This is Part 4 in a series of articles about my strategy for playing (and winning) Tulsa NLHE poker tournaments.
Click here to read: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 5
Once in a while, even with a solid tournament strategy, you’re going to be in a tournament where you’re card dead or you’ll take a bad beat and become short-stacked. Here’s an excerpt from a blog entry I made in June, where I recap exactly that for a tournament I played:
Started with 8k chips. I played a total of 7 hands. The first five levels I was card dead. I limped once with 88 and called a raise on the button vs UTG raiser w/AQs. Stacks were too deep at the time to reraise or shove. Whiffed both times. I won one pot with a donk bet in a limped pot 3-handed.
Got blinded down to 6k by the time this hand came up, and the blinds had increased to 300/600/50. HJ limped, BTN shoved for 4500, I’m in the BB and have 66. It’s the [second] best hand I’ve been dealt so far, as I’ve mostly been getting K5o and 93o trash. I decided to gamble and reraised all in for 6100. HJ calls. HJ showed 55. BTN showed QJ. Board ran out KT839, giving BTN a straight. I won a small side pot.
The very next hand I’m in the SB holding A9o. It folds around to the guy who had 55 last hand, and he limps. It folds to me and I go all in for around 2300. BB folds. The limper calls. He shows T2o. Board runs out KJ482. I finished 18th out of 50 players.
Indulge me for a moment while I dissect these two hands. First off, I like the way I played both hands. I put my opponent to a decision for all of my chips (mine, not his–he had a big stack) and got him to call with a worse hand both times. Second, I like the way the BTN played his QJo. Shoving in that spot was the superior play. With only one limper in front of him and two players left to act, he had every reason to believe his QJ was the best hand and with only 4500 chips, it was either all-in or fold. I would have played that hand in that spot exactly the way he did.
Obviously, I feel differently about the third player’s decisions. First of all, if you’re a big stack and it’s folded to you in the cutoff, if you’re going to play your hand, raise it. Put some pressure on the short stacks left to act behind you. Second, it’s a total facepalm why someone would limp with T2o. Fold that trash, man. If you’re going to play it, raise it! It’s not a favorite over any playable hand, so why see a flop with it? End rant. Okay, having said that, once he’s limped in, he’s correct to call my all-in both times. It’s certainly not a call you want to have to make, but mathmatically at least, he did make a good call.
For those of you who want the math, here it is.
55: If both of his opponents had high-card hands, he would have had 32% equity (in other words, he’s likely to win the pot 32% of the time). With the 55, he had to call 5500 to win 11700, and if both his opponents had overcards, he needed exactly 32% equity to make it correct to call. In the actual hand, 55 vs 66 vs QJ, the equities were 17%, 41%, and 42%, respectively. But he had no way of knowing one of us had a pair that dominated his, so while I don’t think it’s a call I would make in that spot, it’s not a horrible mistake. (And besides, the way it turned out, the side pot his call created gave me a few extra chips to work with, 2300 instead of 1600, so I’m not complaining.)
T2o: The equities for T2o vs A9o are 36% vs 64%. With blinds of 300/600/50, there’s 1100 chips in the pot from blinds and antes, villain limps for 600, and I shove for 2300 total. He has to call 1700 to win 4000, so he only needed 30% equity to make it correct to call.
By the way, I calculated the equities using Poker Stove, which is free to download and use.
Playing a small stack of 15-25 BBs
This is possibly the most misplayed stack size I see at the tables. People start to get short on chips and make some very ill-advised decisions. Don’t be one of those people. With 20 BBs, you have enough chips to play the exact same way I recommend playing with 40 BBs. The one thing you don’t want to do, however, is put in more than a third of your stack unless you are prepared to go all-in. If you get a third of your stack into the pot, do it with a hand you can shove or call all-in with. If you can’t call an all-in with your hand, fold to the first bet or raise your opponent makes. You don’t have enough chips to gamble on draws, and you don’t have enough fold equity to get a made hand to fold. So if you make your standard 2.5 BB pre-flop raise, and then c-bet 4 BBs and get called, and you don’t have a hand? Let it go. Give up. Don’t go broke with a bad hand simply because you put too much of your stack into the pot already. Do your best to keep the pot small unless you’re prepared to go all-in.
Playing a short stack of 10-15 BBs
You are now in the yellow zone, but you can still remain patient and hope to be dealt a premium hand. If dealt a premium hand (pairs AA-88, AKs/AKo, AQs), go ahead and shove all-in pre-flop. There are two reasons why you want to do this. First, because a shove from a short-stack looks weak. To a big stack, it looks like you’re saying, “Please don’t call me…I don’t want to see a flop.” In reality, you have a top 10 starting hand that will win at showdown 60-80% of the time. Second, if you made a standard raise and then shove on the flop, your opponent is going to fold most of the time, because he missed. With a premium hand we want one of two things, to win the pot uncontested, or to charge full-price for our opponent to make a hand that beats us.
Yes, sometimes you’re going to get coolered–an opponent is going to wake up with pocket Aces and call and take all your chips. Sometimes it’s a race and you’ll lose. Yes, it happens. But just because something can happen, doesn’t mean it will. Put your fear in check and and put your chips out there. You could also have the best hand and win races and double-up!
What if you don’t get dealt a premium hand? Same as always: steal. We need chips, and we need them now, so we’re going to have to gamble a bit. In addition to the premium hands, we are going to steal with a wider range:
- Aces: AK-ATo, AK-A8s
- Kings: KQ-K9o, KQ-K8s
- Queens: QJ-Q8o, QJ-Q7s
- Suited connectors: JT-87s
- Pairs: AA-22
Since we have more than 10 BBs, we don’t have to shove every time when stealing. Make a standard raise of 2.5 BBs with your weaker holdings, shove with the top half of your holdings. This will allow you to fold your weakest hands to a reraise/shove, if you feel you don’t have enough equity to call. Just remember you can only afford to raise and then fold once or twice before you’d fall below 10 BBs, so sooner or later you’re going to have to put it in and gamble. If you think your hand has enough equity, go with it.
Playing a short stack of less than 10 BBs
You are now firmly in the red zone. You have two options: all-in or fold. You are now in a situation where you have to gamble to survive. I shove from middle or late position with the hands from the 15 BBs section, and I also shove from late position with:
- Any Ace
- Any King
- Any Suited one-gapper: KJ-86s
Once again I’ve exceeded the 500-word limit my editor imposes upon me, so next time I’ll give some example hands to help illustrate how to practice these guidelines. As always, questions, comments and feedback are welcome and encouraged!
Continue reading: Part 5