Playing the Early and Middle Stages in Multi-Table Tournaments

Huge field multi-table tournaments such as at the WSOP often require patience early, then aggression in the middle stages.
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If you're like me you've been following the 2012 World Series of Poker closely, watching the live streaming coverage on WSOP.com and reading about the many events as they play out. It's only natural that discussions of strategy in multi-table tournaments pick up during the WSOP, with many trying to unlock the secret to performing well in the massive-field, three-day long (and longer) events on offer at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. One kind of "quick hit" piece of strategy I've heard a lot of players and commentators sharing over the last couple of weeks has to do with how best to approach the early stages of a tournament as opposed to the middle stages, an idea that might be summarized as "stay tight early, then loosen up in the middle." As you know, the blinds start out relatively small at the beginning of tournaments, especially at the WSOP where the blind-to-starting-stack ratio is relatively deep when compared to a lot of non-WSOP events. For example, in the $1,500 no-limit hold'em events, players start with 4,500 chips and blinds of 25/25 -- that's 180 big blinds to begin. Levels last 60 minutes, too, which means there's plenty of "play" early on in such a structure. With the blinds so small it might be tempting to see a lot of flops and get involved frequently early on, but that is actually where the less experienced players often distinguish themselves from the more savvy ones. Starting out playing loose more often than not gets players in trouble, especially when they run into tight-aggressive opponents who are only playing back at them with especially strong hands. Blind-stealing is also not as important early on, another reason to forgo the usual late position opens you might be tempted to make in cash games. Thus are some players starting out too loose, then finding themselves relatively short-stacked once the antes kick in (e.g., in the $1,500 NLHE event that happens in Level 6). Meanwhile, others will play close-to-the-vest early on, but once the antes arrive will continue to play too tight and thus become victimized by more aggressive opponents who have opened up their games with more preflop raises, three-bets from position, and other moves to keep their stacks at or above the average. The middle stage is where blind-stealing becomes genuinely profitable. Say you reach Level 11 of a $1,500 event at the WSOP, the last level of Day 1. By then the blinds are 500/1,000 and the antes 100. That means an addition of 2,400 to a player's stack (including the ante he or she contributed) after raising preflop and getting folds all around. In Event #2 this year (the first $1,500 NLHE event), there were about 300 players left from a starting field of 2,101 when Level 11 began. That made the average stack around 31,000, which meant adding 2,400 to an average stack at that point equaled a better than 13% increase. Compare that to stealing blinds back in Level 1, when doing so would earn only about a 1% increase to an average stack. In other words, while you can turtle up to survive the early levels, you have to loosen up thereafter in order to maintain a healthy stack and survive into the money and late stage of an event. More often than not, when I hear experienced players giving this advice to play tight early and loosen up in the middle, it is being delivered as a warning against how not to play the tournament. That is, the advice generally goes "Don't play too loose early, and don't play too tight in the middle." You might elaborate on those directives thusly: Have a good reason to get involved early on, and have a good reason not to mix it up once you reach the middle stages. Players busting in the early and middle stages of a tournament each receive the same non-award for their finishes. Don't needlessly bleed chips early and put yourself at risk to bust, and don't squander opportunities in the middle stages to accumulate chips and position yourself for a cash. Join Betfair Poker Now.

While it is often okay to "turtle up" and play tight early to survive the initial levels, you have to loosen up thereafter in order to maintain a healthy stack and survive into the money and late stage of an event.

Short-Stacked Shamus,

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