Given that beginners are absolutely not the only group of players to make fundamental errors in NL tournaments thanks to good old human nature, here are a few tips to help maximise our chances of finishing in the money. Or to put it another way, a few reminders to help prevent us from exiting a tournament because we did something we really knew we shouldn’t have.
Perhaps the most annoying way to leave a tournament is to do so very early on because we ‘played the percentages’ with a non-monster hand. Regardless of whether we think someone who has just (re)raised all-in – after we have committed a couple of hundred of our couple of thousand stack – is gambling/stealing and we should therefore oblige with our QQ, it’s prudent to fold when the tournament has barely started. Some players would be averse even to calling an all-in with kings during the early stages.
Of course the advice above is particularly relevant for freezout tournaments but it is also important not to become too loose in a rebuy just because we are ‘happy’ to invest in a certain number of additional bites at the cherry. Speculative play can pay off in these tournaments and, while we should keep in mind that the option to rebuy is going to influence how others act (and how they might perceive certain plays given this context), rebuying should nevertheless be seen as a safety net and as bringing key psychological factors to the game, rather than an excuse to go mad. A good idea is take advantage of 32Red’s excellent Auto Rebuy tool to pre-select the number of rebuys we are willing to have before the tournament starts and the adrenaline gets the better of us.
If we do succeed in building a big stack it would be nice to keep it that way. Too many players cancel out any good play or lucky breaks once they find themselves with a virtual mountain of chips by playing too many hands or taking risks that cold, hard numbers simply don’t justify. It’s one thing to use a big stack effectively when the time or situation calls for it, but quite another to get involved just for the sake of it because we think we can ‘afford’ to – sooner or later such cavalier tactics tend to come unstuck and we go hurtling back down the field, often unable to adjust.
Limping out of position with suited connectors such as 78 or with small pairs is fine in the early stages as long as we are willing to let go of the hand in the event of annoying raises, but generally – particularly with a medium stack – it’s best to keep in mind that on a full table these hands can lead to trouble and instead wait until the tournament progresses and the game tightens somewhat. That isn’t to say we should dump these hands all the time, rather be selective and conservative during the early stages.
Beware Aces with ostensibly good kickers. While AK is strong – and anyway not that strong! – AT and AJ (and even AQ) are trouble hands that are best left alone in normal circumstances. The likelihood of being dominated simply relegates these hands to the dustbin unless we have a very special reason to believe otherwise or our tournament situation demands a stand of some sort.
Finally, don’t be afraid of ghosts. There’s nothing wrong in being cautious, but if we give in as soon as a scary card appears or when someone bets big we’ll never win anything.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
No Limit Hold’em: To slowplay, or not to slowplay
‘Slowplay’ seems to be simultaneously a four-letter word and one of the joys of poker. We have all been guilty of doing it when we shouldn’t; it gives us great joy, yet can also cause heartache. There is a reason why advice such as ‘only slowplay sets on unconnected, rainbow boards’ crops up in strategy articles. However, the fact that slowplaying big hands can lead to disaster doesn’t mean we should remove this weapon completely from our armoury. The trick is to avoid digging our own proverbial grave by being tempted in situations that are shouting out to NOT slowplay, while keeping our eyes peeled for those times when it is appropriate.
The main debate we have with our poker conscience in NL is whether or not to try slowplaying pocket aces pre-flop. Often the fear of scaring everyone off the hand by opening the betting sees us limp in and then end up in the nightmare scenario of a multi-way pot. We might have succeeded in disguising our aces but we, too, are completely in the dark in terms of knowing anything about the strength or otherwise of all the other limpers’ hands and, unless one of the two remaining aces appears, the situation is potentially ruinous. For many players it is a case of once bitten twice shy when this happens, and the notion of slowplaying gets an undeserved lifetime ban.
The ideal opportunity comes when we are in early position at a table of players who have more aggressive tendencies than usual. Of course we must be prepared for these players to decide to go against ‘type’ and still find ourselves seeing the flop alongside numerous limpers but, when there are enough aggressive players behind us in the pre-flop betting, someone will usually raise, thus opening the door for us to re-raise. Typical dream pots see us win an explosive hand against a lone player with a lesser pair or AK, or someone might throw in a reraise so that our enormous further raise is more likely to get action because it will look more like a squeeze play.
Regardless of whether slowplaying like this works, we need nevertheless to incorporate such a play into our repertoire for the sake of balance, slowplaying having particular significance for our table image and subsequent big hands when others witness what we have done, thus sowing the seeds of uncertainty in the opposition’s minds – are we limping with aces again, or does our hefty pre-flop raise indicate aces?
Slowplaying post-flop is even more complex as we have to take into consideration who (including ourselves) was doing what during the pre-flop betting as well as the texture of the board, the tendencies of anyone still involved in the hand and so on. Obviously the more players we are up against and the more ‘connected’ the board, more can go wrong, hence such nuggets as ‘only slowplay sets on unconnected, rainbow boards’ being worth our attention.
We’re much happier slowplaying AsAc on a flop of 2s 7c Kd than if the flop came 8h 9h Th, the latter simply having too much potential for others and none for us. Indeed slowplaying would be awful on a draw-heavy, co-ordinated board – far better to make a genuine attempt to take the pot with a bet that means business (and denies draws value) and then decide accordingly if anyone comes back fighting: even two players willing to get dirty here means it’s very likely time to get out of the way.
As our hand becomes stronger, the more correct it is to slowplay, to an extent that with a monster it is practically imperative in order to give the opposition enough chance to catch up sufficiently to justify staying involved. Checking the flop with a full house, for instance, also has the advantage that even if an opponent fails to improve their hand they might be tempted to try a bluff in reaction to our perceived weakness.
Note that slowplaying takes different forms against different types of players. Aggressive players might build the pot for us, whereas passive players tend to need us to make modest bets to build the pot because they might check to our check.
Of course slowplaying is not confined to pre-flop or on the flop itself, but whenever it presents itself as an option, we should remember to take into consideration the relevant factors such as those mentioned, not least our own table image and history in similar situations.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD)
32Red Poker Ambassador
No Limit Cash Games: Pocket Kings
Having already discussed how to handle pocket queens we now turn to pocket kings. Essentially, when we are dealt KK we should really be treating the hand as if it is the strongest at the table. Of course there will be times when someone else wakes up with aces, but this happens so rarely that we should nevertheless treat kings as the best hand and play accordingly.
The correct strategy is to bet aggressively pre-flop, which means both raising and reraising. The point is to engineer the ideal situation of a single caller with a juicy pot. Failing to thin out the field pre-flop tends to result in letting in too many opponents. We know that people like to stick with weak aces, so when a flop brings an ace we are already doubting our hand. Moreover, even when no ace appears on the flop it can be a nightmare as any kind of co-ordination (even flush draws we don’t have a piece of) puts us in a position where, on the one hand we can’t afford to give free cards, while on the other we are putting our faith in what is effectively a vulnerable overpair. Note that as opponents increase, and with all sorts of problem textures, we are also susceptible to being bluffed when the board becomes too intimidating. Basically, the first, key part of playing kings is trying to avoid dangerous, multi-player pots.
With lone opponents our prospects improve dramatically. With the obvious exception of aces, we are going to be dominating those hands that opponents are likely to be staying in contention with, such as QQ (around 80% favourite) or AQ (70%). Note that here, with a single opponent, we don’t have to be anywhere near as concerned about the appearance of an ace on the flop as the range of plausible calling hands – from every pair to suited connectors – is so wide. Consequently we must remain consistent in our aggression by making a continuation bet, which apart from making a claim for the pot, also serves to help establish where we are in the hand.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD)