While even one-table Sit & Go tournaments have a multi-table flavour, a key difference is that we’re effectively being fast-forwarded straight into final table mode as soon as we sit down. Thanks to the more rapidly increasing blind levels than we experience during the much, much longer course of a MTT, much of the strategy specific to S&G poker is related to both the blinds and the limited number of prizes.
Most players are aware of the standard, sensible tight approach during the earlier stages, but it can be difficult to know when this style is no longer practical, and when we need to step up a gear or three to be more aggressive.
With this in mind, as the blinds increase to a level at which they’re beginning to eat into our stack, and a couple of players have already been eliminated, we simply have to play dirty and bully the opposition. This can be easier than we might expect, as some players will be way too passive and particularly susceptible to steals and aggression, while others will be better acquainted with the theoretical recommendations yet unable to put what they know into practice.
This is a psychological aspect of the game that will forever be a fascinating side to poker – we know exactly what we should be doing but lack the clear-thinking logic and objectivity to actually commit ourselves to its execution. Such a difficulty with taking the bull by its proverbial horns manifests itself in every form of poker, from appropriate aggression in No Limit cash games to bluffing big or pushing all-in when so short-stacked it’s our only option, and so on.
In this context the key is to be proactive as soon as opportunities present themselves and, typically, acknowledging that we might well need to engineer the right scenarios ourselves – it’s imperative to remember that those valuable chips won’t be dancing their merry way to our stack without us making an effort to collect them!
We should have already identified which players are the most ripe for bullying, and be ready to strike early, picking up blinds and seeing our stack increase as others’ dwindle with each successive round of hands. The advantage of assuming the role of aggressor is that, from the middle phase (and subsequently) of a Sit & Go, opponents tend to almost willingly accept whatever new table dynamic is put before them as long as they’re happy with their current position. Even those with big stacks will acquiesce to someone else’s period of aggression because they don’t want to risk their (good) chances of making the money. Those nurturing average stacks are conscious of being ‘safe’ and in with a chance and, ironically, players with short stacks procrastinate and are experts in finding reasons why ‘this hand isn’t good enough’ to push, hoping while they wait for the elusive big pair that someone else will be eliminated (a futile, ultimately losing strategy).
A key Sit & Go tactic: Bullying.
Good luck at the tables!
We don’t need years of experience to appreciate a couple of the implications of playing small pairs pre-flop (for the purposes of this article we’ll define small pairs as 22-77). On the upside, when the flop promotes the pair to a set it’s great news, particularly in view of the fact that such a hand can be so well disguised that the ‘reveal’ might come only at the conclusion. However, what happens far more often is that, not only does the small pocket pair remain a small pocket pair but, invariably, the arrival on the flop of at least one overcard immediately starts to sow the seeds of doubt – our pair might already be beaten and we’re effectively sitting in the dark armed with a pretty toothless pair.
And herein lies the problem – are we simply wasting money by investing (even modestly) in a small pair in the first place? When we do hit a set would an eventual big pay-off (not in itself in anyway guaranteed, of course) be enough to at least compensate for the cumulative losses incurred through trying our luck all the other times?
While it tends not to be quite as ‘black & white’ as that, this aspect of No Limit Hold’em can nevertheless be considered in, if not simplistic terms, at least a way that helps put the situation in perspective and thus makes the do-we-or-don’t-we decision making process easier to handle.
Here are a few factors to take into consideration when dealt a small pocket pair. Keep in mind when contemplating the following that a pocket pair will become a set on the flop less than 12% of the time:
Position – this generally important subject is going to make a difference here, too. The earlier we are in the pre-flop betting order the greater the chance, after we have limped in, for instance, that someone will throw in a raise or – worse – a reraise, thus putting us in the often unenviable position of having to face facts and cut our loss rather than unjustifiably call a big bet. Conversely, if we are last to act, we have the relative luxury of having seen all the preceding action and can approach the hand with much more confidence. Note that position is absolutely relevant post-flop, too, as being on the button extends this strategic advantage until the river. Were we to have called a (re)raise in early position, on the other hand, the problem would be compounded by being out of position for the rest of the hand.
