Some of my MTT philosophy

I’ve been playing poker online for about two years now, and I’ve always had a thing for MTTs. I’m sure I’m just another product of the TV poker boom, but I just like MTTs more than cash games (and SNGs are a close second). Here are a few things I’ve learned about MTTs since I started playing:

  • The goal in an MTT is to make it very, very deep into the money. Because of the top-heavy payout structure of most MTTs, it’s hardly worth while to just cash in an MTT. If I’m just playing to cash, my time is probably better spent in a SNG where I can play for less time and cash more frequently than in MTTs.
  • Variance is very high in MTTs. A good MTT player can expect to cash in 10-20% of the tourneys he plays (and this number is inversely proportional to the size of the field). This means that, even for a good player, there is an 80-90% chance that he will lose money in any given tournament. This means that a streak of 10, 15, 20 or more tournaments without cashing is not only possible, but should be expected. This means that my bankroll-to-buy-in ratio must be very high to withstand the negative variance in MTTs. I try to make sure I have at least 100 buy-ins for whatever level I’m playing.
  • My opponents determine how many levels of thinking I use; I should be thinking one level ahead of my opponent. Typically, the higher the buy-in, the more levels of thought necessary to be a winner (to an extent). In the lower buy-ins, there’s generally no point in thinking to the fourth level, or even the third. I think about my hand, I think about my opponents’ hands, and that’s it unless I have reason to believe that my opponents are trying to read my hand. A couple weekends ago, I played an MTT where I tried an elaborate check-raise bluff against an opponent who obviously had me beat. I was representing a hand that had him in bad shape, but because he was only thinking about his hand and wasn’t trying to put me on a hand, I donked off a bunch of my chips. I was thinking on the third level, but he was only thinking on the first level, so I was just wasting brain power and chips. After the hand, a more experienced player at the table said, “Nice bet, I would’ve folded to you there.” My check-raise bluff would’ve worked against this opponent because he was thinking on the second level, but my play was too fancy for a player thinking only on the first level. But the more experienced opponent was wrong, it wasn’t a nice bet because I made it against the wrong type of player.
  • Keeping records is imperative. I record every tournament I play: Buy-in, number of entrants, where I finished, how much I won, how long it took, and various notes on my play. I keep track of my overall ROI, how often I cash (ITM–In The Money percentage), and other statistics that help me see how well I’m playing. These records enable me to measure my progress, expose any leaks in my game and, most importantly, they keep me honest. The records don’t lie–if they say I’m winning, I’m winning; if they say I’m losing, I’m losing.
  • Hand Histories are a very big part of my learning process. When I go very deep in an MTT, I’ll often review the hand history the following day to see what I did well and what I could’ve done better to win. Any time I encounter a difficult hand, I save the hand history from that hand so I can look over it and get feedback from other experienced players to help me understand the hand better, so I’m more prepared for that scenario next time I see it. If I have a bad session, I’ll look at the big picture to see if there are any leaks I need to work on, or to see if maybe I was just running bad.

I’m not an MTT expert, not even close. But I have been consistently improving over the past several months and I believe these are the primary reasons.