MTT Strategy: Re-buy Tournaments

At PokerStars there are by now a lot of re-buy tournaments. The buy-in for these tournaments starts at $3 and goes up to $200 for the re-buy tournament on Sundays. PokerStars guarantees a big prize pool at many of these tournaments.

How do re-buy tournaments work?

We will usually get 1,500 chips for our buy-in at the beginning of a PokerStars re-buy tournament. Within a certain period of time, usually the first hour of the tournament, we are allowed to buy additional chips if our stack is at or below 1,500 chips. If we make a re-buy then we get another 1,500 chips at the cost of the buy-in. There is no rake for a re-buy. 

  • Example
We're playing a $10+$1 re-buy tournament. At the start we pay the buy-in of $10, which goes into the prize pool, plus a rake of $1. Re-buys and add-ons (more on that later) only cost $10, instead of $11. If we lose all our chips during the re-buy period we can even make a double re-buy (for $20) and would then have 3,000 chips.

As a rule, the re-buy phase ends after four levels of 15 minutes each, i.e. the first hour of play. Afterwards there is a short break. During the break we can take an add-on, regardless of our current stack. It costs exactly the same as a re-buy, but we get 2,000 chips instead of 1,500.

After the break re-buys are no longer available and the tournament continues as a freeze out.

Rebuy PrizepoolWhy are re-buy tournaments so interesting?

Re-buy tournaments are interesting primarily because of their huge prize pools. For example, the $3 re-buy tournament has a guaranteed prize pool of $25,000, which is usually exceeded several times at weekends! The winner usually takes home around €8,000, and that's for a very small buy-in. However, there are usually a lot of participants. The result is that there's a long way to go to the final table and we have to reckon on spending a lot of time playing.

Another advantage is that after the re-buy and add-on period we'll often have a stack that is very big in relation to the blinds. This is a big advantage for strong players.

What is the right strategy for re-buy tournaments?

Our first goal is to have as many chips as possible at the end of the re-buy phase (substantially more than the starting stack), in order to be optimally prepared for the freeze out phase. Obviously, the player with the most chips has the best chance - at this point - of reaching the final table. 

The result is that many players re-buy for the first time right at the beginning. They then start with 3,000 instead of 1,500 chips. The advantage of this relative to the "normal" start is obvious. 

  • Example

If a player who re-bought right at the start wins 1,000 chips during the re-buy period, then at the end of the phase he will have 4,000 chips (excluding add-on). Another player who does not re-buy at the beginning and also wins 1,000 chips will have 2,500 chips at the end of the first hour (excluding add-on). The second player will also be disadvantaged in that as soon as he wins a pot and therefore has more than 1,500 chips he will no longer be able to make a re-buy unless his stack drops to 1,500 chips or fewer again. 

In this context, we can sometimes observe players who have just over 1,500 chips using the excess amount of chips to make very loose calls near the end of the re-buy phase, trying to either lose a controlled number of chips in order to be able to make a re-buy or win a lot of chips by hitting a lucky flop. 

The disadvantage of re-buying immediately is that we will then have invested twice as much money and if we lose an all-in against a player who also has 3,000 chips we will have lost more than if we had only played with our starting stack. In other words, with an immediate re-buy we risk losing more. The positive aspect is that we can quickly have a stack of 6,000 if we get paid off with a very good hand. 

If we've bought in and re-bought and have 3,000 chips right at the start, then in general we can follow one of two possible strategies.

  1. We start playing with our 3,000 chips the same way we would in a normal freeze out tournament. If we drop to below 1,500 chips we re-buy so that we always have as many chips as possible. If we lose our entire stack, we make a double re-buy in order to be able to continue playing with 3,000 chips. Otherwise we play solid, tight poker. In this way we minimise our financial outlay and, nevertheless, still have a chance of winning the tournament. The disadvantage of this conservative strategy is that we'll often win hardly any chips at all and so, at the end of the re-buy phase, we'll have a substantially smaller stack than the chip leader.
  2. With the other strategy, we attempt to build a (very) big stack in the re-buy phase. Here we play made hands as well as good draws very aggressively in order to increase the size of the pots. Of course, we try to enter the pot as a favourite, but even suited connectors and other speculative hands are strong enough to play with, especially when several players are all-in pre-flop.

If we can win a big pot then our opponents will usually show respect and in particular the big stacks will try to avoid confrontations. This gives us a good chance of continuing to build our stack with low risk. 

The disadvantage of this strategy is that we have to reckon with one or even several re-buys. In other words, our financial outlay can be considerably larger.

The advantage is that with a little luck we can be among the chip leaders after the re-buy phase, which is an excellent starting position for the rest of the tournament.

Regardless of the strategy we select for the rebuy period, it's important to play tight and solid poker after the break. After the wild re-buy phase, a lot of players find it difficult to change gears and play normal tournament poker again.


The WPT offers regular re-buy tournaments

Why should I always take an add-on?

An add-on makes sense because it has a clear advantage over a re-buy: for the same amount of money we get 500 chips more. 

The only reason for not taking an add-on is that we've already acquired a gigantic stack. And by this we mean a stack of the average size expected at the final table. Due to the huge number of players taking part in the PokerStars tournaments, this is virtually impossible. 

How do we treat re-buy tournaments with respect to solid bankroll management?

Bankroll management is very important and remains so in tournaments. How we should treat re-buy tournaments in this respect depends largely on the strategy we have selected. 

If we're playing tight we can treat a re-buy tournament just like a normal freeze out tournament with the fivefold buy-in. So, if we're playing a $10+$1 re-buy tournament, this corresponds to a $50+$5 freeze out tournament.

If we have selected to play very aggressively, then we need a much bigger bankroll for the same tournament. In this case we recommend treating the re-buy tournament like a freeze out tournament with at least the tenfold buy-in.