The Poker Lab Rat

February 28, 2007

The Mindset of a Winner

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 3:57 am

Kristy Gazes - a top female poker pro
“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of money management to your poker career.”

Here’s one of the most interesting things about poker: A player can be incredibly knowledgeable and talented, and still be a long-term loser. I’ve been playing professionally for more than a decade and, in that time, I’ve seen any number of sharp, gifted players go broke again and again. How is it that I’ve been able to survive while others have busted out? I think there are a few factors that contribute to my success.

My money management skills are good. So when I hit the inevitable losing streak, I don’t risk going broke. As far as I’m concerned, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of money management to your poker career.

I’ve also benefited from being a mixed-game player. At the Commerce (in-the-flesh) Casino and at Full Tilt Poker (online), I play in a rotation game that can include Omaha Hi/Lo, Stud Hi/Lo, Triple Draw, and Badugi. I like the mixed games for a couple of reasons. First off, playing a mix of games helps keep me sharp and interested. Sometimes, when I play one game continually for hours on end, I can get a little antsy.

In addition, there are usually a couple of players who play some games well, but aren’t quite as skilled in others. This gives me a nice edge. And the truth is, even at higher limits, there are players who don’t understand some of the games all that well. They see too many flops in Omaha Hi/Lo and draw too frequently in Triple Draw and Badugi.

There’s another great advantage to this sort of mixed game. Games like Omaha Hi/Lo and Badgui appeal to gamblers – players who like to get involved in pots and mix it up. Some of these guys are quite talented, but after missing a draw in Badgui or failing to connect on the river in Omaha, they can go on tilt. Then, for a period of time – maybe 15 minutes, maybe an hour – they play every game badly.

Perhaps the greatest advantage I have over my opponents is that I’m able to control my emotions. I don’t tilt easily. And when I do feel myself getting upset, I have the discipline to get up from the table and go home. I know that the game will be there tomorrow and I’ll be far more prepared for the action after some rest. Over the years, I’ve encountered many players who play about as well as I do, but I’ve fared much better then they have because I can control my response to adversity.

If you’re looking to improve your results, try learning some new games. There’s a lot of fun and profit outside of Hold ’em. And work on your emotional control. Staying off tilt may be the most important thing you can do for your bankroll.

Kristy Gazes

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February 26, 2007

Betting the River with Marginal Hands

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 7:37 pm

Andy Bloch - poker pro tip
“In spots where your opponent might hold a busted draw and bluff, it’s often more profitable to check and then pick off the bluff with a call.”

In No-Limit Hold ’em, it can be difficult to know what the right play is on the river when you’re out of position with a marginal hand. In my experience, if you think your hand is good enough to call with, you should consider betting the river if you don’t think your opponent will try to bluff.

Say you’re playing in a tournament and raise in late position with K-10. You know K-10 isn’t a great hand, but from late position, it’s strong enough to pressure the blinds. The player on the button calls and both blinds fold.

Now the flop comes 10d-7c-3d. This is a nice flop for you and you lead out at the pot. The button calls. What are you to make of the call? Well, he’s probably got something – maybe a flush draw or another ten – but it’s hard to pinpoint an exact hand.

The turn brings the 2c. This wouldn’t appear to have helped your opponent, but you don’t really know where you stand and you’re trying to avoid playing a big pot at this point in the tournament, so you check. Your opponent bets about half the pot and you call.

The river brings an interesting card: the 4c, making the board, 10d-7c-3d-2c-4c. What’s your best play? It’s tempting to check again, because of the completed flush draw. But betting here has a few advantages over checking and then having to make a decision if your opponent fires at the pot.

Since the flush cards came backdoor (on the turn and river), your opponent probably doesn’t have the flush, and he may doubt that you have it, too. Thus, he will suspect that you’re bluffing, having missed the diamond flush draw. So if you bet here, he may call with a hand weaker than yours, like J-10, Q-10, or even 9-9 or A-7. However, there’s still the possibility that you have the club flush, so your opponent probably won’t raise with a hand like A-10, J-J, or maybe even a set. On the other hand, if you check, your opponent might bet on the river with those hands and you may pay him off, because you think he might be making a thin value bet with a weaker hand like Q-10.

The trick here is to bet a little less than your opponent would have, had you checked to him when he had the best hand. By putting out a somewhat smaller bet, you get to show down your hand cheaply against a better ten or a set, and you will also get your opponent to call with weaker hands that he would have otherwise checked with. Your bet here serves a purpose whether you’re ahead or behind in the hand.

