Short Format Tournament Strategy

OK, I’m sacrificing my man-card and asking directions here. I’ve been playing the 15K satellite tournaments because I’m cheap and don’t like paying full-price to the 15K tournaments. There is also a promotion going on so the fields have gotten quite crowded. I am asking a question about the correct strategy to do well in these shorter format high-variance events. I see some of the same people do well in them time after time and generally these are not the people who do well in the deeper formats so I assume there is a different strategy in play here.

Any help is welcomed. I do ok playing a normal tight game but I just get the feeling that my results would be better if I had a strategy tailored to these types of games. Should I go more aggressive out of the gate and try to build a stack or continue to play it tight and just accept moderately decent results? (FYI - I am not a fan of “moderately decent results”)

Given that many of the medium and low buy-in tournaments on Replay Poker are short-format, or low-patience-factor, events, fleshing out a strategy to fit this type of game would be a big benefit to me and to others I think.

Thanks in advance.

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With the satellites, remember that you only have to be one of the last nine players standing. 1st place, 2nd place, it doesn’t matter.

I’d advise playing aggressive out of the gate because the quality of players in a freeroll is highly mixed. At least in the beginning, you’ll get any fish to call you and bluffing a large part of your stack never works.

When I played them, I used a tight-aggressive approach in the early and middle rounds. In the late rounds, if I was short stacked, I had no problems playing aggro (shoving) because most of the other players wanted to hold on to what they had. Some players were critical and said, “What are you doing???” In my mind, I was collecting chips and putting myself in a better position to finish in the top nine and allow the other short stacks to blind themselves out of the tournament.

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Thanks for the response. Lets assume that the goal entering the tournaments in this discussion is to make the final table, thereby eliminating the difference between regular games and satellites. Lets also eliminate the true freerolls as they tend to be beasts unto themselves. Instead, lets talk about all the MTT tournaments that start with less than 100BB and have fast level progressions so that you are dealing with less than 50BB in short order.

I have read that the basic strategy is to play uber-tight at the start and let the madness happen around you unless you pick up a true monster and can double/triple up on it. Then loosen up a bit towards the middle range of the game and finally go to your “standard” play from there out. However, much as you suggest, it seems that the early aggressors create an advantage for themselves and often make final tables while many better/tighter players languish. If you play tight and conserve chips, you are playing it “smart” but god help you if you give a crazy donk a big stack because he/she is going to leave tracks up and down your back much of the time.

So, with this in mind, can we further flesh out a solid strategy? I appreciate it a lot. Nothing worse than playing a game where you feel you are at a qualitative advantage only to not have the results match that edge.

AND - to revisit the topic a little, in these specific types of events, is there an advantage to late entry vs being seated when the tournament starts? I understand that in deeper events, there really isn’t much of a difference as the lower blind levels can be pretty insignificant most of the time. However, in short-format events, is there an edge to missing as much of the early play as possible? If we use the aggro formula, then it would be an advantage to be seated early. If we go with the uber-tight strategy, nothing is tighter than not even playing a hand until you absolutely have to.

Try to double (at least) or bust in the first level.

The average skill level at the start will be very low, and only rise from then on. This is when you have the most to gain (easy chips) and the least to lose (time-wise). Embrace your inner maniac and just shove any decent starting hand.

If you do double, triple, or quadruple, immediately switch to uber tight, small ball poker. Go into stack preservation mode until after the first break, then play your normal game from then on.

The whole “tight is right” idea is worthless in this kind of tournament. There’s nothing worse than getting blinded into short stack desperation near the bubble. Get there with enough gas in your tank to go all the way.

And no, don’t be late or all the best tasting fish will already be eaten.

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IIRC, most of the tournaments on this site start out with more than 500 BB in the first level. When late registration comes to a close, players joining the table still have well more than 100 BB. I often enter tournaments late, and I never feel pressured saying, “OMG, the chip leader already has 5 times my stack!” The only tournaments here that you would feel pressured to play more aggressively early on would be the ones with the high antes.

I’ve glanced at some of the threads in this community, and one of the biggest problems that most players have is that they are too results-oriented. You can’t feel “bad” if your advantage doesn’t always lead to the results you feel you earned. Worry about only the things you can control at the poker table (i.e. your quality of play). If you get someone to call your 2:1 bet as a 6:1 dog and they suck out on you, feel proud of the fact that you suckered the player into making such a bad call. You will sometimes face a string of horrible bad beats, but if you keep making the optimal plays, variance will take care of itself in the long run.

