Every poker tournament starts at the beginning, and so does our comprehensive online poker tournament strategy guide. In this strategy guide, we have divided the stages of the game in three stages. In Part 1, the early stages, we’ll show you how to approach the early stage of an MTT when you play poker online at Ignition. In some ways, it’s the easiest stage to learn, but it will also test your poker skills more than any other part of the tournament. We’ll also give you some special poker tips to help you make smart choices even before the cards are in the air. In Part 2, the middle stage, we show you how to improve skills or tactics and, finally, in Part 3, the end stage, we show you how to become a pro when you play poker online at Ignition.  

More Tournament Info


Basic Poker Tournament GuideBasic Poker Tournament Guide

Before we get to the early stage itself, let’s take a moment to consider what’s at stake when you play tournament poker for real money. Unlike a cash game, the chips in front of you during an MTT don’t have a specific cash value; they go up and down in value as the tournament progresses, and for the most part, the chips you win are less valuable than the chips you lose. Survival is the name of the MTT game, so be prepared to make passive choices in marginal spots – fold or check back instead of chasing down small edges with aggressive bets, raises and calls. Save those chips for later, because you’ll need them.



Early Stage Poker Tournaments Strategy Tips

If you’ve already developed a solid cash poker strategy, you’ll have an advantage over your opponents during the early stage of an MTT. When you start out with a stack of 75 big blinds or more (that’s 1,500 chips with the first blind level at 10/20), you have enough chips to unleash almost your entire arsenal of plays, including multi-street bluffs and speculative plays like set mining. But you still need to handle these big stacks a little differently than you would at a cash game.

For one thing, survival is still more important than accumulating chips. Just because you have the leverage to run big bluffs doesn’t mean you should automatically try to push your opponents around. It only takes one cooler or one bad beat to end your MTT prematurely. Pick your spots when it comes to aggressive play during the early stage; find opponents who are more likely to fold, as many often do at this point in a tournament.

You’ll also need to be extra-cautious when you’re playing a deep-stacked MTT with, say, 150 big blinds or more. As the stacks get deeper, you need to put more emphasis on making nut hands that retain their value when the chips are flying and the pot gets bigger. Set mining with baby pairs can turn disastrous when someone makes a bigger set. Small suited connectors are nice, but suited Aces are even nicer when you’re deep-stacked. Even if you make a big hand like a full house, you need to watch out for bigger full houses – there’s a poker “law” that says people never fold when they have a boat, but you’d better be ready to break that law when you’re in a tournament and the action’s getting heavy.

How Your Play is Affected by Re-Entry TournamentsHow Your Play is Affected by Re-Entry Tournaments

There’s a particular kind of MTT where survival is a little less important than usual. In a re-entry MTT, you get to buy back into the tournament after you bust out – provided you do so before the re-entry period has closed. This allows you to play even closer to a “pure” cash style during the early stage of the tournament.

There’s another kind of MTT called a re-buy, which is similar to a re-entry MTT, but in a re-buy tournament, you have to make that decision right after you bust, otherwise you’re out. You also won’t have to pay an additional entry fee like you normally would in a re-entry MTT. Either format gives you a chance to get back in the tournament if things go bad early, but make sure you’ll have enough stack depth before you do – if you re-enter during the later stages, your stack might not give you the leverage you need to make it worthwhile.

Is Late Registration Beneficial?

Most MTTs allow you to register and start playing after the tournament has already begun. Some players use this flexibility to skip the early stage altogether, and join the MTT a few blind levels deeper, once the antes have kicked in. This online poker strategy can make sense; it’s a time saver, which is especially useful if you’re multi-tabling tournaments (you can play up to 15 MTTs simultaneously when you play at Ignition Poker). If you’re not particularly adept at deeper-stacked poker, it can protect your stack until you reach the middle stage of the tournament.

The drawback is that you won’t have as many opportunities to build your stack while lesser-skilled players are still in the tournament. In a typical MTT, you can expect the “recreational” players to bust out sooner than the pros, so the early levels tend to be the softest. Late registration is ultimately a trade-off between playing poker and saving time (and perhaps money), so make that decision for yourself, based on your skill set and your scheduling needs.

Does the Percentage of Players Paid Change Your Style?

Some MTTs have different payout structures than others. In a tournament where a smaller percentage of the player pool finishes in the money, you’ll have to play more aggressively if you want to make it beyond the bubble. MTTs where more of the prize pool goes to the very top finishers will also require a more aggressive approach, since there will be less value in min-cashing. Make sure to take a note of the structure your MTT uses before entering, and adjust accordingly.

Now that you know how to deal with the early stage of an MTT, get ready for Part 2, where we look at the always-tricky middle stage and how to play when your stack creeps into the Danger Zone. Until then, best of luck at the tables.