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How do you play an MTT?

Video: Click here


In this Article
  • A tournament is another type of poker game
  • How it differs from a cash game 
  • A tournament and your game go through several stages

Multi-table Tournaments (MTT)

MTTs (multi-table tournaments) hold the promise of big money - almost everyone has seen players on television win millions in one of these big events. Who doesn't dream of having a really big win? You can win 200 or 300 times the amount you invested with just a small buy-in.

This and the articles that follow show you how to play poker and a strategy that will enable you to play the so-called full ring game (seven to 10 players at a table) of the No Limit Hold'em MTTs successfully.

 You will find out…

  • … how an MTT differs from a cash game
  • … which basic strategy will bring you success
  • … when to play what cards.

The differences between a cash game and a MTT

In a MTT you purchase a certain amount of chips with your entry fee. If you lose all your chips, you're eliminated from the game. You can buy your way back into a cash game at any time if you've lost your stack, but you cannot do this in the classic tournament. Rebuy tournaments are an exception, as they allow you to buy more chips for a limited time. Once this stage is over, you will also have been eliminated if you have no chips left.

You can't just stop playing when you don't feel like it anymore in a tournament either. You have to continue playing until you've been eliminated or have won the tournament. When you enter a tournament therefore you should take into account that the game may go on for a long time. Four or five hours are the normal length of large tournaments, if you get far. 

The fundamental difference between a MTT and a cash game is the following: the blinds in a cash game always remain the same. Because of this, you can wait for really good starting hands in a cash game.

In a tournament, on the other hand, the blinds will increase as the tournament goes on. Sooner or later you are forced to become active. Your opponents' stack of chips also grows as people continue to be eliminated from the tournament.

The ratio of your stack to the blinds will permanently change in a tournament. That's why you need to adapt your game to the shifting circumstances in the tournament. At the beginning of the tournament you need to play different hands than those you play in the late stage. A good tournament player adapts to different situations and to the various stages of the tournament.

The different stages of a tournament

A tournament can be divided into various stages. Adapt your game according to these in order to be a successful player. 

Early Stage

The early stage of a tournament is characterised by small blinds and -comparatively- very big stacks. The chip stacks are still very evenly distributed, i.e. everybody still has about the same amount of chips. That's why this tournament stage is similar to that of a cash game played according to the big stack strategy.

Because of the small blinds, it is a lot easier to lose big pots than win them. You should play particularly tight at this stage and avoid all difficult decisions. 

In order for you to play this stage successfully, you should take a look at the essential NL-Hold'em articles.

Middle stage/ late stage

In the middle stage the blinds go up, while the stacks become comparatively smaller as time goes on. Because a number of players have been eliminated fewer players have more chips. The average chip stack grows and the differences between especially large and especially small stacks increase. The average chip stack is usually just 30-40BB.

You should use different strategies depending on the size of your stack. You therefore have to adapt your game accordingly. As a short- or middle stack you should play tight at this stage and not challenge the big stacks. If you have a stack of 15-25BB, you should focus on re-stealing. The following article tells you which hands are good for re-stealing:

In the late stage the blinds will have increased even more and the average chip stack will have become even smaller in comparison, usually amounting to about 20BB. The game tends to be close to the classic push-or-fold strategy that you know from SNGs. Nobody calls anymore and pushes all-in straightaway instead. The small stacks struggle to survive, while the big stacks use the power of their chips to put everybody else under pressure. Most pots are won without a showdown.

To play a good game at this stage, read the following SNG articles:


The bubble is the decisive stage of a tournament: will you win money or will you bust out "on the bubble" with your winning chances bursting guessed it.

Once the best 100 players are in the money and there are still 110 players left, you will often have to make a difficult decision. You shouldn't make any hasty moves and you should play very tight, especially if you have very few chips left. The big stacks in particular will put you in a tight spot whenever they have the opportunity to do so, forcing you to decide whether you want to risk your whole tournament.

