So I’m playing in the 9 week poker league at my local casino again (the same league I won my WSOP Main Event seat in late last year).  The first 2 weeks were uneventful, with a 14th place finish and an early exit before the first break.   Week 3 this Tuesday went as good as could be, as I took it down.  The prize money for the win basically means I’m freerolling the rest of the league now, and the points for 1st should make finishing in the top 10 in the standings an easy task, guaranteeing me a spot in the Finals.

In this blog I want to share with you some shorthanded strategy adjustments I made that propelled me to the win, in particular 3 handed and heads up.  It was an interesting dynamic.  When we got to 3 handed, the chip leader (who was on my right) was a decent, aggressive player.  I’ve played with this guy quite a bit in prior leagues, and given my TAG style (I won’t be too TAG 3 handed but he doesn’t know that as I don’t think we’ve gotten to the end game together before), and the style of the 3rd player, I knew he was going to try and run over us.   The blinds are big at this point and the depth of money shallow.  There were 196K chips in play and the blinds were at 2K/4K/400, so there are only 49 big blinds on the entire table.  And the 3rd player was new to me, I hadn’t played with him before this night… he was easily the worst/least experienced player at this final table, and he played a tight-passive game.  He ran well to get this far, but I didn’t think his style would do anything to discourage Mr. Aggressive from revving  up the engines.  And stealing those blinds antes a few times would solidify his chip lead for sure, so I wasn’t really interested in letting that happen.  I decided my adjustment here was going to be to come over the top of him very liberally when he raised the button or SB.  He was disciplined enough to fold, but also capable of making some loose calls, and may not wait too long with the depth of money so shallow.  Still, if stealing the blinds and antes a few times would greatly enhance one’s chip position here, imagine what restealing would do.  A couple of those and I’d be in a good chip position. 

The very first hand of 3 handed play, Mr Aggressive made it 10K to go on the button.  I looked down at K6o, a king blocker is plenty for my plan, and he will sometimes have worse in his calling range as I thought he’d call with JT+.   I shoved, and he went into the tank.  Finally he said “ok, I’m going to let you have it this time, but it won’t happen again”, and he mucked.  ‘Yes it will,’ I thought to myself, because he’s always raising with garbage in these situations.   I folded my button, then in the big blind the tight-passive guy mucked his button, and Mr. Aggressive made it 10K to go again from the SB.  I looked down at QT.  All in.  After a short deliberation, “Alright” he says, “I call”.  Oops.  Then he turned his hand over and it put a recall on the oops memo.  He called me with Q4s.  No 4 hits the board and I double up to about 90K, and cripple my most dangerous opponent in the process.   A short while later I busted him, giving me about a 146-50 chip lead over a tight-passive player.  I liked my chances.

I min-raised the button and he went all in, so I folded my rags.  He then limped the SB, I checked my option, and gave up on a missed big card flop after he bet.  At this point I decided to adjust my strategy… this guy played very straight forward after the flop from everything I’d seen, so I decided rather than force big pots by raising weak hands, I would only raise pre with value hands.  Instead, I would limp my Small blind button with any 2 cards, see a free flop in position, then fold misses if he bet, and bet misses if he checked.  Since he’ll miss more often than hit, I should win this battle of small pots (well, as small as they can be anyway at this blind level lol, the blinds were now 3K/6K/500), thus protecting my chip lead and grinding him down in about as low variance a style as possible on shallow money.

Much to my surprise, he adjusted a bit heads up!  I limped my SBB and he raised, so I folded.  Then he mucked his SB and gave me a walk.  Then I limped my SB again and he raised again!  Hmmm… at this point it sure seemed like he was going to fight and not let me limp the SBB.  He was min-raising the big blind in this spot, and I had been giving him credit for a strong hand, but now it was seeming increasingly likely he was actually raising light (good for him!).  He limped his SB and I gave up to a bet on the flop again.  So as I was thinking about how to re-adjust to this new development, I was dealt KTs in the SB.  Normally this would have fallen into my value raising range category within the initial heads up plan I had, but I decided this was a good spot for an adjustment.  I limped again.  He min-raised right on cue, only this time I reraised all in.  I expected him to fold a lot, now that he had gotten a few chips, and knowing he was likely to not have much of a hand.  “I call” he said, but there was no oops memo necessary yet, as he quickly tabled K4o and I was in a dominating position to take down the tournament.   The oops memo came on the flop, which contained a 4.  I got no relief, and suddenly found myself in a small chip deficit to him with about 95K-ish in my stack. 

