When Do I Make My Move?

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One of the most difficult things for a poker player to learn is when to make their move in a large multi table tournament. As someone who has won several multi player tournaments on four different web sites and several amateur in person tourneys, I have my own opinions on this question, but they come with the caveat: there is no hard and fast rule about when to make your move in a tournament, and I’d say that even that question is more for online poker tournaments than in person.

I’ll share my general beliefs on this and some advice, but keep in mind that if you just have a strongly different style than I do, then it can change everything. I’m going to focus on online multi table tournaments here, since that is by far and away the most common form of poker now.

One of the first things to keep in mind with an online tourney is what “average chip stack” really means. Since you’re going to have the menu open in one window, watching to see when you’re in the money, remember this: if you’re around the “average” chip stack heading towards the cut off point, you’re fine and need to play conservatively. If the average chip stack is 4,000, and you have 3,900 chips waiting for ten more players to drop out, you’re in good shape—don’t panic! Why? Well say there were 100 players starting with 1,000 chips each. That puts 100,000 chips into play. If the leader has 18,000 and another guy has 17,000, that’s 1/3 of the chips between two guys, which pulls the average up . . . so if you’re “average”, you’re actually above average and in pretty good shape because it takes multiple players to drag the leaders down to average.

Also, there tends to be a rush right before the pay off point of players panicking, or players being over aggressive to compensate for everyone going conservative (thinking they’ll get more chips to push for the final table). Stay back until you’re in the money—then I tend to go really aggressive and go all in on my first reasonable hand and/or situation. I do this because the most important thing to me in the long run is to get as many tournament entry fees paying off at least the minimum as possible. From there, everything else is bonus.

Now others will disagree. The most obvious argument is that if you pass up some good hands on the borderline, yeah you might get burned playing them once in a while, but if you have more chips early, you’re more likely to get to the final table.

That’s a maybe. But you never know what happens between the money (and after everyone is “in the money” a lot of people desperately try to grab chips which vaults you up a few more spots) and the final table. It may be true that I could have made more final tables, but I have very often made the top ten after being ranked 45th out of 50 or 68 out of 70. I was once 99th in chips with the top 100 placing, and I made my way to 2nd overall. Yes, you have to play top of your game, usually get mildly lucky, and more important—avoid getting unlucky, but it does happen.

So my answer is I do what I have to in order to get to the money, and am ultra conservative around the cut off line. Once I was blinded out, but about five other times I just hung on, and one of those precipitated one hell of a run to a final table. After you get in the money, watch out for the desperate all ins, but change mind sets and go aggressive. Attack any perceived weaknesses in your opponents’ games. Once you’re in the money, your only goal is first place. Not the final table, not 20th because the prize money doubles there, but all or nothing. That’s the balance you need to be a successful tournament player.

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