Mike ‘Timex’ McDonald has won over $1m playing online MTTs. Follow his top ten online MTT tips and start winning like a pro
With awkward stack sizes, many of the poor players eliminated and the bubble approaching, the middle stages of a multi-table tournament are often the hardest to deal with. In order to give you a better shot at making the final table and winning the whole thing, PokerPlayer called up online MTT legend Mike ‘Timex’ McDonald and got him to reveal his top ten tips for hoovering up chips in the critical mid-game stages.
1 Loosen up
A lot of guys don’t play enough pots. It’s reasonable to be quite tight when there are no antes in play – you can just get a lot of value out of your good hands and try to win a big pot by playing speculative hands like suited connectors and small pairs. But as you’re shorter-stacked in the middle stages you need to be winning some pots without showdown and picking up the blinds to stay afloat.
The typical poker advice is that when people play loose you should play tight, and when people play tight you should play loose; but unless people are very loose you do still want to be winning some pots of your own. On top of that I think a lot of people – especially those who only play one or two tournaments at the same time – may see the bubble approaching and think about getting into the money. That’s not a good mentality to have.
2 Never stop thinking
If you get into a groove of what you think is a standard play, you’re not going to make any improvement. You have to keep thinking about hands. If you’re thinking about the game a fair bit, you’ll realise that the antes favour the players who win more pots than average. Therefore, it’s not tough to conclude that you should be upping the aggression once the antes kick in.
Most good players are more aware of how to maintain aggression through the middle stages of a tourney, but still keep thinking about the situations. In certain spots you’ll need to be less aggressive since people will play back at you more.
3 Prey on players looking to cash
Pick on them in small pots by looking to take their blinds or winning hands on the flop. If they play back at you – assuming you are confident enough in your read that they are desperate to make the money – just fold.
There are so many guys who will be extremely tight as the bubble approaches. I was the most active player at the table in a recent EPT and I had a guy who told me if that I raised he wasn’t even going to play A-K! In a live tournament this scared money is easier to pick out, but online (especially if you’re playing a lot of tables at once) being able to have a HUD with stats open is really valuable in targeting these kinds of players.
4 Don’t be afraid to play postflop
A lot of people are too inclined to just play preflop once the blinds get high. If someone with a 20BB stack raises from the small blind into your big blind, it would only be to around 2.5BBs once you’re deep in a tournament. So many people in this spot will just jam T-7 suited but fold 9-6 suited. If you just call with both of those hands instead you’re getting really good odds and are in position with a hand that can flop reasonably well. There’s not that much reason to be pushing or folding in this spot, but a lot of regulars do that. There’s some debate about this topic but it’s something I disagree with.
5 Be aware of the payouts
Having the approach of winning the tournament is a lot better than just focusing on cashing, yet neither approach is optimal. You should be thinking about winning the tournament most of the time, but also realising that cashing in the tournament and making your way through the pay increases is where your win rate comes from.
Don’t look to pass up any significant spots, especially in tournaments that pay a large number of players. For example, on PokerStars the site pays out 15-20% of people with a pretty big minimum payout. When you’re on the bubble and short-stacked, you don’t want to be gambling nearly as much as you would in a tournament where it’s much more top-heavy and not as many people get paid.
6 Don’t fret about the chip lead
Obviously, the more chips you have the better – you’ll have more leverage to bully your opponents – but I feel like a lot of people overestimate the value of the chip lead. Let’s say you’re down to the last four players of a tournament, with 60% of the chips. Three or four years ago, you would basically win the tournament 90% of the time, whereas these days you’ll win the tournament only 65-70% of the time.
You don’t have the ability to absolutely destroy players the way you used to because everybody’s confident of stealing and restealing. The big stack doesn’t carry nearly as much leverage as it used to.
7 Target other big stacks
When you’re a big stack you definitely want to play looser and apply more pressure. You should also be willing to pick on other big stacks, especially if you’re in position. Say you’re deep into a tournament and the average stack is 30BB. If you and another guy both have 60BB and you have position on him, you should try to take advantage of that. If you’re three-betting him a lot he may open less pots, meaning there are more pots for you to open and more blinds to steal, which can be really beneficial.
8 Try to keep it simple
ABC poker is very underrated, especially in tournaments. I’m pretty sure without making any moves you can still be quite a successful tournament player, although it obviously helps to have good judgement and to pick good spots to make bigger bluffs. A lot of players get too carried away and forget the fundamentals and how profitable tournament poker can be.
9 Experiment with raise sizes
I’ve heard a lot of players recommend preflop raise sizes being somewhere between a min-raise and 2.5x. Lately I’ve been experimenting more with min-raises. It’s a fairly complex question to determine which is better.
People react differently to a min-raise and will defend their blinds a little bit more. There are spots where you want them doing that and spots where you don’t. The min-raise also exploits the fact that people playing too many tables will only play back at you with a hand, and won’t be altering their range that much when facing a min-raise versus a bigger raise. That’s the strongest case for min-raising, but try out both to see what works better for you. There are definitely a lot of good players doing both and I don’t think it’s really clear at this point which is better.
10 Don’t focus on results
You have to realise that you can’t win every tournament. There are usually hundreds of good players in a tournament and they can’t all win. You often get in a spot where it just isn’t your turn to win. Sometimes, for example, you’ll just be card dead and not get any hands where it’s possible to shove. Just try to play each hand individually rather than thinking you need to win the tournament – it’s a more mature approach.
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