There’s no better feeling in poker than winning a big pile of money at a major tournament. And that’s the great thing about poker: Anyone can do it. Look at the list of champions at the World Series of Poker Main Event, and you’ll find all kinds of players, from dedicated pros to pit gamblers and everything in between. It takes some luck as well as skill, but if you play enough of these tournaments, you’ll eventually get your hands on that money.

This guide will get you on the right path. We’ll take you on a walk-through of a classic multi-table tournament (MTT) from start to finish, breaking the journey down into stages and showing you the right approach for each one. These multi-table tournament tips and strategies for beginners will give you a leg up on the competition, and a bigger chance of winning one of those big prizes when you’re playing online poker tournaments at Bovada.


What Is a Poker MTT?

As you may have figured out, a multi-table tournament is an event that has enough players in the field to require more than one poker table. This is in contrast to a single-table tournament (STT), where the field is capped at whatever size the table accommodates. An MTT might have a dozen players, a few hundred, or tens of thousands. In general, the larger the field, the bigger the prizes will be at the end.

That’s because each person who enters poker tournaments contributes to the prize pool. When you sign up for an MTT, you pay a buy-in plus an entry fee (usually 10% of the buy-in), then all the buy-ins are pooled together. That prize money will be awarded to the players who last the longest in the tournament, with the rewards getting larger as the field narrows – and the largest prize going to the winner.

Once you’ve entered the MTT, the tournament will begin at its scheduled time, and all the players will sit down at the tables (seats are assigned at random) with an identical stack of chips. Then it’s time to play some poker. With every hand, chips will be won or lost; eventually, players will lose all their chips and be eliminated, leaving one sole survivor at the end. And survival is indeed the name of the game when you’re playing MTTs.



Poker Tournament Stages

Because your stack of chips will be going up and/or down throughout the tournament, you’ll need to alter your poker strategy to account for these different stack sizes. Except in rare cases, you’re not allowed to add more chips in the middle of an MTT, and since the blinds go up with each level, your stack size relative to the blinds is likely to shrink as the tournament progresses. That’s why it’s common practice to divide MTTs into three stages, each with its own winning strategy: the beginning, middle and end stage.


MTT Early Stage

When you first sit down at an MTT, you’ll usually have a stack of chips that’s deep enough for you to pull off all the same moves that you would when you play poker online at the cash tables. Anywhere between 80 and 150 big blinds is typical during the first level; that’s enough chips for raising and re-raising pre-flop, and firing all three streets post-flop. If you’re skilled at cash poker, this stage of the MTT should be right up your alley. If not, make sure to check out our cash game strategy articles at Bovada Poker.


MTT Middle Stage

After a few blind levels, most MTTs will introduce antes into play. This is where each player at the table throws a few chips into the pot before every hand. Combined with the small and big blinds, and the shorter stacks most players will have, the antes change the dynamic of play enough to make this an easy demarcation point for the middle stage of an MTT.

This is also the one stage in a tournament where aggression becomes extra-important – maybe even more important than survival. Antes put more chips in the pot to fight over, giving you more incentive to go after them. And when your stack size gets down to between 30-40 big blinds, you no longer have the leverage to make all those fancy moves you can during the early stage. It’s only going to get harder from here, so be willing to take some risks and try to get your stack back over 40bb. There’s always another tournament if you bust out.


MTT Late Stage

There’s another point during an MTT where the dynamic changes significantly: the money bubble. Roughly the top 10-20% of players will receive a prize, so as more players get eliminated, the tournament gets closer to the bubble – and eventually, the bubble bursts, leaving the remaining players in the money (ITM). You’ll need to navigate this bubble carefully depending on how many chips you and your opponents have, and how important that “min-cash” is to everyone.

You’ll also generally have a short stack during these late stages. Once your stack gets down to around 10-20bb, your leverage will be just about gone; the only viable moves will be to go all-in or fold. It’s a dicey situation, but also a relatively easy one to figure out, thanks to stuff like Nash push/fold charts. Top pros will even download poker software to help them build their late-stage MTT strategies.


Other MTT Tips

There are other “bubbles” that come up during an MTT. Every jump in the prize payout creates a bubble dynamic that you can exploit; there’s also the “final table” bubble, where people change their strategies so they can reach the final table – even though that doesn’t come with its own prize. We explain these bubbles in further detail elsewhere in our archive, so make sure to bone up on your multi-table poker strategy and maximize your MTT skills.

In the meantime, here are three more quick tips to keep in mind when you’re playing MTTs:

1. Don’t be too conservative: Survival matters, but you still need to scoop up chips, especially during the middle stage.

2. Set traps: As the stacks get shorter and leverage dwindles, players will be pot-committed more often, so give them reasons to go all-in when you’ve got a strong hand.

3. Read your opponents: Everyone has a different playing style and a different approach to MTT bubbles. Pay attention, pick up on their habits, and adjust accordingly for best results.