Monday, January 03, 2005

Posted by Johnnymac 6:36 AM
I have been meaning to write a post about various observations from Sit-n-Go tournaments, but I'm afraid I have so much to say that it would turn into a book. Instead, I think I will just make a quick post about a subject that continually bugs me - the terrible tournament strategy of many of the players. Specifically, the way that they make and call all-in bets during the course of a tournament.

Now, I will offer the disclaimer that the vast majority of what I play are the $5 and $10 levels, so I know that poor play is somewhat to be expected. I do this because I don't want to give substantial sums of money to Pokerstars - I don't trust the system enough to expect to get any back - so any money they do have is just play money that I can "afford" to lose. I know that if I played bigger stakes I would encounter better players and thus some of these observations wouldn't be valid, but these things aren't that subtle - it would seem that people would understand basic strategy just a little bit more.

Saturday night I was playing in a $5 SnG and saw a great example hand. The big blind had just gone up to $200 and with 4 players left I was in 3rd place with about $1000. The man in 4th place was just barely lower than me, but unless he won a hand I was going to finish in the money by blind attrition. This 4th place player was folding a lot of hands and quite clearly was waiting for one last playable hand to take a shot and staying alive in the tournament and finally, with about $600 left and the BB coming on his next hand, he went all-in preflop and got one call from the 2nd place player on the button who had about $4000. The all-in short stack showed A8o, the caller showed 22, and an 8 on the flop helped the short stack double up and then some. Not only did he more than double up, but he passed me into 3rd place and I was eliminated shortly thereafter when my own big blind last gasp T8 ran into pocket nines held by the same guy who had the 22 earlier.

This hand illustrates one of my major observations from these tournaments, and that is that many players make bad calls against short-stackers who go all-in before the flop. In chatting with some other players about this, there seems to be a misguided notion out there that the object of a poker tournament is to eliminate the other players; or to put it another way, if it's relatively cheap to call an all-in bet one should do so rather than let the short-stacked player survive and take the pot uncontested, because one less player in the tournament means everyone that's left is one spot closer to the money. This is incorrect, because whether or not another player is all-in should have no bearing on your starting hand strategy - all that matters is the size of the bet and whether or not calling that bet is consistent with your typical starting hand selection.

The reason for this quite simple - in a tournament with escalating blinds, short-stacked players are already under pressure to win a hand or be forced out of the tournament. And the only way that they stay in the tournament is to somehow acquire more chips. Unless you have a hand that you feel is a favorite to win the pot, simply calling in the hope of knocking another player out is quite likely to have the opposite effect - it will likely double the size of his stack and allow him to remain in the tournament even longer than had you not called it Think about it - unless the player is so low on chips that he is desperate and can barely pay his blind, he is likely going to wait and finally take a chance go all in with at least a face card or any Ace with the hopes of catching top pair. If his hand holds up and he gets a caller, a bad call just gives him more chips than he would have otherwise had he just stolen the blinds.

To me, this observation is self-evident, but to a lot of these other players it is apparently about as hard to comprehend as astrophysics. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that the strategy calling an all-in bet preflop is much different than the strategy of calling an all-in on 4th or 5th streets, because in post-flop situations, the "cost" of the call matters more and not calling might also allow the short-stack to survive. But with escalating blinds, giving another player free chips is like rescuing a drowning rattlesnake - you should let him die on his own before he can bite you.

To finish the story, after the player made the call with 22, I lost my composure and typed in the chat box, "why would you call him with a sh*t hand like 22?" To which he replied, "play your own hand, a**hole." When my own last gasp T8 eventually lost to his 99 and I was eliminated, he took the opportunity for one last gig and chatted, "LOL. Why would you call me with a sh*t hand like that?" I ignored it and went and started a new tourney.

But later, I checked back and was happy to see that the original short-stacked player, the guy who was given new life by the bad call, had won the tournament and Mr Bad Call had finished second. I really didn't care much after that because I think he might have learned his lesson. Then again, he probably never even realized what had happened.

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Random thoughts from a lawyer, an accountant, a commodities trader, an ex-Marine and a WSOP Main Event money finisher that don't know as much as they wish they did...



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