slowly build your stack up over time. Forcing the issue is one of the easiest ways to not only bust yourself out of a tournament, but to unnecessarily bust yourself out of a tournament.

Focus and Avoid Unforced Errors

The difference between not making a deep run because of running bad and not making a deep run because you made a stupid mistake is significant. There are a lot of tournament players who like to blame their inability to cash on bad luck, but this is nothing more than a bad excuse. The players who are unlucky in tournaments will usually have a solid rate at which they cash, but will struggle to put anything together when it comes time to start flipping coins.

Any good tournament player will be able to at least earn a min cash on a fairly consistent basis. The middle stages of any game are when you should be preparing for a min cash and beyond. If you find yourself unable to even min cash with any bit of regularity, the odds are that you are doing something wrong in this stage of the tournament.

While bubble play is important, the bubble is irrelevant if you never even make it that far in the first place. The middle stages are when you can lay the framework for a deep run, but you still need to avoid stupid mistakes.

The Difference Between Early, Middle, and Late Stage Play

For amateur players, and even advanced players, identifying the actual differences between the early, middle, and late stages of a tournament can be a challenge. There is no set way to determine when your play should shift from passive to slightly aggressive to very aggressive. Once you are a few blind levels deep, you will start to feel each of the small blind and big blind rounds start to impact your stack a little bit more than before.

The early stage blinds will not put much of a dent in your stack size at all. This is how you know that you can afford to wait around for a little. In all likelihood, depending on the structure of your tournament, the middle stage blinds will not hurt you either. This is why it can be so difficult to make a successful transition from one stage into the next.

If you want to try to use a general meter for the progress in a tournament, consider the breaks after the first hour and after the second hour. These are the times where you should almost always be in the middle stages. After the break for the second hour of play, you are probably going to be approaching the bubble.

Again, this is only a general guideline and may or may not be valid depending on the blind structure. A turbo tournament will hit the middle stages faster than a regular or deep stack event. The key is to be aware of where you stand, where your opponents stand, and whether or not you are in good shape for later when it really matters.

More Poker Tournament Strategy
bottom corner