In this post we’re forging ahead with a quick-fire analysis of the classic and very common leaks amongst those developing their MTT game. We all need work on many of these areas, even the more advanced grinders, but those just starting out to really study and hone their game will be ideally placed to use this series as a map for navigating the route to becoming a solid MTT poker player. Let’s jump straight in and look at ranges.
Thinking in Ranges
One big step which takes years of refinement in any player’s game is thinking in terms of hand ranges, not just individual holdings or possible holdings. Many players just starting out think they should be able to put their opponents on one exact hand. This is very rarely possible, and shouldn’t be your goal. You should instead learn to narrow an opponent’s range according to the mathematical logic of the game, current norms in MTT play, the buy-in level being played (and general assumptions about unknown players at that level) and specific opponent reads.
We must get better at defining the range of cards an opponent will likely play given the action. For example, I open the button for 2x, 30bb effective and my opponent flat calls. I have no reads. I can likely take total trash such as 43o out of his range, whereas he may well have decent mid-value hands which flop fairly well such as QTs. When I then continue on a KJ7 twotone flop and he raises me, I can narrow his range still further. This will directly influence the decisions I make in response to him, and the equity of those decisions.
One of the fundamentals in MTT poker is getting a good sense of reasonable open raising ranges at different stages of the tournament, and adjusting for different formats / players behind and so on. Many players when they first start getting less passive and more aggressive, overdo this or apply it incorrectly, and end up opening too wide in early position, or having static ranges without sufficient reference to stack sizes or position. I’d suggest a good rule of thumb for early stages is to open AJo+ A9s+ QKo+ KTs+ QTs+ JTs+ 22+ UTG, and to add in stuff like ATo, K9s, QTo, JTo etc into middle position.
Our ranges should certainly change not only with position but also stack depth, and opportunities for exploiting general tendencies will also come into focus a little more at shorter effective stacks. For example, we may be able on nittier tables to make a play known as the EP steal, in which we open up our UTG range a little since we’re getting an abundance of respect when we open in this position. This sort of logic behind an open is of course adaptive to circumstance. We may have to tighten up our button opening range against more aggressive players in the blinds.
Knowing when we need to shift from opening to open shoving will depend on a good understanding of the mathematics of different stack sizes, as well as the tendencies of players yet to act. As a very general rule of thumb, it is often going to be better to open shove a range of mid-value hands (which need to maximise fold equity) up to around 20bb effective in late position, whereas in early position we’re likely to want to cap our open shoving at around 15bbs effective, due to having so many players behind, and getting more respect from our open raises down to shallower stacks.
Effective and Actual Stacks
It’s essential to think primarily in terms of effective stacks – that is, the amount of blinds the shorter player in the hand holds (as we aren’t risking the rest, when we have a bigger stack). However we do also need to think about actual stacks, especially when we are the shorty. If we’re shoving 10bb into three players sitting on 50bb each, we’re going to get called wider than if we’re all sitting on 10bb, so actual stacks still require at least a cursory consideration.