The Ultimate Guide to Small Stakes Poker Tournament Strategy

The Ultimate Guide to Micro Stakes Poker Tournament Strategy
Even though I’m primarily a cash game specialist, I know that many of you are interested in micro stakes tournament strategy as well.

Maybe you just play tourneys on the side. But who wouldn't want to hit a big score in one of them a little more often right?

The best small stakes poker tournament strategy involves using a tight and aggressive play style in the early and middle stages and then a loose and aggressive approach in key spots around the bubble and at the final table. This tournament strategy will help you accumulate as many chips as possible so that you give yourself the best chance of winning the whole thing.

Now this is a fairly simplistic approach. Don't worry though because I am going to dig much deeper on all of these strategies in this article.

If you apply the strategies from this article, you will have a strong edge on the field and you will show a profitable ROI (return on investment) over a large sample.

That of course is the key to MTT success: Your results in the short run are almost always going to be meaningless. You have to be aware from the start that you are in it for the long haul.

That being said, micro stakes tournaments probably have the softest fields out of all the poker formats out there right now, so it shouldn’t take too long for you to show a profit.

Reasons Why You Should Play Tournaments

There are actually some good arguments for becoming an MTT grinder these days, as cash games are not always the easiest to beat.

For me personally this harder competition was never a big deal as I value the freedom of cash games too much.

Being forced to play until the tournament finishes (which can take over 6 hours for big field MTTs) and not being able to table select are two things that I don’t want to put up with every day.

In a cash game I can also choose the most profitable seats and leave whenever I want. And the winnings are a lot more consistent as well.

This is actually one of the biggest reasons why I recently cut down on how many tournaments I play, as I discuss in my latest YouTube video:

However, if you can live with these things then focusing on MTTs might actually be a more profitable strategy in the long run. Like I said, they are basically fish magnets. The lure of the big score will always draw the pure gamblers too.

This is why a lot of the very simple strategies for exploiting the bad players that I talk about in Crushing the Microstakes actually transfer over well to low stakes tournaments as well.

There is also a fun factor to them that simply cannot be replicated in a cash game. Anyone who has reached the final stages of a big tournament will know what I am talking about here.

That adrenaline rush of hitting the big score is a feeling that is unique to poker tournaments.

So whether you’re planning on becoming an MTT specialist or you’re just playing them occasionally in order to try and bink a big payday, there is lot's of potential value to be had here.

The optimal strategy can differ greatly from that of cash games however. So without further ado, here is my step by step strategy for crushing micro stakes MTTs.

What are Micro Stakes Tournaments?

First things first, what exactly are micro stakes tournaments?

Micro stakes MTTs are characterized by two things: small buy-ins and very large fields. A micro stakes tourney will have a buy-in of less than $5.

So because the buy-ins are so small, virtually anybody can play them. Most tourneys have fields with well over 1,000 players, sometimes even more than 5,000.

And then there are even special events like The MicroMillions on Pokerstars where fields regularly top 20,000 players or even more.

I will never forget my first micro stakes tourney victory. It was a $2 buyin with a little over 3000 runners in it. I took first place for $893.65.

Not bad for about 6 hours work!

At the time this was an absolutely massive boost to my bankroll. It tripled it in fact. So I was over the moon about this victory and it helped propel me towards playing in bigger cash games as well.

Now back to reality here. Obviously the chances of winning a tournament of this size are very slim, no matter how good you are. There is no doubt that I got extremely lucky at many points along the way in order to win.

However, over the long run a decent player can expect to make a nice profit in these games. The reason why is because micro MTTs are filled with some of the worst players you will find anywhere, and if you play a solid game you should get your fair share of cashes and more.

And of course the large field sizes do have one distinct advantage: Should you make the final table or even win one, then you’re looking at a very nice payday.

What’s the Best Strategy for Beating Micro Stakes MTTs?

The optimal strategy for micro stakes tournaments is very different from the one you would use in a tourney with a larger buy-in. The reason why is all the crazy play only leaves you with one option: tighten up!

Other than that it’s hard to give general advice as the individual stages of the tournament should be handled differently. Here is what to do at each stage of the tourney.

