Sunday, August 9, 2009

Warning: This Post May Cause You To Quit Tournament Poker Forever

Making the Wrong Play at the Right Time

Like everyone else who plays tournament poker, I study, learn, play and work to get better. I talk to other players, who feel they are really good players. I happen to think that they are right--they are really good players. Unfortunately, really good players are not winning players.

Cover of Cover of Loser

Let me write that again...really good players are not winning players.

All these really good players have one thing in common--they blame bad luck, bad cards, and bad players making bad plays.

Heck, when I was at the bar in the Rio at the WSOP with all those losing poker players, all they could talk about was how unlucky they got, a bad beat, blah, blah, blah.

I have been fortunate to watch a few poker players in the Bay Area who won here and went on to win major events. And even today, I witness one of two locals who win more than their fair share of events and who I believe have the potential to win a major.

What do you think these winning players have in common?

a) They know the math of the game and the percentages better than everyone.
b) They know how to play their opponents better than everyone.
c) They just know more about the game than everyone.
d) All of the above

d--of course!

Got'cha! Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong!

What all these players have in common is that they make the wrong play at the right time. That's right. They make plays that are totally wrong, but they end up being right, due to their sucking out.


It is early in the event. I am on the cutoff. Everyone folds to me. The blinds are $50-$100 and I have $4,000 in chips. I find A-9 suited and raise to $300. The button calls and the big blind calls.

The flop is A-10-4 rainbow. The big blind checks. I bet $600 into the $950 pot. The button folds. The big blind who has $4,500, check raises me to $1,800. What should I do?

I know this player and he knows me. (Yes, he is one of those locals who wins way too often than chance.) He knows I will make a c-bet in that situation about 99% of the time. And I know he will play thinking that if he check-raise me here and I have nothing, I will be forced to fold. So...I move all-in.

Now my opponent goes into the tank. Uh-oh. I am thinking he has top pair with a bigger kicker, or he thinks I moved-in here knowing that he would check-raise me playing my cards. Finally he calls my bet risking most of his chips.

What hand does he reveal?

Ok...think about it. Keep thinking.

Got a guess yet?

K-Q. Huh?

He has nothing but a four outer. I am amazed and pleased with his crazy play, that is, until a Jack hits the turn...and for good measure another Jack hits the river.

Where are my car keys? That was a fun 25 minutes of poker.

Don't Play Stupid!

I am not suggesting you play stupid. But what I am suggesting is that you look at tournament poker as an event where you need to make the wrong play at the right time to win. If you don't believe me, check out how often Phil Ivey sucked out here on his way to the final table of the WSOP. No--I'm not saying Phil is just lucky. He is a great player (maybe the best player) and he wins due to his skill and his luck.

The next 10 times you play a tournament, push the action more than you have before. Don't play the game like you are playing smart poker. Think about making more aggressive plays that make you uncomfortable. You won't be playing by the book. You may feel that the play will require you to suck out. But, so what, your goal is to accumulate as many chips as possible as fast as possible.


Another event, another $225 at risk. We are about one hour into the game and I am in the big blind. A very tight player raises my $200 big blind to $650. Everyone folds to me. I have about $5,000. He has about $7,500.

I find 8-9 hearts. I call.

The flop is 10-7-4 rainbow...without any hearts. I am fairly certain my opponent has either a big hand like A-K or A-Q, or a premium pair from pocket Jacks to Aces.

Normally, in this situation, I would check and see how much he bets. From that bet and his actions at the table, I would either fold, call or check raise. Pretty standard stuff. And, I could bet into him and slow him down with a blocking bet.

Instead, I do something stupid. I move all-in. Hey, so what, if he has pocket Aces. I am making the wrong play at the right time. What happens?

He insta-calls with pocket Kings.

I get up out my chair.

A Jack hits the turn, and yep, for good measure a Jack hits the river. I'm a genius, my opponent views me as a jackass.


I really do believe that the level of play among the better players at your local casino is fairly close. What separates the players that win, from those who cash or lose, is that they are willing to push the action. They are looking to accumulate chips as fast as possible so they can threaten their opponents--like you--with elimination if you play a hand against them.

All the top winning tournament players appear to hold a common objective: to accumulate as many chips as possible as fast as possible. If that means making the wrong play...hey, so what, someone has to be responsible for putting all those bad beats on you.

One win is worth more than a dozen cashes. These super aggressive players play to win or lose. They will make the wrong play at the right time because it's not about survival poker. They play to win or to go home.

Think about it. If you are not winning, maybe it's time to change your game. Don't give up what you learned. Just embrace the risk of the game like never before.

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