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Playing in the middle stages of poker tournaments is often considered one of the most challenging parts of playing tournament poker. This is because you must balance short-term and long-term strategies during this part and deal with players looking for an edge. It’s essential to understand how best to approach these phases to maximize your chances.ย 

In this article, we’ll discuss some tips on navigating through the middle stages of WSOP poker or other tournaments, including when it’s appropriate to take risks and when it’s better to play it safe. With these strategies in mind, you can make more informed decisions throughout your game and improve your overall performance.

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Playing in The Middle Stages

The middle stage of a poker tournament refers to the period after the initial stages when antes have been introduced, and late registration has closed, but before reaching the bubble, where players start to consider making money. How a player approaches this stage depends on their performance in the early stages, which is influenced by their poker tournament strategy for balancing chip accumulation and survival.

If a player has been aggressive and taking risks to accumulate chips, they are likely to have either a stack well above average and be among the leaders or be short-stacked if those risks didn’t pay off.

On the other hand, if a player plays a tight game, focusing on survival and avoiding risks, they are likely to have an average stack or slightly above or below it. 

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Strategies to Try

Look at Hand Selection Before Betting

During the middle stages of a tournament, players usually have stack sizes between 40-60bb, which is not too deep or too short stacked. Therefore, players must adjust their hand selection to match their stack size.

In this stage, small pocket pairs and suited connectors lose some value, especially those with gaps between the cards. Top pair hands become stronger because they can often win with just one or two streets of betting. Hands like KJo, ATo, and KQo are stronger at this stack depth than deeper stacks.

When it comes to 3-betting, players should use more blocker-oriented hands as they are shallow stacked, and a 10 big blind 3-bet could result in the opponent going all-in for 40-50 big blinds. This requires a more polarized 3-betting range rather than a linear one. 

Play Aggressively

In the middle stages of a tournament, it’s essential to bluff and be aggressive to steal pots whenever possible. A good poker strategy is to re-raise against players in late position who are blind-stealing with weak hands. Hands like 10J and JQ suited are good for this in mid-position.

Players often wonder how often they should be blind-stealing. The answer is that they should do it as often as possible from late and mid positions. Strong tournament players in higher buy-in games will expect players to steal from late position, making stealing from mid-position more effective as it shows more strength.

Defend Blinds

In the middle stages of a tournament, it’s essential to defend the blinds occasionally and not just call too often with weak hands from the Big Blinds (BB) or Small Blinds (SB). While sometimes you may get pot-odds to call, you’ll be out of position and at a disadvantage for the rest of the hand. It is recommended to refrain from calling from the blinds unless there are implied odds or the option of limp-shoving is available. The best way to defend the blinds is by re-raising or limp-shoving.

Go All-in With Strong Hands

If you hold the strongest hand on a flop with multiple opponents, it can be a smart move to go all-in with your stack. This can make your hand appear weaker, which can encourage looser calls and increase the value of your hand. Additionally, it can discourage drawing players who may have otherwise had decent pot odds.

Many experienced players suggest that overbetting pots is more advantageous in multi-table tournaments than simply calling. For instance, if it is profitable, it may be a good idea to value-shove hands like KK or AA from an early position in the middle to late stages of the tournament.

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Stack Size

Big Stacks

Having a large stack of chips means you don’t have to take as many risks as when you have a small stack. It’s a smart move to keep your stack above average as the tournament approaches the bubble. This way, you can take advantage of the opportunities when the medium and short stacks become very cautious and play it safe.

If you have a large stack, it’s advantageous to attempt blind steals when conservative players are in the blinds. In this stage, the blinds and antes are substantial enough to warrant stealing.

Big stack players can widen their range of defending the blinds by calling or frequently raising again after the initial raise. They can also afford to call other players’ raises more often and wait for opportunities to catch opponents who only raise with their premium starting hands.

Middle Stacks

Similar to big stacks, you need to target tight players when they’re in the blinds during the middle stage of the game. Defending your blinds is also crucial, and when blind steals become more frequent, it may be worth three-betting the first time someone tries to steal from a late position to show that you won’t be an easy target.

Be careful when playing post-flop with decent but not very strong hands like one-pair and second-pair hands. If you’re up against a big stack trying to trap medium stacks, they can pose a significant threat if they play aggressively against you in post-flop situations where they may have a stronger hand than you.

Short Stack

During the middle stage of a tournament, it’s possible to increase your chip count even with a short stack without risking your entire stack. One strategy for chipping up with a short stack is to target tight opponents with medium stacks who may fold to standard opening raises, even if it means leaving you with a short 6-8 BB stack. These players know that they may be forced to play for your entire stack if they call, so they often choose not to get involved.

Conclusion

The middle stages of live poker tournaments require a different approach than the early stages. Blind steals, defending your blinds, and being aware of your opponent’s tendencies are essential strategies to employ during this stage. 

Maintaining an above-average stack is beneficial, enabling you to take advantage of bubble opportunities when the medium and short stacks tighten up. With a big stack, you can target tighter players when they’re in the blinds or defend your blinds with a wider range. Even with a short stack, it’s still possible to chip up by targeting tight opponents with medium chip stacks. Using these strategies effectively increases your chance of making the right decision at the table and getting to the tournament’s later stages.

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