For most of you it will come as no surprise that many players believe the tournament structure on Full Tilt Poker to be more relaxing than the one on PokerStars. But is this actually true? In this article I will take a look at both structures and analyze how antes influence your strategy.
In order to compare the two structures with each other I entered them into two tables below. For this I have made a couple of assumptions.
1) They are both the standard structure for a guaranteed MTT with a starting stack of 3,000 chips.
2) We are using a time span of 5 hours. On PokerStars the blind levels increase every 15 minutes, while on Full Tilt Poker they last 10 minutes for a $26 buy-in and 12 minutes for a $75 buy-in tournament.
3) The "M" column is calculated by using a stack of 100k throughout the whole tournament. Not that you would have such a stack at the very beginning of a tournament, but it helps to identify the differences.
*"uur" means hour in Dutch
Let's assume we're playing one of the most popular lowstakes MTT's on both sites, which on PokerStars would be the 20k guaranteed with a $22 buy-in and the $24k guaranteed on Full Tilt Poker with a $26 buy-in.
So, is the structure at Full Tilt so much better? That really depends on your own playing style and what you feel most comfortable with. If your game is more based on postflop play, then you have more opportunities for that at PokerStars. If you prefer bullying short stacks and taking pots down pre-flop, then Full Tilt will be appealing to you. As you can see from the tables, after 3 hours of playing a tournament on PokerStars, you are left with an M of 34 and can still take a look at a flop or two. At Full Tilt, on the other hand, you would only be left with an M of 18, which means that after a pre-flop raise, a C-Bet on the flop would already make you pot committed.
We can't forget, however, that in reality things look a little different, as in most cases, you will not be sitting behind a stack of 100k after 3 hours. And the antes also need to be taken into account. Look at the huge difference after 5 hours of play. At PokerStars you are paying antes of 700, while on Full Tilt you are forced to post and ante of 4000 every hand, which is more than the small blind on PokerStars.
It is, therefore, important to know that at PokerStars, you can adopt a more retained strategy than at Full Tilt, seeing as your M at Stars drops more smoothly than at Full Tilt. Because of this, you can wait longer to get good hands and you have less pressure on you. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Full Tilt has a bad tournament structure. But when I play on Full Tilt I do play a lot more LAG than I would on Stars during the middle-and end-phase of an MTT, because the pot pre-flop is a lot more tempting to steal as a result of the large antes, which can really aid your stack if you manage to win more than 1 every orbit.
Let us use the table and assume that we have survived the first 3 hours in both tournaments. At Stars you will now be on level 13 with blinds 600/1200 and antes of 125. Your M is 34 and the pot pre-flop is 2925. At Full Tilt you are already on level 19 with blinds 1000/2000 with 300 ante, an M of 18 and a pre-flop pot of 5,700. That is almost double as much as on Stars. Therefore we have to start stealing if we want to survive. But there is a difference between stealing and pushing it all-in pre-flop. This is the great thing about Full Tilt's tourney structure, and I think that this is also where a lot of players make the mistake. You see yourself sitting comfortably on a stack of 100k and payable blinds of 1000/2000. All the time in the world to wait for a good hand you think. But don't forget the antes. If you have been playing tight before this moment, then it's about time to really change gears now. Because if you end up doing nothing for 20 minutes because you're not getting any hand, you M will have shrunk to 11, which brings you very close to the danger zone. The way to get deep into an MTT is by trying your best to avoid coinflips for as long as possible. To do this, you need to try and minimize the situations where your entire stack goes in before the flop. While with an M of 11 you've basically reached the push or fold mode, an M of 18 is still enough to get some respect of the big stacks and keep them from raising you all-in with every crap cards they get. I am not going to talk about hand ranges in this article, as the purpose of this article is to help you survive without getting any good cards and making use of the high antes.
Actually it comes down to the fact that on Full Tilt at this level, you need to use every chance you have from the hijack, cutoff and button to make a steal. As long as you can open raise and there is no committed shorty sitting behind you with an M of 7. If somebody enters the pot in front of you, you will just have to look at the cards you are dealt, but if that doesn't happen, raise with any two cards. This might seem like a manic style, but let's not forget that these situations don't present themselves too often. If we get called we switch to lockdown poker for the rest of the hand, and if we get re-raised pre flop we just lay down our hand. So we're in level 19 with a stack of 100k and get in the cutoff.
Everybody folds to us and we will set our plan in motion to steal some blinds. How much to bet is also an interesting factor. Usually a raise of 2.5BB is optimal for these situations. With blinds of 1000/2000 I raise to 5500 or less, but seldom more. Now the big blind has to pay 3,500 into a 12,200 pot. He gets more than 3:1 for his money, which are huge odds. But he sees that the raise came from some one with a remaining stack of 94,500, which still gives you enough respect, and most players don't like playing out of position, no matter what odds they get. What also happens every now and then is that players will only focus on the amount of the raise and not the size of the pot. They see it as having to pay 3,500 while they only invested 2,000. It sounds funny but on those limits you can still find a few of those players. The thing you need to remember is that, while you're giving the Bb good odds to call, you're also giving yourself good odds. By this I mean that your steal attempts don't have to work every time to make them +EV for you.
Finding the site with the best tourney structure purely depends on your style of playing. Don't' forget to pay attention to the antes and how they influence your stack. The 100k stack I used was purely hypothetical, but I hope it made you realize that many players wait too long before stealing blinds, which brings them closer to the danger zone. Especially players who believe they have a healthy stack and are already concentrating on the final table are the players that will get into trouble. Making the right decisions in poker is step 1, but looking ahead to the next blind level and planning accordingly is often overlooked.