One of many innovations online poker has introduced and made popular over the years is the “turbo”-styled multi-table tournament featuring short levels and rapidly rising blinds and antes. Many live tournaments also feature fast structures and in some cases even borrow the “turbo” designation as a way of advertising to players they can expect a quick pace.
Pick practically any online poker site and you’ll find no shortage of turbo or fast-structured tournaments from which to choose. On PokerStars, for example, you’ll find a number of tournaments designated as “Slow” or “Regular” that feature levels lasting 10 or 15 minutes with relatively deep starting stacks and blinds and antes increasing very gradually. But there are many tournaments listed as “Turbo” or “Hyper-Turbo” that are quite popular as well.
A typical “Turbo” tourney on PokerStars features five-minute levels, while the “Hyper-Turbo” tourneys have three-minute levels with blinds and antes going up about twice as fast as in a “Turbo” event. Similar formats and designations are followed on other sites, too.
At such a fast pace, these tournaments complete very quickly. Among PokerStars’ most popular “Turbo” offerings are daily tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $0.55 all of the way up to $109, called “The Hot $0.55,” “The Hot $16.50,” “The Hot $75,” and so on. All feature the same structure with 3,000 starting chips and five-minute levels, with players hitting the 200/400/50 level by the start of the second hour. The lower buy-in “Hot” tournaments tend to draw thousands of players, and the tournaments are usually over within 3-4 hours.
The structures of “Turbo” and “Hyper-Turbo” tourneys might suggest that such tournaments reward luck more than skill, since the format demands more preflop all-ins and thus more dependence on being dealt strong starting hands. But the fact is they also tend to reward the same kinds of skills regular, slower tournaments do. Being smart with your starting hand selection, understanding the power of position, sizing your bets effectively, and being able to read opponents’ tendencies and styles are just as important in fast-structured tourneys, and players who have developed those skills tend to perform better as a result.
It’s just everything is happening faster in turbo tournaments. You have less time to make adjustments, to recover from mistakes, and to wait for the perfect hand or spot from which to make a move. In those “Hot” tourneys on PokerStars, for example, you start with deep stacks of 150 big blinds for that first five-minute level, but a half-hour later when the antes kick in you’ll be down to just 30 big blinds if you haven’t chipped up from the starting stack, and 15 minutes after that you’ll be down to just 15 BBs.
That said, such a progression isn’t all that different from what players experience in tournaments with slower structures — you just get there a lot more quickly.
Here are 10 tips to keep in mind when playing fast-structured tournaments:
1. Don’t change style during early levels (tight is still right)
With such a deep stack with which to start, you can approach the first couple of levels of a turbo tournament the same way you would regular MTTs. The blinds and antes are too small to be worth stealing, and in fact you’ll likely benefit more later on by demonstrating a tight image early. That will earn you folds in later levels when you do open up your range and go for blind steals and bluffs.
2. Develop reads on opponents during early levels
Just as in a regular MTT, you should always be watching the tendencies of your opponents in order to figure out who is loose, who is tight, who seems to be more savvy with their plays, and who appears to be making mistakes. The difference is you have less time to develop these reads, and a smaller sample size of hands in which to do so.
3. Don’t snooze (and lose)
Players accustomed to regular MTTs are used to the slow pace allowing them to register late, to sit out hands, or if online to surf around and let their attention be divided during the early levels. Such is not the case in a turbo, where you’re much better off being present and focused on every hand from the very start.
4. Be ready for the “middle stage”
In those “Hot” tourneys on PokerStars you’re already edging into what might be considered the “middle stage” of a tournament even before the antes kick after a half-hour. You should still be selective but can start looking to open more often from late position with a wider range, especially after the antes are introduced and there is more dead money to be claimed.
5. Widen your range
Dovetailing on the advice to start looking for spots to steal more often, once you get past the opening levels of a turbo tournament you’ll want to open up your ranges for other actions, too, including reraising others’ preflop opens, calling raises (preferably with position), and making postflop continuation bets/raises. Again, don’t become irrationally loose with your decision-making, but be aware that the rapidly rising blinds and antes necessitate you remain in action frequently. You might well mostly fold through the first couple of levels of a turbo, but after that you can ill afford to do so.
6. Pay attention to changing stack sizes
Players can quickly slip from having comfortable stacks to having 20 BBs or less in turbos, with the change in level sometimes suddenly affecting a player’s status. Understand that players with such stacks will be more likely to push all-in should you raise or reraise them, meaning you’ll want to anticipate that possibility when making such moves.
7. Be aware of impending level changes
Depending on how fast players are acting, you’ll usually only be getting through about an orbit or a little more at a nine-handed table during five minutes of online play. That means that often each level will find you playing from all of the positions at the table just once (the blinds, early position, middle position, late position). If you are getting short yourself, you may find it necessary to reraise-shove or make other aggressive moves before the level changes and your stack becomes less able to elicit folds because your fold equity has decreased.
8. Consider isolating short stacks
As in regular MTTs, players slipping to 10-15 BBs will be looking for spots to double-up in turbos and you’ll see many open-raising all in when given the opportunity. Picking up good hands (medium-to-big pocket pairs, big aces) behind these players may mean reraise-shoving in order to clear the field and set up heads-up showdowns against these short stacks. Weigh the risk carefully and don’t enter into such showdowns without worthwhile hands, but be ready to seize opportunities to gobble up the shorter stacks when they come.
9. Don’t reshove light if short
A big mistake players often make in turbos after slipping down below 15 BBs is to reraise all-in over an opening raise with hands with which they don’t want to be called. Say a player opens for 2x from middle position and you have on the button with 10 big blinds. You reraise-shove and it folds back your opponent. Now he’s facing calling 8 BBs in order to win about 15 BBs in the middle. That’s almost 2-to-1 pot odds you’ve given him, meaning he can call with a wide range of hands, many of which give him more than a 33% chance to win. Don’t feel obligated to reshove ace-rag or similar hands, especially when you can fold and be dealt almost an orbit’s worth of hands from which to find something better.
10. Be smart about open-shoving when short
First off, before entering into “push/fold” mode be aware that having 15 BBs late in a turbo tourney isn’t necessarily bad — in fact, a lot of times that might mean you’re one of the bigger stacks at the table. But when you do fall to short-stacked status and are down only to open-raising all in or folding, pay attention to your position. From early position your range for shoving should be relatively tight, while from the cutoff or button you can open-shove a much wider range of hands as you have fewer players behind you left to act. (Open-pushing your last 10 big blinds with from the button is much better than reraise-shoving.)
Those are some tips to get you started with turbo tourneys. Something else to keep in mind is that the faster-paced tourneys tend to attract a lot of inexperienced and lesser-skilled players. In other words, employing some strategic know-how can give you a significant edge in the turbos, one that over time can overcome the increased variance such tournaments invite.
Photo: “Ludicrous Speed Go!” Michael Shaheen. Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.