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Strategy for Small-Stakes Multi-Table Online Tournaments

Large multi-table tournaments (MTTs) with small entry fees can be very fun to play in. Unlike single table sit-and-go tourneys, these tournaments have huge fields of players (sometimes thousands) and can take many hours to complete. Another difference with SNGs is that these tournaments offer a higher number of cashes (finishers who get paid) and much bigger payouts due to the large field of players. For our purposes, small-stakes MTTs are defined as tourneys with entry fees from $1 to $30, with players numbering from the hundreds to the thousands. Every online site runs some of these tournaments each day. Major sites such as PokerStars and Full Tilt offer dozens of small-stakes MTTs every day. Players typically start with $1,000 to $1,500 in tournament chips. The blinds start in the $5/$10 or $10/$20 area and increase rapidly: often 5, 10, or 12 minutes meaning 8-to-12 hands per round.

While arguably offering much more glory, these tournaments involve a great deal of luck due to the combination of many inexperienced players playing unpredictable as well as the short rounds and rapidly-increasing blind structure that compels participants to play quickly and aggressively. However, the challenge and the promise of a big reward for small investment mean that it’s worth taking a crack at developing a small-stakes MTT strategy. Following are a few building blocks to get you started.

Don't expect opponents to back down from your bluffs – Due to inexperience or the tournament structure, players tend to be extremely aggressive. For example, the pre-flop pot may often be crowded with five to seven limpers and even a big raise often won't thin the field. Furthermore, players are hoping to double-up quickly and easily, and therefore call big bets pretty loosely. Expect all-in showdowns with a pair of fives against ace-six off-suit. This means your pot-stealing bluffs are much more likely to face big re-raises and it just becomes not worth it to make such bluffs. Make sure you have a hand when you get a lot of chips in the pot.

Value bets tend to get paid off – Since there tends to be a lot of inexperience and aggression, especially in the early stages of small-stakes MTTs, slow-playing, trapping, and all-in bets are much more frequent than in regular poker. There's very little actual value betting and therefore, a solid value bet is almost always paid off and sometimes met with a big re-raise. Hence, value bets tend to be abnormally profitable.

A conservative strategy with a dash of aggression – Since so many players tend to play very aggressively, the player who goes against the grain and adopts a conservative strategy ought to experience big dividends, since strong hands can expect to get many callers and bigger pots. However, be careful! With short rounds and sharp blind increases, you still need to mix in some aggression in order to prevent your stack from shrinking as the blinds increase and others double-up. Two more aggressive tactics can help keep your stack reasonably impressive.

First, push your strong hands (top pairs, trips) very aggressively in order to capitalize on the likelihood of being called. This can be a great way to double-up. Second, try to see cheap flops with suited connectors or small pairs in late position. Lots of players in the pot in such situation make your implied odds huge if you hit a set, straight, or a flush, so it’s generally worth limping in.


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