Multi Table Tournaments (MTT) are currently very popular due in large part to the success of televising the World Poker Tour Tournaments and the World Series of Poker Tournaments. Thousands of players try their luck and skills daily online and in brick and mortar tournaments. However, few players appear to give much thought as to whether they should have even entered the tournament. They seem to enter just to compete. It doesn't seem to matter how many people have entered the contest. The lower the entry fee, the larger the tournament field. It's not unusual for One, Two and Five dollar tournaments to attract 1500 to 2500 entrants.
A player is able to practice and compete for very little cost. But is that really true? Just because the entry fee is small doesn't mean that the expense was worthwhile. If you don't have the skills to get to the final table, and more importantly, win then you would be better off buying a lottery ticket. Two dollars spent weekly on a couple of lottery tickets might actually result in a lucky win. Two dollars spent on a MTT will never result in enough lucky cards to result in a win if you don't really have enough poker skills and you aren't improving. You may not even make a final table.
So how do you measure whether you should enter a Multi Table Tournament? To begin, you should only enter a tournament if you intend to play to win. Don't enter to practice. Always strive to improve your skills but only enter because you want to win. Because the entry fee is low, a commonly seen strategy is the maniac or suicidal aggressor. This type of player is allin early and often. The strategy is to double or triple up quickly. If they lose, they rationalize that that is the price to be paid in order to gain a quick chip edge. But this strategy is only worthwhile if they would also employ the same strategy when the entry fee is $10,000 instead of $2. If such a player wouldn't go allin early in a high dollar entry tournament, such as a WPT event, then why waste their time and money developing a strategy that might only help once in a lucky while at a low dollar entry tournament.
To reiterate, only enter a tournament because you want to win. Don't enter just to practice. Equally important, enter with a strategy that you feel can be applied to higher and higher entry fee tournaments. Why consign yourself to being a $1-$20 tournament player. Play to win at this low level. But play to win with a strategy that will also win at the $100-$1000 entry level.
And how do you know that you are developing a winning strategy and set of skills? You know because you've made the final table and you've won. But even this isn't enough. You have to reach the final table and win in a profitable manner.
In other words, you need to know your MTT win frequency. Once you know this number then you know what size tournaments you should enter. You begin to find this number by first making an educated guess. Make an estimate of the number of tournaments that you will need to enter before you win one. For example, you guess that you'll win a tournament within your first 50 entries. Assuming you are correct and you do win a tournament by your 50th entry then first prize needs to pay more than 50 times the entry fee or you still lose money.
Say, for example, you enter 50 ten dollar tournaments. At the end of 50 entries, you've spent $500. For the typical tournament, first prize pays out 20 to 30% of the total tournament entry fees. If the tournament you entered pays out 25% to the winner and at least 200 people enter at $10 each then the total prize pool is $2000. 25% of 2000 is $500. You've won. Congratulations! You've just broken even and spent all of that tournament time to make nothing. If each MTT averaged 4 hours to complete and on average you lasted about 2 hours per tournament then you've spent 100 hours to make nothing. In other words, every tournament you enter must pay out more than the number of tournament entries you estimated it will take in order to win. If you win only once every 100 tournaments then you need to enter tournaments that pay out better than 100 times the entry fee for first place. To enter smaller paying tournaments ensures that you will earn less than the total cost of your 100 entry fees.
But what about the times that you finish in the money but don't win or reach the final table? Consider those finishes as nice but they won't pay the bills. Typically, 60 to 70% of the total prize pool is paid out to the final table. That means you need to make the final table to have any chance to make any decent money. Any other finish lower than ninth or tenth will only pay out enough to cover the cost of a few tournament entries. Finishing as high as 40th earns you about .4 (4/10 of 1%) to .6% (6/10 of 1%) of the prize pool. In dollar terms, this is about 3 to 7 times the entry fee. Just to break even you need to finish no lower than 40th every 3 to 7 times you enter a tournament.
In other words, your in the money finishes will only help to subsidize your total cost of entry fees until you finally win or consistently make the final table.
Thus, in order to know which tournaments are worth your while to enter you need to track the entry fee, the number of entrants, the number of places paid, your finish and the amount that you won. Only then will the poker skills and strategies you've worked to develop pay off for you.
To be a truly successful Multi Table Tournament player you need to know your win freqency. Only then will you know if the size of the tournament and it's payout structure are worth your while to enter. Without this knowledge, you are reduced to being an ostrich player; i.e. a player who plays with their head in the sand, never knowing if their occasional wins or in the money finishes have any chance of ever paying off. Without knowing your win frequency you can never step up to the higher entry fee tournaments with any level of confidence.
Be assured that the top pros know their win frequency. Without this knowledge they would quickly be bankrupt. To enter 100 WPT tournaments costs $1 million. (100 x 10,000 = 1,000,000). If a pro enters and wins a WPT tournament once every 100 times than he/she needs to win more than $1 million when he/she does win in order to make any money. If, for example, a player finally wins a tournament on his 100th try and the first prize payout is 35% of a $2,000,000 purse then he would win $700,000. That's great, right? No really! Remember, this is the 100th try. He has spent $1 million dollars. By not knowing his win frequency, this player is still $300,000 in the hole and quickly going bankrupt. With luck, this player has made $300,000 from some in the money finishes in some of the other 99 tournaments that were entered before. But this only brings him to break even.
In other words, this player needs to improve his win frequency to 70 or less if he is going to continue entering tournaments where the first prize payout is less than his win frequency.
As mentioned, winning a tournament that matches your win frequency will only result in a break even. To truly succeed in tournament play you must enter tournaments that have a first prize that exceeds your personal win frequency. A good rule of thumb is to enter tournaments that pay a first prize of at least double your win frequency. Thus, if you can win one of every 100 tournaments you enter then the first prize purse should be at least 200 times the entry fee. For example, a tournament entry fee of $100 should have a first prize purse of $20,000 if you are able to win once out of every 100 entries. One hundred entries would cost you $10,000 and you've won $20,000. You've now made $10,000. If, as in the earlier example, you've spent an average of 2 hours per tournament then you have 200 hours invested. This means that you have made $50 per hour for your efforts ($10,000/200=$50).
Simple economics guarantees that the amateur and the pro will slowly go bankrupt if their win frequency is less than the payout for the tournaments that he/she wins. So ignoring your win frequency number will only guarantee your eventual exit from MTT poker. Don't let this happen to you. Take the time to track your results and then you can choose the tournaments that payout at a rate that will make you a true winner when you do win it. Never enter tournaments that payout a first prize that is less than twice your MTT win frequency. Without knowing this number you will never really make money in MTT play.