Table image in multi-table tournaments

You would think that table image would not matter a lot in tournaments since you are constantly shifting tables, but in fact it does matter quite a bit.

If you watch top professional poker videos, you see the same dozen or so talking heads, hoodies, backwards baseball caps with sunglasses and so on all the time.

These guys know each other’s game inside out and remember individual hands from years ago. On RP, you run into the same gang of villains all the time, and remember what happened before.

Over the last couple of months, I had been trying to improve my tournament game by tightening up a bit and not wasting chips on silly plays, but the main result seemed to be negative.

I was playing the 1-million buy-in 6 seater MTT each evening at 6:30 PM my local time (Milky Way) and repeating again in the 9-seater at 9:30 pm, also playing some of the larger buy-in (5 million) tourneys at the weekends. The opposition is pretty much the same people in all of these tournaments and I guess can be considered to be the best MTT players on RP since several of the regular players are known to me as being on the RP all-time winners toplist, having won billions of chips in MTTs over various periods of time.

However my results were disappointing. Sure I was nearly always surviving the first hour, often making it to the final table, frequently going out on the bubble, and sometimes getting into the money, but I was not winning tournaments or even coming second, and had lost about 10% of my overall bankroll on this downward slide.

Last night I made a conscious decision to loosen up and play more aggressively and entered the 2.5 million chips 6-seater tournament. I had noticed that during my period of decline, I seemed to be getting less respect from opponents, for example one opponent would always call my preflop raises and then bet back at me ferociously on nondescript flops forcing me to fold or else get into a stack-threatening situation.

I started off really badly, losing nearly half my stack within the first few hands, while showing that I was not going to be pushed around. Soon I was in shove preflop/shove-the-flop mode and started to get a lot of respect from opponents who didn’t want to lose half their stacks by calling top pair weak kicker.

I struggled back and finally at the end of the first hour, I had recovered my original 5000 chips and had a few to spare, but was still among the tailenders.

I continued to struggle, always low on chips, but just hanging on, and sometimes winning pots by raising preflop with nothing at all and holding my breath.

With 7 players left (final table has 6 players) I was on a table with 2 other players both with huge stacks, who were playing cat and mouse with me down to my last 2000 chips, but somehow I snuck onto the final table, though in a hopeless position that only improved a bit after I launched a hostile takeover of another small stack and won.

With 5 players left (4 to get money) my position was again hopeless. The bubble went on for ever in a veritable marathon, perhaps for half an hour. I was always facing elimination, and yet no one would pull the trigger on me. Several times I was in the Big Blind with hopeless, unplayable hands and everyone folded to me fearful of me shoving, doubling up, and getting back in the game.

I gradually built my stack time after time with a number of secret stealth moves that I have patented, and four times I took on the smallest stack heads-up all-in to try to burst the bubble with promising hands, and four times I lost and the small stack redoubled up and overtook me, pushing me back down into the hotseat.

Finally the bubble burst, and it was my tiny, puny stack against 3 huge megastacks. Again no one wanted to pull the trigger on me, but I got lucky when one of the bullies in SB raised to my BB. I had KT suited and decided to shove all in and take my chances, so I shoved. After some cogitation, SB called and turned over the mighty J2o, which I managed to defeat in spite of RP being rigged, blah, blah, blah.

(As regards to rigging, I am one of the lucky ones, as RP is quite often rigged in my favour, even though I have never bought chips, so I have no complaints.)

After this humiliation the player in SB started getting slammed by the two other players who lost respect for his bluffs and faded out of contention.

This hand was a turning point, as I was now in a position to put some serious hurt on the big stacks.

The game went on and on, and eventually I got a bit lucky when my AQ hit an Ace on the river to make 2 pairs and a huge pot put me into the lead for the first time, after spending the last hour on death row. Could I now turn the tables and execute the bullies?

Long story short, it came down to heads-up and I had the larger stack by a small margin. Now started an even longer marathon heads-up session in which mostly I led, but the lead switched several times. My opponent was slightly too timid, and each time I went behind I was able to escalate into huge pots and take back the lead, mostly with bluffs.

It was as if I was playing against myself of last week.

The blinds crept up and up until we reached the point at 3000/6000 where there were only 24 BBs in play, where it became shove or fold. We were both exhausted and with stacks almost even, there was a shove and a call. Who had what?

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/743664843

Opponent was a sitting duck after this reverse and when I flopped a set of 2s two hands later I let him have both barrels and he was a very dead duck indeed.

So that was it. Totally exhausted after just over 3 hours of play, with bankroll mostly restored. I have to give credit to my opponents, though, for being so merciful. So many times they could have easily knocked me out, but were intimidated by my wild and crazy table image. Had I still been playing Mr. Righty-Tighty, they would have been all over me.

But what of the standard of play? I cannot honestly say that there was any player in the tournament who showed any signs of approaching professional or semiprofessional standards or sophisticated knowledge of ranges, so probably winning was mostly luck. After all, in every tournament on RP there is only one winner, but never less than one winner.

In this scene, I always knew that Liam Neeson would be the winner, even though he momentarily looked like the underdog after he had dropped his sword, and was pinned with the rapier on his neck, which proved to be a temporary inconvenience. It is all about table image and being able to pull the trigger.

