1. Pay to hit a set
In the early stages of MTTs you have a lot of chips relative to the blinds, so losing a few of them early on isn’t going to do much damage to your tournament chances long-term. In that case calling with small or medium pairs in the hope of hitting a set is an absolute must. You’re about 8/1 to flop a set, but when you do you’ll be in a great position to win a big chunk of chips from someone with an overpair. Your implied odds at this stage of the game are so big that it can be worth paying over the odds to try and hit a set, especially against a player who you know is incapable of laying a big pair down.
2. Fast-play monsters
At the start of low stakes tournaments there are a lot of fish. These players will call huge bets down with top pair/top kicker because they’re blind to the fact that someone might bet two-pair or a set so hard. You’ll also get some terrible calls from players paying way over the odds for drawing hands, so make sure you punish them.
3. Push the flush
You’ve called a raise with suited cards and flopped a flush draw. If you’re first to act, try checking the flop to incite your opponent to bet, which they’ll do more often than not whether they’ve hit or not. Now take this opportunity to hit them hard with a check-raise. If you find yourself short-stacked or it’s the middle-to-late stages of a tournament then you’re usually best shoving your chips in. If your opponent calls with an overpair to the flop (but which is lower than both your hole cards) you’re actually still a slight favourite to win. Combined with the fact that you’ll often make a player drop their hand this semi-bluff shove is a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal.
4. The stop-and-go
An oldie, but still a goodie, the stop-and-go is a great move to make when you’re in the blinds and starting to run low on chips and ideas. The tactic involves you calling a late position raise – hopefully targeting a serial raiser – and moving all-in whatever the flop. You’re not making the preflop call on the odds it will help you (if it does it’s a bonus), but on the fact that two live cards will connect with the flop only a third of the time. Is it a gamble? Yes. Is it a gamble with the odds in your favour? Also yes. You do, however, need to have enough chips left so that it’s not an automatic call for the raiser. It’s a great move to pull with a low pair if you think an all-in preflop would get called because you’re forcing someone who probably hasn’t hit to a tricky decision if they want to see the final two cards. If they’ve hit already then they would have hit by calling your all-in anyhow. But by pulling this move you’ve got an extra chance for survival.
5. UTG raise with rags
Everyone knows that a min-raise from under the gun is often a sign of strength. It’s not likely to be respected in the first few levels when it costs so little to see a flop, but in later levels, when the blinds are larger, a minimum raise from under the gun will be respected if you’ve been playing tight. If you meet some resistance, you can just fold. You’re also more likely to get it through as a low or medium stack as the raise will look extremely suspicious, as if to say, ‘I want action!’
6. Short-stack shove
Tournaments are all about survival, but there’s no bigger sin than blinding yourself to death. So when your total stack is down to around 10 big blinds it’s time to take a deep breath and stick your chips in the middle. If the action is folded around to you be prepared to push with any Ace, any pair or suited connectors, where you think you’ll have live cards if someone calls. The closer you are to the button the looser you can be with your hand, purely on the basis that there are fewer players to get past. Likewise, if the players in the blinds are sitting on medium-sized stacks you should be pushing with any two cards. They’ll be loathe to risk half to three-quarters of their stack with anything but a big hand. And even if they call, 7-9os will beat A-K suited a third of the time.
7. Pre-imperilled shove
You’re expected to shove when you’ve got ten big blinds or less and players know you’ll be doing it with a wide range of poker hands. An all-in move with a stack of over 10 big blinds will get more respect. Although your risk-to-reward ratio is higher you will be more likely to get your hands through.
8. Beat the bully
There’s always one player who will raise every hand if it’s folded to them. And after a few rounds it’s quite obvious who they are. Target these loose-aggressive individual(s) with selective three-bets and four-bets when you have position on them or when you’re battling from the blinds. Of course, you may find yourself getting shoved on, at which point you might have run into a genuine monster. But don’t let it put you off – if the aggressive player knows he can bully you, he will.
9. Big stack pressure
If you’ve never been the big chip leader in a tournament before you’ve got something to look forward to. You can use your stack to put pressure on your opponents with smaller stacks, pushing every edge and generally being an all-round meany. Use frequent testing bets and raises when you get close to the money. Short-stacks will be in shove-or-fold territory while the medium-sized stacks will be all too aware of the fact that you have them easily covered. You’ll frequently get your raise through scooping the blinds and antes, which will slowly turn your big stack into an enormous one. What’s more, it’s great fun winning loads of pots with rags.
10. Squeeze play
What do you do when there have been lots of callers behind a single raiser? Raise, of course. Make sure you put in a big enough bet that you’re not giving ‘value’ to any of them to call. If you get past the initial raiser then you’ll have a good chance of getting through everyone else. If they had a truly premium hand they would have probably re-raised rather than called. Punish their weakness! Usually you need to make a pot-sized bet to scare others off.