If your opponent raises, you can be pretty sure he has you beat and you can fold (unless he’s a tricky opponent who may bluff in this spot), having gotten some very good information on the strength of his hand at minimal cost.

Note that this is the kind of bet you want to make when you’re pretty sure that your opponent has some sort of hand that you have a decent chance to beat, and that he won’t bluff if you check. In spots where your opponent might hold a busted draw and bluff, it’s often more profitable to check and then pick off the bluff with a call. For example, you might check and call in this same situation with 10-9 or 9-9 against an opponent who bluffs a lot.

There aren’t too many worse hands (if any) that your opponent will call you with if you are beat, and your opponent may check some of the marginal better hands like J-10 or Q-10. The idea in this situation is to lose fewer bets against better hands while you get some value from your opponent’s bluffs.

Do that often enough and you’re sure to have a good poker career.

Andy Bloch
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February 25, 2007

Winning Poker – About More Than The Money

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 8:09 pm

Ben Roberts poker pro
“There are a couple of common mistakes new players make that lead them to draw faulty conclusions about the strength of their play.”

New players who want to be good students of the game often ask me for advice. In response, I often tell them about emotional stability, which I touched on in my last tip.

The next point I’d like to make is that they need to be careful when assessing their own play. That’s because there are a couple of common mistakes new players make that lead them to draw faulty conclusions about the strength of their play.

After playing for a short period of time, say 100 hours, a player starts to develop an opinion about his or her play. They might think they’re playing very well or very poorly, but this conclusion might be far from the truth. The problem is that, in the short term, anything can happen. A player may get very lucky or unlucky and show results that are either far higher or lower than they could ever expect in the long-term. However, over a longer period – say 300 hours or more – a player is going to get a much more accurate view of their ability to beat the game.

So what does this mean for you? In short, I recommend that you keep an eye on your long-term results no matter if you’re in the midst of a hot streak or a cold one. While taking the long view will help you more accurately assess your play, it can’t help you avoid every pitfall along the way.

For example, assume that I’ve played the following games of No-Limit Hold ’em and have managed the following debts and profits:

Game: $1/$2
Hours: 200
Profit/Loss: -$2,000

Game: $2/$4
Hours: 200
Profit/Loss: -$4,000

Game: $25/50
Hours: 30
Profit/Loss: +$36,000

At first glance, it looks like I’m dong pretty well, right? I’ve make a handsome profit of $30,000. Look deeper though and you’ll see that I wouldn’t want to quit my day job because, in fact, I’m doing quite poorly.

To better understand what I mean, don’t think about the actual dollar figures involved but, instead, think of each small blind as a unit. So, in a $1/$2 game, each unit is 1 and in a $25/$50 game each unit is 25.

How have I done in terms of units won and lost? I’ve lost 2,000 units in the $1/$2 game, 2,000 units in the $2/$4 game and won 1,440 units in the $25/$50 game. Total everything up and you’ll see that after 430 hours of play, I’ve lost 2,560 units. This is bad news.

As you keep records of your sessions, be sure to record the size of the game you’re playing and number of units you’ve won or lost. At the start of your poker career, put more emphasis on units won or lost than on your total profit. It’s a more accurate gauge as to whether you’re playing winning poker.

Ben Roberts

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Firing the second bullet

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 2:25 am

Greg Mueller poker pro
“If you’re up against an opponent who is unwilling to play without a very big hand, firing the second bullet can force them to make some bad lay downs.”

In No-Limit Hold ’em, one of the trickiest and, sometimes, scariest situations occurs when you bluff at a pot on the flop and get called. The turn brings a blank and you’re left with a big decision: Do I fire a second bullet and continue with the bluff?

Recently, while playing in the World Poker Tour event at The Mirage, an opponent launched a double-barrel bluff against me, and he got me to lay down the best hand. It was early in the tournament and I was in late position. My opponent, a pro whose play I respect, raised from early position, and I called with Ac-4c. The flop came A-J-7, rainbow with one club. My opponent bet out and I called. The turn brought a blank, and my opponent put out a very large bet.

I was in a tough spot. It was early in the tournament, and I didn’t want to call off most of my chips with this hand. I was pretty certain the bettor wouldn’t have fired a bet of that size with something like A-K or A-Q. With a hand like that, he’d have to worry that he was beat, and he’d probably try to get to the showdown as cheaply as possible. I figured he either had a very big hand – maybe a set of Jacks – or not much at all.

