Some tournament thoughts

Just finished 2nd in the Hijack tournament tonight, which I have won a couple of times before. This time it took from 7:30 pm until nearly 10:00 pm but I did not need to go to bed early, as I have no work in the am.

I think key points from this tourney were that it is just so important to be mindful of stack sizes at all times. I never led this tournament, except a few times on the final table, but I was never in trouble.

Starting 11 minutes late, I won 600 chips on the first hand and was instantly in the top third, then I called an all-in bluff on the turn when I had snuck in with a pair of queens, so doubled up, and was on my way. I thought I was up against a pair of jacks, but actually the bluffer had nothing but an inside straight draw.

Once you get the early double, it is hard to redouble, because there are not many stacks larger than yours, so you need to be patient and not waste chips, but just gently float down the leaderboard until you get a good hand in a good position.

One guy got a massive lead by playing recklessly and at one point had about 120, 000 chips, when the next best stack had 25000 chips. I had some difficulty with him at my table, but eventually doubled through him and got into second place. I made one nice fold against him where I had pocket Queens and flopped a set, but he had a flush on the turn,and I managed to get away from the hand.

As the blinds got bigger and bigger, he was gradually chopped down by players who figured out his game, and did not make the final table, though with 120, 000 chips, you could really fold your way onto the final table.

One thing I noticed in a 60 player tourney was that with a starting stack of 5000 chips, there were hardly ever more than 20 players with stacks larger than 5000.

In this tournament I avoided large preflop raises, and just limped or made miniraises until the blinds were so high that it was all or nothing. That way I did not lose a lot of chips if AQ missed the flop. I folded a lot of flops, some even with top pair, if I had a poor kicker, or it looked like an opponent might have two pairs or an open ended straight draw.

I avoided taking on larger stacks unless I held very strong hands, but raised lower middle class stacks and bullied them into folding when I had straight or nut flush draws. On one hand I had QJ suited and hit a flush with the Ace on the table, only to be beaten by another player with the King, but fortunately he was a very small stack and I won a bigger side pot.

In the end, when it was one on one, I threw it all away with an all-in bluff, but at that point I had had enough, and wanted to get it over.

I did not have AA in this tournament, but had KK on two successive hands, and also had KQ of clubs on 2 successive hands (won them both). Peculiarities of Replay Poker!


I don’t worry about doubling up early. Going all in is how you go home early. Goofballs will call you with anything and sometimes they hit an improbable hand. Preflop, never, well maybe on AA, calling some fool. But I don’t shove all in early, and I tend to last longer and hold what I do win longer. Otherwise, I wait for the nut flush or a full house. Then, sure, get all in there. But not preflop.

Later in the tournament is a better time for it. Close to the bubble, no one wants to call and risk getting eliminated, so unless they have the nuts, it’s a good, aggressive play to grab blinds and antes, and catch up if you’ve made it this far but didn’t win a lot of chips getting to that point. Especially if the table is short handed and you only have to get 1-3 folds.

I also avoid large preflop raises for the same reason. They tend to get you all-in. I tried the 3-4BB +1BB/limper ahead of you, as some here have recommended, but it seems like I can’t win that way. I use 2BB and 3BB raises nearly always if I’m raising, but very occasionally I might make it half pot. That’s for when I really just want to isolate one player or steal but don’t mind getting called. I like to leave room for decisions to be made after the flop, rather than commit or force my opponent to commit to the showdown. Making them muck is a great way to win hands, since you don’t have to rely on hitting your outs and you don’t have to rely on having the best cards if everyone else lays down. The only downside is that you don’t get more chips from them. But I find that the lower risk is desirable, especially early.

Later in the tournament, yes then I want them to feel pressure and make hard choices about whether they want to continue their hand. And I like them to fold after paying for the flop.

But when I have a hand I want to get value for it, and sizing the bet to get called is something that I have been working on. Lately I seem to have gotten better at it.

