Want to switch from cash games to MTTs? Start with preflop!

"Cash game players are better than tournament players."


Now maybe I'm biased, but I think this is absolute nonsense. Sure, cash game players often play 100bb+ deep and the game tree has the opportunity to get pretty complex. But they're not having to play all the different stack sizes (e.g. 10bb, 12.5bb, 15bb, 20bb, 25bb, 30bb, 40bb, 50bb, 60bb, 80bb, 100bb). With much wider ranges. And while also factoring in ICM. And game-specific ideas like bounty powers (for PKOs) or COCs (for satellites).


Cash games have much tighter preflop ranges because there's no ante, but there is a rake. Online, 6-max cash games are very popular and so you're only having to learn preflop ranges for 6 spots. Compare this to the 8 or 9 if you play MTTs.


Now it would be silly for me to go as far as saying that tournament players are better than cash game players. Both game types can get pretty complex. So let's not compare the two. Instead, let's focus on where to put your energy when you're first transitioning from cash games to tournaments.


As I already mentioned, the preflop ranges and strategies are very different. In a 6-max cash game, you might open ~41.5% of hands on the Button at 100bb. In a tournament, it's more like ~53.8% from the same spot.

Opening ranges for BTN 100bb. Cash games (left), MTTs (right)


Remember that there are generally antes in tournaments and no rake (once you've paid your entry fee). This makes every range wider. When the Button opens to 2.5x in a cash game, the Big Blind is getting 2.67:1, so needs ~27% equity to call.


Now it's not as simple as just working out raw equity since the Big Blind is out of position, with a wider and weaker range, and so will struggle to realise all equity. But for the purpose of this article, I'm going to give you these numbers so you can understand why all ranges are wider in a tournament.


In an MTT (Multi-Table Tournament), the Big Blind is now getting 3.33:1, so needs ~23% equity to make the call. The Button opens a wider range and the Big Blind is getting better odds, so is naturally going to play more hands.


In a cash game, the Big Blind can play ~44.1% of hands against a Button 2.5x raise. In a tournament, this number changes to ~75.3%! That's a huge change, right? And this has a knock-on effect to both players' strategies. Given how wide the Big Blind can now defend (imagine how wide they can go vs a 2x), the Button now has to develop effective strategies against a very weak and wide range, but with a very wide range of his own. This often leads to lots of betting... but not on all boards.


So the first step when transitioning from cash games to MTTs is to focus on preflop ranges. Inside MTT Poker Academy, I've created a preflop range viewer to help with this. As you can see below, there are lots of preflop spots to learn. Raise first in and what to do when facing an open or a 3-bet. Blind vs blind strategies, squeezes and how to respond to jams and 3-bet jams.

MTT Preflop Range Viewer, available to all MTT Poker Academy members


In a cash game, it's unlikely that a player will open jam or jam on you when you open, given you're often playing 100bb deep. In a tournament, this happens very frequently since the average stack is much shorter.


Once you've mastered your preflop ranges, you'll no doubt be pleased to learn that they can all change once you get deeper into the tournament. But I'll save talking about the effect of ICM on preflop ranges for another article. If you're just learning tournaments or coming over from cash games, then definitely start with the Chip EV preflop solutions. Again, you can get access to these as a member of MTT Poker Academy.


Many players believe they have no preflop leaks. This is laughably incorrect. It's amazing how often I work with a new client who believes a lot of their problems are postflop (which can definitely be true, by the way). What's actually happening is they're compounding their preflop errors: They don't open enough from late position. They open too much from early position. They don't defend the big blind enough. They don't 3-bet enough. They overfold to 3-bets. The list goes on and on.


I'm going to leave you with a screenshot from one of the modules inside my course, MTT Game Changer*, that focuses on identifying your preflop leaks. I work a lot with part-time players with full-time jobs and other responsibilities who have limited time available to improve their game. This module takes out all the guess work on where to focus your attention, reducing wasted time and energy.


Sounds good, right?


*You can get access to MTT Game Changer and my entire content library by joining MTT Poker Academy

Raise first in targets by position and stack size


Good luck out there!


Gareth