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Playing a 20-Big Blind Stack in a Multi-Table Tournament

Anatoly Filatov
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  • Down to 20 big blinds in a tourney? Don't panic and start shoving yet! You've still room to maneuver.

  • Anatoly Filatov discusses tournament strategy for playing a medium (but not yet short) stack.

When it comes to multi-table tournaments, there's no shortage of advice out there for accumulating chips and bullying with a big stack. Nor is it hard to find tips about short-stacked strategy, including "push-fold" charts and other guidance to help you try to chip back up and into contention.

Meanwhile, there isn't quite as much specific advice out there for playing a medium-sized stack in a MTT. By "medium" we mean stacks that are not deep enough to allow a player to explore the entire range of preflop and postflop options, but not so short that the player is unable to open-raise or three-bet preflop, or engage in other postflop moves like continuation betting and the like.

While the structure and current status of the tournament dictate what exactly a "medium" stack is at any given point, in many MTTs anything from 15-30 big blinds often will fall in that range.

For some players, a stack of 20 big blinds (for example) also often will fall within the range of "squeeze stacks," meaning if a player raises before the flop and one or more call, a player might reraise-shove those 20 big blinds as a squeeze play designed to collect all of that dead money without a showdown, or at worst be up against a single opponent with a playable hand. (See "10 More Hold'em Tips: Making the Squeeze Play" for more on this move.)

While squeezing with such a stack can be an effective move, being down to 20 big blinds doesn't mean you have to be overly eager to get it all in — not yet.

A primary lesson when playing medium stacks, especially as a tournament moves into the middle stage and nears the bubble or even after it has reached the money, is to continue to have patience and not feel as though you have to get those 20 big blinds in the middle at the first opportunity. That's an idea explored more thoroughly in an article appearing here a short while back titled "Risky Business: Medium-Stacked in a Tournament's Middle Stage."

At a past World Series of Poker, our Sarah Herring caught up with the Russian pro Anatoly Filatov as he was playing a no-limit hold'em event, and as it happened it was the middle stage and he found himself on the (relative) short side with a 20-big blind stack.

Filatov offered some useful tips for those who find themselves in this situation, advising players to...

  • remain patient
  • wait for playable, good hands
  • still open-raise, but don't be overly ready to shove
  • three-bet occasionally (depending on hand strength)
  • tone down the aggression (especially if there are other aggressive players at the table)
  • when getting involved, try to pot control

Take a look:

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