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.

Another good showing in an online MTT

I played a $5+.50 MTT on PokerStars tonight. I played well, got lucky at the right times, rarely got unlucky and generally had things go my way.

Anyway, this is my biggest cash in an online freeze-out MTT so far. Hopefully I’ll get a win soon.

PokerStars Tournament #28500040, No Limit Hold’em
Buy-In: $5.00/$0.50
1272 players
Total Prize Pool: $6360.00
Tournament started – 2006/07/28 – 20:10:00 (ET)

Dear JoshNjuice,

You finished the tournament in 5th place.
A $286.21 award has been credited to your Real Money account.

315 hands played and saw flop:
– 3 times out of 39 while in small blind (7%)
– 19 times out of 40 while in big blind (47%)
– 32 times out of 236 in other positions (13%)
– a total of 54 times out of 315 (17%)

Pots won at showdown – 19 out of 23 (82%)
Pots won without showdown – 45


Another $50 tourney: My first MTT win

I just got back, so I’m pretty beat. I’ll be posting a re-cap tomorrow or later this weekend. There were 32 people, I took first and won $450. I got very lucky at the Final Table. I think I ultimately won it with aggression. Ironically, I’m thinking more about hands that I misplayed than anything else.

This is going to be a long re-cap. Right when I got home from the tourney, I wrote a one-line description of all the hands I thought were significant. There are something like 30 lines. Here we go:

Early on in the first level (25/25), I got AA. I raised to 100 and everyone folded. I was bummed, but it was good to see the bullets. I hadn’t seen them in a while.

Not much else happened at my first table. I stole the blinds one other time, but mostly just sat back and enjoyed the show. We had three people eliminated in the first two levels. That’s pretty crazy considering we all started with 160 Big Blinds. I guess these people were in a hurry to get somewhere.

At my second table, I was lucky enough to have some very tight players on my left. Typically, I prefer tight on my left, loose on my right. That way, I’m less worried about someone coming over the top of a raise, or even calling it. I can also steal blinds pretty liberally. Also, I get position on loose players and that means I get to collect their chips by isolating them and making them pay for playing crummy hands.

After I’d been at the second table for about 45 minutes, I picked up AA UTG+1. The blinds were 150/300 and I raised it to 800 because it just felt right. A guy in late position moved in for about 3000 more (I knew he had a hand because he is ultra-tight) and the small blind started debating whether to call his all-in. I should’ve done some acting to get him to call, but I kind of thought he’d call on his own. Unfortunately, he folded and my AA beat the all-in player’s AK… the other guy folded AK also.

A bit later, I had KJo in late-middle position. I looked down at my cards, figured they were good enough to raise (because I’d been raising and taking it with Q2o, J5o, and junk like that for a while) and started counting out chips. The BB said, “Hey! Wait a minute! This is my blind here!” Unfortunately, I didn’t realize he’d look at his cards. I said, “I know, but I gotta’ do it.” and raised to 3x the BB. It got to him, he said some more stuff about it being his blind, then he moved in. Unfortunately, I basically had to call his all-in, but I wasn’t happy about it. I knew he had AA. If I’d realized he had looked at his cards before his initial speech, I would’ve just mucked. This hand cost me quite a few chips. C’iest la vie.

A few hands later, I had QQ in the BB. UTG raised it to 2.5x BB, everyone folded to me, I did my best to sound peeved (I was acting like I was still steaming from the KJo vs. AA hand) and said, “Alright, I’m all-in.” He called quickly and showed AQo. My QQ held up and I was right back in it.

About four hands later, I was on the button with TT and made a standard raise. The guy who previously had AA and made the speech called. The flop came down A8x and he checked to me. Now, this is the guy from a previous tournament who’d told me that he had a tell on me that indicated when I had a strong hand. What he didn’t know was that he’d gotten that tell on a hand where I was bluffing with Ace-high on a flop of KQx. I’m pretty sure this “tell” happens regardless of the strength of my hand, just because I’m playing a pot. Anyway, he checked to me and I could tell he was “getting a read” on me. I realized that the “tell” was happening, so I bet half the pot with my TT and made sure that his read would lead him to think I flopped a monster (I wanted him to put me on AK). He said he new what I had and folded. I think he even said I had an Ace. I told him I’d tell him later. Later, I did tell him I had TT and that I thought his tell on me didn’t actually tell him anything. That’s ok because he’s the type of player who will look for other reasons to fold big hands against me.