The kind of game in which we’re playing has an effect on whether playing small pairs is or isn’t a viable option. If the nature of the game is generally quiet we can get away with seeing the flop cheaply but, when sitting with aggressive players, we can’t expect a smooth ride to the flop – thoughtlessly limping with a small pair in early position is often a mistake, while doing so in a clearly aggressive game is unforgivable…
In a particularly passive game we can also slot in an occasional raise – apart from picking up a pot uncontested here and there this also serves to both mix up our play and better disguise a set when we strike lucky.
The bigger our stack size the more justified we are in getting involved pre-flop with small pairs due to their high(er) implied value. This is another subject but, not surprisingly, it’s logical to be able to make the most of our chances when hitting a set – better to invest a modest amount of our stack with a view to a big win than to risk too high a percentage of our money for a payout limited by our (short) stack size.
Good luck with small pairs!
It’s strange how some of the most logical, rational people are prone to superstition. Even during my days as a pro chess player it was not so unusual, in a vast hall full of people engrossed in arguably the most testing game around in terms of there being no luck element, to see superstitious types. Lucky shirts are common (despite causing certain sartorial challenges), as are pre-game rituals and even placing (and moving) the pieces in a very specific manner, and without exception. A Dutch International Master, for example – also a fan of loud shirts, funnily enough – deliberately positions knights facing backwards which, from the opponent’s point of view, can be quite disconcerting…
Poker players are no different. Anyone who plays ‘live’ for the first time might initially be surprised to see people around the table almost obsessively stacking and rearranging their chips in a particular fashion. Some like the sight of giant stacks, others multiple small stacks which, in turn, will be arranged according to a player’s taste – all ostensibly meaningless but, in reality, often providing the player with a confidence-boosting familiarity.
Lucky charms (usually as card protectors) abound, which might be more understandable when our fate can be cruelly determined by Lady Luck but, of course, has no influence on which cards will next appear. Some male players believe they’re ‘unlucky’ against women, others have one or more starting hands (not necessarily trash hands) that they simply never play. This last one perhaps best explains how we might succumb to superstitions, which are (in this context) essentially a subjective construct founded purely in hindsight, and emotionally driven. We might experience unusually good (or bad) results – or perform with a certain level of success – which we attribute to a change in circumstance and, subsequently, consciously endeavour to reproduce (or actively avoid). We see a pot ‘stolen’ from us two or three times after calling a pre-flop raise with this or that hand, and will be loathe to repeating the same play. Poor results against women, incidentally, might well be a genuine problem for lots of male players, but this is due to poor luck or – more likely – good old-fashioned chauvinism obscuring the decision-making process (or simply being an inferior player).
Of course results-led irrational thinking can also have its upside if it means scaring us away from poor strategy but, in the main, we are far better off having nothing to do with superstition and instead focusing on facts. Poker is, after all, a matter-of-fact game that continually delivers psychological blows, and if we were to succumb to the notion that all manner of circumstance and condition can contribute to our fate, then it would never end.
Ritual and habit, on the other hand, can be quite different if it means adhering to certain types of behaviour that are beneficial to our game, such as sleeping properly, good diet and the general aspects of health that aid concentration and help us maintain psychological stability. We’re going to have more luck in the long-term if we avoid alcohol before sitting down to play. Listening to ear-bursting thrash metal isn’t something we should associate with bad luck after noticeable losses – it’s a distraction we should associate with producing poor concentration.
Good luck at the tables!
32Red Poker Ambassador
When the MPN Poker Tour rolls into Tallinn, the scenic Estonian capital, 15-18 January 2015, 32Red player TTayseer555 will be on his way to the €40,000 Guaranteed Main Event after winning his way to glory this week.
We’re giving away €1,500 packages via our extensive, bankroll-friendly qualification satellites, so if you fancy a fantastic poker break, including four nights’ accommodation at the Radisson Blu Olümpia (the venue hotel), an additional €150 buy-in for a Side Event and €400 expenses… hit those satellites.