Heads up, I like them to fold more again. So my strategy there is to keep steady pressure on them and force them to make decisions that are hard. I try to keep my own risk low. If I sense they have something, get out of the way, and come back when I have it. Don’t let them see cards for free unless I’m already on a monster. I do pretty well heads up, so I think it’s working. Against a good player it’s still challenging, but so many people don’t have enough experience playing heads up, they don’t really know what they are doing, and they’re uncomfortable. Very easy to exploit those players. If you want to improve your game, play a lot of 2 and 3-max SNG until you figure out how to play it.

I don’t know. I think an all-in bet at the flop may force marginal hands to fold IF CALLING AND LOSING MEANS THEY WILL LOSE ALL THEIR CHIPS.

I think there were two key hands that put me on the path to (near) victory in this tournament.

In this one I picked up a pair of queens and called a 2BB raise in a 4-way hand. Opponent, who was out of position led out with a half-pot bet. I did not think he held a king, but suspected a Jack or possibly a straight draw like QT, but I thought that my pair of queens could block his straight draw (which ended up being a factor).

So I called the half pot bet, and a 4 came on the turn. Opponent then went all-in. I doubted that he had K4 or J4, so this seemed like a bluff or semi-bluff, and since I had a pair of Jacks, which I suspected, beaten, I decided to call, and doubled up.

This put me in a very good place early in the tournament.

The next hand that was important was here, where I limped in from the Small Blind with 7 5 off suit and the flop came 7 5 Ace. The guy with A 3 overbet the pot, obviously trying to close the hand, so I raised all-in and fortunately for me he did not hit any of his 5 outs or the 2-4 straight combo. Incidentally, the probability of opponent hitting a third ace or a 3 is reduced by the consideration that the remaining 7s or 5s are outs for you.

The third hand that was significant was this one in which a massively bloated table bully was reduced to size, and I moved up to second place. The bully had been playing like a maniac and had eliminated a series of opponents with fluky calls on rubbish hands. He had 120, 000 chips to my 12,000. In a tournament of 60 players starting at 5000 chips, there are 300,000 chips, so he held more than one third of all the chips with about 15 players left in.

I guess I got lucky, but I was fairly sure that my starting hand of A T was better than his, based on the hand he had been winning all ins with like K 4. My hand held up.

Another benefit of this hand was that almost immediately he was moved to another table where his opponents feasted on the whale-like carcass of his chip stack until there was nothing left.

In this one I shoved and won a pot of over 150,000 chips.

So I am not saying that you should shove a lot to win. Most of the time you should fold, but at certain inflection points in a tournament you need to double up to remain effective. Shoving when you have a small stack will lead to you being swatted aside like a pesky fly, but shoving with a decent sized stack means that you are able to cripple or eliminate most opponents who have played for an hour or more to get into a decent position, and they will be wary of calling unless they truly have premium hands, and even there you still have a chance.

So the shove is a handy weapon to have in your armory, and if you have a premium hand you might flash it now and again. In addition, when the blinds are getting higher, other players who see you shove will be less ready to limp in on your big blind with marginal drawing hands, knowing that they may be playing for all their chips.

Look at it the other way round. You are happy to pick up a pair of 9s in the Big Blind, but a bigger stack in early position shoves. Are you willing to commit all your chips against 2 overcards or an overpair, with only two cards that can improve your hand, unless you hit a freak straight or flush, or would you rather wait for a better opportunity to double up? (If the board pairs, you will make 2 pairs, but this will not help you beat any overpair your opponent may make.) If you are a microstack, you might as well shove, but if you don’t have to play? I would much rather raise from early position with 99 to steal the blinds, with a 50-50 chance of beating two overcards in the event of being called by AK or AQ. If there is a 60% probability of stealing the blinds and a 50% chance of winning a race, the combined probability of taking the pot is 85%. Admittedly this a crude mental calculation that takes no account of overpairs, but as your position advances, for example you are in the cutoff, then the probability of 2 or 3 opponents picking up hands like AA or KK is reduced.

However, when playing against a big stack, you also have to know when to fold 'em.

Here I picked up a pair of Queens and hit a set on the flop, but did not feel that opponent would lay down his hand to any raise, and then when the board was flushing, I let it go. Just as well, as he showed that he had made a flush on the turn, and a 6-card flush on the river. I am quite sure that if I had made a pot sized bet, or even shoved on the flop, he would have called, and I would have been beaten.