In the end, I decided to lay down my pair of Aces. My opponent then showed pocket Kings.

I give my opponent a lot of credit for playing the hand well. He had a good sense for how much heat I was willing to take. His play illustrates the most important consideration when deciding if you should continue with a bluff: Your opponent’s mindset.

If you’re up against an opponent who is unwilling to play without a very big hand, firing the second bullet can force them to make some bad lay downs. To make this work, however, you need to estimate the price a particular player is willing to pay, and then bet more than he seems capable of handling. In the hand I discussed above, my opponent zeroed in on a price I couldn’t stomach.

Sometimes, a meek player will get stubborn and try to get through a hand by calling you down with something like second pair. You need to have a sense that he’s trying to get through the hand in this way, then price your bets so that he won’t be able to call.

If, however, you’re against a guy who has shown a willingness to call any bet of any size with just about any hand, then you need back off and wait till you flop a monster.

In the end, the most important thing is to know your opponent. If you’re attentive at the table and pick up on the tendencies of those around you, you’ll find some nice opportunities for double-barrel bluffs.

That said, I should note that I’m far more willing to bluff on multiple streets in cash games than I am in tournaments. If I get caught running a big bluff in a cash game, I’ll re-buy with the knowledge that my actions will force some bad calls later in the session. In tournaments, if I bluff off my chips, I’m on the rail.

As your no-limit game develops, study your opponents and identify those who are vulnerable to bluffs on multiple streets. As you develop this skill, you’ll pick up some key pots and become a more profitable player.
Greg “FBT” Mueller

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February 24, 2007

Beware the Minimum Raise

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 2:42 am

Phil Gordon pro tips
“Every time I’ve been faced with a minimum re-raise, I’ve been up against a monster – pocket Kings or Aces.”

Say you’re playing in a low-stakes ring game. The blinds are $.50 and $1, and it’s folded to you in middle position. You find a nice hand – pocket Tens – and bring it in for a standard raise of three times the big blind. It’s folded around to a player in late position, who re-raises the minimum amount, making it $5 to go.

I’ve seen this sort of play repeatedly in the past few months while researching my next No-Limit Hold ’em book by playing in low-stakes games. Every time I’ve been faced with a minimum re-raise, I’ve been up against a monster – pocket Kings or Aces.

A player who opts for the small raise may think he’s being crafty by getting me to put a little extra money in the pot while he holds a big hand. But this is not a profitable play. There are two major problems with the minimum raise.

I’ve already mentioned the first problem: My opponent has telegraphed his hand. And making good decisions is pretty easy when you know exactly what your opponent holds. The second problem is mathematical. My opponent is giving me 5 to 1 to call the additional raise. (In this example, my extra $2 will give me a chance win $10.) When I make the call, I know that I stand to win a very big pot. My implied odds – the money I stand to make if I hit my hand – more than justify the call. If my opponent started the hand with a $100 stack, I could get paid at a rate of 50 to 1.

So I call and see a flop. If there’s no Ten on the board, I’m done with the hand. And if there is a Ten, I’m going to wipe my opponent out. As I said, poker is a pretty easy when you know what your opponent holds.

What’s the proper play when you hold Aces and a player has raised in front of you? Find the “Bet Pot” button and click it. Put pressure on a player who you know is starting with a second-best hand. Who knows, if he’s got pocket Queens or A-K, he may be willing to put his entire stack in pre-flop. If he holds something like Jacks or Tens, your big raise will minimize your opponent’s implied odds.

You should be wary of minimum raises at other stages of a hand, as well. Say you raised pre-flop with A-K and one player called. You hit top pair top kicker on a K-8-4 board. You bet out the size of the pot and your opponent min-raises you. At this point, you need to be very concerned that your opponent has hit a set. You have to wonder why he’d be raising an amount that almost begs for your call.

My advice here is twofold: first is that you should all but eliminate the minimum raise from your game. In some rare circumstances when you hit a full house or quads, it might be appropriate, but that’s about it. Second is that alarm bells should go off whenever you see a min raise. Your opponent probably has a big hand and you need to proceed accordingly.
Phil Gordon

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February 23, 2007

Finding Your Inner Maniac

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 9:49 pm

Greg Mueller plays online at Full Tilt Poker
“I had convinced him that there was no difference between a $25 raise and a $4,000 raise.”

