This article looks at the middle stages of a single table tournament (STT), from around the fourth blind level to the point when only four players remain. If play gets down to only four runners in the first three levels, there is no middle phase. It is possible, but rare.
Again it is worth stating that STTs tend to have fewer variables than many other types of poker, which makes it easier to follow general rules of play. These guidelines cover nine-handed STT, played with a regular structure (as opposed to a turbo or hyper-turbo) and for low or micro stakes.
General guidelines: The middle phase
When the blinds are big and your stack drops to fewer than 10 big blinds, you cannot wait around to be dealt the next Category 1 or Category 2 hand. Instead you should be willing to raise or move all in with a wide range of hands, in order to stay in contention and make it to the bubble.
You can avoid losing chips by folding trash hands, especially when in the blinds. But don’t play too passively at this stage. If you have five big blinds or fewer you should be looking for good spots to get all your chips in. It is better to go out fighting with a fair chance of doubling, as opposed to being tight and getting eaten by the blinds.
When you raise for a third of your stack or more, you have committed so many chips that you have to be willing to get the rest in. Therefore it is ofter better to push all in pre-flop, instead of making a big raise. This will not only put pressure on your opponent but also increase your chances of a double up (providing you have a strong hand). If you are raising post-flop for a third of your stack, you should do so with the idea of getting the rest in on later streets, even if there are scare cards on the board.
This is based on the power of aggression – one of the core concepts in no limit Hold’em. By pushing all in you have two ways to win the hand. Your opponent can either fold, or they can call, which means you still have a chance to win at showdown. This is the reason why you can push with more hands than you can call. If your opponent pushes all in you may have a difficult decision to face and can make mistakes, either by folding the winning hand or calling while too far behind.
The size of your opponents’ stacks is one of the most important factors in playing your way through a STT. You should be willing to play pots against players with smaller stacks but avoid the bigger ones. A big stack can bust you and is more likely to give you action. They will also put pressure on you with raises or re-raises that put your tournament life at risk. A short stack will be more likely to fold, unless they have a good hand that they think they can earn them a double up.
In the middle period of a STT, starting hand requirements are not so stringent as they are in the early stages. The decision of what cards to play now rests more in the size of your stack and other players’ action in the pot.
The following chart gives an idea of the kind of hands you should be willing to play in a number of scenarios. (The Introduction to STTs article showed the categories of hands.)
|Scenari||Position||More than 10BB||10BB to 5BB||Less than 5BB|
|Everyone folds to you||Small blind or button||Category 7||Category 8||Category 8|
|Everyone folds to you||1 or 2 seats off the button||Category 6||Category 7||Category 8|
|Everyone folds to you||Earlier position||Category 5||Category 6||Category 7|
|One more limpers||Any position||Category 4||Category 5||Category 6|
|Someone raises||Any position||Category 3||Category 4||Category 5|
Here are some general guidelines for raise sizes pre-flop:
In these middle stages of a STT, you should play aggressively post-flop if the chips aren’t all in yet. If you bet first, or the action is checked to you, your standard bet size should be 2/3 of the pot. If your stack is less 1.5 times the pot, move all in instead.
Here are a couple of specific, but common, scenarios:
If more than one opponent has called your big blind pre-flop, you can see a flop without any further investment. This will lead to a series of decisions after the flop has been dealt. You should:
If you have raised pre-flop and picked up only one caller, the following guidelines apply:
If you have raised pre-flop and more than one opponent has called, the following guidelines apply: