Build Your MTT Victory Pre-flop

To be a successful multi-table tournament player, you need to master many things. As in all formats, you have to learn to balance your ranges, make correct adjustments vs. different players, and know how to exploit them. Moreover, in tournaments, you need to understand the Independent Chip Model (ICM), bubble play, and final table strategy.

Thus, to repeat, there are many areas where you should be trying to improve. However, none of those improvements will help you much if you lack knowledge of proper pre-flop strategy. Tournaments are different from cash games, where you play with 100 BB most of the time. In fact, much of your tournament life will be spent with a shallow stack, so if you end up making some mistakes, it will cost you a lot.

Thus, the first topic you need to take into consideration when trying to improve your game should be pre-flop strategy, as if you end up making mistakes here you will always have bad ranges post-flop and will not be able to do much later on in the hand. For now, we will concentrate on the most important parts and leave other topics for the future.

To be playing effectively, you need to take a few things into consideration:

  • Opening hands from different positions

This one is quite straightforward, so not much explanation is required. Nevertheless, you need to be aware that at the beginning of a tournament, your opening range from early position should be quite tight and opening just 12% of hands looks perfectly fine.

hand ranges

Obviously, you need to start opening more hands from later position. Still, I am mentioning this range because many players overestimate the value of weaker hands and tend to open too much from early position; you do not want to do that.

Also, it’s important to try and start stealing more once antes come into play. This is a very profitable way to build your stack, so you could add a few more hands to your opening range. Even so, you should not get too out of line from early position, but rather concentrate on stealing a lot from later position.

  • Trapping just by calling raises

While pre-flop trapping is not something you should be doing a lot at the beginning of the tournament, it comes into play later. When you are short stacked, it makes a lot of sense not to 3-bet your strongest hands like AA and KK, especially if you have other short stacks behind you. They are very likely to try to steal the pot by 3-bet shoving and, when this happens, you’ll just end up adding a reasonable amount of chips to your stack.

However, if you opt to 3-bet your strongest hands, it will discourage such shoves, with the original raiser very likely to fold as well. Obviously, if you employ this trapping strategy, you will need to take into consideration your whole range and not put yourself in spots where you 3-bet only weak hands and flat call all strong ones. There are many ways to do that, so if you’re interested in discovering those advanced strategies, check out my MTT pre-flop strategy course.

  • Opening hand ranges depend on your effective stack

As mentioned, your opening hand range should be quite different in later stages vs. beginning stages of a tournament. First of all, blockers come into play; I would much rather steal with A2o compared to T8o even knowing that the latter has a bit more so-called “playability” post-flop.

The biggest benefit of those blockers is that it reduces the possibility of your opponent holding a premium hand. If you have an Ace in your hand he is less likely to hold any strong hand that includes an Ace as well, so AA, AK, AQ, AJ or even AT is a less likely holding… that’s great news for you.

Remember, the most important factor you need to take into account is effective stack, not just how many chips you have. If you have 50 BB and your opponent only has 20 BB – that represents the effective stacks because you can win or lose only this amount. So, all your ranges and adjustments should be made based on it.

  • How to adjust your ranges different players

This is something crucial that many players miss. While you should always be looking to identify the type of competition you are up against, this is even more crucial in MTTs. You will be making many decisions based completely on your opponents so it pays to always be aware of what kind of players you are up against.

Some of your opponents will be calling a lot pre-flop while others will be playing very tight and folding everything but premium hands. Guess when you should be stealing more?

Furthermore, some will be 3-betting aggressively while others will only 3-bet premium hands. Care to guess against which of these opponents you should be 4-betting as a bluff or floating more hands against pre-flop?

It is impossible to list all possible situations within the scope of this article, but just be aware that your opponent will often be the one to dictate the action.

  • Open shoving and 3-bet shoving strategies

Everyone thinks that this is a very easy part of building towards a MTT victory. However, properly mastering correct shoving strategies will often determine whether you end up being a winner in the long run. Naturally, you can follow NASH chart and be doing quite OK, but maybe you can be min raising and folding your weakest part of the range instead of shoving all-in? You can, but again it will depend on the table you are playing and your competition. To get this information you should be ready to analyze your opponents’ poker statistics.

The same goes for 3-bet shoving. It is hard to give one precise answer for all the spots because it is very opponent-dependent as well. Indeed, spending same time calculating your equity and analyzing ranges of your opponents will take you a long way.

Mastering all of these components one by one will drastically improve your game. Now you’ve got the blueprint. Work hard and study hard to improve your poker game. To that end here’s how I suggest that you learn poker strategy in the right way.



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Tadas Peckaitis poker author
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Tadas Peckaitis

Tadas Peckaitis is a professional poker player, author of the free poker book “Play ‘A’ game and be the boss at your poker table”, and poker coach at He is also a big fan of personal effectiveness and always trying to do more. Tadas shares his knowledge about both of these topics with his […]


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