A couple of years ago, I was wandering a Vegas poker room after busting out of a tournament. I was looking to play a No-Limit ring game, but the higher stakes games had long waiting lists. I decided to take an open seat in a $2-$5 game.

When I sat down, I did a quick assessment of the table. There were a bunch of young guys — I guessed they were in town for some college road trip. The others were retirement age. All seemed very concerned about the money they had on the table. They were playing very timidly and I was certain that I was by far the best player at the table.

How was I going to attack this group?

I open-raised the next 67 hands. Actually, that’s something of an exaggeration. But from the moment I sat down, I was willing to raise to $20 or $25 in any position with almost any cards, and I was talking it up as I did. “Raise it up again!” I’d say after popping it for the 15th consecutive hand. I was trying to give the impression that I was a certifiable lunatic.

To my opponents, I seemed reckless but, at this table, there were strategic advantages to this style. First off, I was benefiting from a tremendous amount of information. If I raised with something like 4-9, I knew this group of opponents would get rid of any marginal hands that could cause me a lot of trouble. So, if I happened to hit trip 9s on the flop, I wouldn’t need to worry that I was out-kicked by a hand like 9-T or J-9.

These guys would only call with hands like pockets 7s or A-Q. In fact, there were so few hands that they’d call with that I always had a very good idea of where I stood. But they hand no idea what I held. Given this disparity of information, I knew when I could pick up a pot with a bet on the flop — which was most of the time.

I was making a fair amount of money by raising with trash and betting the flop when I actually found a big hand, pocket Kings. I raised the standard amount, to $25. Then the small blind came alive and re-raised me. I then came over the top in a ridiculous way:

I moved all-in for $4,000. My opponent was in agony. He let everyone know that he had pocket Jacks and that against any other player he’d fold. But me — given the nut case that I was, he felt he had to call, and that’s what he did.

This guy was so convinced that I was crazy that he made a huge mistake. He bought into the act and failed to realize that in all that seemingly maniacal play, I never risked much. I had convinced him that there was no difference between a $25 raise and a $4,000 raise.

You might want to experiment with this approach in your No-Limit play, but before you go out and start splashing in every pot, I have a few suggestions:

  • Make sure you’re at a table of weak, timid players. Against a group of calling stations or tough opponents, this style will not work.
  • Play at a limit that’s well within your bankroll. Part of your advantage should be that the money on the table really does mean a little less to you than it does to everyone else.
  • Use this style more in a casino than online because it can be easier to pick up tells when you’re face-to-face with weak opponents.
  • Be sure you’re the best player at the table.

If all of this works out, give it a shot. You may find that being a “maniac” can be profitable and a lot of fun.

Greg “FBT” Mueller

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February 22, 2007

The Sit n Go – The Flight Simulator of Final Table Play

Filed under: Howard Lederer,Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 8:49 pm

Howard Lederer - top poker pro
“The Sit N Go is the flight simulator of Final Table play, and mastering it should be considered mandatory homework for the serious poker student.”

The Sit N Go (SNG) is online poker’s great gift to the aspiring tournament player. Prior to the SNG, final table experience was hard to come by. You could enter a dozen multi-table tournaments and never find yourself at a final table. Or you could make one or two, only to get knocked out in 8th or 9th place. Adapting to an ever-diminishing number of players at a single table is a crucial skill in tournament poker, and it’s a hard experience to find offline without investing a lot of time and money. Online, this experience is a mouse-click away. The SNG’s advantages are many. For starters, it’s low-cost, or even free. It’s also fun, and convenient: You don’t need to schedule it — a SNG starts every time the table fills up — and it’s usually over in less than an hour. It is the flight simulator of Final Table play, and mastering it should be considered mandatory homework for the serious student.

Now that you know why you should play, let’s look at how:

The most obvious difference between a SNG and a multi-table tournament is that when someone goes broke in a SNG, there isn’t someone waiting to fill their spot. Multi-table play consists mostly of full-table, ring game poker. But as players get eliminated from a SNG, the table gets shorter- and shorter-handed. This reduction in players basically serves to artificially raise the antes. For instance, say you are playing five-handed and the blinds are 100-200: You are paying 300 in blinds for every five hands, or 60 per hand. As soon as someone gets knocked out, you’re four-handed. Now you’re paying 75 per hand — a 25% increase — despite the fact that the blinds have remained the same. Accordingly, you’re forced to gamble more, or risk getting blinded out.

