Show me the money! How to cash for more in MTTs

Don’t be the person who is destined to min-cash in MTTs his whole life – go for the big money and revolutionise your poker game

We all know that poker tournaments require you to adjust your strategy throughout the game, as blinds escalate and payout considerations come into play. From the early levels where play is deep-stacked and you see a lot of flops, you move to the shifting preflop aggression of mid-game play and then to the tactical stack-sized negotiations near the bubble.

But arguably the most important and least talked about stage of play is the endgame. Making the money in a multi-table tournament (MTT) can feel like an end in itself, but this is where the most crucial decisions are made, and often against the best players.

Seeing as you’re unlikely to cash in MTTs more than about one in every ten attempts, it’s critical to give yourself the best chance of winning when you do. And considering most of the poor players will have taken their leave by this stage, you need to be on top form to cash in.

You should have three objectives for every MTT you play. Firstly to make the antes, preferably with a good stack. Secondly, to cash, and thirdly, to win the thing. As obvious as the last statement sounds, it is also misinterpreted by some players. Playing to win doesn’t necessarily mean playing recklessly or more cautiously but relates to increasing your calculated aggression.

Before we look at some situations it’s important to get in the right frame of mind. In an MTT it’s vital not to be results-oriented. You can’t be afraid to get your chips in first or go with a read on a particular player in a specific spot. There’s nothing more frustrating than playing for six hours, four-bet-shoving on the table loon and coming 19th out of 3,500 when he flips Aces. MTTs can be soul-destroying, but identifying and exploiting situations is fundamental to your progress as a tournament player.

In the money

So we’ve reached the cash. We’ve been playing a few hours now and should have developed some reads on who’s been active, who’s been passive, who’s likely to play back at us and who’s just plain bad. Ideally we’ve had a smooth ride to the money spots and have been able to accumulate chips around the bubble.

The initial period after the bubble will see a flurry of all-ins, as those clinging to their 3BB stacks shovel in their chips hopelessly in pursuit of a double-up. Play will loosen up but you don’t need to go too crazy yet.

Stacks are now fairly shallow, so with a reasonable stack it’s important to not give chips away cheaply. Employ a tight-aggressive approach at this stage and be aware of who is likely to resteal from you and adjust accordingly. With a medium-sized stack we’re looking to three-bet-shove on similar and larger-sized stacks where we have fold equity. With a small stack we’re obviously just looking to get our chips in first and find that elusive double-up. Play should now be predominantly preflop, so we’re looking to open-raise, three-bet or fold.

One mistake you see so many players making at this stage, especially in mid to low buy-in MTTs, is habitually calling raises preflop and bleeding away their chips.

And then there were two…

With two tables left the dynamic is very different from that around the money bubble, with the main difference being that players are now aware of the big money jumps. Scraping just into the money you’re unlikely to get double your buy-in back. With 18 players left, the final table looms and you’re within a sniff of the big bucks. This means play will tighten up significantly and you have a great opportunity to steal and resteal liberally. By now you should be familiar with your opponents’ tendencies and know who are the best candidates for steals.

With a big stack you should be looking to three-bet in a variety of circumstances. Players with medium (30BB) stacks are your targets here, as they are more likely to err on the side of caution. Try to stay away from good thinking players if at all possible, although one scenario that crops up occasionally at this stage is the re-resteal. This is the ultimate steal and a tactic that, used intelligently, can be very powerful. It also has the potential to go pear-shaped and has been the source of many a tournament blow-up and red-faced exit.

A re-resteal is when you target a thinking opponent who is attempting to resteal his way to the final table. A resteal is when you attempt to win the pot preflop by reraising over the top of an active preflop player who you believe is targeting a weaker player at the table and has a stack where he can still fold. This is obviously not the only dynamic at play, but it’s a decent guide to when to apply the resteal.

What we need to consider with the re-resteal is not markedly different, although the opponent is crucial. We primarily need to consider relative stack sizes and the fold equity and showdown value we have against our opponent. This is a move that will only work in a deep-stacked situation, preferably against a player who is capable of folding and who has been very active.

Here’s an example of a re-resteal with 15 left in a large-field $109 freezeout. The three-bettor is an aggressive, thinking player who has been the most active player at the table. Our line is incredibly strong, with the intention of getting him to fold all but the very best of his range.

In this hand, a player in middle position opens to 20,000 and the villain on the button makes a resteal to 45,000. We are in the small blind with 6-7 and decide to re-resteal by shoving the rest of our chips in. In this instance, the villain times out and is folded, and we increased our stack by nearly 30% without showing cards.

This was the perfect spot for a re-resteal as both villains were deep-stacked enough to fold. The perceived strength of our hand, plus the fold equity we created, made it a great spot to cold four-bet shove. Taking advantage of these sorts of situations will dramatically increase your chances of making the final table with a dominant stack and a good shot at the top spots.

The final table

So you’ve made it to the promised land. After several hours of chip accumulation you’re now within touching distance of the finishing line. By now you should be acutely aware of table dynamics and have established your image as an aggressive opponent, not afraid to three-bet and four-bet light, and hopefully sitting with a hefty stack of chips. Play will be cagey initially, and the shorter stacks will be waiting for each other to bust in order to climb the pay ladder.

It’s important to remember now that this is a continuation of the same tournament. Often players who have played solid aggressive poker to reach the final table will become daunted, freeze up and soon find their stack dwindling only to make mistakes and bust.

Try to keep your momentum going and take control of the table. It should be fairly apparent who is now trying to ladder up the money spots and who is playing to win, so adjust correctly and be aware that some of the shorter stacks will be itching to reshove over your raises at the first opportunity.

You should always be aware of ICM considerations at the final table. ICM dictates what your expected tournament winnings are in comparison to your stack size and how to play your hands optimally. Bear in mind that what may seem like an easy call is not always so. Controlled aggression is the key, but reckless play has the habit of decimating chipstacks very quickly.

Being aware of stack sizes and the bigger picture at this stage is critical.

Hopefully some of these examples can help you to push on and make plenty of deep runs at final tables sometime soon.

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