The blinds went up to 1K/2K-100. I was on the button with the mighty Q2o and decided to steal the blinds. Unfortunately, I was still stuck on the previous level (400/800) where my standard raise from the button had been 2000. I announced a raise to 2000 and immediately realized that was only a min-raise. Oops. The SB called, the BB folded. The flop came down KTx. The SB bet out, I thought for a while and folded. I told him I had AQ, but hated that flop. He said he had a weak King. I don’t know if he was lying, but I’m pretty sure he could beat Ace high and I didn’t want to pay a lot to find out how much he really liked his hand.

It wasn’t much longer and we combined for the final table. I had been card dead for a while and didn’t have too many chips. I didn’t play any hands before the end of the 1K/2K-100 level. The next level was 700/1400-100. Everyone folded to me and I moved in on the button with K7o. I think I had something like 4000 chips. The SB called, then the BB called and I knew I was in trouble. The SB had KTo, the BB had 54o. The SB won the hand and I stood up to leave, only to be told I still had chips. How many? 1400 chips, or exactly the BB. I folded two hands, but had to pay the 100 ante, so I was down to 1200.

Next hand, I posted the 100 ante, leaving me with 1100 chips. I looked down to see 74s, which was pretty close to the ideal crummy hand for me. I figured it was suited, and semi-connected, so I called all-in for my last 1100 chips. I then began goading everyone into calling: “Come on guys! Everyone get in there and quintuple me up! I need some chips!” I got two callers. The flop came down something like K4x. The BB checked, the button moved in and everyone else folded. Turns out the button only had Ace high and my pair of fours, seven kicker held up. I now had about 3600 chips. Next hand, I got KJo and moved in. I gave the same speech and got two callers. I also did a little acting and made my hand shake as I put the chips in. I figured maybe someone would be perceptive and make a crack about it, possibly inducing everyone else to fold for fear that I had AA. As it turns out, I had no such luck and I got two callers. This time, I made Kings up and tripled up. All of a sudden, I had about 12.5K chips and I was right back in it. That’s when the carnage began.

Two hands later, I was in the SB. MP1 made a standard raise and it was folded to me. I looked down to see QQ and moved in. He thought for a long time and eventually folded, saying he had AK. I think this was a terrible fold considering 1) I’d been moving in with junk and 2) It only cost him something like 8K more to call into something like a 18K pot. Against my range of hands, his AK was certainly getting odds to call. Nevertheless, I was glad he folded. The dealer ran the cards and he would’ve flopped a King, but lost on the river when I hit a set of Queens. I said, “I’m still glad you folded. I’d rather win 20K one-hundred percent of the time than get knocked out 50% of the time.” I was up to almost 20K and closing on the chip lead. This was the same guy who’d doubled me up at the previous table when I had QQ in the BB and he had AQ UTG. I think maybe that hand was on his mind when he folded. If I’m in his situation with AK, it’s an insta-call.

From here on out, I won’t talk much about bet sizes relative to the blinds and such. It just didn’t matter because everyone was basically short-stacked or extremely short-stacked. It was going to come down to catching cards and playing aggressively.

Now that I had some chips, it was time to start stealing blinds. We’d been at the final table for a few orbits and I had a pretty good idea who was just trying to survive and eke into the money and who was unlikely to play a pot if he wasn’t first in. I went after these people virtually every orbit. I was raising mostly with junk, but I occasionally caught a hand like KJo, although it didn’t matter because people rarely even called my raise, much less made a play at me. One of those blinds steals was with AA, unfortunately. The table was so tight, I just never got action on my raises. That was bad for AA, but good for my overall final table experience.

I busted the guy on my left when I made a standard raise from the button with KTs. He moved in with 99, I called and spiked a King to knock him out.