Early Micro Stakes Tournament Strategy

In tournaments with higher buy-ins, your plan should be to play a lot of hands early on. There are two reasons for this: Most high buyin tourneys start out with deep stacks (200bbs+) which means you are getting the right implied odds to see a lot of flops.

Example of a super deep stack hand from a cash game (same rules apply in a tournament):

The second reason is that you want to play against the bad players early on, since they will get knocked out as the tournament progresses and you will face much tougher competition in the later stages.

Both of these reasons don’t really apply in micro stakes MTTs though. The play is just too crazy to do anything but play tight. Most hands have 4 or more people seeing the flop, which means you will get drawn out on regularly.

It might be tempting to see a lot of flops in the hopes to catch two pair or better and play a big pot. However, this is the strategy most players use in these things so that’s not really what you want to do.

Instead, you want to mostly just wait for premium hands and then bet them very hard for value. The beauty of micro stakes MTTs is that your opponents will call much bigger bets and raises with weak holdings than they should.

Quick Note: By the way, it should go without saying, but make sure you are using a good poker HUD if you take online poker tournaments seriously.

You can and should make raises of 3x or 4x the big blind or even more if the pot is unopened and you have a hand like KK or AK. If someone opened before you, just raise the pot or around 3x-4x your opponent’s bet.

Micro Stakes Tournament Strategy

After the flop the strategy is very similar: You should bet your strong hands and mostly check/fold your weak ones. Your opponents won’t fold anywhere near enough to make bluffing profitable, so don’t even bother with it.

By playing ABC poker like this, you will get a ton of value from your strong hands and you will show a solid profit over a large sample size.

Now obviously with opponents calling you down all the way with weak hands, you will see a ridiculous amount of suck-outs (think NL2 on steroids here).

I can’t tell you how many big pairs I have gotten cracked because my opponent called the flop and turn with bottom pair and spiked two pair or trips on the river.

You are going to face countless river suckouts in micro stakes tourneys. I am warning you now, you need to be prepared for it.

This is just something that can’t be avoided when playing against bad poker players though. Just look at it this way: Every time somebody draws out on you, you just made money in the long run.

The reason why is that you can't fight the math in poker. If you keep getting your money in with the best of it, eventually you will bust them all.

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Bubble Strategy

The bubble is the stage in the tournament when the first payouts begin. So the play tends to tighten up considerably around this point as all the smaller stacks want to make sure they earn a profit.

Your strategy on the bubble depends mostly on your stack size. If you have a short stack of 30bbs or less, then you should wait for premium hands and play them aggressively to try to get all in as a favorite or pick up the dead money.

However, don’t play too tight: You don’t want to let your stack dwindle down to a few big blinds just so you can score a min-cash.

This strategy might make sense if you won a satellite into the WSOP Main Event for instance, but the best micro stakes poker strategy is to make as many final tables as possible. Because that is where the real money is.

If you have a big or medium stack on the bubble though, then you can play a lot more aggressively and increase your stack. This can be hugely beneficial later on in the tournament.

So I am going to be raising preflop with all sorts of mediocre hands during the bubble (that I might normally fold) in order to build my stack up such as:


This is especially the case as I get closer to the button where my chances of taking down the blinds is even higher.

Even in micro stakes tourneys, many players will be afraid of going out on the money bubble. This means that you will get lots of folds when attacking the blinds of short stacks.

So make sure that you open the pot with plenty of hands if you have a big or medium stack on the bubble. I would just use a mini-raise at this point by the way as well in order to risk the least.

This is actually something that Daniel Negreanu talks about specifically in his new poker training course.

He attributes a lot of his success in poker tournaments to building up a huge stack during the bubble stage when so many people are afraid of busting out.

You take advantage of this fear that everyone has and before you know it you have an overwhelming chip lead and you are going to crush them at the final table.

However, there is one caveat to this strategy.

If they shove all-in on you during the bubble stage, then you shouldn't call them too light. This is because usually they will have something pretty decent.

In some cases it might be mathematically correct to call a short stack's all-in. But overall you want to respect their shoves. Don't call with garbage.

