A Matter of Perspective

OK, this is going to seem like an odd question, but it’s something I have been wondering about lately. First, the set-up…

You are in a NL Holdem tourney, entry was 20K, 150 people entered, and we are in the first hand with you in the big blind with 3,000 chips.

UTG moves allin, and it’s folded around to you. You look down and see AA. You have played thousands of tournies with this guy. He always limps aces from that position, moves in with kings, bets 6BB with queens, and 5 BBs with any other AQ+. In other words, you KNOW he has kings.

Conventional wisdom is to call. You are a 4-1 favorite and are risking 3,000 to win 3,000. It seems lke a no-brainer, and in a ring game, it would be.

However, you could also see it that you are risking your buyin (20k in “real” chips) to win 3,000 in tournament chips. The 20% of the time you will lose will end any chance of getting your money back, while the 3,000 tournament chips won’t guarantee you anything. Yes, doubling up on the first hand is a good thing, and does offer some benefit, but how much benefit does it offer at this stage of the tournament?

Again, conventional wisdom says that you no longer own the buy-in… it’s now part of the prize pool and shouldn’t really enter into your decisions.

If you were in this situation 5 times, you will, on average, lose 20,000 “real” chips once while winning 3,000 tournament chips 4 times, for a total of 12,000.

I’m calling there every time, but is this a mistake?

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I am NOT an expert, but poker is all about assessing odds and making the best possible choice, so I agree with you and call every time. I did, however, enjoy your thorough assessment of the situation differentiating between your buy-in and the tourney chips. Very thoughtful.

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This seems like an ICM question (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_Chip_Model), so I am not sure exactly how to calculate how profitable a call would be.

Personally, I would snap call because poker is all about making +EV plays and it’s a very easy decision from that standpoint.

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Yeah, it is an ICM problem. I don’t have an ICM solver handy, but it would be interesting to find one and see what it says.

Just to play devil’s advocate… is risking 20,000 to win 12,000 +ev?

Yo me, this is one of the many times that general poker strategies bump heads with tournament strategy. Tournament play adds a level of complexity above and beyond the game itself.


At the beginning of a tournament, when cEV and $EV run closest together, this is a call every single time. The real test of skill is managing to have AA when this particular player open-shoves 100B :slight_smile:


i would say u should call because of the odds that are in your favor. I dont like to go all in pre flop on any hand in the beginning of a tourney however there are 150 players in the tourney and to double up and have that chip leverage to use is a powerful thing to have with that many players in the tourney and your chances of winning or at least placing in the tourney go way up. Now for every other player in the hand your odds go down quite a bit, if there are 3 or more players in the hand you have to weigh that into your decision. As far as losing 20,000 vs gaining 3,000 tourney chips that 20,000 could be someones whole bank or half their bank so that is not as much of a concern to lose 20k if your bank is 1 million or more for example, so that has to weigh into your decision as well, risking half or all of your bank or not. But all things considered playing 1 on 1 pre flop with you having pocket aces no matter what table or game you are in is almost a no brainer because the odds of winning are greater than any other hand you play in the whole tourney. So if your gonna do that then thats the time. keep in mind also that your opponent having any pocket pair lower than that can also pull trips to beat your AA too so the risk is there for any Pocket pair beating you, but go with the highest odds possible playing 1 on 1 and that would be pocket aces.

No doubt it’s +cEV, call every time.

And yes, it’s +$EV too, but I would guess it’s only very slightly so.

It’s just hard to evaluate the value of the buy-in chips vs the value of the tournament chips at this stage of the game, and especially so with 150 players still in the game.

Eh, Im still calling every time, but am interested in hearing other points of view.

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Actually, it very wide at this stage. I just ran the scenario through ICMIZER and assuming 1st hand of a 100 player tournament (doesn’t even calculate ICM past this number). I used 3000 chips starting stacks for everyone and a 10/20 blind level with no antes. Assuming you know the UTG shove is KK and you hold AA in the BB, the $EV of the push is 53.6% better than the $EV of the fold. Interestingly enough, both the push and the fold are +$EV. You have a probability of busting out an average of 17.82% of the time (assuming all combinations of suits for both players). There is a 0.46% chance of a tie and you win 81.71% of the time.

Anyway, when 1 decision is that significantly greater $EV than the other, its not even a close call. Play around with ICMIZER for a bit. Its pretty fun and a great tool for MTTs and SnGs. If you had the payout structure, you could calculate the absolute values but without them all I can get are percentages of 1 decision vs the other.

