Here are some basic principles that will improve your chances of winning.
one key principle is to develop an understanding of the various personality types of your competitors. There are 4 basic personality profiles that I’ll describe here.
The Loose-Passive Player (LPP)
Also called the “calling station,” because that’s all he does (call call call), This type of player is stubborn and foolish, hanging around in hands long after wiser players would have folded. Because of this trait, he’s often derogatorily and dismissively referred to as a “donkey.” Donkeys have spawned a whole new poker vocabulary—donkish, donkoid, donking off chips, donkastic, donkfest, etc. They like to play lots of hands pre-flop, especially if they can limp. Post-flop they continue to be too loose, playing marginal hands and draws.
Don’t ever try to bluff the calling station, but watch out if he ever takes aggressive action. He usually doesn’t bet unless he has a hand. If he ever shows strength and you have a powerful hand yourself, don’t slow play against him. He’s likely to have a hand that he won’t lay down (remember he’s a donkey), so raise him up and don’t be afraid to raise a larger amount than normal. The key to playing against donkeys is never to bluff, but to over-bet your good hands at every opportunity, including going all-in on the river, as his curiosity will often get the better of him and he’ll pay you off. Loose passive players are the best type of player to prey on to build your chip stack in tournaments, but will be long gone and hard to find when the prizes are given out.
The Loose-Aggressive Player (LAG)
There are many flavors of the loose-aggressive; some are crafty, some are bullies, and some are
just certifiable maniacs. But they all love to play hands and they all love to bet. The key against these players is not to let them run you over. Because they play so many hands, by definition they frequently must have a weaker than average holding. Since they love to bet, trapping and slow playing work well against them. So does fighting fire with fire. Take a stand and play back at them with a hand that you figure is ahead of their wide range. As a guideline, re-raise them with hands in the top 50% of the range of hands you assume they’re playing. It may take some courage, though. If the player you stand up to
is ultra-hyper aggressive, you may find yourself risking all your chips! Be prepared for him to re-raise all-in and make up your mind in advance that you’re going to call.
Loose-aggressive players are most likely to be young wannabe stars, young soon-to-be stars, or young stars. They often band together and discuss most situations that come up in tournaments. They’re
the modern version of the old-time tight-aggressive player, but with an edge. That edge comes from information—poker may be a game of incomplete information, but this group gets it, chews it over, and decides what the best plays are that they can make. Excellent examples of this kind of player include Patrik Antonius, Carlos Mortensen, and Phil Ivey.
Crafty players are often old veterans of the cash-game wars. They know how to make a lot of plays and moves, all with the intention of misleading you as to the strength of their hand. once they have your head spinning, they swoop in for the kill. They’re great hand readers and make big calls if they smell a bluff. Examples of players who use this style are Freddy Deeb, Barry Greenstein, and Sammy Farha.
The Tight-Passive Player (TPP)
The tight-passive player has learned that good players are tight, but he just doesn’t have the courage
to put in a lot of money without a good hand. This player may not realize how valuable it is to steal the blinds (when they get large) or how successful a continuation bet can be. He might raise pre-flop with AK, but when the flop comes all low cards, he’ll give up and curse his luck. “Why doesn’t AK ever win?” he thinks. He may go through phases where he doesn’t raise with AK, just because he doesn’t want to lose the extra money.
Many players in the mid-range of SNGs ($20 to $50 games) are tight-passive. They often finish 3rd or 4th and many of them make a small profit. Sometimes playing tight is all you need, but to make a big profit, you need to learn to run over your opposition. Against the tight-passive player, make frequent small bets after the flop whenever he shows weakness. Rob him a little bit at a time, taking lots of small pots away from him. Give up if he ever bets or raises.
The Tight-Aggressive Player (TAG)
This player doesn’t play many hands, but when he does, he plays them to the max. once he shows strength, he usually continues his aggression no matter if he hits the flop or not. This is the right type of player to be, at least in the early stages, and he’ll play very similarly to the way I’ve outlined in this book.
