How to Survive Big-Field Poker Tournaments

PokerStars PokerStars PokerStars

Big tourneys with lots of players will result in very large payouts - often over 1,000 times the size of the original buy-in.

This is more than enough reason to spend some time ironing out your MTT strategy.

If you've never thought about it, you naturally assume that everyone's goal in a tournament is to win first place.

The reality is that most players aren't playing for first place at all. They're playing to make the money.

For the majority of players, finishing anywhere in the money is considered a win. These are the players who would like the big first-place prize, but are happy just to not lose their buy-in.

For them, the battle is won by making money. If you make money, you're a winner while those who don't are the losers.

The Final Hand
Most players aren't looking to win.

In contrast, the players who are playing to win first are putting themselves at much higher risk of busting out before the money in return for a decent chance at making a very deep run.

Play to Win or Play to Cash?

The first thing you have to do is choose what your goal is.

Don't pick one because it sounds good - you have to make a choice that is true to your needs, and that you can follow.

If your goal is to play to win, 3,000th-place and second-place are the same result as far as you're concerned.

For good tournament players, this mentality is the more profitable choice. Here's the easiest way to explain it: Let's take a scenario in which you're set to play 10 $1,000 buy-in tourneys.

In the first scenario, you're playing to make the money. Five times out of 10 you bust before the money; the other five you make it just inside the money.

Lose 5 x $1,000: -$5,000

Limp into Money 5 x $2,000: $10,000

Total Profit: $5,000

In the second scenario, you're playing to win. You bust out early in nine of the tourneys and win the 10th:

Lose 9 x $1,000: -$9,000

Win 1 x $300,000: $300,000

Total Profit: $291,000

The Real Money is in Winning Poker Tournaments

As you can see by these rough numbers, the real money is in winning a tourney.

The Money
The real money is in winning the tournament.

The variance is much larger, as the most you could ever have been down in the first scenario was -$5,000, with the second-worst scenario being almost double that at -$9,000.

Keep in mind these numbers are just to show you the massive difference in the possible payouts.

It's ludicrous to expect to consistently win one out of 10 massive MTTs.

But with a first-place payout of $300,000, you can afford to lose a couple hundred times before you win and still make a tidy profit.

The players who play to just make the money will argue that they have a chance at winning as well, as well as making the money more often.

Although they do make the money more frequently, it's similar to cash-game players who manufacture winning streaks.

If you're limping into the money at the tournament chip average or less, you're going to have to become a serious card rack to make it deep.

The players who are playing to win will have spaced out their gambling across the whole tournament, while you will be forced to take as much or more risk in a very short period to make a run at the final table.

You Can't Manufacture Wins

Many cash-game players are addicted to the concept of winning sessions, ignoring long-term results and calculated hourly earnings. These players will quit a winning session at a fraction of the total amount they stood to win in an effort to always finish in the black.

The mentality of having to win in a specific session is dangerous for a serious poker player, though, because it can limit wins and sometimes even force excessive losses.

There are times when you are just not going to play good poker. You may be tired, depressed or just a little scattered. If you force yourself to stay at the table, chasing your losses to grind out a meager win for the session, you risk going horribly deep.

Manufacturing wins can result in limited winnings and exaggerated losses.

Eugene Katchalov
The best MTT pros know you need to get lucky.

Poker Pros Are Not Luckier Than You

The first thing to understand with tournaments of this size is that you're going to be forced to gamble at multiple points to have a shot at booking a win.

You're going to have to win multiple coin flips, have your hands hold up to multiple strong draws, and commonly get a little, or a lot, lucky when you get it in bad.

The best MTT professionals understand the need to be lucky, and incorporate it into their game plan. Amateurs often look at tournament professionals and comment about how lucky they are all the time.

But in fact, other than the odd natural streaks of luck, the professionals are no more lucky than you.

The big difference is they're taking the situations where they need to win a coin flip, or need to catch some luck, and making sure they happen at opportune moments.

In a situation where you hold a hand with a 60% probability to win against your one opponent, would you rather get it all-in against a player who has one-third of your stack or a player who has you covered?

Amateurs will often answer "one-third," because if they lose they will still have chips to keep playing.

The problem with this choice is it will force you into circumstances where you have to take a similar risk just to get back to where you were originally.

A professional is playing to win and would rather take the same risks for the large pots which will put them into contention to go deep into the field and maybe even make a final-table run.

Consider Your ROI in Big-Field Poker Tournaments

The other thing to consider is the ROI. If you're playing in tournaments offering over 1,000 times your buy-in, you can afford to make strong moves to try for a deep finish.

As a solid player, you're bound to have your luck hold out more than a couple of times out of a thousand. Every time you see a professional player making it deep into a big tourney, you can look back and find a whole slew of hands where the player "got lucky."

To use the lucksack strategy to your own ends, you want to make sure that you're taking these risks when it's most profitable to do so.

You're going to have to gamble at multiple points in a tournament, absolutely - so make sure you do it when you stand to gain the most.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

Please fill the required fields correctly!

Error saving comment!

You need to wait 3 minutes before posting another comment.

Antonio 2011-06-12 13:01:11

Well, quite the opposite of what Mike Caro preaches.
Also you cannot calculate the expected gain by assuming that when playing conservatively you barely make it to the money 5 times and you win one time in 10 when taking risks (against 3000!).
You should instead estimate what is the probability to get n-th place when playing conservatively, and calculate Sum_n W_n P_n, with W_n the money for n-th place (minus buy-in), and compare with the analogous quantity when you play taking risks.
An oft-cited strategy is to accumulate chips by playing aggressively just before the bubble bursts, by taking advantage of scared players. But why taking risks early in the tournament?


Sorry, this room is not available in your country.

Please try the best alternative which is available for your location:

Close and visit page