For me, the key data point is that there were no intervening callers. If there were, that could change everything, perhaps even to the point of laying my AA down (say perhaps, by 3 or more respected callers). As stated though, I would call with every expectation of winning or splitting if the raiser has the other AA (yes, one of us “could” win with four of a suit on board, but the odds are even on which AA would be the winner, so it really doesn’t impact the decision). Of course, the perversity of Nature could make the flop contain a K, but that ought to be a low probability outcome, and if it happened, I’d have no remorse and little regret.

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OK, now that’s interesting.

You say that the +$EV of the push is better than that of the fold, which isn’t surprising. Just out of curiosity, what is the $EV for the call there?

Can’t tell without a payout structure. Also, ICM isn’t really set up for play this far from the money. Just for fun, here’s what the pros would call with in the 1st hand of the WSOP Main Event: https://www.pokernews.com/strategy/ask-the-pros-are-you-calling-a-blind-shove-first-hand-of-the-15888.htm

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Interesting article and a wide range of answers, though several said aces only.

Just for the record, I did say that I was never folding there. I guess what I’m trying to do is get some feedback on a specific aspect of tournament strategy… the relative value of your buyin vs tournament chips in the earliest stages of the game.

As someone once said, “You can’t win a tournament on the first had, but you can lose one”

The arguments for protecting your tournament life and that a chip won is worth less than a chip lost are both valid. But in the earliest stages of a tournament, couldn’t you also make the opposite argument, at least with respect to the latter statement? Lets say you call and double up. Now you can no longer be busted out by anyone else (at least next hand). You can now apply pressure to everyone else without fear of being busted out. So, for someone who knows how to use a big stack, you could say those extra chips are worth more to him because of what they allow him to do.

ICM is great for figuring out chops and for bubble decisions but its just not all that great for answering deeper questions. It assumes the game ends at the end of the hand, does not factor in skill differences between players, or position, or many other variables. A 25BB stack on the BTN certainly is worth more than the same stack UTG for example. You are certainly correct in saying that tournament poker adds in some layers of strategy that are absent in cash games. ICM has its place, especially in push/fold territory and on the bubble but I don’t think its much of a deal early on, at least IMO.

I guess you could look at it this way: Would you pay 25% more to enter a tournament that you were given double the starting stack in? Oh, and you were the only 1 (at least at your table) with that option.


The value of doubling up in a tourney is obviously much greater than doubling up on a ring game because u cant re buy in most tourneys here and u can re load when ever u want in rings to have more chip leverage, but so can others, so when u have a chance to double up or increase your chip count substantially in a tourney and u know how to utilize chip leveraging well to take more control over the table, then you have to go for it because that value alone put you in position to make it to the final table and hopefully win the tourney and at the least place in the money, i dont know off hand what the payouts are of 150 peep 20k buy in but the top 3 places i know are a good payoff for your 20k. So gaining chip leverage early on and knowing how to utilize it is key in a high peep longer tourney.

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That 20k is already at risk. It became so when the tourney was entered.
Return on that investment will be determined by 2 factors…the quality of the cards you get(which you can’t control), and how well you play them(which you can).
So I agree with this…

And think the play should be based solely on maximizing the value of the 3,000 tourney chips and forgetting the buyin, whether it was $2 or $20,000.
But I can certainly see how depressing it would be to prepare for an exhilarating mullti-day tourney and bite it on the first hand. The smartest decisions are not always the most satisfying.
I once got in a bit of trouble after midnight that can be summed up in 3 words; trespassing, co-ed, skinny-dipping. It wasn’t smart, but I now have a great appreciation for moonlight. :wink:

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What a coincidence you are bringing up this scenario. The exact thing happened to me in a tourney about a week ago. Only it was the second or third hand I think. My opponent was known to me, overly aggressive, and a bluffer, went all in. Everyone folds. It’s down to me. I was sure he had pair of something, but he could have had AK as well. Or with this maniac he could have 72o. I also know the odds playing one on one is in my favor as AA will win 85% of the time in a heads up scenario. So I called. Sure enough, he had KK and hits another K on the flop. Turn and River I get nothing. He wins. But that’s poker. I would do it again because in that situation(early in the first round) because gaining a chip stack is important early. Secondly, I have already spent the chips for the buy in. My only hope is to win them back or more, but for all practical purposes, they are gone. So my thinking is just play poker. Tournament play is about taking calculated risks in my opinion. Some you win, some you don’t.