Tight-aggressive is the old-school player who used to be the biggest worry in a poker tournament,
but LAGs are now considered to be a bigger threat due to their unpredictability. Still, TAGs are no
fun to have in the game, because they play well, they’re often in there with the better hand, and more important, you won’t make any plays against them that they haven’t seen before. They adjust what they do to the situation and read your moves for what they are—moves. Examples are TJ Cloutier, Dewey Tomko, and Tom McEvoy.
The Situational Player
A sub-category of the TAG is a tough new breed known as the “situational” player. Situational players pay close attention to what you’ve done in the past and will probably take advantage of your tendencies and weaknesses. They typically play the situation more than their cards. If they smell weakness, they’re not afraid to push. They carefully pick their spots and they’re not foolish with their chips. To get them you likely have to have a better hand or make a multi-street play. you have to bet convincingly or show them the goods. Examples would be Doyle Brunson, Allen Cunningham, Andrew Black, Nenad Medic, and Paul Wasicka.
The best personalities for you to adopt are tight-aggressive early, then shift toward loose-aggressive as the tournament progresses. The good players will make a shift in personality with you, but others won’t adjust their game enough. Don’t assume that a player won’t change his personality when the tournament gets short-handed or if his stack gets low. Watch how he plays, take notes, and adjust your play accordingly.
Playing Against Passive Players
By showing up at the start of a tournament, you’ll get a read on the way your table as a whole is playing. For example, if you’re at a “raise-and-take-it” type of table, where typically everyone folds when someone raises, you’ll likely play differently than if you’re at a table that is playing “ram-and-jam” style with a lot of chips going into every pot. If your table is passive and players are playing tight (tight- passive), an effective counter-strategy is to raise more frequently, but generally back off if you get re-raised. If your table is passive but loose (loose-passive), you can consider taking cheap flops with speculative hands, hoping to flop a big hand and “stack” (bust) an opponent.
Playing at Aggressive Tables
you’ll need to be more cautious at aggressive tables than at passive tables. Aggressive players can be either tight or loose, but both are more dangerous than tight or loose passive players. you can play more hands against passive players, because they don’t raise nearly as much. It’s more difficult to play a wide variety of speculative hands against aggressive players, because their frequent raises will chase you out of too many pots where you’d be getting the wrong odds to play.
Tight-aggressive players select premium starting hands or fold. When they play, they put in a substantial raise. They’re also often sufficiently disciplined to avoid getting stacked by possible flushes, straights, or 3-of-a-kinds. An effective counter-strategy against this type of player is to substantially tighten your entrance requirements in the early going. Later on when the size of the blinds is more appetizing, you can open up and steal blinds from this type of player. If you get re-raised, though, duck for cover!
Loose- aggressive players are probably the toughest to defend against. They play a lot of hands, betting and raising frequently. Their playing frequency makes them difficult to avoid. you can play more hands against this type of player than against the tight aggressive, but you’ll need to be more selective than when you’re up against a loose-passive player. If you’re fortunate enough to flop a big hand, such as 2-pair or better, against this type of foe, give him enough rope to hang himself. Like a martial artist, you can use the force of his aggression against him by letting him unsuccessfully try to bully you out of the hand, then zapping him with a big raise on the flop, turn, or river. This is known as “trapping.” Loose- aggressive players can be trapped. The less threatening the board, the later in the hand you can wait before springing your trap.
Adjusting Your Strategy for Your Opponents’ Tendencies
The guiding principle is that if the table is playing tightly, raise a bit more than usual if no one has raised, but be wary of calling a raise without a premium hand. If the table is playing loosely, play few hands, but play them aggressively. The correct strategy is to play opposite from the path chosen by most of your tablemates. In every case you want to be alert as to how your opponents are playing and react accordingly. At first, adjust your play about 10% based on the type of opponents you encounter and let the cards you hold make up the other 90% of your decision. As you gain experience you’ll be able to adjust these percentages—situational play will continue to gain in significance and you’ll need to rely less on the strength of your hand.