Remember that our satellites provide players with more than one format, from Sit & Go to Rebuys, as well as wonderfully random Flip tournaments. Different poker variants call for different approaches, so good luck on your quest for Tallinn.
Click here to start your journey…
Poker, of course, is a rich, complex game that comes in many guises and formats. We all have a particular favourite ‘perfect’ poker game which, ideally, we both feel comfortable with and can achieve a level of success from. The potential problem with this, like all manner of favourite things, is that not only could we be missing out on something equally rewarding, but sticking with the same recipe week in, week out also runs the risk of restricting our growth and consequently stifling our game.
A fun, action-packed, psychologically demanding NL poker variant is the adventure known as heads up play. Stripping down poker to 1 v 1 leads to obvious comparisons with chess, where strategy and the need for ceaseless mental agility are paramount. These factors are no less important in poker, which also has more by the way of bluff and brinkmanship than chess.
For those who have not tried heads up there are two quite different types, namely the Sit & Go (SnG) and cash. These are clearly two independent animals, the former featuring blind levels that increase over time (with a frequency depending on structure), while cash games continue ad infinitum with the same blinds. Consequently the two formats share some skills but not others. A SnG typically starts the protagonists without too much of a healthy stack/blinds ratio which, in turn, makes for a more urgent approach than we might be used to. Moreover, before we know it, the tension increases along with the blinds, and we soon find ourselves making more critical decisions, hands being characterised by their not exactly having a great deal of play. Pre-flop all-ins become a key part of the game, as is stealing and re-stealing and so on.
Moving on to heads up cash poker, the constant cadence of the game provided by the almost reassuring fixed blinds affords players the opportunity to experience the most that their stack can offer. If deep-stacked play is your thing you could do worse than use heads up cash as a fascinating training ground.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
After successful events in London and Malta, the MPN Poker Tour will move to the picture-postcard Estonian capital, Tallinn, 15-18 January 2015. Live poker is always thrilling, but being part of a poker festival in such a great setting makes the experience even more memorable.
We’re giving our players at 32Red Poker the opportunity to qualify for a €1,500 package which includes the €550 buy-in for the €40,000 Guaranteed Main Event, a €150 buy-in for a Side Event, four nights’ accommodation at the fantastic Radisson Blu Olümpia venue hotel and €400 expenses.
That should be more than enough motivation to begin your qualifying quest, which is as bankroll-friendly as it gets. There are satellites to suit all pockets, with buy-ins starting as low as 40c. Furthermore, the tournament formats are also varied, featuring SnG, Freezeout, Rebuy, Turbo and even Carnage tournaments. These, of course, each require different skill sets, and will make the qualifying experience an interesting and rewarding one whether or not you win your way to the €1,500 package (and the 15 January Welcome reception that also comes with it…).
Good luck, and hopefully you’ll be celebrating the New Year with a trip to Tallinn…
Click Here to find out more.
We just can’t help giving stuff away for free at 32Red Poker. This month, for example, during our Four Play promotion, which will run throughout October, we’ll be handing out free entry to two of our most popular tournaments, namely The Mosh Pit and Big Night In. And it’s not rocket science – simply play either of these tournaments four or more times this month and you’ll receive a free buy-in ticket to have another go in November (note that a free tickets will be awarded on November 3rd).
Poker tournaments come in various formats, and these two have a distinctive feel that has proven rather popular.
The Mosh Pit (€8,000 Guaranteed) is a daily rebuy tournament with a €22 buy-in and €20 rebuys. It is the nature of rebuy events that they can be fast and furious and, with a juicy prize fund on offer, the aptly named Mosh Pit is no exception. There are plenty opportunities to make the money (and earn your free entry) during the course of the month because this tournament is held every night at 7pm UK time. There are also satellites that provide discount qualification thanks to buy-ins as low as €2.20.
Meanwhile, our Big Night In (€7,000 Guaranteed) is exactly that. Starting at 8pm UK time – also nightly – this is a different set-up, being a deep-stacked freezeout with a total buy-in of €110. Again, satellites are available, from as little as €5.50, and the freezeout aspect lends itself to a quite different approach than the more bloodthirsty Mosh Pit.
