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December 22nd, 2008
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Poker Lesson: How to Play the Early Stages of Turbo MTTs
Author: Michael Craig
When playing a turbo Multi-Table Tournament online, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is overcompensating for the fact that it’s a turbo by playing too fast and loose during the first several rounds. Because the levels are shorter and the starting stacks smaller, you’ll see players rushing to get all their chips into the pot with a hand like A-9 or pocket 5s. Since these tournaments actually play like normal tournaments during the first few levels, it’s important to remain patient and wait for big hands.
In the first 15 or 20 minutes of a turbo tournament you should play the same way you would in the first hour or hour and a half of a regular tournament. You should be looking to play quality hands aggressively from late position, but if you meet any resistance you need to pull back. At this point in the tournament it’s not worth losing all your chips with A-J offsuit or pocket 5s if an opponent comes over the top of your raise.
There’s also very little point in trying to steal the blinds in the early stages because they’re so small relative to the size of the starting chip stacks. Stealing the blinds becomes much more important in the later rounds after the antes have kicked in. The other argument against trying to steal the blinds early on is that you’re more likely than usual to get called because players tend to play faster in turbos. The big blind will be looking for a reason to call your raise from late position, and he might even make a move, pushing all in with a marginal hand. As a result, trying to steal the blinds becomes much less profitable than usual.
What you should be looking for in the early stages are opportunities to play small hands that could become big hands. When you’re in good position, you should be looking to see as many flops as possible with small pocket pairs and suited connectors because these are the types of hands that can win big pots. If I have a hand like pocket 6s, I’ll rarely fold to a raise before the flop because I know that one time in eight I’ll catch a 6 on the flop and double up off a player who can’t let go of his big pair.
If you do choose to call a raise before the flop with a small pocket pair, it’s important that you make sure your opponent has a large enough chip stack to justify the eight-to-one odds of you hitting a set. Ideally, you should be looking to make this call against a player who has at least twenty times the size of the preflop raise. If your opponent only has five times the size of the raise in his chip stack, you can’t win enough to make the call mathematically correct.
Another important difference between turbo and regular tournaments is that in a regular tournament I’ll be a little more aggressive in the early stages, trying to project a certain image. I’ll often raise with hands like J-9 suited or Q-8 suited in late position, but that tactic doesn’t work as well in turbo tournaments. In turbos I’ll often pass up opportunities to make an opening raise with these sorts of hands because I don’t want to put myself in the difficult position of having to play a big pot with such a weak hand.
Let your opponents be the ones to overplay their weak hands early on because they almost certainly will. They’ll raise or call raises before the flop with hands like pocket fours, and even if the flop comes Q-J-7 they’ll keep on pushing. Such players also tend to overplay strong hands like A-K. After raising before the flop with that hand, many players will refuse to let it go after getting check-raised on a flop like J-7-4. Even though they’re obviously behind, they’ll call a big bet, hoping to catch an Ace or King on the turn.
Some players will even push all their chips into the middle in this situation. All they have are two overcards, but I guess they figure that after raising before the flop and betting on the flop they’ve already invested a healthy chunk of their chip stack and they might as well go all the way with the hand. They’re impatient because of the nature of turbo tournaments − starting with smaller chip stacks and playing quicker levels − but this is obviously a huge mistake.
The most important thing to remember in the early stages of an online turbo tournament is stay patient and wait for big hands. Too many players overcompensate for the fact that it’s a turbo and make foolish moves that cost them half their stacks. Don’t be one of those players.
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