Observing Correctly and Understanding Your Table Image
your “image” is the way your opponents perceive your style of play. This image will change as the tournament progresses. Which category of player are your opponents currently putting you in? Do they think you’re aggressive or passive, loose or tight? The impression you give your opponents is dependent on the quality of hands you show down, your level of aggression based on the frequency with which you bet or raise, and the overall number of pots in which you’re involved. other players can’t see your cards if they aren’t shown down. Also, they weren’t there when Big Bubba folded his set to you last week. So they haven’t and won’t take those things into account when making decisions. The more pots you enter, the looser you’ll appear; the more you bet or raise, the more aggressive you’ll seem to be. Note that this appearance or image will be created whether its “true” or not. For instance, you may have just bet or raised in 4 of the past 6 hands, with all your opponents folding each time. your image will be loose and aggressive, even if every one of your hands was aces!
A mistake a lot of beginners make is to try to create a certain image. Early in a tournament they go out of their way to play either very loose or very tight, but often at the expense of making less than optimal decisions in order to fulfill an image objective. These decisions cost them EV, which is often very difficult to make back. Their table may change later in the tournament and they’ll be playing with different players who weren’t there to witness their “show.” Even when they find themselves facing some of the same players, they might not get the proper hands or face the proper situations to profitably take advantage of the image they created.
you can, however, have it both ways. The superior way to use table image to your advantage is to continually make the best possible decision in each situation based on your cards and how your opponents view you at that moment. Allow your image to develop and change naturally, an offshoot of how your recent decisions looked to your opponents. When you get a few good hands in succession, your image will naturally become loose and aggressive. you can take advantage of this by playing your better hands more aggressively. Sometimes you get very bad hands for hours at a time and your image will be tight and passive. Use this image to steal or re-steal with marginal hands to get back in the game.
You’ve raised pre-flop in 3 out of the last 5 pots and won unchallenged. You’re dealt Ah Td
three seats from the button and it’s passed to you. while you would normally raise here, in this instance you should fold. It’s likely that your opponents will assume you’ve been stealing due to your number of recent pre-flop raises and will re-raise with much weaker hands than normal, because their current impression of you is loose and aggressive. Since you can’t call a re-raise with this hand and they’ll re-raise more frequently than normal, it’s best not to get involved.
Evaluating and Taking Notes on Your Opponents
The first few hands against someone you’ve never seen before are going to make a very strong impression on you, one that may take many sessions, or even years, to alter. Try not to put too much emphasis on any one hand, since your opponent might have hit the wrong button or was just distracted by something. Don’t ignore what you see, but don’t get swept away by it either.
It takes hours of play to see people in various situations and pick up clues as to how they’re likely to
act. If you play online at an efficient site such as PokerStars, it’s easy to take notes on how that person played a particular hand. If you play with someone awhile, you can make multiple entries that can easily be accessed when you’re faced with a difficult decision. over time, you may be able to create a dossier on a player that not only makes it easier to remember him when you encounter him in the future, but also provides you with the elements of a plan to counteract and take advantage of his likely playing pattern.
Luck Versus the Quality of Your Decisions
Don’t rely on luck to get you to that final table. It’s the quality of your decisions that gets you there. In order to successfully navigate the path to success, you need to be at the top of your game—at all times aware of what’s going on at your table. Even when you play your best, you’ll lose part of the time, so regard every success, every win, as a special gift.
When you arrive with better weapons than your tablemates and consistently make better decisions, you’ll also get to the final table more often than others. Even then you won’t always get there…it’s just that you’ll get there more frequently than most of your opponents. over time, the luck factor will unfold in a truly random way that favors no particular player. Image, focus, control, patience, fearlessness, and strategic planning are the legs of the final table. Luck is the thin layer of felt on top.