As well as being able to earn free tickets just for playing four tournaments, you’ll also have the opportunity to take advantage of additional freebies this month, as we’ll be giving away over €10,000 in free tickets to both these tournaments! Satellites are always worth a go in order to sit down to play big money tournaments at bargain buy-in prices, but there’s even more incentive this month because, throughout October, we will be adding value to some of our Mosh Pit and Big Night In satellites in the shape of additional tickets! Indeed the total added value during the month will be over €10,000, so don’t forget to check out these value added satellites to make the most of the Four Play promotion.
Click here to find out more, and good luck at the tables!
How far do you think ahead? Indeed, do you bother considering how a hand could pan out from street to street or – more to the point – your potential influence on the direction it might take? Poker obviously has a luck element in the form of the ‘unknowns’ but, crucially, there’s far more to the game than waiting for each new card to appear and making adjustments and decisions based rather simplistically on how each new arrival relates to our holding.
We need to experience a level of control as a hand progresses (if we don’t we can be sure someone else will) and this clearly requires some serious aforethought. Moreover, with one of the chief characteristics of online poker being the limited thinking time that keeps the game fluid, it’s imperative we try to think ahead in order to facilitate the decision making process as the temperature inevitably hots up. Note that there is a distinction between thinking and planning – the former means taking into account what might lie ahead and what our actions could be, while the latter is perhaps too specific and elusive.
Some hands are easier to weigh up – and their futures easier to anticipate – than others. Hitting a set, for example, affords us some flexibility but brings with it a rather simple choice of strategy. The common scenario of being dealt AK, on the other hand, is well worth investing time in before we even sit down at the virtual table. If we are in c, for instance, and throw in a raise, then we already know that we will bet a number of flops, regardless of whether we hit. Of course the better our position the wider our range, so we also need to think about the trickier and potentially very profitable hands with which we can win big pots by bypassing the opposition’s radar, a perfect example being calling late with suited connectors. The obvious train of thought revolves around how best to engineer a situation, when we hit big, to get the most out of the pot. But what do we do when our holding has no relation whatsoever with the flop? The ‘automatic’ response for most players is to put the brakes on, and herein lies the problem with not thinking sufficiently about the game because, in this particular scenario, part of our deliberate thinking should include our readiness to react to it being checked round to us by putting in a steal bet when we fail to hit. Adhering too closely to ABC-type poker by effectively limiting our options in advance due to a lack of proper consideration, rather than actively anticipating how we might most positively act as a hand evolves, is a considerable, cumulative error.
The more we grow used to thinking ahead, the better we can approach pre-flop decisions, with our range and pre-flop criteria eventually becoming a natural part of our post-flop thinking and overall strategy. Some holdings clearly have more post-flop mileage than others, and we learn to incorporate certain hands – and certain types of hands – into lines of thought that can subsequently be adjusted, as well as associate this or that hand with situations that can to some extent be confidently anticipated.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
I once read that Sebastian Coe, one of the greatest ever distance runners, had the advantage of having legs of equal length (you may be surprised to know that most of us are not so lucky) and, in turn, the additional bonus of symmetry that is required to transform ‘normal’ running into a smooth, economical glide. If this is indeed true, as it will be for some amongst elite athletes, then Coe was – quite literally – born to run.
Regardless of factors such as dedication and the four-letter word that is work, it certainly helps to be naturally disposed to poker. After all, with so much literature, strategy advice and number-crunching statistical software around nowadays we’ll more than welcome a potentially key edge that DNA affords us if it means we’re more likely to pick up an extra pot or two here and there.
Who, then, possesses the natural attributes that are, typically, most conducive to a successful poker quest? And is having the natural skills that enhance our game necessarily more significant than not being weighed down by equally natural bad habits and permanently undiscovered misconceptions? Not everyone at the table was destined for profit, so it follows that some players are simply more genetically wired up for the game than others.
Of course this subject is absolutely specific to the individual and, as such, necessitates a potentially brutal level of honest introspection, but it’s well worth the effort. In poker – as in life – understanding our strengths is imperative if we are to make the most of them, while appreciating and addressing our weaknesses and their implications is no less crucial. Just one ostensibly irrelevant personality trait could have a major influence on how we play.
