Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Adjusting your hand values deep in a tournament

Anyone who has ever been successful in any big tournament (300+) knows that the key to getting deep is avoiding some huge landmines. They will be there. Your top pair-Ace Kicker is going to run into two pair. Your straight is going to run into a flush. The key is getting yourself out of these situations without suffering a mortal blow.

You can limit the impact of these situations in a few ways
1) Learning your fold equity. If you might be beat you have what is called fold equity. Basically, by folding the hand now you are gaining chips because you wont put them in a pot in which you are not going to win.
2) Watching other players. How have these other players adjusted their game? Have they sat back and not entered many hands? Are they playing a lot of hands. Compare their play to whats on the board.
NOTE: The top two really need to be applied at all points in a tournament
3) Dont pick on the little guy, dont pick on the bully. This is an important aspect of poker. Here is an example/ You look down at 2h2c. There is one player to your left then the blinds. Your M is 20, his is 3. What is your first reaction? Is it to make a big raise and isolate the small chip stack? If it is, you are dead wrong. Here is why: By raising 5x-7x times the big blind you will probably get it heads up with him, unless you run into AA,KK,QQ,AK with a moderate stack. If you do you are an underdog. That isnt the issue here though. You are going to get called by the small stack. I dont care what he has. You are going to go into the hand AT BEST a 51% favorite, AT WORSE a 76% dog. This isnt the time to risk droping from an M of 20 to 17. If you have to play this hand, call the blind let him push all in and get the SB and BB to call his all in bet. Then you have to decide to come back over the top and isolate him (which I do not suggest enless you have a read on the SB,BB) or to limp for value.

Now lets look at that same situation, except the guy to your left has an M of 40. Before you get tricky here, remember he has twice your chip stack for a reason. Also remember he isnt afraid of your 5x BB raise. In fact you are best folding here. If you limp he will often raise, putting yourself in a bad situation. Just stay out of his way until you get a good hand. Dont make it look like you are trying to steal from him. Let him have his blinds. Let him isolate players. Then when you have a legit hand, make your move. More often then not he will pay you off. If he doesnt, increase the hands you move with until you are feeding yourself. Just know his limit and dont push it. When he pushes back you will be sorry, because your M suggest that you dont have the stack to fight with him.

Now, the third situation. Suppose you still have that M of 20. The guy to your left has an M of 6. He isnt in panic mode yet, but he is getting there. Push him around a bit. He isnt likely to want to go to war without a premium hand. He can not limp to your raise with K8off. He is likely to get out of your way. Final thought is that even IF he does push back you are arent risking a huge portion of your stack to get in what is most likely a coin flip.

Identifying these players who dont have a lot of chips but arent in panic mode is huge. You want to watch their actions. They likely have 1 move, all-in or fold. There is a big tell in knowing this. If you see them min-raise or make a very small raise (which will still commit themselves to the pot) flags should be going off. He really doesnt want to commit himself to a pot for a small raise. The most likely holding in this situation is a high pair or AK.

The main point of this post is that to get really deep in tournament play you need to be able to steel blinds. You cant just sit on your stack and wait for action. You cant just assume you will have a shot to raise when you get on the button. You have to be proactive in looking for ideal spots to throw a raise in knowing that you have a good chance of not being called. If you can steel blinds effectively you greatly increase your shots of lasting deep. The key in doing this is knowing when you can and can not steel blinds. Also, you dont need to do this too often. Once in a table turn is more then enough. Maybe once every couple times around the table. This should give you enough time to get the hands you need to stay alive. If you start trying this too often you will get noticed and people will start calling you with lesser hands. When this starts to happen you will loose your ability to steel blinds and need to tighten your playing hand selection. It often has an inverse effect because you will be raised by 33 when you through a raise in with AQ and often you will have to make a very tough decision.

Bottom line, it is imperative to pick good spots to steel blinds in big tournaments when the blinds start to increase. Dont do it too often, and dont start too early (when other players M's are still relatively large).


At 1:24 PM, Blogger Matt Silverthorn said...

Good post, Nick. I have one addendum, however. I would say to steal slightly more than once every orbit. Phil Gordon says in his book to do it about 4 times for every 3 orbits. The reason for this is that you can go through very long periods of card deadedness, and the blinds and antes will constantly be going up. You need to steal enough, not only to avoid getting blinded off, but also to continue to build a stack, even if it is only a few chips here and there.


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