At this point he asked if I wanted to chop up the 1st and 2nd place prize money.  I decided to politely decline.  I told him I’d like to play on a bit more, and thought I’d get lucky next time.  Actually despite being slightly behind and blinds high relative to the stacks (higher variance), I felt like I had too much of a skill edge to just split the money here.  And if I ended up losing and finishing 2nd (certainly this will be the outcome some of the time) I was ok with that, as equity wise I think playing on gave me a larger equity share of the prize pool than a straight split would pay me. 

Things changed after this.  Now that he 1) had chips, and 2) saw I would not let him raise me off my SB limps easily and/or could be setting a trap for him, he stopped raising my limps.  Yes I did try it again my next SB to see if this change of events altered his behavior, and it did.  He never raised my SB limp again actually.  So I limped, he checked, and I took it on the flop with a bet after he checked to me.  I continued to play conservatively out of position, checking my option after his SB limps and only planning to raise with strong value hands.  He checked back a flop, and I bet the turn from OOP with air… he mucked.  Next hand I limped the SB with T7o, he checked.  The flop came KJ9, giving me a double gutter straight draw.   He checked, I bet 10K, and he called. The turn paired the J.  He checked, and after deliberating I decided to follow through with a 15K bet.  I didn’t think he’d fold a king, but also was sure he didn’t have a king since he simply would have bet the flop with top pair (straight forward post flop remember).  He could have called the flop with a jack, a nine, or some kind of gutter himself.  He folded to the 15K bet, and in just a few hands I had a commanding chip lead again. 

When he got in shorter stack territory, he reverted back to min-raising the BB vs. my limps.  This time however my strategy adjustment seemed clear.  I thought I’d try limp-calling these plays.  I realize on the surface this sounds “weak”, but think about the opponent… he’s clearly out of his element, and plays straight forward post flop.  And will be out of position post flop with generally weak holdings in this sequence.  I think it’s a nice adjustment to exploit the situation.  So we did this for a few hands, and it worked quite well.  I limp-called him pre, then he’d dutifully check-fold the flop to my steal bets.  I continued to play conservative out of position, waiting for a good spot to get the money in there but otherwise totally content if it didn’t come, since my in position line was allowing me to slowly chip him further down anyway in as low a variance manner as possible.  And after a few of these exchanges, he stopped raising my SBB limps altogether and just started checking his option.  Which was fine, since he still check-folded missed flops.

The final hand came in another of my small blinds.  I limped with Qc4c, and he checked his option.  The flop was Jc3c3h, giving me a flush draw, he checked, I bet 10K, and this time he called.  I am pretty sure where he’s at here.  He can have a few flush draws as well of course, but much of his range is Jx and 3x.  The turn was an off suit 7, and he checked again.  There’s no chance he’s going to fold any of his range on a blank turn here I thought, so no point in semi-bluffing since there’s basically no “bluff” component, so I checked it back and hoped for a club.  The river was a lovely club, and he checked again.  Although it was a bit of an overbet, I declared all in, as I felt he wouldn’t be able to get away from even a jack here (and if he had me, then nh).  He snap called and I tabled my hand.  He confidently turned over 3d4d for trip 3’s.  I congratulated him on a good game and extended my hand, to which he seemed confused.  Turns out he didn’t see the flush, he thought he’d doubled up with his trips.  Nice, older gentlemen, friendly and personable.  But pretty inexperienced at poker, and that tends to be magnified in short handed and heads up play.

It was a fun finish for me (obviously), but also really fun being focused, dissecting what the opposition was trying to do, and adjusting to exploit it when possible.  I hope you enjoyed hearing about it and that it provided food for thought that will help when your own end game times come along.