By the way, I discuss optimal Tournament Bubble Strategy in much more detail in my new BlackRain79 Elite Poker University training. 

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In the Money

Once the bubble bursts, things will get pretty crazy. Most players who folded every single hand on the bubble will now be eager to shove lighter and double up in order to make a big run.

In most cases, you should go back to playing fairly tight and taking advantage of your opponents’ loose playing style.

Your strategy should depend on your particular table though. If your opponents play tight and you have the most chips at the table, then the best strategy is to apply aggression.

Your goal should be to accumulate as many chips as you can so you can make a run at the final table and ultimately win the whole tournament.

Your odds at the final table will improve greatly depending on the size of your stack.

Small Stakes Poker Tournament Final Table
Also remember that the payout structure of MTTs is very top-heavy, which means that the top few finishers will receive a disproportionately large share of the prize pool.

Therefore, it is important that you try your best to build up a big stack as this will make it much easier to not only make the final table, but also win the whole thing.

The Final Table

You've made the final table. Congratulations! Here is where the real fun begins. But now is also the time to focus and play your very best poker.

The difference between 1st and 9th place money can be huge, so it is crucial that you play as well as you can. If you have other tables open, then either close them or move them to the side and only play premiums hands so that you can focus on the final table.

At this stage of the tournament, you are often playing against some decent opponents. Just like you they have managed to outlast thousands of other players in some cases, so the amount of fish will likely be pretty low.

One upside though is that your bets and raises will finally get some respect. So playing more aggressively can pay off big time at the final table!

My advice is to play confidently and fearlessly. Don't be afraid to follow your gut and make a big play. This is the time to really go after it.

But you also need to recognize when a tight player is clearly telling you that you are beat. Don't allow yourself to get reckless and call off large amounts of your stack with a mediocre hand.

If you really want to start crushing the final table then I also recommend that you start learning some advanced poker tournament strategy.

As you move up and play higher buyin tournaments this is especially important because you are going to be facing better players and you need to know the advanced math and GTO theory to crush them.

Should You Make a Deal?

You should also be prepared for the likelihood that somebody brings up the idea of making a deal.

This is basically an agreement to split up the prize pool money more evenly so that there isn't such a big difference between 1st and 5th place for instance.

My advice (and this is just my opinion), is to either say nothing at all or to politely decline. I don't make deals. I am there to win.

This is one of the most important tips I have for tournaments by the way, as I discuss in this video.

If it's the WSOP main event and there is millions of dollars on the line, ok let's talk. But in these small buyin micro stakes tournaments, I am in it to win it. No deals.

Look, winning a large tournament isn’t easy, so don’t be disappointed if you fall short. You are simply not going to win most of the time. That's just the simple math.

So the biggest key is to just do the best you can and be happy with your play. And also, have fun as well!

Making a final table is about the most exciting experience you can have as a poker player. Every pot matters and every all in will create a huge adrenaline rush.

Plus, this is (probably) the only time that you get to make bets of hundreds of thousands or even millions of chips.

So make sure to soak it in and enjoy it all. But also play hard and play to win.

And for me this means no deals. 

I play for first place. 

That's it.

Final Thoughts

Micro stakes poker tournaments are not for the faint of heart. 

They are without a doubt the format with the most brutal variance. If you play your fair share of these, then you will receive crushing bad beats on a regular basis.

There are plenty of good advanced poker training programs like my new Elite Poker University which can help increase the consistency of your winnings dramatically.

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But the fact remains that poker tournaments will always include some level of variance that you must be prepared for.

It is not uncommon for instance to bust 20 or more in a row poker tournaments without scoring a single cash. And I am talking about for a good winning tournament player!

So make sure that you have a healthy bankroll if you choose to take a serious shot at tournaments. I would recommend a starting bankroll of at least 100 buy-ins.

The good news though is that these low stakes tourneys also offer some of the softest player pools imaginable. Believe me, the play in these things can be truly horrendous at times.

Now, while the variance can be brutal in the short run with tournaments, with the right strategy you can still expect to make a very nice profit over a large sample size. Plus there is nothing better on earth for your bankroll than winning a large poker tournament!

