Here is a list of things I learned or re-learned from playing in the 7pm tournaments at the Rio this past week. It may help you in your game.
1. Be prepared.
I was not ready for the events. I needed to have more live tourney experience before playing at the Rio. I needed to have no outside pressures when at the Rio. I needed to be better rested and slept at least 7 hours.
2. Have a strategy going in that works.
My strategy was to build chips early, and then slow down and wait for solid hands to enter pots. Unfortunately, this strategy failed on a couple of levels: 1) When I lost early, I had to take risks by the third or fourth round ($100-$200 blinds--starting chips at $5,000). 2) When I built a huge stack early, the cards did not come and by the $800-$1,600 level and $1,000-$2,000 level with antes, my $30,000 stack was at a tough level to play against all-in stacks.
3. The strategy: Embrace the risk throughout the event and be fearless!
Put fear into the hearts and minds of your opponents. Don't let them put fear into your mind or they will win pots you should be winning.
Here are tactics to this strategy:
Look to play a marginal hand rather than fold a hand early in the event. Objective is to risk small amounts to win big pots. Even 7-8 offsuit is worth a limp early on in the event.
Consider using 20% of your starting chips to win with marginal hands.
Later in the event these marginal hands are worth a raise, if played. Don't call with them.
When you re-raise pre-flop, don't make them a standard 3x re-raise as players tend to call. Instead, make it 4 or 5 times and put the pressure on your opponent.
Look to raise first in from a late position. If you are first in, it is usually better to raise than to limp.
Look to make a move against your opponent. Example:
Raise pre-flop, BB calls. Flop misses you. You both check--don't always make a c-bet. Turn misses you but gives you a draw. When your opponent bets into you, with a fearful bet (small amount compared to the pot) put in a big raise.
Call moves made against you, especially on the flop all-ins. Example:
Raise pre-flop and BB calls. Flop misses you. Opponent check raises your c-bet all-in. Why so much? Assume your opponent doesn't have top pair. Can your hand beat Ace high? What about a flush draw? Lean toward calling rather than folding.
Pre-flop re-raise late position raisers from the button and blinds with good but not great hands. Example:
You have K-J in the small blind. The player two off from the button raises pre-flop. Don't call with your lousy position. Re-raise big, to get him to fold his hand. It saves you money if he does have a hand, since he will make a third raise with a premium hand. Might as well get away from your hand pre-flop, and not lose a huge stack when the flop comes J high and you are against pocket Kings.
Mix up your play to confuse your opponents--and set up traps:
• Power of the check to trap your opponent. Example:
Opponent raises you on button. You call with weak Ace. Flop comes with Ace. Check, call your opponent on flop. Check the turn. When opponent checks, you should check the river. When opponent bets river--thinking you are weak--call. Another example is checking the flop when you hit your ace.
• A raise on the turn is a very powerful play. Example:
Opponent under the gun, who is tight, raises. You have Q-Q and decide to mix up your play, and just call. There is one other caller. The flop comes 10 high. The raiser bets, and you call. The third player folds. Heads-up the turn is a rag. Your opponent bets, and you put in a big re-raise. To your opponent, it looks like you flopped a set.
Know that players will use your table image against you. Example:
If you are seen as a tight player, players will muscle you out of pots. You raise with K-10 pre-flop and the SB re-raises you. You need to make this call if your opponent is a good player. You will have position, and will have to call or raise his c-bet on the flop.
Small bets indicate fearful bets by your opponent. If your opponent is not a small ball player, you can call and raise on the flop or the turn.
If you are going to call an all-in move pre-flop, consider moving all-in pre-flop. Example:
Late in tourney, you have $26,000. Everyone folds to you on the cutoff. Blinds are $1,000-$2,000. You have pocket Jacks. If you raise here, will you call an all-in bet? If yes, just shove all-in with this hand and take down the blinds and antes to build your stack.
4. When poker tourneys become a luck-fest.
At some point the blinds increase so much, that you need to look to push. Don't wait for big hands. A key concept is "first-in" vigorish. The first player who moves all-in pre-flop can win when everyone folds or when you outflop your opponent.
Also, you don't need the best hand pre-flop to win--in fact, since you know the best hand doesn't always win you can even call raises with any Ace. Or, two suited 10+ cards (like K-10 suited). Or, any two connectors (like 8-5 suited).
Finally, review the Harrington on M post, since it may be the best way to evaluate these "inflection points." I know that I need to review this again.
5. Be ready for your play before the dealer flops the community cards.
At the very least, put your opponents on a range of hand, know the pot size, and what action you will take on a good and bad flop for your hand.
6. Min-raises against you on flop or turn often indicate a big hand. Pre-flop, it may be aces, and on flop, it could be a set. Players use these min raises to get more money in the pot and give you the odds to call a raise.
7. Know the difference between the types of bets.
A min raise bet on turn, indicates a set or the nuts. While a big check raise on the flop, will often mean two pair.
8. Know your opponents betting/playing style at your table.
Most players believe in survival poker and will fold often. Other players will be raising pre-flop with a big range of hands to take away the pot from limpers. And, other players will be super-aggressive and be making plays to steal a pot. Example:
A player in third position calls. You raise with K-Q. Everyone folds back to the limper and he re-raises big. Does he really have Aces or is he making a move on you? Since he will be the flop no matter what, what should you do? Maybe move all-in in this spot? Or, maybe just fold?
9. A few players look to take "shots" to win hands. Example:
The small stack moves all-in. Since it is a small raise, the button and big blind calls. The BB subtly indicates he will be checking his hand down, and checks flop. You miss on flop and turn, and dutifully check behind the BB. On the river, the BB bets out, and you miss and fold. When the BB reveals his hand, he has nothing and loses the main pot but wins the side pot.
10. Negreanu versus Hansen style of play
Daniel clearly relishes putting players on hands, while Gus is very mathematical in his decision making. My suggestion is that you work on reading opponents hands--but avoid making big laydowns--if the pot is big, the math is right, and/or you invested a lot of chips.
I lean on making big laydowns, and I should be using a mathematical approach for these decisions. I found that I made some good calls, but I also made one awful laydown when my read was wrong.
Overall, I hope this post helps you to reinforce or rethink your ideas about tournament play. I will be adding more things in my next entry.
The fact is that you should play a tournament to win. While survival poker can work. It is very dependent on getting big hands, and getting them at the right time. That is difficult when there are many opponents, blinds increase and the game goes from poker to a luckfest, when the count by the dealer in all-ins slow the number of hands you will see each round, by bad beats, etc.