How the Size of Your Stack Influences Your Play
Poker events run with the idea of eventually ending up with one winner. The continual narrowing of the field is accomplished by periodically raising the blinds (and antes) in pre-announced time frames. These incremental increases in the CPR (cost per round) prevent players from just sitting back and waiting for aces before getting involved. The effect of this constant raising of the CPR is to take some of the chips from every player at the end of every time frame. If the blinds double, it’s equivalent to someone going around and taking half of each player’s chips! you just can’t sit forever and wait.
When you have a short stack, your options are greatly reduced. often, the optimal play is to either fold or push all-in. The reason for this is that a standard raise will commit such a large percentage of your chips that you’ll be mathematically obliged to put the rest of your chips in the pot if you get re-raised. As previously discussed, it makes sense to move in or fold, rather than betting a smaller amount, when you have a CSI of 7 or less.
Having chips puts you in position to make speculative and situational plays. your big stack will threaten other players who’ll realize that if they mess with you, they may be flirting with elimination. Also, you can afford to see more flops with speculative hands in hopes of flopping a disguised powerhouse.
your primary goal in the early part of each tournament is to be in good shape for the middle part of
the tournament—I define that as having more than 10x CPR or a CSI greater than 10 as explained previously. Keep an eye on your stack and don’t wait too long to become more active when your stack begins to dwindle under a CSI of 10. Each fold becomes more costly as your CSI diminishes.
Trapping with Aces
Someone makes a pre-flop raise ahead of you and you have aces—nothing is sweeter! But sometimes you can make it even better by just calling pre-flop and not re-raising. If your opponent hits the flop, he may have trouble letting go of the hand. And in any case, you’ll usually get another continuation bet out of him. The best time to do this is when the raiser is in early position—he’s more likely to have a real hand and isn’t just stealing the blinds.
Another variation of this is to just limp in early position yourself with aces. Then if someone else raises, you can re-raise or continue to trap by just calling. The disadvantage of just calling is that you might not get the money in as a favorite. Plus, you’ll have to play the hand out of position. Also, when someone limps and then re-raises, the first thing the other players will think is, “oh, he’s got aces or kings.”
A really sneaky play is to take advantage of that assumption and try the limp-re-raise with other hands, such as AK, 55, or 65s. They’ll naturally put you on a powerful hand and you can pick up a lot of pots, either before or after the flop.
The Short-Stack Lure
Imagine this scenario. your opponent has a CSI somewhere in the range of 8 to 12 and you have him covered. He makes a normal-sized raise in late position and you’re in the blinds with a powerful hand such as AA or KK. If you re-raise, essentially putting him all-in, he’ll frequently fold a weak hand with which he was just trying to steal the blinds. However, if you just call pre-flop and check on the flop, he’ll frequently try to c-bet (often all-in), even when he missed the flop. This allows you to collect all his chips when he tries to bluff .
Some Poker wisdom
Aphorism #1: “You can’t win a tournament in the first hour… but you can lose it!”
The reason that it’s not possible to win the tournament right away is the simple practical limitation
that if 210 players enter an event, only nine opponents are likely to be at your table. Even if you
could somehow eliminate all nine opponents on the very first hand of the event, you’d still have 200 opponents left that you’d have to overcome. of course, you’d have an enormous chip lead, but there would be many hours and many decisions ahead of you. By the time the final table arrives, your success at your first table will mean relatively little. you’ll have less than half the chips needed to have an average stack at the final table.
Looking at the other side of the coin, you could be one of those nine players that gets eliminated on hand 1. In this case, your tournament is obviously over, hence the aphorism. Many top players have suffered the ignominy of defeat on hand 1 in some big event or another. I escaped this occurrence for many years, but while writing this book, it happened. I flopped top 2-pair and was stacked by a set on the very first hand of the opening event of the Victorian Championships at Crown Casino in Melbourne.