Lastly, if you want to know the strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in low buy-in tournaments, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Let me know your thoughts about poker tournament strategy in the comments below. Have you had any big scores yet?

Micro stakes poker tournament strategy


  1. Yes, lots of your micro stakes cash advice follows in MTT. My problem is that micro MTT is simply not a quality of poker that can keep your interest for most for the majority of the tournament. Its too easy to think, stuff this, its $2, I'll shove on this fish then he hits his 2 when he calls.

    When you play one of these, you have to be in the mindset to be there for six hours.

    1. Yup absolutely, they require a ton of patience at the micros. This is why I normally have 5 or 6 tournies going at a time. Keeps me from getting bored.

    2. hi dude i found that piling sng while mtts works great also ( do yu eve mix cash games and mtt in sessions?)

    3. Ya I mix both cash and mtts. Most of the time I am just playing cash though.

  2. Nice article. Do you consider premium hands as TT+ AJ+ at 30bbs or less and will there be basic guide to beating these tournaments in future blogs?

    1. Thanks Mike! There is a big difference between 10bb and 30bb tournament play which perhaps I will cover more in a future article. But most of these hands would be all-in in either scenario.

    2. Hi Nathan,

      how old is your book crushing the microstakes?
      because i have read a interview about your style on the table.
      first you played like a NIT then like a TAG and last but not least something looser and this interview was on 2014 thats why i ask when you have wrote this book?

      Thank you in advance for your answer.

      Best regards

    3. Hey Sam,

      CTM is about 5 or 6 years old I think. I change my play style all the time depending on what games I am playing in. The strategies in CTM will always apply to loose/passive games though like you still find at the lowest stakes.

  3. excellent post thanks. Won my first tournament last night (and agree re excitement of getting to the final table!), was only an SNG and I know you are talking here about pure tournaments. However, I found the SNG multi-table aspect a good lead in to the longer tournament - my thinking was that if I can remain concentrated hard on play for the 2 hrs MTT SNG then this might help me prepare for a full tournament of hundreds of players and I feel this is sound? One question, if you are card dead and playing it tight - how late do you tend to wait until you are all in (even if strong/mediocre holding)?: as low as 10BB?

    1. Thanks Thomas!

      In a big MTT 10bb is plenty of chips. I mean it is all-in or fold mode but there is no need to panic and get it in with a weak hand. Once you get to 5bb or less then it is time to get a bit desperate.

  4. How do you feel about late registration Here in New Jersey Poker Stars the $3-5 T has 2 hr late reg and unlimited rebuys and 200bb and 10 minute levels Late registration is king. Starting field is 10-20 and registration closes with about 125 buyins 15-18 get paid I don't play these because I can't figure out a strategy and I agree with you on the advantages of cash games Any thoughts?

    1. Hey Jim,

      I don't play these kind of tournies very often so I don't think I could give a very good answer on that.

    2. Buy in early. People will hand you stacks jamming draws and junk because they can rebuy. Play super tight and get the chips in with premium cards. I'm usually sitting in the top 3 by first break. Then I just coast to the end of the rebuy period.

  5. i read this and other posts of yours everyday while i play. Best study matereial out there today. Thank you a thousand times

    1. Thanks David, appreciate your support and glad I can help!

  6. Further to Quiet Jims comment above, more generally - what do yo think Nathan please re when to enter the tournament. i.e. do you consider starting the tournaments just before late registration ends / when the buy in is bout 10bb? I have found that if you enter right before late reg ends and then all in double up you can be on average chips and all ok without having to play the first 2 hours of the tournament _ good idea in your view or a wasted opportunity? I find that the buy-in amount can be more than I would have been on by then if I had played during that time, though maybe this would be considered as a missed opportunity to play strong hands and build the chips up. Do you always enter tournaments right at the beginning? thanks and your thoughts would be really helpful

    1. I am not the best person to ask about this as I consider myself a casual tournament player. FWIW I pretty much always enter right at the beginning.

