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The Ins and Outs of Metagame in Tournaments

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

 Let’s discuss “meta-game” theories and how they relate to tournament poker. I’ve always been very reluctant to play “balanced” - the main reason being that we are constantly being moved around from table to table in tournaments. What’s the point of balancing your re-raising range (or check-raising range, amongst other ranges) if you’re only going to play against a player for an hour or two? By the time they figure out what you’re doing - the table will get broken and you’re well on your way to menacing a whole other set of opponents.

Metagaming, from Wikipedia, “is a broad term usually used to define any strategy, action, or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Another definition refers to the game universe outside of the game itself.”

In tournament poker terms, we’ll use meta-game to change our playing style for one particular instance, with the intention of changing our opponents’ future behavior. In layman’s terms, we’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of expected value now to influence our future equity or value. If we’re up against a regular that we see at the casino every week or night-after-night online, we should be more willing to 4-bet their 3-bets. The idea is to meet force with greater force, to make things easier for us in the future. It could be upping our aggression in one instance, or giving away the queen to put our opponent into check-mate later on in the match, to use a chess analogy.

We might also have “history” against a certain opponent, or extra information we’ve gained which we’ll be able to use against them at any given time. It might be as subtle as a friend telling you the player is crazy during the break (allowing us to 4-bet all-in light and get a fold) or it’s someone we’ve played against for years and we decide to take a line contrary to the line they’re expecting us to take.

If there is one thing in particular to take from this article, it would be to try not to be balanced against players you aren’t playing with very often, as they’re very unlikely to figure out how you’re playing. In that case, play to accumulate as many chips as you can during the time-frame you’re with them. If you’re up against a regular opponent, you’ll need to take more variables into account. Try and always set yourself up for success in the future. You might be more likely to defend the big blind or re-raise in position. As Machiavelli said, it’s easier to be feared than loved - this works well in poker as well.

In order for us to use meta-game to our advantage, we have to be able to look into the future and make an educated quess as to the overall benefits of moves we decide to make today. There’s often a great paradox that exists - as it’s sometimes ideal to practice avoidance against aggressive opponents, though if we don’t stand up for ourselves we can only expect to get run over in the future. This is where metagame can come into play and we’ll have to make our best judgment call as to what our best options are. In poker, nothing is done in a vacuum and all of our decisions are connected in some way, whether it’s in a particular tournament or in a large sample size of tournaments. When you hit the felt, try to figure out the game within the game by taking all possible variables into account.

David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a former #1 ranked online tournament poker player. He is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at

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