Understanding probabilities helps soften the blow. If it happens to you, don’t let it bother you too much. Some player that you’ve never seen before may move all-in on the first hand of the main event of the World Series of Poker and you look down at the best possible starting hand in hold ’em —AA. Calling here is always correct. on average, you’ll double up your starting stack more than 4 out of 5 times and get off to a flying start, but you’ll still lose sometimes. Those 1-in-5 chances do hit about 20% of the time (funny how that works), and there’s nothing you can do about it, other than to understand the probabilities, grin, and move on.
Aphorism #2: “In order to live… you have to be willing to die.”
This great quote about tournament poker is attributed to poker pro and WSoP bracelet winner, Dr. Max Stern. you must overcome your fear of perishing and put your chips, all of them, into the pot if that’s the right play. Fearlessness is a huge asset in NLHE. Many times players tell me how they “knew” that if they pushed in a certain situation, their opponent couldn’t have called, but they didn’t have the courage to do so. This is an area where the best in the game excel. If they smell weakness, they’ll put enormous pressure on their opponent, forcing him to fold. Conversely, if a player’s bets don’t add up and they think he’s bluffing, they’ll risk everything on the strength of their conviction. Players who run scared generally can’t win poker tournaments.
Aphorism #3: “It takes a stronger hand to call a raise than to make a raise.”
This adage can be proven mathematically. Let’s say you only have sufficient chips remaining to play
7 orbits around the table (CSI-7). Let’s further assume that your opponent is an IBM supercomputer and plays perfectly. What percentage of hands should you move in with and what percentage of hands should the computer optimally call with? The correct answer is for you to move in with the top 57% of all hands and for the computer to call with 36% of the hands. If either you or the computer deviates from this, you’d be giving up equity. Detailed discussions of situations such as this go far beyond the scope of this book, but are discussed in detail in Kill Everyone.
THE FIRST FEw LEVELS IN A MULTI-TABLE TOURNAMENT
your mission is to accumulate chips and it’s much easier to get your chips from inexperienced players now than it will be try to pry them loose from Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, or an Internet-tournament wunderkind later on. So how can this be done?
Play Hands That Can win Big Pots
Look for hands that can become monsters and win big pots if you hit the flop, while costing you precious little if you miss. our objective is to try to make sets, flushes (especially nut flushes), and straights, as these types of hands have the potential to stack an opponent, while hands such as a pair don’t.
Try to Flop a Set
Small to medium pairs also play easily early on. Here you’re trying to flop a set. Remember, when you have only 1 in your hand and 2 are on the board, that’s known as trips and isn’t a set. When you start with 4c 4d, sometimes you’ll make a powerful fully hidden hand on a flop, such as 9h 4s 2s, where you might well bust a player with an overpair or even a hand such as A9. on the other hand, if you miss the flop entirely, for example Ah Ks Jc, it’s easy to muck the pocket 4s when faced with a bet and move on.
I’ll give you a practical example. you start an online tournament with 2,000 in chips and the blinds are 10/20; your CSI is over 66! A player in first position (UTG) makes a standard raise to 60 and it’s passed around to you on the button. According to the Rule of 2 to 9, you can play for up to 4% of your chips with 44. With only the blinds left to act and given the fact that the raiser has shown strength by raising under-the-gun, you doubt that either blind will re-raise, so you call for 3% of your stack. At this point you’re hoping—nay, you’re praying—that the raiser has AA or KK. Why? Because if you flop a set you can bust him, and all he can win from you is that measly 60 that’s already in the pot. If you don’t flop a set, adios! If he has AK or AQ and doesn’t make a pair, you won’t stack him when you flop a set, but you may collect some more loot if he tries to bluff.
Say the flop comes Qh 4s 2s. Perfect! Now beside aces and kings, if he has AQ he’s like a fat man on
a thin limb! If he’s got AA, KK, or AQ, how can he release it? you’ve invested 60 to win 2,000. Note that even if the flop comes with all low cards, but without a 4, such as 7h 5s 2d, you should fold if your opponent bets. If a single opponent checks to you, however, go ahead and make one, and only one, bet.