    2. Hello Thomas, I recommend getting in earlier in these tournaments. When I have played deepstack live tournaments I have done well waiting until antes start, but in these small online tournaments there are plenty of opportunities to build your stack by playing solid aggressive poker. Some of them allow rebuys for 3-5 hours and frequently even before I reach the end of the rebuy period I have 2-4 times the starting chipp, a hundred or more players have been eliminated and players are still buying in. My recommendation is to buy in within the first hour of most of these tournaments.

  7. Great article! Playing a micro tourney, say .10c Buy in to .55c buy in, 1st hand of tourney, player jams all in....whats bottom of your calling range?
    Further this by noting that in the .10c tourneys there are 750 runners. In .55c buy ins there is an average of 100 runners. No rebuys.

    1. Thanks Michael. I would probably call with something like AQ+ and 88+. Depends heavily on my position at the table though.

    2. Thanks for your time! Enjoy the holidays!

    3. Curious - why does your position matter vs a pre-flop shove? The vilians position matters, but only if trying to decide what he might be shoving with. Really doesn't matter much though because all shove-monkeys shove preflop - I have an ace - shove - I have a pocket pair - shove, I have two cards of the same suit - SHOVE. They rely exclusively on luck, nothing else.
      FWIW - I play the grueling freerolls on ACR and position matters very little when all shoves are pre-flop. Also - don't call these fish shoves in early stages unless you are holding AA or KK. And about 50% of the time your premium pre-flop hands will be cracked by anything including pocket 3's and 8/2 suited hitting baby flushes. Wait until the shove-monkeys have been weeded out - except when holding top two starting hands, maybe Q's as well, and you might get lucky to make it to the first break.

    4. It matters because the number of players behind you who have not acted yet matters. If someone open shove from UTG and you're in UTG+1 the likelihood of someone behind waking up with a monster increases.

  8. What's easy equation for figuring your ROI? I played a tourney where I bought in for .11cents. 408 runners. $75GTD. I took 1st place and won $14.38. What was my ROI? What is the equation?

    1. I am primarily a cash game player so I could not tell you.

    2. It´s no a equation, it's just simply to divide your profit to your investment, it doesnt matter how many player were registered. Say you won $10 and the investment was $1 then your ROI was ($10/$1=10, in percentage 1000%)

  9. Hi, I'm looking to buy some ebook regarding micro MTT. Any recommendations?

    1. I am a cash game player. So I don't know enough about MTT books to feel comfortable recommending anything.

  10. Do you have an MTT Hud? (love your CAsh one) IF not any suggestions for how this would differ from cash

    1. Hey MVC,

      Nope sorry, only have for cash. I don't consider myself to be any kind of an expert with MTTs so I wouldn't want to say for sure what stats should be included.

  11. I'm bugging out that you actually respond to these. You're a legend, every single thing you said is correct. I love MTTs, just knowing you can freeroll like a month of playing in one or two tournaments is so dope. Thanks so much for sharing your like literally invaluable knowledge of the games that people literally call unbeatable. Micro stakes MTTs are great places to hone the fundamentals of poker, I've learned so much so fast. Sorry to ramble, not all the time you get to talk to the Micro God.

    1. Haha thanks Terrell, I really appreciate the kind words and I am glad I could help!

  12. I couldn't agree more with your analysis. Like all poker, patience and discipline is key. "less is more" in MTTs, play fewer hands, but make them count.

    1. Thanks Ray glad you liked this article!

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Hi Nathan
    Many truths in your article
    I'm a mic reg and you're right to advocate TAG strategy
    The c-bets in bluff are not very profitable and the game postflop must be limited to the nuts
    With my tight strategy I have a ROI of + 340% since January 2018
    I made several FT and won several first places.
    I have progressed a lot with the coaches of the @starschool
    Besides, it's a student friend who told me about you.
    I wish you good luck and I hope you will continue to earn millions!

    1. Thanks stag, great ROI and I hope you make millions too :)

  15. I read and re-read all your stuff, bought the books and i am losing badly. Deposited $50 on ACR, playing on demand mtts 55cent and $1.00 and I am down to $4 in two days. i used to think I was a good player and I really want to make it the world of poker, feel very distraught right now.

    1. Hey David,

      I am sorry to hear about your struggles at the poker tables. This is a really tough game sometimes and for some people it can take a long time to learn how to achieve consistent success. Sometimes it can just be some extended run bad as well.