Since the size of the blinds relative to your stack size should always play a major role in you hand selection, I recommend starting out with pretty conservative starting hand requirements. This serves two functions: First, the blinds dictate that you play fairly tight early; the blinds are small and you are nine-handed, so they don’t come around as often. Second, this helps you establish a tight image, which you hope will pay off later when the blinds are high and you might really need a timely ante steal.

But there is another not-so-obvious reason to play tighter earlier and looser later: The payout structure rewards tight play. Most SNG’s pay 50% to first, 30% to second, and 20% to third. This payout structure dictates that you play for third. Why? Looking at the payout structure another way might help. Basically, the payout means that 60% gets awarded once you are down to three players, 20% gets awarded when you get down to two players, and the final 20% gets awarded to the winner. If you can just get to third, you get at least one-third of 60% of the prize pool, or 20%. You’ve locked up a profit, and you have a chance to win up to 30% more. It’s only now that you’re in the top three that your strategy should take an abrupt turn. Now it pays to gamble for the win. Let’s look at the numbers again: 60% of the prize pool is off the table, and moving up one spot is worth only another 10%. But move up just one more spot and it’s worth a whopping 30% extra — that’s three times more for first than it is for second. And with the blinds going up, gambling for the win is even more clearly the correct play.

I see many players employ a nearly opposite strategy. They figure they have nothing to lose, so they go for the quick double-up early. They take chances too soon when, in their view, there’s “nothing on the line”. Then, once they’re in the money, they tighten up, thinking about that extra payout for moving up a spot. If you start to rethink your SNG approach and adopt a “slow early, fast late” strategy, you will see an almost immediate improvement in your results.

Best of luck and see you at the tables,
Howard Lederer

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February 21, 2007

Common mistakes exploited by an uncommonly good poker player

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 7:32 pm

Phil Gordon shares some professional poker insight
Everyone makes mistakes. The thing is, a good player will learn from them while a bad player will make the same mistake over and over again. And poker players that can exploit these mistakes will win.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that bad players make and my usual methods for exploiting them:

A player doesn’t bluff enough. When these players bet or raise, I usually give them credit for a good hand. When they check, I will usually bet to try and take the pot.

A player overvalues top pair. The “average” winning hand in Hold ’em is two pair. Yet many players are willing to take tremendous risks with top pair. When I have a hand that can beat a player who overvalues his top pair, I will over-bet the pot and put them into a position to make a big mistake. I go out of my way to play small pocket pairs against these players because I know that if I flop a set, I’m likely to get paid off in a huge way.

A player under-bets the pot. It is incredibly important, especially in No Limit Hold ’em, to make bets large enough to punish opponents for their draws. When a player under-bets the pot and I have a draw, I take advantage of their mistake by just calling the small bet. When I think I have him beat, I’ll make a raise.

A player calls too much. I will very rarely bluff against a “calling station.” I will, however, make value bets throughout the hand.

A player tightens up under pressure. Most bad players “squeeze” too much in the middle stages of a tournament, or when they’re on the bubble. They tighten up and wait for a huge hand. Against these players, I will play a lot looser, looking to steal a larger share of the blinds and antes.

A player telegraphs the strength of his hand with “tells.” I am always observing these players, whether I am in the hand or not.

Playing perfect poker may be nearly impossible for most players but, by recognizing your own tendencies – and those of your opponents – you’re much more likely to limit your mistakes and capitalize on the weaknesses of others at the table.

This lesson is from Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book of No Limit Hold’em Simon Spotlight Entertainment, Sept 2005.

 

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February 20, 2007

Do not Play a Big Pot Unless You Have a Big Hand

Filed under: John Juanda,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 5:01 am

John is one of our favourites on the pro poker circuit

“All of a sudden, I don’t like my hand – so much.”

I’m at Foxwoods playing the $2,000 No Limit Hold ’em event. We all started with $3,000 and now I’ve got $15,000. At my table is Richard Tatalovitch, a player whom I’ve competed against many times.

I raise pre-flop from middle position with K-J offsuit and Richard calls from the big blind. The flop comes 9-6-4 with two diamonds on the board.

Richard hesitates for a moment before checking, and I put in a pot-sized bet. Richard thinks for a while and calls. All of a sudden, I don’t like my hand — so much.

Imagine my relief when a non-diamond J hits the turn. Now I have top pair and a pretty good kicker. Then Richard comes out betting. Uh-oh.