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Thanks again for the reply. These little tournaments are very different from what I would normally play. In many/most, the 2nd blind level has you down to 50BB. That’s fast by anyone’s measure.

I approach things two ways when it comes to poker, macro and micro. On the micro end, I am 100% fine with having someone call me as a 5:1 dog and sucking out that 1 time. I got my chips in good and the result is irrelevant except for that 1 hand. I simply make a note and plan on taking chips from that player for the rest of my time on this site.

On the macro-side, having a proper strategy can only help in terms of desired results, correct? Tournament strategy live is something I am very familiar with and strongly believe is a big part of the battle. If you have no strategy, you are flying blind IMO. I was just trying to develop a strategy more conducive to success in these formats. Nothing can guarantee results every time but sitting down with the proper plan is a huge advantage over the longer term.

OK, so 1st level is a whopping 6 minutes in these things. That means opening my range a ton and accepting far less than premium holdings to run with. Going on what I think you are saying, position is also irrelevant. All you are trying to do is outdraw the table on an early hand and build a stack you can use strategically from then on, correct?

If I am on track, what is your stance on pre-flop action? Limp everything and see where the flop goes or raise beforehand? If raise, am I raising to build a pot or cull the herd or a little of both? Stay active with all hands that can flop and/or draw to a monster or still be somewhat selective? For instance, would you limp in with an 8/10 suited from mid-position after 2 already limped in or muck it and wait for something more enticing? Playing A-rag or just A-rag suited?

Sorry for picking your brain like this but I find it interesting, and hopefully useful as well. Could you expand on what you consider “inner maniac”? Just how wide a range are you playing and from what positions and with what pre-flop action? Basically all I want to know is everything you do on the subject :slight_smile:

2nd blind level down to 50BB? How long are the levels at the tournaments you play? Sounds scary.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tournament play, but the most successful professional poker players I read and learn from embrace a small ball strategy and try to see a lot of flops as cheaply as possible. Seldom will they three-bet light and often they will just call instead of betting into an aggressor. They use their superior skill to outplay opponents, while at the same time, protecting their nest egg. That is their macro strategy.

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That is what I’m saying - these tiny tournaments are different than the deeper one’s I’m more familiar with. As an example - these 2K entry fee satellite tourneys have starting stacks of 2000 and blinds of 15/30. In 6 minutes the blinds go to 20/40 and then to 30/60. If you aren’t moving ahead quickly, you are basically dying in them. Now, I can play a short stack well but I was thinking this is not the optimal strategy so I reached out.

Many of the tournaments around the 5K-15K level are pretty quick in this way. Having just started here in November, my bankroll is not ready to take on the higher buy-in tournaments so I have to build up through these formats or the ring games. If I can develop a working strategy for these tournaments, I feel I can do pretty well and then move on to the deeper formats more quickly. That is my goal.

If we are talking specifically freerolls (or small buyin tournies), never limp, especially not in the first few levels. Get it in there and hope for the best. If you bust in the 1st 5 minutes, so what? it cost you nothing to enter, and there’s always another tourney about to start. (I said bust or double in the first level, I should have said within the first few levels.)

Position always matters, it just matters less in these tournaments.

From early position, you still have to tighten your range some. But if you do enter a pot, bring it in with at least 1/3 of your stack. Yeah, you want to limit the field and get weaker hands to call, and they will.

If there are 3 or 4 people allin ahead of you, I would call with hands like 56 suited and the like. Odds are, they have a lot of the big cards tied up, making it less likely they will hit anything. You might even crack someone’s pocket aces.

Forget finesse, tricky play, and bluffs. You are wasting your time representing a hand against players who only see their own cards.

“Embrace your inner maniac” means just that. Be the kind of player you hate. If you bust out, you muck and nobody will ever know. On the other hand, when you triple up with 78 offsuit, people will think you’re an idiot, which is a good thing. They won’t know you switched gears and are now playing tight, and you will get action with your premium hands. Much ka-ching!

You do have to watch for the occasional good player who will wait for a hand and pick you off, but that’s poker baby! Play enough tournies and you will know who to watch for.

My goal here would be to get to 50% of the field with at least double my starting chips. This will put you at the bottom of the top 1/3 of those remaining, which I think is an excellent place to be. To illustrate, if you start with 120 players and get down to 60 with double your starting chips, you should be in about 20th place.