      If you aren't already on my forum please signup for free and post a few of your losing poker hands. This way I and others can give you some advice on what you can do better.

      Hang in there David and I hope your results turn around soon!

    2. I started doing well on the cash games after reading Crushing the Micros on $2 buy in tables (thanks BlackRain!!) so I thought I'd try the adrenaline rush of the Sit & Go single table tournaments.

      I won a couple early on adopting a tight approach and thought I'd cracked it, started to believe my own hype. I called pretty much the exact same full house over full house in the video above even though my brain was telling me no!

      I think the issue is that I am losing when playing inconsistently. When busting out several times in a row I tend to get more loose & aggressive because my opponents are winning by playing loose & aggressive. If I stick to a tight strategy over time I should start to get more consistent wins.

      I see so many showdowns in Sit & Go compared to cash games. People call way more with things like 26s when they are chasing a flush. In cash they seem more likely to fold or not even enter the flop with a hand like this. I get a lot of folds against my continuation bets & multi-barrels in cash, but not in Sit & Go. I feel like I have to expect almost all flops to go to the river. If I see 2 suited cards when I have flopped a set and my opponent keeps calling they are probably chasing. If I try checking instead they often bet on the possible draw. 3rd suited card lands on the river. I've seen players hit the flush & bet big, I've also called all-in when my opponent was bluffing the flush. I probably should fold to all-ins here and wait until the board is dryer, but the ante/blinds seem to force me into calling bets that I usually would fold to.

      I think in the end the variance is much higher in tournaments. If I get a deep stack in a cash game I don't have to worry about going head to head later on with someone, just continue. If I lose a few hands in cash I don't really need to alter my strategy. It will work in the long run. Tournament play just has so many more variables to deal with. I have difficulty adapting to the ever changing stacks in play. I see players playing like maniacs and winning. I see players bluff a lot so I call them with a marginal hand on the one time they have the nuts. My 2 early wins were won playing tight so I need to get back to that (and stop thinking I can play like Isildur!!!). I do think I also need to play a bit more aggressive when playing deep vs. a small stacked opponent.

    3. Glad my book helped you! :)

  16. Funny you post this today.
    Today I am starting a bankroll challenge doing only tourneys and MTTS. I will be playing all freerolls to get started. On ACR look for the $10 Freerolls that are starting every 30 mins to an hour. These freerolls, however, are tough to cash as they only pay out top 2% of the field.
    The freerolls to look for are the CasinoOrg freerolls which they hold once every third or fourth day. Jackpot Freerolls also start once every 3 or 4 days. Look for the freerolls that ask for a membership to get the passwords. These freerolls are easier to cash as they pay out about top 12% of the field.
    After you have made a score you will need to maintain discipline and play the lowest stakes ($0.10+.01c) and continue playing the aforementioned freerolls. The 10 cent freerolls are held once a day at around 07:15pm EST.
    Good luck

  17. hi, read everything, june 7th finished 4th out of 897, won 340 bux, since feb of last year i have won around 850 bux... right this moment i have about 2.40 in my account... what went wrong? i started thinking i was a poker player is what! when ya win a little, DO NOT GET THE BIG HEAD AND START THINKING YOU ARE A POKER PLAYER!!!!!!!! roll easy folks!

    1. Hey junk,

      It could be anything from random variance, poor games, not using the right strategy, tilt and so on. The only solution is to keep working on all aspects of your game and keep improving.

  18. Nathan, when the stack is reduced to 10bb, is it worth it to go all-in, and if there are no premium 10-TTs, which ones to use? Is the Nash table suitable? And is it worth going all-in, because you can continue to play the range that used. Pavel.

    1. Yes 10bb or less is always shove or fold preflop in tournaments. The range depends on your position at the table and the players types left to act behind you.

  19. Do you agree that Poker Tracker is crucial for Micro Stakes Poker Tournament?

    1. PokerTracker, if used correctly, will help improve all aspects of your online poker game (i.e. you will profit more). But you can also win without it.

    2. But you agree that is helpful for low stakes tournaments as well, not just cash games?

    3. Yes all online poker games.