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Middle Stages of Tournaments

The middle stages of the tournament is where there begins to be a separation of stacks between players. The blinds have grown bigger, the pots are larger, and players should have solid reads on their opponents. All these factors lead to big swings in chip stacks in the middle stages of the tournament. This article comes from a twitter question asking, “How do I keep going in the middle stages? I build a stack in the early stages, but seem to stall out in the middle stages.” In this article we will look at stack size adjustments, dealing with random hand distribution, and exploiting your opponents.

Your Stack Size And Hand Selection

In the middle stages of the tournament, you will commonly see stack sizes around 40-60bb. Players are not short stacked yet, but they are not deep stacked like the early levels. We need to adjust our hand selection with the stack sizes we are playing. Small pocket pairs and small suited connectors have lost some value, especially suited gappers. Suited connectors and gappers play much better with deeper stacks as they often require seeing all 5 cards to make their hand. When we are playing 40-60bb deep, strong top pair hands go up in value as many hands can be turned into 1 or 2 street hands. Hands such has KJo, ATo, KQo are all much stronger at this stack depth rather than deep stacks of 100-200 bb. Your 3-betting range should consist of more blocker oriented hands now that we are shallow stacked. When we 3-bet to 10 big blinds preflop, it is now a reasonable response for the player to go all-in for 40 or 50 big blinds. This forces us to fold lots of equity, and we should respond with a more polarized 3-betting range rather than a linear 3-betting range. I would rather 3-bet a hand like A5o at 40bb than 67s for these reasons. The value of the ace blocker is more valuable than the value of the playability of 67s at these depths. At 150bb though, I would rather 3-bet 67s and not the A5o.

Hand Distribution

The next topic I want to address is the random distribution of hands being dealt. I consistently get asked, “what do I do when I am card dead? How do I maintain the stack I built early on?” The fact is there is nothing you can do about the card distribution. You have your set ranges you play, you should not expand those ranges into -EV raises because you have been card dead. Sometimes you will get a rush of cards and play a ton of hands for 60 mins. Hopefully you win a lot of chips. Think of this as a boost to your health in a tournament. These extra chips are like an emergency fund, they allow you to survive the next hour if you happen to go card dead. In summary, you are just at the mercy of the cards. Study and learn your preflop ranges well and don’t get out of line. Stay patient and wait for your spots, the worst thing you can do is expand your ranges and lose extra chips.

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Playing Exploitatively

Finally, I want to talk about exploits. By this time in the tournament you should have solid reads on your opponents. Do they open too tight in late position? Do they over fold their big blind? Do they 3-bet only premium hands? At this point, you should have enough information to start making strategic adjustments to your opponents in hands. You need to be paying attention in the early levels to gain this valuable information. Tournaments are a game of exploits because of the short sample size of hands you play against a player. Balance is not as important; therefore you want to be tailoring your strategy to each specific opponent. Each action they take should lead you to information on how to adjust your strategy towards them.

In summary, in the middle stages of the tournament you need to make strategic adjustments to your hand ranges. Study which adjustments your opening ranges should have playing 100bb versus 40bb. Don’t expand your ranges simply because you are bored or card dead. This is the first way to lose all your chips quickly. Finally, use prior hands to make maximum exploits against your opponents. Use their errors against them to maximize your win rate at the table.

Best of luck


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