Winning 2/3 of a game 5 times and still losing

Lately I’m breaking even at the tables, week over week. Most of my losses are coming after I have my opponent down to their last few buy-ins. I win half to two thirds of their chips, then go cold or get coolered or rivered trying to put them away, they come back, I wear them back down to their last quarter-stack, they inexplicably come back again, eventually the blinds creep up to where every pot is significant, and I can’t win a hand again, and they end up getting lucky and winning.

How do you put away an opponent who is down to the “danger zone” where any raise is likely to get a jam, and if they win a coin-flip (which is a 100% event for them against me, somehow) they will be back to nearly even-stacked?

If I raise them, they jam pre-, and I either have to ditch the hand, or take a chance and lose, then grind them down again.

If I don’t raise them, we limp to a flop, and I just miss flop after flop after flop, and they bet pot after pot after pot, and grind their way back up 2BB at a time for like 4-5 hands in a row; I’ll finally catch some cards I can reasonably raise with, and they’ll fold, then go back to stealing pots from me 4-5 times in a row, concede their SB on my next raise, and repeat, until they’ve grinded their way to breakeven again.

You’d likely say “Raise them” when they bet pot on every flop when I check, but that just puts them all-in, a free double-up every time they actually have something, another coin flip if we both have nothing, and only rarely are they folding. Aggression only seems to serve to amplify my bad luck and to close my stronger holdings for minimal pots won.

Once we’re back to breakeven, I can win hands again, and usually get my opponent down to their last couple hundred chips, at which point I can’t buy another win, they come back again.

It seems like I play great up to a point, but end up with a big hole in my game where I just can’t put my opponents away, leading me to lose many more games than I ought to be when I have a 3:1 stack advantage or better.

If this is a common theme for you, the 1st place I’d look to is your bet sizing related to effective stacks. There shouldn’t be many instances where you leave an opponent with only a few BB. If you are putting someone effectively all in, get them all in. When stacks are very short, you can get them in on the turn and not give your opponent a chance to get away if they brick the river. They will either get it in bad or they will be forced to fold off too much equity. Either way, you are printing EV.

Related to the above, you really want to get your ranges nailed down by effective stack sizes. Since postflop play can be pretty simple at short depths, the decisions you make preflop are the most important. Know which hands realize equity the best by taking flops vs hands that need to be all-in preflop and generate as many folds as possible.

I hope this helps. Review some of your hands where you may have let your opponent slip the noose. See if there was a way to get stacks in at some point during the hand. Chances are, its on the turn if I’m reading the situation correctly. You may be frittering away some BB’s with ill advised c-bets as well. If you find yourself c-betting and then folding to a x/r, this is a big leak. You can’t afford to have this happen when short stacked - different game when deep and you can call a reasonable x/r in position.

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It is a somewhat common theme for me. I’m not sure that it’s always for the same reasons. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

I find that against the opponent I play, most are a lot less likely to call if it puts them all in. So I tend to size my bets to a fraction of their stack, and get as much value out of the hand as I feel they’re willing to give me when I have an effective nut hand. Maybe I should be more cutthroat and just put them all in, but usually that ends up netting me less value. Still, in a HU SNG, it’s the KO you’re going for, not winning hands. It’s just that, once I wear my opponent down to where the stack ratios are such that you shouldn’t fear playing any two cards against the small stack, just get them all-in and win a showdown, I can’t seem to do it. The coin flips tails 5-6 times in a row, or I get ridiculously bad cards like 42o, and then I can’t do it. Right up until that point, I’m hitting two pair, straights, top pair, you name it, and just when I should be able to put them away, they start a miracle comeback.

So, I agree with you, maybe it’s my bet sizing, but how do I get opponents to be more willing to go all-in to call against me? I’m generally betting by the size of the pot, should I be sizing bets relative to my opponent’s stack instead?

I don’t have any specific answer to your problem, but I do think in tournament style play you have to duck and weave a bit. Poker is a game of deception. Look at this hand here, into the third hour of a tournament that started with thirty-odd player, and finally we are heads up, but I am way behind.

Now the opponent was royally pissed over this hand, and another hand three hands later when I had the exact same holding, but what happened would not have happened if we had not been playing at the same table against each other and matching wits for more than two hours. so I was able to suck him in by feigning weakness on the flop, and getting him to make a huge bet on the river, when most likely he made trip fours, or possibly even a full house, or decided to represent it knowing that I would have to commit my stack to call…

Note my slight hesitation in calling his flop bet. I am acting as if I am a little afraid of the ace on the flop, but I think about it, and opponent did not raise my limp preflop, so I am probably good to call his bet. Again my flat call on the turn suggests I must be on some kind of draw, or perhaps I have a medium pocket pair that might hit its number on the river.

Is there any way he could have sussed that I had pocket rockets?

Now on the next hand I had a pair of black aces and sucked him in again on the turn.

and then finally, what we in the poker world call a happy ending.

To finish someone off, there have to be three conditions:

  1. You have more chips than the opponent
  2. They get all their chips in when you have the better hand.
  3. You get lucky.

So how do you get all their chips in when you have the better hand? Either there has to be deception on the flop, turn, or river, or you pick up a better starting hand, call their preflop shove, and prevail.

Thus if I get pocket aces when heads up and I am in the small blind, I will nearly always limp in and try to feign weakness. If I just raise and take down the pot, well I can do that with 7 3 offsuit, but if I can get him stack committed against my aces, I have a great chance to take him out.

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Don’t give them a choice. Put them all-in more (postflop). Force them to either fold too much equity or to call with less than top pair. Granted, you will have to be comfortable betting less than top pair for value yourself. That’s just HU short stacked poker. Once you get the next part down, opponents will recognize early in a hand whether you are playing for their entire stack or not.

At any depth, you should know what bet sizes are necessary to threaten your opponents entire stack. You need to map out sizes on all streets to make getting them all-in as natural as possible. From IP, you are the one controlling the size of the pot. From OOP, there are some tricks you can use to manipulate the size of the pot. That’s a topic for another time. The point is that you must always be conscious of stack sizes and structure your bets accordingly. It may be far better to bet 1.5x pot on the turn and get your opponent all-in than to have 2 awkward size bets on turn and river.

This technique takes work but if you can work out the math before the hand even begins, you’ll have a large edge over people who can’t. How many times do you see someone leaving themselves a 1/4 pot bet on the river because of their sizes on the previous streets? How are you going to bluff anyone with a 1/4 pot bet? Good players are structuring their bet sizes so that they have a natural shove for ~pot with both their bluffs and value hands. With more practice, you can leave bet sizes that must be called with far less than strong hands just to meet MDF (and the reverse).

My advice is to work on the techniques necessary to beat competent opponents. Once you have that down, then you can adjust to exploit the specific opponent you are facing at any given time.