This is Part 5 of a series of articles about my strategy for playing (and winning) Tulsa NLHE poker tournaments.
Click here to read: Part 1 Part 2 Part3 Part 4 Part 6 Part 7
In Part 1, I advocated a loose-preflop, tight-postflop style for the early stages of a tournament, when the stacks are 100 big blinds deep or deeper. In Parts 2 and 3, I recommended you tighten-up significantly when the stacks are only 50 BBs deep or less. And in Part 4 I advised you to open up your hand range as your chip stack dwindles below 15 BBs. I’ve been spouting enough rules and guidelines during this series, so let’s run through a few hands and see how to apply them.
This hand took place in a tournament in November 2009. The blinds were 500/1000/100 when this hand started. I had a stack of 9,000 chips, and had been card dead for a while. I was looking for any playable hand to shove with. It folded around to me in the cutoff and the first card I looked at was the Kh. I shoved all-in. The player to my left, a twenty-something gal with fewer chips than me called. Everyone else folded. I turned over Kh5s. My opponent showed AdQd. I was in trouble. The board ran out 679QK, giving me the pot. Needless to say, I got a good deal of ribbing from the remaining players for the rest of the tournament–especially when I moved all-in.
Let’s analyze the situation. I’m in the cutoff with King-high and a short stack. With only three players left to act behind me, this is a prime spot to steal the blinds and antes. If everyone folds, I’d win 2400 chips uncontested–increasing my stack by over 25%. Obviously, if I’m called, I’ll likely be in bad–but not necessarily horrible–shape, but I could also hit my hand and win the pot, and I no longer had the luxury of waiting for a premium hand. When you’re short-stacked, you are going to have to gamble sooner or later. This was an ideal spot to do that. Yes, I got lucky not to be knocked out. But if you wait until you’re down to 5 BB or less to play a premium hand, 1) you may not get a premium hand and 2) you may get called by two or more players. Keep this in mind: a premium hand up against two or more players has the same chance to win as a non-premium hand would against a better hand heads-up.
This hand took place at the final table in a WSOP-satellite tournament in 2008. There were 8 players left. The blinds were 2000/4000/400 when this hand started. I had recently taken a bad beat where we were all-in preflop and my opponent’s 88 turned a set against my 99. That beat left me with a stack of 12,000 chips. The very next hand, I had 3 BBs and I was in middle-position with T9s. It’s not a great hand for middle-position, but it’s a playable hand, and I only have 3 BBs. I shoved all-in. I was called in 2 spots. Both my opponents had chips behind and they created a side pot, but I’ll save you the drama. The board ran out 498TQ. Lucky for me, neither of my opponents had a Jack, and I won the main pot of almost 40,000 chips.
When you’re on a 5 BB stack or less, you really have no choice. You have to shove with any playable hand. If you have 25% equity, it’s enough to shove with suited-connectors as low as 75s. With less than 5 BBs, it’s better mathmatically (but not practically), to shove with a suited-connector than it is to shove with high-cards, because you’re almost always going to be playing a multi-way pot. Practically, though, you’re going to miss 75% of the time and you’re going to get knocked out. But that’s no reason to lay down an die. If you’re not going to gamble, you may as well leave the table and get blinded out.
This hand took place in a morning tournament in January 2010. The blinds were 500/1000/100 when this hand started. I had 12,000 chips to start the hand. It folded to me in the HJ, and I looked down at KdQd. I raised to 2,500 chips. It folded to the BB, who tanked for what seemed like forever, but was probably only 30 seconds, and then he moved all-in. While he was thinking it over, I figured him for a real hand–the question was, just how good is it. If he has to think it over, it’s not AA or KK, maybe AT? 88? I just wasn’t sure. I’d never played with him before that day and didn’t have a good read on him. Anyway, I decided KQs was too good to fold and I made the call. The villain showed AA! Nice play. His long pause was engineered to get me to call. However, fortune shined on me when I flopped a flush draw, and caught a fifth diamond on the river to send him home.
I’m not saying that my decision here is right or wrong. I had a minimum amount of information and did the best I could with it. I was lucky to catch a flush and win the pot. Had he simply shoved without the long delay, I think I would have folded, reading that play as a pair or an Ace that had me dominated. I still had enough chips that I didn’t have to take a bad gamble. He just made an excellent play and the deck bailed me out. My point is that you’re going to make mistakes that will cost you the tournament. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s part of the game. Learn what you can and do your best not to repeat them.
This hand took place in February 2010 during a morning tournament. There were 10 players left and we had just been moved to the final table. The top 6 places were paid. The blinds were 1000/2000/200 and I was in the BB with 30,000 chips. It folded around to the button, who quickly shoved for 7,000 chips. The SB folded and I looked down at K6o. The BTN was an early-twenties “internet kid” (you know the kind, sunglasses, ball cap, ear buds). After he shoved, he stood up and put a knee in his chair and both elbows on the rail, leaning in over the table. Like someone with a foot out the door, in other words. I made the call. BTN turned over 42o. I can’t tell you what the board was–I honestly don’t remember–but neither of us made a pair and my Kigh-high won the pot.
My call in this spot had little to do with my cards and everything to do with my opponent’s body language. Had my hand been T7o, obviously I’d have a harder time making the call. But King-high was the best hand based on how he was acting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with his shove. But he gave away the strength of his hand by how he carried himself afterward. When you shove light, don’t betray the strength of your hand! Don’t shuffle your feet, don’t scratch your face. Just do what you’d normally do. If you just can’t sit still, find something to look at away from the table. Show disinterest. At least that would be a false tell.
This hand was played in the same tournament as Hand #3. There were 2 tables left and only 14 players. The blinds were now 1000/2000/200. I was in the BB with 26,000 chips. The player UTG raised to 6,000. It folded back to me and I looked down at AA. I asked the UTG player how many chips he had behind, and he said 13,000. I paused, tossed in 4k chips, and then checked dark. I didn’t want to reraise him all in and have him fold preflop. I wanted to make sure he c-bet the flop by showing weakness. The flop came A79r. (I had already checked.) UTG bet 7,000. I immediately announced all-in, again trying to look weak. He agonized for about 10 seconds and called with TT. He had exactly 1.7% equity. (I know because…well, you’ll see why.) The turn was a 6. The river was an 8. My top set was shot down by runner-runner straight.
I admit, this hand does not illustrate a play based on the size of your chip stack. I just wanted to include it to demonstrate that no matter how good your hand is, you can and will take bad beats. It is a mathmatical certainty. When you lose like this, it’s going to sting. But it’s just part of the game and making a profit from tournaments is based on playing well long-term. If you find yourself playing passive in the second and third hours of tournaments, and you can’t find it within yourself to be more aggressive, tournaments are not for you. A passive style will not win tournaments.
Okay, you’ve survived through three hours of play, and now there’s 15 players left and you’re getting close to the money. What do you do now that the money bubble is approaching? I’ll discuss that in Part 6. Stay tuned.