One other thing… playing like a maniac is a worthwhile exercise. It can help you to understand a player type you will encounter here often. If yer gonna do it, you might as well do it in a tournament that will cost you nothing.

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Apparently I forgot how quickly the satellites move. I would accept the fact that because you have to be less picky about hand selection, you’re not always going to get out of them alive in the first levels. Like SunPowerGuru said, if you have a good hand, play it aggressively even if you have to get in your whole stack. It’s better to be eliminated early than to paint yourself in a corner by being too passive.

I wouldn’t three bet pre-flop unless you had a top five starting hand (AA, KK, QQ, AK, JJ). If you hit a flop well with a hand, play it hard and even more aggressively against those who are trying to draw to straights/flushes. You won’t get much fold equity against bad players, but you want to be paid off by them and get yourself into a comfortable chip position.

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Soon after I joined this site, I spent $25 and got 375,000 chips. This let me move up to better tournaments without the frustration of tap dancing through the minefields of the lowest limit tournies. I have never regretted it, and never looked back.

Why would anyone spend real money on a play money site? I don’t think twice about spending $50-$70 on a game I will beat in 40 hours or less, why wouldn’t I spend $25 on a game I will enjoy for hundreds of hours? Add the fact that it helps the game stay afloat and it’s a no-brainer, at least to me.

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I did the initial buy-in thing for the $2 (60K chips I think) in Mid November when I got here and they also were giving out chips for awards and days spent here so I now have about 525K total. Almost all of my wins were in the 25K and under range, split about 40/40/20 between tournaments, SnG’s and ring games. Have not had the best luck in the ring games here so far but haven’t really played a lot.

In the analog world, I have played cash games for a very long time (30+ years) and tournaments for about 5. It is not my profession, just a nice hobby for me and a challenge. In my years of playing cash, there were many where I didn’t play a single hand and some when I played too much. In tournaments I’ve played some, but not a ton. Mostly at Borgata in NJ. I’ve cashed in a decent percentage of the ones I’ve played but nothing to go nuts over. I’ve been happy to cash twice in back to back years of a WPT Main Event but again, those are not life changing events when you are basically min-cashing or a bit more. Its nice to cover your entry and have a little extra spending money but that’s about it.

So, I started online poker to try and improve my tournament game live. I cannot play for money in the states where I reside so its been free poker sites only. This is the best I’ve seen so far. I guess the point is that I’m trying to improve where I can when I can. I cannot play every day or put in the time to be a really top notch player but if I can get incrementally better here and there, then I think my time is well spent. Frankly I’d say I’m a better analyst than a player, but that’s ok with me. I just have to be better at the areas I’m strong in to make up for the parts of the game where I’m weaker.

Thanks for all the help. I played one of the satellites and it was not a good test of the theory I’m sorry to say. Just one of those games where you are looking at what most consider unplayable hands for far too long. I’ll try again in the next one and let you know how it went.

OK then. I would suggest you play the 15k “league” tournaments, which play much better than the lowest tournies here. You’re deep enough to afford them and you will find them much more enjoyable.

The American League 15Ks start at 21:00 ET, the European League ones start at 15:00 ET, and the Asian League ones start at 8:00 ET.

There are also 5K versions which I think start an hour earlier. Look for the red tournaments in the main lobby.

Frankly, I never bother with the satellites. It’s just not worth the time it takes to have a chance at a ticket to something I can easily afford.

The strategy I outlined was one I used when first learning tournament no-limit. It served me well in $1 - $2 buyin, 1,000+ seat MTTs, and let me build my bank enough to move up and escape the madness. If you can tolerate the high variance, it’s worth a try.

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Actually, its funny because I got into the satellite thing because that was the cheapest way into the 15K tourneys and I like the depth of some of them a lot. Much more my speed. I’m big on ROI and frankly I should be able to place top 9 in 60-70 person tournaments a good percentage of the time. Just having a really bad run of it I suppose and the fields have bloated because of the promotion thing they are running.