Now, let me back up a moment and mention that when someone hesitates before checking, it’s usually a huge tell. But Richard is the king of delayed action, so I ignored his tell and bet the flop anyway. And his bet on the turn just screams, “Raise me! I dare you!”

I go into the tank and my thoughts go something like this:

1. He flopped a set. That explains the smooth call on the flop – he’s trying to trap me into staying, hoping I’ll bet the turn, too.

2. No. If he had a set, he’d have checked the turn and waited for me to hang myself right then and there, or let me catch something on the river. He can’t have a set.

3. The jack helped him. I don’t have the jack of diamonds. Maybe he does, and he called the flop with a jack-high flush draw. If so, I like my kicker and my hand.

4. He’s betting on the come with a flush or straight draw and is hoping to buy the pot right there.

I run through these possibilities and reach no conclusion.

Normally, I would just call here. We both have a lot of chips, and I don’t want to put them all in with nothing but top pair. Then, I have the misfortune to remember a hand from a month earlier at Bellagio:

Richard had been running bad and was complaining about a string of horrific beats. I saw him check and call with top boat because he was afraid of quads! A guy that afraid of monsters under the bed isn’t going to check-call top set on the flop with a flush draw out there.

“All in!” I declared.

Oops. This is now a Big Pot. And rest assured, top pair doesn’t even resemble a Big Hand.

In the four years I’ve been playing with him, I’ve never seen him call so fast. I am drawing dead to his perfectly-played 9-9.

Sometimes, we all forget that big cards don’t always equal a big hand and that the smart move can be to play conservatively instead of going for the quick kill. As for Richard – he had the good sense to be in a Big Pot with a Big Hand, and the patience to make it pay off.

John Juanda

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February 19, 2007

Adjusting to tournament play, Part 2

Filed under: Chris Ferguson,Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 8:32 pm

Chris Jesus Ferguson - great to watch at the tables!


Yesterday I talked about not adjusting for tournament play, answered three specific tournament questions, and stressed that there is little difference between tournament strategy and ring game strategy. Today, I would like to expand on that by answering a fourth question, and address the two situations where it’s right to deviate from simply playing your best game.

The fourth question: Surely the different payout structure between ring games and tournaments means something, doesn’t it?

Yes, tournaments differ from live action in that you are rewarded for how long you last, rather than for how many chips you accumulate.

In ring game poker, the chips you save by folding are just as valuable as the chips you win by playing. In tournament play, the chips you save are actually more valuable.

Consider a typical $1,000 buy-in tournament with 100 players, where first place is worth $40,000 out of a total prize pool of $100,000.

At the beginning of the tournament everyone has 1,000 in chips with a value of $1,000. The eventual winner will have 100,000 in chips and, in live action, would be entitled to a prize of $100,000. In a tournament, that same $100,000 is worth only $40,000, meaning that, at the end, each 1,000 in chips is only worth $400. As your stack grows, the value of each additional chip decreases, which means you want to be slightly more averse to taking unnecessary risks in tournaments than you might be in live action. (And if you are at all averse to taking risks in live action, you’re probably playing over your bankroll.) Don’t overcompensate for tournament play. Most people would be better off making no changes at all, rather than the changes that they do make.

Having said all this, there are two cases where adjusting will help:

1. When you are just out of the money.

If you are short stacked, you need to be very careful when committing your chips, especially with a call.

If you have a large stack, look for opportunities to push the short and medium stacks around – especially the medium stacks. These players will be a lot less likely to want a confrontation with you, and it should be open season on their blinds and antes.

If you have a medium or small stack, you need to be a bit more careful. Remember, though, that the other players – even the larger stacks – don’t want to tangle with you. They just want to steal from you without a fight. Be prepared to push them around a little, and even to push back occasionally when they try to bully you. This often turns into a game of Chicken between the bigger stacks to determine which large stack will let the other steal most of the blinds.

2. At the final table.

Very little adjustment is necessary until you are one player away from the final table. Here, again, you should tighten up slightly because this is the next point where the payout structure handsomely rewards outlasting other players.

Look for opportunities to push around the other players, and the smaller stacks in particular. This is good advice throughout the final table.

What about heads up?

There are no more tournament adjustments necessary. You are essentially playing a winner take all freeze-out for the difference between first and second place.

Remember: Tournament adjustments should be subtle. It is rare that your play would be dramatically different in a tournament. When in doubt, just play your best game. And if you never adjust from that, you’ve got a great shot of winning, no matter what game you’re playing.

Chris Ferguson

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