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The Play in Fixed Limit Tournaments


In this article
  • Why Fixed Limit MTTs can also be interesting
  • How you make it through the different tournament stages
  • What differences and similarities there are to cash games

As probably every other poker player, you have very likely played a few tournaments before. This form of the game has a lot to offer: Plenty of action, high winnings with a relatively small buy-in and many weak players. While the majority of the tournaments on offer are played in No Limit, it's also worth taking a look at other variants - Fixed Limit tournaments for example.

However, FL MTTs (Fixed Limit multi-table tournaments) usually live in the shadow of the well-known No Limit tournament variant. Due to the lower number of participants, the winnings are of course smaller as well. However, it's still possible to play these tournaments profitably. This article will show you how.

In an MTT, you buy a certain number of chips with your buy-in. This is the initial stack that you start out with. The blind levels is increased in regular intervals and your effective stack will become smaller. If you lose your chips, you are eliminated. These are the major structural differences to cash games.

The different stages of a tournament

Just as is the case for No Limit, a Fixed Limit tournament can be divided into several stages and you need to specifically adapt your game to each of these.

Early stage

At the beginning of a tournament, the blinds are low and every player has a solid stack. How many big bets (BB) you start out with heavily depends on the buy-in as well as the structure of the poker platform. We will assume an initial stack of 75BB here, which is quite common for tournaments at PokerStars. Your understanding of Fixed Limit, which you have already acquired in cash games, serves as the basis for the game in the early phase.

In the early stage, there are very few differences to a cash game: You have a stack that enables you to absorb quite a few beats and therefore allows you to play all those hands that are also profitable in a cash game.

It's recommended to play marginal hands, such as Axs, suited connectors (SC) and pocket pairs (PP) rather passively. Due to the small blinds, many players tend to play too loosely in this stage. While hands with marginal showdown value lose value, speculative hands gain value.

Since your opponents tend to call a lot and winning the blinds only makes up a small part of your stack, you should steal rather tight. This is also the reason why it makes sense to defend your blind somewhat tighter against unknown.

In the early stage, it should be your main goal to collect chips in order to enter the middle phase with a solid stack. Use the time that you are not involved in the hand and closely observe your opponents. As always in poker, the player who is able to reduce the informational deficit is one step ahead of the others. Since there is only very little content available on the topic FL MTTs, many players are inexperienced and weak; it is an important aspect to identify and exploit their leaks in order to build an edge in the middle and the late stages.

Middle stage

The first players have been eliminated, the blind levels have increased and the average stack is around 10-15BB big now. In the middle stage, your stack determines what you should do next. If you are doing quite poorly due to a few beats and only have between 0-10BB left, you should continue your tight game and wait for suitable situations to attack weak players.

If you have a decent stack (> 10BB), now is the time to exert some pressure. The average FL tournament player at the low limits is weak passive and therefore the perfect victim. You can already put your opponents under pressure preflop by making more steal raises and loose 3-bets.

Many players defend their blinds extremely tight in the middle phase, since a call would cost them a major part of their stack. That's why you should think about your defense behaviour. As a call is a very big investment, you should not defend your blind in order to play fit or fold, this would not pay off. When you are up against weak players, it is in many situations recommendable to either defend actively by 3-betting or to bluff the flop more often.

Since your effective stack has become smaller, pot control also plays a role in this phase. A continuation bet on the flop will usually still make sense on the flop, but sometimes it can actually be better to give up the turn or to check behind and hope for a good river. As opposed to a cash game, the advantage here is that many players often seem as though they are not courageous enough to bluff in such spots, since a bluff - just like any other action in the middle stage - would make up a considerable part of their stack, which is why many players avoid investing in a bluff.

Late stage/Bubble

In the late phase, the average stack usually drops below 7BB so that most players don't have any room for creative postflop play. This stage usually sees a very tight game. Many players stick to their playing style which means that you will still encounter many weak tight players in the late phase that you can exploit by playing aggressively.

Here at the very latest, the reads you have compiled play an important role when it comes to adapting your game to a specific opponent. Many players play fit or fold on the flop, especially in 3-bet pots, which makes them easy to tackle. Just as in No Limit, it is very important to always keep an eye on the constellation at the table. You don't only have to pay attention to which players are weak or which are strong - their stack sizes are important as well.

Big stacks can call more loosely, small stacks will often play a tighter game and wait for good hands. If your stack is big enough, you should aim to put pressure on the mid stacks. These are players who still have a comfortably big stack that they don't want to jeopardise with marginal hands, since finishing ITM is a realistic goal for them.

What's also important is to pay attention to the dynamic at the table. It is very well possible that there are other players who also want to take advantage of the situation. It's also worth putting them under pressure as well.

ITM/Final table

Once you've made it past the bubble, many players become looser and the fold equity decreases. Particularly short stacks (< 3BB) will now try to get all-in to either win as many chips as possible or to get eliminated. If you are not under pressure in this situation, you can take it slow in this phase, build a tight image, observe the opponents and collect reads.

As far as the game theoretic aspects are concerned, this stage barely differs from the late stage. The blinds are still huge, the average stack is 5BB, which means that stealing is still very important for your stack. When you are very close to the final table, you should always keep an eye on the dynamic of the table. Before the tables are closed and joined, you will often go through phases in which you play full-ring as well as short-handed. Many players underestimate the different dynamics.


The early phase of an FL MTT equals a cash game, however it can be good to be somewhat tighter and play speculative hands more often. It shares a lot of similarities with an NL MTT. Both of them undergo phases during which you have to adapt or digress from your usual game, depending on the typical behaviour that your opponents display. To know what an ideal play for each of these stages looks like requires a lot of experience, and this article has laid the cornerstone for your understanding of FL MTTs.

To conclude the article, we will give you some guidelines - similar to those for an NL tournament - on how different stack sizes affect your game:

  • > 12BB: You have a good stack. You can continue playing analogous to how you would play in a cash game and in accordance with the illustrated adaptations, and put your opponents under pressure.
  • 8-12BB: You have a solid stack. However, you can become somewhat tighter, play more hands with showdown value and bluff rather few hands.
  • 3-8BB: It's important not to panic. Your stack is still good, you should select your starting hands carefully and look for and take advantage of good situations to steal.
  • < 3BB: In contrast to NL, 3BB are still quite a lot in an FL tournament - be patient and commit yourself to the pot with good starting hands.

Comments (6)

#1 ShawnlovesShawn, 26 Jul 14 00:39

I've played a few live NLhold'em tourneys. Still getting used to the idea of playing tournaments online. Should be iinteresting!

#2 NextChamp, 25 Aug 14 02:44

(y) nice

#3 Yakut228, 07 Feb 15 02:03


#4 Nhoxalone, 18 Feb 16 16:01

thank you very much

#5 muska411, 12 Sep 16 16:25


#6 laszlo780127, 20 Nov 17 13:53