It turns out the guys to my right were really in to messing with my blinds. The guy on my right made a standard raise one time and I laid down A7o (I thought that was a big mistake after I did it). I figured I’d give him one pass, but I was moving in if he tried it again. Next orbit, he completed the SB, I raised with junk, he folded. Next orbit, he made his raise again, I moved in and he folded. A few orbits later, he limped from the SB, I moved in, he called and he showed 85o. My Ace high took it down and I busted him.

A few hands later, the new guy to my right (formerly two to my right) completed the SB and I moved in. He immediately folded. I was determined to make sure they knew that my BB wasn’t just there for the taking. You were going to have to beat me out of a pot to get it. A few hands later, the same guy made a standard raise from the SB into my BB and I called with KJo. I thought about moving in, but didn’t see any reason to go crazy. I’d already shown I don’t mess around in the blinds and since I knew he knew that, I thought he might actually have a hand. The flop came down T95, giving me a gutshot straight draw and two overs, but he moved in and I thought about it and folded my KJo face-up. He showed 53s for bottom pair, crummy kicker. I had a really hard time figuring out why he would play this hand against my blind like that. I hadn’t been giving up my blind, so he had to knew we’d be seeing a flop. There were a lot of hands I could’ve had that crushed him there (I definitely would’ve called with A9, AT, KT, JT, T9 and hands like that).

We were now four-handed and I got 66 UTG. I made a standard raise and got called by the button. Flop came down 996 and I fainted. Actually, I remained calm and bet out about half the pot. He quickly mucked. I was immediately disgusted with my line. Why bet out? This guy hadn’t been showing much aggression anyway. I should’ve checked to let him catch something on the turn. Big mistake.

About six or seven hands later, I was in the SB. The button, who’d become short-stacked, but not extremely short-stacked, moved in for about 20K. I peeked down to find AA and started thinking about how I could extract maximum value. I decided to play it nice and slowly, so I asked how much the raise was (even though I already knew), counted out the chips from my stack and eventually said, “I call.” I was hoping to induce the guy to my left to call or move in, but it didn’t work. Regardless, I busted the guy with QTo and we were now 3-handed. I had the chip lead and no fear whatsoever.

Next hand, I was on the button and the BB was extremely short-stacked. I’d been picking on him for a while as it was obvious he was folding his way up the money ladder. I asked him how much he had, he counted it out and I made a raise to about that amount. In retrospect, this was a poor play because I wasn’t paying attention to the not-so-small stack in the SB. If I was in the SB, I would’ve realized the button was picking on the BB, but wasn’t all that strong. Indeed, I only had K4s. The SB called my raise and the BB folded. The flop came down T94 w/ two diamonds. The SB checked and I moved in for about twice the pot with my bottom pair, King kicker. He shrugged and said, “I guess I call.” He had KQ of diamonds. That left him with a gutshot straight flush draw and an overcard (Queen). He was a slight favorite. I couldn’t figure out why he’d check/call all-in there, but that’s how he played it (I would’ve just moved in with it in his position). The board didn’t help him and my fours won and knocked him out.

We were down to heads-up and I had a monster chip lead (something like 9:1 or 10:1). I basically just went completely aggro until I busted him. I offered him a chop based on chip count (we each take second place money and divide the remainder of the prize pool proportionally by chip count), but he didn’t take it. Actually, when I first offered it, he said, “I dunno’. Let’s play one more hand.” The dealer dealt, I moved in, he folded and I said, “Ok, you wanna’ chop?” He decided, “Nah, I just wanna’ play it out.” I said ok and busted him two hands later. Actually, I doubled him up first. Then, the next hand, I had 84o, moved in from the button and he called with Q9o. I spiked an 8 on the flop to end the tourney.

So, that’s a re-cap of my first MTT win. It’s strange how little I really remember about the final table. I don’t remember many actual bet sizes, I don’t remember a lot of the hands I stole with. It just happened very quickly. I think the entire final table took less than an hour. It was crazy to come back from being short-stacked with less than the BB to running over the table on my way to a win. It’s also crazy that the hand that turned it around was 74s. The jury is still out, but that might be my new favorite trash hand.