I agree with Alan25main though. Had others called, I probably would have folded as the more players in the hand reduces your odds and increases your chance of a “suck out”.


Well yes and no. In later stages, this is certainly true, but early on, when the average skill level is at it’s lowest, trying to leverage a chip advantage is hard and might even be counter-productive.

I also agree that ICM isn’t really designed for early stage solutions. In fact, I don’t think there are any tools specifically for this kind of thing, nor have I seen much discussion about it.

Conventional wisdom is to play tight at the beginning and let the weak/crazy players bust out. I often ignore this and try to get as many chips as I can from these players. Make hay while the sun is shining and all. As I said in an earlier thread, I basically treat all online tournaments as rebuy tournies.

If you can grab enough chips in the first level or two to “coast” until 50% of the field is eliminated, it’s a huge advantage. To put some numbers on it, in the example I gave originally, if you get to 75 players with 6,000 chips, you will be in about 25th place, which I would consider almost ideal.

Anyway, the question of chip advantage vs survival is, for me, an interesting topic. As the article linked by 1Warlock shows, there isn’t really a consensus on the subject, which makes me wonder if anyone has given it much thought.

I folded QQ preflop in the '06 WSOP main event. A tight player opened from early, the maniac to my right raised, I look down at queens and fold. Tight player moves in, maniac calls and shows KK vs AA, turns a set and sends the aces packing.

I would fold aces if enough people entered the pot ahead of me. Not on Replay maybe, but in a real money tournament I would… I think. Heads up? Never!


I remember that clown. Wasn’t he also saying that the chips from the weaker players at the start were going to go somewhere so it might as well be to him? I think it was in a conversation about late registrations. I don’t know - he never made much sense but he was kind of funny. Always talking about how he used to try and impress the girl next door with his Cardigan-wearing turtle or some such thing. :wink:

Specific example excluded, I think much of it depends on the player and the tournament. Comparing a 20K play-chip event to the WSOP Main isn’t possible. Heck, a $3.50 SnG isn’t the same as the Sunday Millions. In multi-day live tournaments there are all sorts of players who come to the tables. Pros, amateurs, businessmen, local players who saved up and people who satellite in. Everyone will approach the tournament differently and with different expectations and goals. A pro may look to reduce variance and outplay the rest while the satellite guy is basically freerolling and may just go for it. Think Ben Lamb vs Micki Craft.

Online MTTs start all the time. If you are playing well within your bankroll, you can jump in another one if you bust out. Smaller MTT’s also have shorter opening stacks and faster blind levels. I don’t think people approach these the same way as the bigger tournaments. There’s a whole category of turbo events where you are looking for chances to get your chips in play all the time so the prospect of an 80% double-up in the 1st hand would be a no-brainer.

I think the bottom line is that I’m not sure we could find a definitive answer for all these questions. Even when we do have mathematical solutions for what is or isn’t +EV, that doesn’t give us a full picture, especially on a social poker site where people play for all sorts of reasons. Its a wonderful game, both in theory and in practice. There are more variables at work than can be listed, forget about solved. That’s one of the reasons discussing poker can be so interesting - we get to see the game through other people’s eyes.

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1I agree with all that except the part about Fluffy. He didn’t wear a cardigan, it was a turtleneck, and he only wore it because you had to wear whatever grandma knitted.

Of course there are huge differences between the WSOP main event and a Replay MTT. I’m coming at this from a Replay medium MTT perspective, but I do think the basic concepts should apply, to one extent or another, to any tournament.

Also, the specific example stated was meant to be the most extreme one I could come up with. Insights gained here should scale to other, less extreme situations as well.

I thought the matter was settled until you mentioned that both a call and a fold were +EV. If this is, in fact, the case with the listed example, then it stands to reason that the 54% advantage to the call in this case would be much less in other cases.

One can make a lot of money crab fishing in the North Sea, but it’s dangerous. One can make less money selling used cars, but it’s safe.

Since the 20k in Replay chips is all but meaningless to me, the danger evaporates and I call. Still it’s interesting to look at things from a tournament strategy perspective rather than a poker strategy perspective, and the 2 are not the same thing.

The fact that both options are +EV just makes the question more interesting and difficult.

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