I have been told recently, for example, that I am prone to passively going with the flow rather than making decisions. In my defence I should point out that this ‘analysis’ stems from my being a gentleman and subscribing to the theory that the lady should decide certain matters. Yet she swept aside my protestations that I am, in fact, the epitome of assertiveness and, given that her legs are – allegedly – exactly the same length, placing her alongside Lord Coe and thus appearing to lend her assessment added gravitas, I was forced to entertain the possibility. Can I be passive when I should be pro-active? Do I allow opponents to dictate the course of a hand instead of finding ways to assume the initiative? When I think I’m being clever and tricky by merely calling bets, am I really achieving no more than being a passive calling station?
Regardless of the answers, the point is I’m now asking the right questions – prompted by something as far removed from poker as the theoretical (in)significance of my companion’s leg measurements.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
In my days as a pro chess player I never got around to playing in what was then the Soviet Union, despite being invited countless times. This was partly a mercenary attitude on my part, yet one I regretted upon retiring.
I didn’t want to make the same mistake since switching to poker, and although I would have found myself in the poker Mecca eventually it’s nice, when finally being able to play in Las Vegas, to have won my place in one of 32Red Poker’s qualifying tournaments.
My tournament, Event 33, started on Sunday, and looked set to be a minefield – as are they all, of course, to some extent. Meanwhile, it was only after two hours waiting at the airport (in the longest queue I have ever seen!) that the luxurious and – for Vegas – refreshingly tasteful Palazzo finally beckoned. The suite was on the 43rd floor, with a great view of the vista that stretches for miles into the hills beyond.
The first schoolboy error, at 6pm Vegas time (2am UK time), was to sleep after a long day crossing the Atlantic… so now – after waking up at 3am local time – I found myself writing these words.
A sensible Plan B would have been to get used to the time shift in readiness for Sunday…
Spent Friday 13th walking down the famous ‘Strip’… in and out of hotels (some were better than others, some rather disappointing) and shopping malls, and then back up again. The heat was relentless, and the accompanying breeze cruelly hot, so a key word in Vegas is, unsurprisingly, water!
One would expect to see a few strange sights in this city, and among today’s were a tiny boy breakdancing like Michael Jackson, a man in a Chewbacca suit standing around in the street posing for photos, comedian, film and TV star David Spade (Grown Ups, Rules of Engagement) coming out of the lift at the Palazzo… and American Football/Super Bowl legend Joe Montana at a book signing. I even managed to catch his eye when I was told – as I appeared rather craftily, I should point out, from behind shelves to take a photo – that I should stop and buy a signed photo instead (I say ‘catch’ his eye – the record-breaking star was kind enough to hide the ‘what a fool’ expression that my antics deserved).
Meanwhile, within minutes of seeing adverts for 12-inch long hotdogs at $1.99, everything from authentic guitars to clothes to scraps of paper of some (very) famous/significant people was on sale in a memorabilia shop for prices ranging from $1,000 to $180,000 (this for the signatures of those who signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776). It’s funny how money fills all manner of voids in Vegas…
Nothing much happened on Saturday as, having looked forward to watching England’s brand new football team make its effective debut in the World Cup, it was time to look for somewhere away from the drunken masses to watch the opener against Italy. This was the Palazzo’s fantastic ‘Lagasse’s Stadium’ which was by the far the best such venue, with a pleasant, people friendly environment.
Unfortunately the result was the wrong one, but I remained optimistic – after Uruguay losing to Costa Rica – that qualification was a realistic opportunity (so much for that wishful thinking…).
The highlight, incidentally, was my photo after the match with some cheerful England supporters who were prepared to wear all-over so-called morphsuits – 100% nylon body suits (quote: ‘I’m dying in here!’) for the cause (see photo).
