tEh_R3aLde4L in Tournament poker: Part Two
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
In his last piece, Wesley “tEh_R3aLde4L” Whybrew talked at length about adjusting to players and changing gears in multi-table tournaments as well as the psychological requirements behind successfully playing tournament poker professionally and some overall advice on improving your game.
These strategies and tactics have led Wesley to a $121,688.14 victory in the PokerStars Sunday Million (he has a jacket to prove it and everything) that contributes to several hundred thousand dollars in tournament profit.
Now in the second and part of his tournament strategy guides exclusive to BluffEurope.com, Wesley talks at length about how to play according to stack size – both yours and your opponents’. This can often dictate your entire gameplan in each of the hundreds of hands you play on your way to taking down a large tournament field. This stratagem is also applicable to sit and goes, although they play differently to multi-table tournaments in several ways. In MTTs your aim is to win; in STTs you play to cash, then play to win. This is because cashing in an MTT is barely double your buy-in for several hours, or even days, of work.
tEh_R3aLde4L in full haggling flight...
One thing that is common to both game formats is the necessity of making certain plays based on how many chips you have in front of you. In tournaments it’s important to remember that each chip in you does not represent a monetary value, and the worth of individual chips decrease as you go deeper into the tournament and your chips represent fractions of the total prize pool. This means that it’s important to decide on a survival vs. accumulation plan on a hand-to-hand basis. When you have a short stack, for example, your main focus is to get all your chips into the middle and maximise your chances of doubling up.
“With each type of stack, there are various weapons that you can employ in order to pick up chips,” says Wesley. “Last time I talked about anticipation, table image, game flow and thinking on your feet – being one step ahead of your opponents is always a good thing. However, the bulk of the plan of your attack is going to come from how many blinds your stack size is.”
Definitions of short and big stacks depend on how deep into the tournament you are – for example, at the very beginning stages of the tournament a 25BB stack would not be particularly impressive. At the final table of a typically-structured online tournament, that’s a not-too-shabby collection of chips. In these examples, assume that you are fairly deep into the tournament and that a small stack is around 15BBs or less; a medium stack is 20-30BBs; a big stack is 35BBs or more. If you have less than five or six big blinds in front of you then you’re near dead in the water – as Wesley explains, you shouldn’t have gotten yourself into that situation in the first place. Your goal is to double up and rapidly accumulate chips by any means necessary.
“When you have a short stack your options become very limited,” he says. “The biggest mistake players make with this sort of stack is calling raises and then folding the flop. This is a huge mistake because you can’t afford to call off such a large percentage of your stack hoping that not only will you hit the flop, but that your hand will best when the money goes in.”
Wesley recommends that, when you inevitably find yourself in this scenario, the flat call be eliminated from your arsenal – it’s raise or fold. “One scenario that I would make an exception for is if you have a very strong hand such as AA or KK and a loose player opens, one who is likely folding to an all-in. Here I could flat call his pre-flop raise and check the flop with the intention of check-raising his usual continuation bet.
“Another situation in which I would flat call with a short stack pre-flop is if I have a hand against a loose opener that is likely best, but I have no fold equity. Most people know this as a stop-and-go.”
The popular tournament tactic is effective against a wide opener because it gives you fold equity on the flop when you have none pre-flop. Best employed out-of-position (i.e. from the blinds), it involves calling a raise pre-flop and shoving any flop when the raise is a standard 3x the blind and you have around an 8BB stack. “This is effective with a short stack and a hand like 33 or A2s, which aren’t great when you take into account that the raiser is never folding. However with that stack size they are too strong to fold, so if you call and shove the flop he might fold hands that he was otherwise calling with, even hands that dominate you pre-flop or beat you in a race. If we don’t have the best hand on the flop it makes no difference as he was calling a 3-bet shove pre-flop anyway.”
Another useful tool with a short stack is the re-steal, which has become a very common play in tournament poker as the aggression in the games ramp up. “It’s an effective move because people love to steal from late position, but it’s tricky because it’s quite anticipated nowadays.”
Going back to Wesley’s philosophies in Part One, the re-steal manoeuvre is very much to do with feel and anticipation, but as a general rule the move is best used with 12-20 big blinds. Any less and you have no fold equity; any more and the maths goes down the drain as it becomes too risky to put 25 big blinds on the line for the sake of the five or six in the pot.
“The button, for example, is obviously a great position to steal from,” Wesley says. “But all good players know this; most good players know that you know this and therefore I wouldn’t re-steal against a solid player’s button open – he’d know that with my 13BB stack I’m primed to re-steal and therefore wouldn’t steal my blind unless he’s lost his mind. However other people are capable of raise-folding with a short stack, and some people are just not aware of what’s going on and you can shove on them all day.”
Other common mistakes made by players with a short stack are putting in small or standard raises pre-flop as opposed to open shoving and folding to an all-in. In short, if you’ll excuse the pun, the only thing that should be on your mind with a few rounds at the table left is getting your chips in and doubling up.
Now we move on to the medium stacks, which are also tricky to play in several ways – as discussed, the re-steal is now not available to you as your stack is too large to 3-bet shove but too small to 3-bet and fold.
“Now you need to be aware of who is going to re-steal your pre-flop raises,” Wesley advises. “You’ve now got a stack where you can afford to raise and then fold to sizable 3-bet. Being aware of who is in the blinds, who is on your left, and how many chips they all have is important.”
However, now you do get some additional ammunition after losing the re-steal tactic. Isolating weak limpers and taking down a raised pot with a continuation bet is like printing money in No-Limit Hold ‘em cash games, and with a medium stack you can now apply the same principles in a tournament: “Bad players love to open limp, which is a terrible play deep in the tournament unless you are on the button or the small blind.” Wesley discusses the concepts of opening limping the button and small blind later on.