OK, I flamed out going more aggressive but got my chips in good so I guess that’s a start. Here’s the hand:

Based on what we said here, this was the correct play I think. Just started the 2nd blind level and my stack size was medium for the table. I’m in SB and where I would normally raise to 3BB, I increased to 6BB, looking for 1 or maybe 2 callers. vikeswim plays any A so I knew if I avoided an A on the flop, he was gone. The other player I don’t know. When flop came 8/Q/7 rainbow, I’m about as happy as I can be. The only hands that fit the ranges I thought possible that improved on the flop were KQ, a stubborn JQ, and maybe 7’s or 8’s. Q’s would not have limped in.

Anywhoot, you can see how this went. In theory, I’m so far ahead pre and post flop that I should have wanted to borrow more chips to get in there. Unfortunately it did not work out the way I wanted it to. If I played the hand “wrong”, please tell me. It was more aggressive than I would normally play, totally giving away the strength of my hand pre-flop but if we are going straight power-poker, I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact, the hand probably played out as well as I could have wanted it to, other than the guy hitting trips on the turn.

I won’t say you did anything wrong there. I suspect that it might have gone the same way no matter what you did preflop.

I probably would have moved in preflop or at least bet in the 600-700 range. Would Q10 have called? Who knows, but it wouldn’t surprise me. If he folded, however, you shove the flop and pick up a decent pot.

If your flop bet was designed as a tap bet, well done. It worked perfectly, getting him to come over the top and the other guy to fold.

On the other hand, if the guy to your left flats, the last guy is getting 4-1 and is likely to stick around, which is risky. You didn’t have enough behind to move anyone off their hand on the turn, so you might as well get it in on the flop. I would have shoved the flop if I hadn’t moved in preflop.

You’re thinking way too logically for the satellites. KQ or a stubborn QJ? Try any queen, any 7, any 8. Try a 7 plus a fake Magic the Gathering foil rare. I’ve been called in situations like that by pocket 3s or K9.

Seriously, if you keep playing those, you run the risk of going insane.


By the way, I’m not saying the lower buyin players are stupid or anything. Many of them just lack experience and play at the “I know what beats what” level. We all started somewhere, right?

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OMG, I just laughed so hard I traumatized a cat. Thanks for the dose of reality SPG. This is how I think hands through though and probably why I’m having such a hard time figuring out these formats. I’d need to grab a Q-Tip and a hammer to think the way you are suggesting.

Yes, the flop bet was meant to be big enough to clear out A-rag up top assuming it wasn’t A7 or A8 and hopefully get one call on the Q or maybe in bizarro-world a suited 9/10 that wanted to stick around and float on the straight draw. The over the top bet was like an early Christmas present in my world. I was thinking that this is going just perfectly. Then the turn. Coal in my stocking again.

I’ll try increasing the initial raise. I see your point about jamming it after the flop but I was SB and I like getting some feedback before I commit my whole stack. If both flat called and the turn was a danger card, then I could release and still have enough powder to make a comeback. If the turn was a big nothing, then it would be safer to get the rest in.

I get the whole going insane thing as well. I play these things and I want to pull my hair out. Then I play a SnG or a better tournament and do just fine. It is sometimes very hard to digest that my play fares better against better players than it does in these formats. I’ll try to cut it out after this promo thing is over. I’m in good shape for a nice bonus even with not playing as much as most people and it would be nice to bank it. Plus, I’m having a friendly competition with SharonSmarty and I’ll be darned if I just up and quit on that.

Thanks for all the help. I really mean that. Its very nice to be able to talk strategy with other players on the site. This is what I had hoped for in a training site. Good fun, good people and some actual good poker talk on top of it. Kind of a bargain at the low low price of free, don’t you think?

Yeah, assuming it doesn’t drive you nuts and totally ruin your real money game.

You can’t think “bizzaro world maybe a 9-10 suited.” Embrace your inner maniac and think along these lines…

“OMG, I have a 9 and a 10 and will probably get one of those all-in-a-row thingies! Where’s the allin button? Oh, there it is, weeeee!!! Float? This is no time to be talking about ice cream! Once I hit this all-in-a-row thingie, (which is wicked powerful, right?) I should have like a whole pile of chips and stuff, then I can just crush these other 90 players and win this thing!!! Yeah baby, life is good!!”

It takes a little getting used to.


Then you have the cheapskate sharks stealing from the young’ins …:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye::innocent:

All the normal MTT rules here apply untill you start getting closer to the cutoff ( last 9 )… how you play that “niche” level in the progression… determines your over success…
(easier said than done sometimes)

SunPowerGuru is right, the leagues (5k-15k)(Asian-European-American) play closer to live.

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