How do you remember so much detail after playing in tournaments?

I really have trouble remembering what I ate and drank for dinner last night.

Btw, I thought your detailed recollection was great.

Thanks for your comments. I tend to eat and drink the same thing several nights in a row, so that makes it easier to remember. Tonight was oxtail and lentil soup/stew, same again tomorrow.

I guess you know that on Replay Poker you can click on the menu and review your last 200 hands.

I guess those hands that are remembered are those associated with very strong emotions, either of disgust, like a dog remembering being hit with a stick, or pleasure, when you have just gotten the better of a rival and rubbed their nose in the dirt.

Every tournament seems to have a theme, like the tournament I described here seemed to have flop after flop featuring two jacks, and eventually one of those jacked-up flops sealed victory. Other tournaments will make a big feature of single suit flops.

Playing for 3 hours is a big emotional high, I guess, and requires tremendous concentrations, so writing down the memories while still fresh is a way to get it off my mind and move on to think about other things. A lot of people here write about losing, bad beats, etc, but I prefer to write about winning, because it is so elusive.

You will always lose to bad beats, because that is the norm, but winning tournaments is never the norm. Tonight I played a small tournament and I was doing OK with a medium stack when I picked up KK. Put in a big raise, had two callers, and flop came Q,9, 5. I bet, first player folded and second player shoved all in. I read him for a bluff, because his stack was slightly smaller than mine and there was no need to shove if he believed he was ahead, so I called. He turned over Q 5 and hit a Q on the river for 2 pairs. But this kind of thing happens every minute on Replay, so is not remarkable. You move on and forget it by tomorrow or the next day.

I haven’t played tournaments frequently for more than a decade, but I remember a similar experience: I started frequently making final tables, and frequently finishing in the top 3. I started feeling like I was probably one of the best players (and probably was in the pool of people I was playing against), and I started getting more risk averse, not wanting to waste my edge on close plays (and face the associated volatility), especially when I’d be likely to find easier spots later.

To a degree, as you get better than the playing pool, I think that is an appropriate reaction; but at the same time, you can reduce your odds of getting a giant stack by quite a lot with overly conservative play, and you can also start being overly easy to play against early by the other good players.

I think if you want to maximize your tournament winnings over time, especially in environments with a steeply escalating payout structure, you don’t want to be aiming to maximize the frequency of your cashes, or even your final table appearances, you want to be trying to win the tournament. Embracing the volatility will certainly have you crash out before the bubble more often, but will also net the most top 3 finishes, which is where most of the money usually is.

I’m not suggesting just playing like a maniac, but generally making the play that you think is highest EV, even if it means putting your tournament life on the line. Yes, don’t ignore ICM… but keep it caged and in its place, and not some overlord that never lets you bet, to be gradually blinded off. Once your play gets too passive, you’re losing your tools to over realize equity, and that can quickly shift to under-realization.

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Then I believe he won with a boat and not 2 pairs.

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You are right, but I was wrong about the flop, it was not queen high. He only had a 5 on the flop and made 2 pairs on the river. My bad.

Tried to find the hand, but it is already buried in the history and not in my last 200 hands. Anyway the point remains that players on RP get beaten by miracle river cards every few seconds of the day. There are also straight flushes ever 10 minutes, and even if you have never seen a Royal Flush, they occur all the time on RP.

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/743761261

Yes, I agree. Before I was getting a lot of first place finishes and very few 2nd, 3rd, 4th. Now far fewer wins. In a period of about 6 weeks about 2 years ago in July and August, I went from less than 10 million chips on the site to over 100 million from MTTS (won 45 million in one tournament). Over the next year I steadily accumulated another 150 million without winning more than 15 million in any one tournament, but then I seemed to hit a wall at around 250 million , and only able to win enough chips to stay around that number, but not advance to 300 million.

At that level you are playing the same people again and again and it gets tougher and it is difficult to really dominate opponents. It becomes a case of frequently the bridesmaid, but rarely the bride.

I think you are right that playing for the big stack early on means taking risks and resorting to other not-strictly-logical plays. For example if you flop a boat or a straight, shoving on the flop may be better than trying to suck opponents into bluffing, because in early tournaments players will call a shove with nothing better than top pair or an open ended straight draw or flush draw without a moment’s thought, almost as a reflex action, so when you win you will win more chips.

In last night’s Widow’s Bite 5-million chip buy-in tournament the eventually second-place finisher has gone from 5000 chips to 20,000 chips within the first five minutes, and at the start of the final table had 50,000 chips when no opponent had more than 15,000 chips. I don’t know how this early coup was achieved as the blinds start very low in this tournament and the players are very canny.

Ah, here is the hand.

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/743963896

Apparently the player with KK decided he was most likely ahead and shoved the flop to cut off hands like KJ from drawing to a straight, the second player decided to toss in his hat with top pair top kicker, and the SB could hardly fold with top two pairs, since he was beating both overpairs and top pairs and had blockers to either opponent holding QQ or TT. The river sealed the deal, but only a K or A on turn or river could have undone undone him.