The best situation to be in while playing a multi-table tournament is, of course, being the big stack. However, there’s a reason that the RailHaven-crushing Gods at Full Tilt play 200BBs deep – with deeper stacks, there are more opportunities to make mistakes and lose your chips. For Patrik Antonius and p1nnyraid, that’s good news as they can profit from the errors of bad players. For a weak tournament player, it just offers an opportunity to spew off that hard-earned glitter.
.Playing the big stack, you obviously have a more versatile array of options available to you. However, as Ben Parker and Wesley now will tell you: with great power comes great responsibility.
“Playing the big stack, you have more weapons, but you don't have the ability to go all in as much,” Wesley says with regret. People that have faced him in tournaments will tell you that an inability to shove makes tEh_R3aLde4L very sad. “Troubles with a big stack come from a fear of future bets on later streets and not being able to negate your positional disadvantage with an all-in.”
Big stack vs. big stack confrontations will often see players making tremendous leaps or falls in the tournament – such hands can literally decide the outcome of the entire game. Therefore, Wesley says that it’s very important to be aware of the other big stacks at the table and how to play against them effectively.
“You have to be aware of having another big stack on your left,” he stresses. “Because with a big stack you can now call raises as they are much smaller percentages of your stack. People will call you in position liberally if you’re splashing around, so with a big stack to my left I will be playing tighter; anticipating more calls and 3-bets.”
However, like everything in poker, this can be flipped on its head when you’re the one in the driving seat, i.e. in position. “With a big stack to my right I’ll try to do the same and take advantage of them with more flat calls and 3-bets because I feel most people won’t adjust correctly.” Most people with a big stack play far too aggressively, and this is what Wesley aims to take advantage of with his positional play.
A big mistake related to changing gears and adjusting, Wesley says, is the act of playing too aggressively with a big stack. “It sounds silly – when I play it’s rare for me to not be aggressive with a big stack. But, in a tough tournament, like a $109, when you double up or get a lot of chips, trust me: people are going to be more aware of your presence and play back at you more.” He thinks, before adding: “Especially me. My image to my online competitors is not all that great. However, in a smaller buy-in tournament people think the big stack is reckless and will call anything, so they will rarely bluff you.
“That said, just because you have a big stack it doesn’t mean you need to call raises and flat 3-bets trying to hit a flop in every single hand,” he says. “It’s, again, incredibly situational. Always being aware of how much of a percentage of your stack you are risking is really important.”
Tournament players are usually very, very aware of the size of their stack, even if they cannot play the situation properly. It’s drilled into them from the first forum thread or page of Harrington they read – watch your stack size, play accordingly. The average player will be focusing on their stack, counting down precisely to fractions of a SB and calculating their M, but totally failing to take into account the stack sizes of the other players at the table. “This is especially true at small-stakes and amateur levels,” Wesley says. “For example, people will find ATs in middle-to-late position, raise, and then the BB 3-bet-shoves ten big blinds. Then the raiser sits and thinks… and thinks… and thinks… when, really, they should have been aware that the big blind had a stack where he needed to make a move soon. In other words, the player with AT there should have made a decision regarding calling the big blind’s shove before they even looked at their cards.”
Earlier, Wesley described open limping in tournaments as being a generally terrible play. But there’s that s-word again – that’s right, situational. “Most players think that limping on the button is automatically a bad play, but it’s not,” he says. “If, for example, you have a 20BB stack on the button or both of the big blinds are short-to-medium stacked, it would be silly to open raise.” It all boils down to the maths – if the button raises two short-to-medium-stacked players in the blinds and folds to a raise 2/3 of the time, the blinds could shove 72o and have it be a +EV move.”
Limping the button here is a far better play with a decent hand that can’t stand an all-in such as A4s or KTo, warns Wesley. “I might decide to open limp the button and bet most flops, or perhaps minraise a flop lead. This is better than open raising and folding to an all-in.” Even the situational play is situational, though: “Other times I will raise the button with A4s and KTo and insta-call a shove depending on the players in the big blind.” The point of this is that so many poker players are robotic on the button, auto-raising according to a hand chart they saw in a Phil Gordon DVD. “Don’t just mindlessly raise a suited ace, have a plan for the hand,” Wesley says. “Because against the wrong players you’ll be losing money in position instead of profiting.”
A strategy in blind vs. blind situations that Wesley devised is to simply complete the small blind when it’s folded around to you. “This is again because the small blind is, in this scenario, a stealing position. That means a raise will be called when you’re out-of-position or you’ll be 3-bet a lot. Most people are scared to raise limpers, so I limp the small blind and bet lots of flops.” It’s a nice way to take down a lot of small pots without showdown, and one additional advantage is that it sets you up to limp-3-bet on the rare occasion that you find QQ in the small blind. Again, though, it comes down to anticipation and a read of the big blind. “Against a good loose-aggressive player in the BB I’m never completing the small blind,” Wesley says. “Because he will raise limps with a huge range in position, especially with antes in.”
Antes, as most players know, encourage looser play as the pot is more rewarding to take down before the flop. In a tournament with blinds of 300/600, for example, a 1,800 raise will take down a 900 pot. Make that 300/600+100, however, and now that same raise at a nine-handed table will be taking down a pot double that size.
We at BluffEurope.com would like to apologise if, after reading this and last week’s strategy guide, you’ve realised that you’ve been playing tournaments entirely incorrectly for years. However, with the advice of someone who has proved that they are the real deal, hopefully you can go on to take down the Sunday Million yourself.