Monday, June 29, 2009

How to Make Tournament Poker Easier For You To Beat...Maybe? Yes, You Need Luck & Avoid Bad Beats

In the last post, I reviewed how to evaluate a poker situation based on the pot odds compared to the odds of winning in different heads-up poker situations.

Let's see how that works out and in order to make your future decisions easier.

1. Common All-in Hands
You raise with A-K or a small pair but a player moves all-in on you. What should you do?

A) You have A-K.
Common hands and odds of A-K versus:
Q-Q: 43%
6-6: 45%
9d-Td: 58%
A-A: 7%
If you have to put in 10k to win 20k or 1 to 2=33% pot odds, a call is usually a good idea. In fact, this is why it is so difficult to get away from A-K. The pot odds will look good enough to call.

B)You have a weak pair like 5's.
Common hands and odds:
A-K: 55%
9d-8d: 49%
K-T: 47%
9-9: 19%

If you have to put in 10k to win 30k or 1 to 3=25% pot odds, a call is usually a good idea. This is why players move all-in with small pairs, and why more and more players are not calling a raise with small pairs but re-raising pre-flop. Therefore, with a medium pair, it may be a good idea to usually re-raise pre-flop since you only have two outs on the flop to improve.

2. Common heads-up situations
There are common heads-up face-offs, where you should know the odds. When you are playing poker the approximate odds are often good enough.

A-K vs a pair is a pair is a coin flip. For example, against 2-2 it is 50%. Against a pair like J-J, it is 44%.

While pocket Jacks are often losers, pre-flop they are ahead of most hands. Like against A-Q, it is 57%.

A suited connector is a slight favorite against a low pair, like Ts-Js vs 2-2 is 53%. But, against, an overpair it will be a dog, like 9d-8d vrs JJ is 20%.

There are also those situations which players call dominated hands. For example, an A-T vrs A-9 is 67%. If you have the A-9, the pot odds are 1 to 2 or 33%.

3. Difficult In-game decisions.
The test of knowing your odds really comes down to those other times, where you have a good but not great hand, and you are trying to make the right decision. The right decision is not based on the outcome but based on the math.

K-T is a hand that is good but not great. Here are the odds against many others:
A-A: 14%
A-K: 26%
Q-Q: 29%
A-Q: 38%
A-9: 42%
A-5: 43%
5-5: 47%
Q-8: 64%
Q-T: 71%

If you have to put in 10K to win 16k or 1 to 1.6=38%, a call is the right play even if your opponent has A-Q! Of course, a decision to call is not that simple. You want to think about the probability your opponent is holding A-Q, as well as hands that are better like A-K and worse like a small pair such as 5-5.

4. Defending the Blind.
One of the things that Gus Hansen does a lot is calling raises in the BB and even the SB.

In general, you will be in a situation of getting 1 to 2 pot odds, or 33% in the BB. Suited connectors and connectors in general tend to be worth a call.

If you have a hand like 9-7 suited, your odds are better than you think:
Q-J: 38%
A-K: 40%
5-5: 49%
J-J: 20%

Even if they are not suited, your odds are about the same (as a rule, you lose about 3 percentage points):
Q-J: 34%
A-K: 37%
5-5: 46%
J-J: 16%

Maybe those calls by Gus are not that crazy after all.

5. End Game All-ins
When should you push all-in? You are bleeding chips with a low stack and blinds are increasing. Well, I have reviewed the concept of M in a prior post. But, you may be surprised at the range of hands you can be pushing given the odds.

Any Ace push. If you push with A-3 and get called, you are not in that bad a shape. If you are against, K-J, you are a slight favorite at 57%.

If you get called by premium pair, you will be a big dog like Q-Q at 28%--but that doesn't happen often AND you will still win about 1 in 4 times! You will probably be up against a pair like 5-5, and be at 30% or almost 1 to 2.

Any King push. Of course, the fact is that when you go card dead, you don't even see an Ace. What if you push with that weak King? If your opponent calls with A-Q, you are at 34%.

Any Queen push. Yesterday, I pushed with Q-8 on the cutoff and lost against A-3. I was at 42%. If my opponent had A-Q, I would have been dominated and therefore, at 25%.

6. Pot odds and the percentages.

Let me try to make your decision easier, by doing the pot odds math for you:

1 to 1: 50%
1 to 1.1: 48%
1 to 1.2: 45%
1 to 1.3: 43%
1 to 1.4: 42%
1 to 1.5: 40%
1 to 1.6: 38%
1 to 1.7: 37%
1 to 1.8: 36%
1 to 1.9: 34%
1 to 2: 33%
1 to 2.5: 29%
1 to 3: 25%
1 to 4: 20%

The more money you are risking compared to the size of the pot you can win, the better your hand vs hand odds need to be in order to make that call.

Conclusion and An Exercise

You should have a general idea about these situations and the respective odds. It is interesting in that there are more hands you should consider defending in your big blind, and there are more hands that you should be pushing with based on a low M.

One of the things that has gone away in no limit tournaments are the all-in specialists. These were players who just moved all-in pre-flop, with the objective of either building a big chip stack early or simply getting knocked out. I believe one day these type of players will come back into the game. Maybe you should be that player?!

The Exercise:
In Sklansky's book Tournament Poker for Advanced Players, he developed an all-in system. Here it is.

1. If someone else has raised in front of you, move all-in with pocket Aces, pocket Kings, or Ace-King suited. Otherwise fold.

2. If no one else has raised in front of you, move all in with any pair, any Ace-x suited, Ace-King, or two suited no gap connected cards, except 4-3 and 3-2.

You may want to try this in a few low buy-in events. It may be a great learning experience and you may even win an event!

NOTE: I believe he updated this system at a later date. If I find it, I will post. If you find it, please let me know what it is. Heck, you may want to refine it, and play that way. It may work! Thanks.

UPDATE: I did try Sklansky's System a few times. It was way too boring and it didn't work out at all. The move-in specialists that I played against many years ago were much smarter on when to make their all or nothing moves. The system doesn't take into account limpers, position, and especially your table image--as players slow play big hands to trap you. Don't waste your time with the Sklansky System.

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