Jason Mercier: Aggression in MTTs

Jason Mercier has won over $13m with a smart aggressive game that confounds his opponents – now he reveals how you can bring some aggression into your own game

Jason’s rules

  • Tournaments haven’t necessarily got more aggressive but I think that as more players get better, people understand timely aggression as opposed to sheer aggression. It’s vital to understand your opponents and what they’re capable of. That will help you make the right decisions.


  • If you’re aggressive and playing aggressive poker you’re going to be playing bigger pots, so it’s important to have a plan whenever you three-bet or four-bet. You must have a good understanding of how your opponents view you and be able to adjust to that. Sometimes I’ll take a gamble early on to get a stack. It depends on the tournament and the tournament structure, and whether it’s PLO or no-limit.


  • Generally I won’t take gambles for my whole stack, but for part of it. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as the table you’re at and how big you think your edge is.

Playing a big stack

  • It always matters whether or not you can get a big stack early on, but it shouldn’t necessarily be your goal to get one at the beginning of the tournament. You want to be able to play a strategy whereby you can get a big stack, but if you don’t achieve this you want to able to be able to grind a medium or a short stack and play as well as possible.


  • When you are a big stack, being aggressive is still very situational, player dependent and stack-size dependent. It depends on what the player is like who has the stack that’s half the size of yours. How do you think you can exploit him? Do you have position on him or are you out of position? You also need to factor in the other players at the table. If I have 150,000 and there’s a good player who has 75,000 and a bunch of fish with 30,000, I’m not going to go after the one good player with 75,000.


  • It’s not as simple as thinking in terms of effective stacks (that is, the lower of the chip stacks in the hand). If you’re playing against a 75,000 stack when you have 100,000 it’s very different than if you have 200,000. In the first case the risk of doubling that guy up is a much bigger factor, so it’s not always just the effective stacks you have to consider.

Controlled aggression

  • You don’t have to be table captain and force the action as the big stack. It really depends on your own style of play and how comfortable you are playing a big stack. There are so many factors, like the softness of the table and even the time of day. If it’s towards the end of the day and you’ve got a tough table you might want to wait for a redraw on the next day.


  • When you’re playing random events you run into players who are aggressive for the sake of being aggressive. They don’t know why they’re being aggressive, they just know that they’re supposed to be. When guys check-raise or four-bet shove an eight-high flush draw I don’t think that’s being too aggressive, that’s not understanding poker. The key is to understand aggression, when to use it and how to use it. That’s what really defines your knowledge of the game.


  • If I had to give one bit of advice in terms of getting more aggression into your game, I’d say to pick some spots in which your hand is not good enough to call a raise but it still plays well, and three-bet it. A good example would be a hand such as J-9 suited. If you’re on the button against the hijack, it’s probably not good enough to fl at-call, but by three-betting you take the lead in the hand. Now you have a chance to pick up more chips and you’re in position.

The bubble

  • Having a big stack is most effective in the bubble stage of the tournament. However, if there are players who don’t really care about min-cashing that much then you aren’t going to be able to exploit the bubble as much as you’d like to.


  • It is still possible to bully the bubble though. Say it’s a $10k tournament and 27 are paid, with 27th place getting $26,000. Anyone with 10-12BB should technically be trying to cash as it’s the most profi table play for them. If the medium stacks know there are a few short stacks then you can take advantage of that, and if they start opening too much you can put the pressure on with three-bets.


  • I think there are situations on the bubble where you can do stuff that isn’t ‘optimal’. If you’re absolutely destroying the bubble you could fold Q-Q to a 15BB shove over your open. The bubble is a microcosm within an MTT and it has to be looked at as a totally different part of the tournament.

Table matters

  • When it gets to the last few tables it’s not about being on a table with lots of chips. Generally I just want to be on the table with the worst players, regardless of their stacks.


  • If I’m at a tough table and the bad players are at the other tables I’m not going to want all the chips on my table because I don’t want to be at risk of going broke when there are still bad players in the tournament.


  • In a winner-takes-all format, such as a bounty shootout, I’m definitely willing to gamble a little bit more, especially if I have someone covered.


  • I’m definitely more willing to gamble with a mediocre draw. Not only do you get a bounty, but then you have everyone else covered by even more.

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