Is there anything better than online poker tournaments? We can only think of one thing: winning at tournament poker. Like any other game, poker is a lot more fun when you’re winning – and a lot more profitable, too. That’s why we’re rolling out this three-part series about how to play online poker tournaments like professionals. We’ll divide the classic MTT (multi-table tournaments) into three stages and show you how to play each stage as profitably as possible, but first, let’s introduce you to the tournament format itself.

What is a Poker Multi-Table Tournament (MTT)?

When you see the three letters MTT used in a poker setting, we’re talking about Multi-Table poker Tournaments. Like the name suggests, these are tournaments that require more than one table to seat everyone in the field. Almost all the major online tourneys are MTTs; they start at a scheduled time, and run until the winner is declared. You can have an MTT with as few as two tables, or as many as the poker room (live or online) will hold.

How are MTTs Different from Poker Cash Games?

In a standard game of cash poker, every hand you play is a discrete event where you can win or lose money. Not so with MTTs. With this format, everyone pays a certain amount of money to sign up for the tournament, including the buy-in and the entry fee. All the buy-ins are then pooled together; this is the prize money that will be awarded to the top finishers. The entry fees are kept by the poker room as a commission. You can download our poker software and play MTTs at Ignition Poker on your desktop computer, or you can log in directly using your mobile device.


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To win a prize, you have to be one of the longest lasting players in the MTT – maybe around the top 15% or so. Everyone starts the tournament with a specific number of chips, and unlike cash games, these chips are not treated the same as money; there shouldn’t be a dollar sign or any other denomination printed on the front. You can’t get up in the middle of an MTT and cash in your chips. You simply play poker until you either run out of chips, or you’re the last player standing.

To keep the game moving along, the blinds increase every few minutes, encouraging everyone to make more aggressive plays as their stacks get relatively shorter. In most MTTs (Omaha not included), antes are also introduced after a few blind levels have passed, putting even more money on the table before the cards are even dealt. Some tourneys will give you bigger starting stacks to play with; MTTs can also have longer or shorter blind levels, and they can start with either two, six or nine players per table.

For a special treat, some MTTs use the Knockout format, where you get a cash prize for every player you eliminate. There are even Progressive Knockout MTTs, where the bounty on your head increases  every time you eliminate another player; in these events, half the bounty you claim will go directly into your account at Ignition Poker, and the other half will be added to your own bounty. These extra prizes can get pretty large by the time the MTT gets into the later stages – and speaking of stages, that’s how we’re going to treat each tournament when it comes to developing our winning strategy.

Introducing the Three MTT Stages

If you’ve taken the time to learn how to play Sit-and-Go tournaments like a pro, then you’ll already be familiar with the concept of dividing the tourney into three stages: early, middle and late. This approach can be used with MTTs as well. The three stages are a little less defined in this case, since there are usually many, many more players involved in an MTT, but the same general concept applies.

Early Stage MTT

The first few blind levels of a standard MTT play much the same as a cash game, since everyone starts with a relatively deep stack – maybe 75 big blinds, maybe more. This gives you the leverage to make almost all the same moves you would at the cash tables. But the early stage only lasts for a while; even if you chip up, others will see their stacks dwindle, and effective stack size is what matters here. Part 1 of our series will show you how to navigate this stage as smoothly as possible.

Middle Stage MTT

Once the effective stack size gets down below 40 big blinds, that leverage we were talking about shrinks considerably. Now you can only get in one or two streets of betting post-flop, and you’ll need to change your strategy in order to compensate. This middle stage of the MTT can happen pretty quickly, maybe even as soon as the antes kick in, and for the purposes of the strategy we’ll discuss in Part 2, it lasts until the money bubble has burst.

Late Stage MTT

Making the money in a MTT is great, but it’s always nicer to bag one of the top prizes than to min-cash. The late stage of the tourney requires even more savvy; you’ll be dealing with a wide range of stack sizes, and because of the different pay jumps, you’ll have multiple opportunities to exploit your opponents as they try to fold their way up the ladder. You’ll also want to know about advanced concepts like the Independent Chip Model, which we’ll explain further in Part 3.

We’ll go more in-depth into each of these three stages during this comprehensive MTT guide, so now that you’ve been introduced to the wonderful world of online tournament poker, get ready for Part 1 of our series, and as always, best of luck at the tables.