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The Early Phase in a MTT

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In this article
  • The conservative approach
  • Play tight in the early phase

There are several profitable ways to play a MTT. This article will introduce you to the conservative approach. This is the most suitable approach for beginners.

The conservative approach has the following traits:
  • very few, but very strong, starting hands are played
  • when you play, you play aggressively
  • you avoid marginal situations

Your goal is to survive as long as possible. As a beginner, your goal shouldn't be trying to amass a large number of chips or trying to knock opponents out of the tournament early in the tournament. No tournament is won in the early phase - but quite a few are lost.

There are three phases in a multi-table tournament (MTT): the early phase - with relatively small blinds in relation to stack sizes, and the middle and late phases - where the blinds are noticeable, if not substantial.

This article will show you how to play conservatively in the early phase of a tournament. We will look at classic freeze out tournaments. Turbos, satellites and tournaments with rebuys often require a somewhat different approach, but the strategy you will learn in this article will help you in such tournaments, as well.


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Comments (37)

#1 DELETEDM_1725351, 05 Sep 09 15:03

A compilation of other articles..

#2 CrippledMind, 14 Dec 09 00:06

Are you really suggesting that in the Example 5 you should just check and fold to any bet? I understand, that seeing three callers after your initial raise preflop is not what you were hoping to see and there is a possibility that one of them might have 2 pairs or a set and someone else might be on a flush draw or have a pair with a straight draw, but should you not at least make a probe bet to see where you stand with your hand? Surely giving someone a free card to outdraw you is a mistake or am I wrong?

#3 Monztriuke, 24 Dec 09 07:55

Wrong, its all most 98% that someone have the guts ;) and all your probets will be waste of chips. Tight-weak-aggressive with good hands only! TPTK its not the best hand you know ;)

#4 Koshburger, 29 Jan 10 10:28


#5 Turcin, 14 Mar 10 15:28

I think that is very gay to just flat call or even fold AK preflop in any phase of tournament...

#6 mhayden, 05 May 10 01:25

i think it is very gay to cut off jeans and mesh tank tops

#7 mhayden, 05 May 10 01:29

*wear* lol....

#8 THeGaME23, 20 Sep 10 20:19

Why fold Q6s-56s in the blinds against an early position raise but call against a mid position raise? If he raises early position and he has aces or kings and we hit were guaranteed to take his whole stack against a fish. Doesn't make sense.

#9 Ribbo, 21 Sep 10 08:05

There are a lot of reverse implied odds with calling someone with a tight raising range. We hit 2 pair 10% of the time, but it's the rest of the time when we make 1 pair and don't improve that we end up losing more than our supposed "implied odds" let us win.

#10 mattbaillon, 21 Sep 10 08:47

yeah, i agree, TPTK is not the way foward. In my humble opinion trips are good, 2 pair is ok and top pair is just asking for trouble - but as always in poker, nothing is certain and all decisions must be made at the time of play and based on chip stacks and opponents. This article explains that you dont know your opponenets yet as you are in the early phase and you have lots of blinds so survival is normally the correct way to go, not marginal.

#11 luismg88, 27 Sep 10 01:51

what about Axs? where are they? wouldn't it be better "Axs - 65s" instead of "QJs - 65s".. I don't get it.. why is QJs on the top of that category? if you can play QJs, why not KJs too?

#12 Ribbo, 27 Sep 10 10:34

Axs can be dominated by other aces. When we hit an ace, we can't really carry on with the hand aggressively since someone else can have an ace with a better kicker.
However with 65s it's obvious why we are playing the hand (to flop a straight draw/flush draw) so we wont lose a large pot if we hit top pair.

#13 luismg88, 28 Sep 10 17:08

yeah, I understand, but my doubt is.. why not play (cheaply) Axs ONLY to flop that flush draw, or two-pair or better; and have the discipline to make the good lay down when we hit just an ace and there's too much action on the hand. Anyway, if we're going to play a flush draw, it better be the Ace-high and not a 6-high one..
Or is this just burning money on the long run???
thank you for your advice

#14 JohnJohnson1337, 07 Oct 10 23:03

Example 5 rocks a boat. Just somewhen this week i realised that bluffing against potential draws on a flop is not a plus, but rather a minus. If the draw comes on the turn and your opponent called, then you gotta ask yourself - what did he call you with. And then to bet on a turn to represent that draw is pretty silly, cos he a lot of times can have the same exact draw youre representing.

I guess same thing here. If youre betting in 4 ppl pot, even with overpair - QQ, its still a bad spot to bluff. Any two pair, set, limped/slowplayed Kings, Aces, or almoust always you will get called with a draw if you make 2/3 pot bet, if you bet pot you could get called with a draw by a donkie or with stronger hand. Eather way, i'd say your equity in pot is the same as if you checked then if you bet. Only difference pot is smaller.

#15 7Girto7, 22 Dec 10 03:19

Nice agressive article! :)

#16 neaposto, 07 Jan 11 06:09

ISn't a BIG mistake the 4*BB raise? we all did 3*BB. and now good players say not to open with 3BB but less. so we can have oportunity for 4bet/5bet withoutbeing comitted.

is that right or i have misunderstod?