It is a very bad idea to gamble in this situation. If you are eliminated you'll end up with nothing, despite getting very close to winning something. 

Depending on the type of tournament the bubble starts in the middle or late stage.

In the Money (ITM)

You are 'in the money' (ITM) if you manage to survive the bubble. Now you will definitely make prize money and this will usually be about one and a half to three times the amount of your buy-in. You can now set yourself a new goal: the final table.

Many short stacks begin to play aggressive at this stage. They play like they're contestants on Sale of the Century: double up or be eliminated. In this stage you should also not rush in, but play your hands aggressive.

Final Table

Getting to a final table is always a special moment in the life of a tournament player, because getting there means you have a chance of winning a serious amount of money. Especially the first three table positions hold the promise of big prize money. But be especially wary of becoming careless at the final table. 

After a very aggressive game at the last two tables, because of it being shorthanded with four to six players, the final table is full ring again. That means that better starting hands are around now. You should accordingly tighten up your game again. If you decide to play a hand though, play it aggressive. 

Keep an eye on the different stack sizes. It is very unwise to challenge the chip leader if you hold the second highest amount of chips, and there are also a number of short stacks at the table who have a lot less chips than you do.

Also be sure to keep an eye on the payout structure. You can usually get to the much higher prize money by playing tight.

Payout Structure and ITM

If you're playing an online poker tournament, you have to pay the same entry fee as your opponents. All the entry fees are made up of the buy-ins and the house's fee (the rake). The sum total of the buy-ins is the prize money. The house's fee is kept by the casino.

Tournaments with guaranteed prize money are an exception: The guaranteed sum is always paid out, even if less than this amount was paid in buy-ins.

The prize money is divided differently among the players. Generally the best 10% of all players are paid, i.e. are 'in the money'. You will then usually "only" win back one and half times your entry fee. The really big money can't be made until you get to the final table.

The top three players will win especially much money. They win 100 or 200 times their buy-in. But the road to the top can be very hard and you'll have to get through a number of precarious situations.

Aim of the Tournament Game

This article has shown you the basic principles of playing a tournament. Play tight and keep an eye on the basic conditions of the tournament. Always pay attention to what stage of the tournament you are in. Adapt your game accordingly.


Comments (18)

#1 Koshburger, 29 Jan 10 09:22


#2 ProCactus, 31 Jan 10 03:37

That's not the entire article...
To view the entire article you'll need a higher status. You can upgrade your status simply by playing, either with a poker bonus or the free $50 starting capital on our partner poker rooms. Details are available here: Rewards System

I have to say im a little disapointed. This I thought was a big part of online poker. It would help to get some PRO advice on how to deal with it, Espeacily when play against 200 or more people.

#3 NajjacaKarika, 18 Feb 10 14:51

graet article!

#4 Phov, 28 Feb 10 13:47


#5 Rap1d007, 31 Mar 10 11:33


#6 DeMoNBLaZeR, 09 Apr 10 12:26

thank you so much PokerStrategy :)

#7 dublis, 13 Jun 10 00:14

that's so good

#8 radex13, 04 Oct 10 17:42

very nice!!!

#9 KennyPhan777, 24 May 11 16:59


#10 hahahihi, 31 Jul 12 21:40

Myself thanks you, StrategyPoker.

#11 mrtonydji, 14 Jun 13 12:31

if you don't read this kind of stuff, on the table you'll be like a fish in a pool full with sharks

#12 freedom7115, 08 Jul 13 21:41

just a little doubt. do the same guidelines apply even to rebuy tourneys and turbo/super turbo tourney?

#13 NextChamp, 25 Aug 14 02:17

Nice read...enjoyed this :)

#14 Socialhabit, 16 Oct 14 17:10

reading :D

#15 Dedees89, 20 Oct 14 01:37

I love mtt ... All night long

#16 Yakut228, 07 Feb 15 02:05

ш дщц ьш

#17 muska411, 12 Sep 16 16:34


#18 Foxtech04, 27 Nov 17 06:29