I was equally upbeat regarding my giving Event 33 a good go as I collected my seat assignation at the Rio on Sunday. The playing areas are enormous, and the peacefulness an hour or so before the tournament began was in stark contrast to the noise once it got underway. I tend to sit with sunglasses on and earphones in, regardless of whether or not I’m listening to music. Even when that is the case, I’m always listening to everything that’s being said at the table as the information can be invaluable.
My table had more good players than I had expected, but the general level wasn’t too high. It’s difficult to assign it a definitive online equivalent, but it felt like a tournament with a buy-in only a fraction of the $1,000 people had forked out to enter. Of course this doesn’t necessarily translate to good news, but certain table characteristics were evident from the start. One such was universal limping, or global calling of a pre-flop raise, for example.
To cut a long story short – and thus bring you to the ultimately disappointing ending – here is a resume of my day that will nevertheless serve to encapsulate the tournament experience. I was dealt a total of two (yes – 2) pocket pairs – nines and fours. I was able to exploit most of the table’s approach to the tournament, which saw me progress from an initial stack of 3,000 to around 4,500. This was then cut down to just over 1,000 when I was dealt AQ and called a pre-flop raise from a player who was willing to take any Ace to the river. He’d already done so three times. Anyway, the flop came AQ3, I was hoping that his rag card for this hand was a 3, and I was partly right. Alas the bit I got wrong was that he was holding a pair of threes, and had struck gold on the flop, rendering my two pair an embarrassed bystander.
I managed to knuckle down and fold away for what seemed like eternity with my tiny stack (‘stack’ doesn’t accurately describe my sorry collection of chips), and was rewarded over a period of just 8 or 9 hands with a surge to just short of 5,000 – back in business with a stack that could balloon in this type of tournament.
I was moved tables (in fact, to another, cavernous room) and was lucky enough to be able to wait out a few hands, which allowed me to see that this table was slightly different to the other in terms of playing style, in that it seemed particularly loose, and with bigger stacks. My first hand was in the Big Blind, where I found KcQc. There was a raise to 500, three callers(!) and me. The flop came TcJc2h, giving me a (Royal) straight flush draw, open-ended straight draw and two overcards. The original raiser checked, the next player bet half the 2500 pot and the other two folded. I went all-in, the pre-flop raiser folded and the post-flop aggressor, just having me covered, called for a pot of over 11,000 chips. He had AdJd, which is the kind of hand I’d put him on – something that made me feel like I was destined to win the hand. Destiny shouldn’t play a part, of course, as I was anyway a 67% favourite to win. However, not a single club, 9, A, Q or K materialised (and just to add salt to the wounds, both Turn and River were black cards). And that was that. It’s a fine line.
… Of course I couldn’t travel well over 8000 kilometres from the UK to Las Vegas and not experience some good old-fashioned casino cash game poker. It’s not unusual in the city of sin to see people routinely walking up and down the Strip carrying alcoholic drinks, and my logic was to find a game during the witching hours when the opposition was more likely to be considerably worse for wear. With this in mind I set off at around 5am and settled for the famed Flamingo’s Poker Room, where a couple of $1-2 NL games were in full flow. I took advantage of the $300 max buy-in option and sat down, the lone non-USA player at the table. However, I wasn’t able to take advantage of anyone’s state of inebriation because everyone was stone cold sober.
My very first hand put me straight into action thanks to a pair and a straight draw which I opted to bet up to and including the bluff on the river after missing the desired cards. Alas I was (eventually) called down by a middle-aged man (he had a pair of aces) who then immediately left, followed a few hands later by four others. Fortunately the second table had places open up and the new companions made up an almost stereotypical cross-section of American society. Had social commentators been in my chair for the three hours or so I played they would have garnered a wealth of material. As it was, I was able – ‘listening’ to music and ostensibly oblivious to, but in fact closely following, their constant chatter – to cut a path through the ultimately exploitable, global style and leave for a well earned breakfast with over $400 profit. And, to be honest, I felt a little unlucky not to be cashing in considerably more.
Despite being primarily an online player, I’d seriously consider going to Las Vegas to concentrate on playing cash (and maybe tournaments) in the casinos for a while.
Indeed, I’ll certainly be going back…
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the 32Red Poker tables)