Playing Suited Aces
Flushes, especially ace-high flushes known as “ nut” flushes, are very powerful hands in NLHE.
With As 5s, you can make a flush much easier than with Ac Qd. Because of this potential, early in the tournament I’d rather have the weaker A5s than the AQo. This might seem counterintuitive at first, because so many times you’re taught to play big cards—and I’m not saying that you should throw
your big cards away. I’m merely suggesting that the somewhat more speculative hands such as A5s are more valuable in certain deep stack situations. The A5s is less likely to get you in trouble than the AQ when the blinds are small. AQ is dominated by AK, a hand virtually all players will play. When you tangle with AK and an ace flops, you’re in a world of worry. you may think you’ve got too good a hand to fold, even in the face of heated betting from your opponent. Before you know it, you may become pot- committed and get busted.
A5s is much easier to fold under pressure. If you’re playing properly, you won’t lose a big pot with A5s, but you can win a big one. Besides possibly flopping the nut flush, you could make a well-disguised small straight if a 234 hits the board. Also, a flop such as Ah 5h 2c will look innocuous to an opponent holding AK and you might be able to get all his chips. A flop of Ah Qh 2c, on the other hand, will look much more threatening to an opponent holding AK, especially if the betting gets fast and furious. The A5 is more deceptive.
With As 5s you also have the potential of flopping a big draw. A flop such as Ah 4s 2s gives you a pair of aces, plus the nut flush draw and a gutshot straight draw. If your opponent has AK, he’s ahead for the moment, but is an underdog to win the hand after all 5 cards have been dealt. you’ll win if any of the 9 remaining spades or any 3 show up. Since you’ve already counted the 3 of spades, add 3 more winners. you’ll also win whenever one of the three remaining 5s comes (unless a king comes as well). With 15 probable winners and 2 cards yet to come, you’re about a 6-to-5 favorite to prevail. This is the type of hand that calls for aggression. Bet the flop and if your opponent raises, move in! you may win the pot right then, but even if he calls, your chances of winning are better than his (see Fold Equity).
Playing Suited Connectors
Moving down the ladder we arrive at suited connectors. These have value, because when the stacks are deep, you’ll use them to make a big well-disguised hand and stack your opponent. Sometimes, it’s oK to risk your entire stack without a made hand, so long as you’re the one doing the betting or raising. When you risk your entire stack on a draw, you usually want to do so on the flop when there are two cards yet to come and you might possibly be the favorite even when called. With only one card to come, any draw will be a substantial underdog. you have fold equity working for you and if you take a five-way flop with 8c7c and it comes 9c6s4c, or 8d 6c 5h, or Jc 8s 2c, etc., then moving in is often the best choice.
Note that in these examples, you have more than the normal 9 outs you’ d have with a flush draw.
The more outs you have, the more willing you should be to move all-in on the flop rather than checking and calling a small bet or folding to a big one. Furthermore, play only the suited connectors. If your connectors aren’t suited, they won’t be able to make enough big hands to be profitable.
If you choose not to move all-in and check instead, you’ll most likely be facing a bet at some point. you’ll want to call only if the bet is small compared with the size of the pot (half the pot or less) and a further raise by another opponent is unlikely. Base your call on the pot odds and implied odds (see page X and y). If you don’t flop a straight draw, flush draw, or 2-pair, check and fold your suited connectors post-flop.
In the early going be careful with hands that might win a small pot, but lose a big one. Conversely, risk a small percentage of your chips on hands that may lose a small pot, but may win a big one!
- Understand how your table image appears to others at various times and learn how to take advantage of it.
- It takes a stronger hand to call a raise than it does to make a raise.
- In the early going, try to win big pots by taking flops cheaply with speculative hands, but be wary of hands that may win a small pot but lose a huge one.
4. Remember to keep fold equity on your side, whenever possible.