#17 neaposto, 07 Jan 11 06:11

oups . sory. i saw thats is only early phase of MTT. thats ok 4BB. but later pahsethat change as i said

#18 Huckebein, 10 Jan 11 10:15

@16+17: Yes, in the later stages you should adjust your raisesize. In the early stage 4BB make perfect sense in the lower buy-in tournaments. We play tight and have therefore an equity advantage against the guys who call too lose.

In the later stages, when stacks get shorter, you should raise 3BB or even 2.5 BB.

#19 SPADES1, 15 Apr 11 09:04

just a little remark. Ribbo wrote:

#9 Ribbo, 21 Sep 10 10:05

There are a lot of reverse implied odds with calling someone with a tight raising range. We hit 2 pair 10% of the time.

Sorry to say that the percentage to hit 2 pair ON THE FLOP is 2% (1:49 in terms of odds), LET US ASSUME WE HOLD SUITED CONNECTORS: we could had the possibilities of hitting flush (0,8418%), trips (1,35%)and straight on the flop e adding the (tiny) possibilities of hitting quads ond full house we reach merely the 5,65%.

I do hope this could help sombody.


#20 rtrtrtr, 15 Apr 11 18:14

@ #5

I know that comment #5 was written a while ago but I'll make my observations for the newer ones to PS who read this.

When I have raised or reraised with AK and then found a raise behind me, the amount of times I have walked into AA or KK is unreal. The best I can usually expect is QQ or JJ with the very occasional AK. I wish I had the data for all these past occurrences of facing a raise behind with AK but I don't. However, I am certain that calling that raise (usually all-in) isn't profitable in the early stages of a tourney when most people have an M of 20-30+. I have just now, once again, been knocked out of a tourney in this exact situation when I had an M over 50. I think I really need to start laying that AK down. I am getting more and more reluctant to put my tourney on the line, pre-flop, in the early stages with AK.

I guess some people would disagree with me though.

#21 Huckebein, 16 Apr 11 09:08

@20: You are totally right, especially in the early stages of a tourney action indicate AA or KK. Ak is not the hadn you want to go all-in with, especially becuase you are a decent undergood against QQ as well. So you are totally right. Every situation has to be thought through.

#22 NoOneSpcl, 01 May 11 00:57

Why is the early phase MTT starting hand chart presented here not available for download as pdf? (I just saved the picture...but still... would be convenient, even only as a recommendation)

#23 David, 10 May 11 16:28

@22: Hi, we are currently preparing the chart as a PDF document, should be available from next week on :)

#24 Harnas31, 07 Oct 11 12:08

Related Articles:
How do You Play an MTT? - has bronze status here but is in basic section

#25 newsat, 01 Nov 11 13:16

EX8: Slowplay with a set is good in itself. But this time there are only 1 player after me. I think I must bet(maybe about 1/2pot?) on flop if nobody bets before me. Is something wrong ?

#26 mattisks, 27 Nov 12 17:13

this is advice for mugs. Say u follow this advice, do same play as I did: I raise, pokerstrategist behind me who was just like ball of fury raises and when he pushed me around long enough I shove with KK. He calls ofc coz he pot commited himself with A5o and hits as usual. This is happening early in tournament all the time and it doesn't matter if you have KK or QQ. Coz the mug will always get there no matter what. That's how online works nowadays.

I just wonder why not to avoid all this advice even though I agree that those charts have certain value, I don't see reason why to risk tournament life at certain point with just a pair, which KK, QQ effectively are..

#27 Dedees89, 20 Oct 14 01:46

QQ all in? Idunno think about it...

#28 thewinemaker, 21 Mar 15 15:45

Some thing interesting for tournament play. This week I played a MTT on a local Canadian poker site. Very early in the game , about 15 mins in, I got a pair of A's , one club & one spade. Did all the advised playes by betting 4 BB, got Raised so went all in, up comes opponents hand , two A,'s heart and diamond. I feel OK, this is a split hand., no biggie. Flop comes two hearts, turn comes heart, river comes, another heart, I lost to a board of hearts, with my worthy oponent having the A of hearts, I was out in 15 mins. What a Bummer! I think after playing poker for 3 years this was the most surprising and the most mind boggling hand I have ever played. So much to winning A's. LOL

#29 MasterPT13, 09 Apr 15 13:34


#30 p42121, 10 Dec 15 16:28


#31 tonypmm, 15 Dec 15 00:18

Lol at the poker of 2009 - 4bet-shoving QQ for 150 bb (instead of 4bet/folding) was indeed quite profitable then, I guess.

#32 Nhoxalone, 18 Feb 16 15:54


#33 lojzko, 24 Apr 16 19:47

nice article

#34 msp3101, 01 May 16 15:24

Thanks for the tips

#35 martti321, 14 Jul 16 15:07


#36 muska411, 12 Sep 16 16:34


#37 sirilidion, 21 Sep 16 08:51

Isn't it time to update the mtt articles rather then this missmass between a sng strategy and an cashgamestategy from 2009?