I just played a little 9-player 1K sit’n’go. It was a bit like kicking babies in the head, and it was all over in 44 hands.

To get started I pulled the all-in on the Ace high flop with bottom two pairs stunt. As usual there was a caller with the Ace, and this time I hit my full house on the turn. The victim survived to make second place in a very weak tournament.

The hand that assured victory, was this: I picked up J Q off suit under the gun and limped in. The flop brought me an open-ended straight draw, and the turn the nut straight. I raised all in and got TWO callers, one with a flush draw and the other had A T and made two pairs on the river. The flush missed. I was about 70% favorite to win the hand over 2 opponents.

This left me with 11,000 of the 18,000 chips in the game and just two opponents left. In this situation you can just build your stack with small pots and let the rising blinds grind down the opponents until one eliminates the other. Then you are heads up with a huge chip lead and can bully the opponent into submission on the flop as he really only has two choices on the flop–fold or go all-in.

It goes without saying that such simple tactics will not be as effective against better quality opposition, but in the first half hour of any mid range tournament on Replay, there are plenty of players who will call an all-in on the flop with a pair of Aces, and although you won’t always win with two bottom pairs against a pair of Aces on the flop, you want to have all your chips in with those odds. You are actually better than 70/30 to win or tie against one opponent.

So any of these hands where you are 70% to win on the flop or turn seem like good candidates for a shove, seeing that getting at least one call could double you up and significantly increase your chances of winning the tournament, and if you shove, some opponents may see it as a bluff and call you, or just call because they think they might have the best hand, or because they have a draw.

You’d be surprised… it seems like about 80% of the time when they call with crap, they lucky-river out, hitting 2 pair or trips to beat my pocket pairs. It’s infuriating, so I don’t usually play. That’s not to say I wouldn’t call all-in with a better hand than a pair, but preflop a pair is all you can have.

And I’m fine with just taking a lot of chips and not putting myself at risk, or committing myself to the pot, so I’m not apt to shove. Of course, I won’t let myself be bullied off of a good hand, either so if someone is going to challenge me, and I have the right cards I’ll stand up to it.

In a bounty tournament, of course, it’s different, and I’m more willing to put someone all-in, so I can collect that bounty.

Well, yes and no. I don’t need to double up to remain effective in a tournament. I need to win hands for decent sized pots. I don’t need to get all the chips in preflop. I can and sometimes do, but I’m a little more cautious in the opening stages, and am more focused on getting through the crazy play that prevails in the early stages than I am with doubling up through someone. Now, if I happen to flop a straight, a set, flush, or boat, then yeah I’m going to be ready and willing to go all-in. If I have AA, and someone wants to go, I’ll go. But more often I’ll be satisfied taking 1/4 or 1/2 of their stack, and being able to stay in the tournament if I happen to get beat. In a 2500 buy-in, I’ll come back from 1300 or 900 chips sometimes and get to the final table, and I might never be the chip leader, but I’ll be up in the top 10 or top 6 by the first hour break more often than not when I make it that far.

I tend to win more chips later, and that’s fine. It works for my style of play. Trying to be super aggressive and double up or die early on doesn’t work for me. Maybe it does for some players. I certainly see plenty of it at the tables. But very often I don’t see those players last. They usually get beat out eventually, lose most of their stack, and then don’t know how to recover. Playing as I do, I’ve been able to outlast and outplay them. I have been focused on SNG more lately, though, as I seem to do even better in those, and I’ve been focused on making my bankroll grow.

Sure, position and relative stack sizes all play a part in the decision. I’m more likely to shove in certain situations. It also depends on how well I know my opponents, and how likely I think they are to call or fold, and what I’m hoping they’ll do at any given point.

I think that by using the all-in bet less often, it helps me be more credible when I do use it, and less likely to get called, which makes bluffing when I need to more likely to work. On the other hand, there’s times when you want to get called, because you have AA and you want to get paid with it, and so arguably if you’re playing looser it will help you get calls in that situation. Either approach can work, it just depends more on your style and what you’re comfortable with.