Have you ever heard this phrase?  Maybe you have but were unsure about exactly what it means.  Go big or go home is a strategic approach to a poker tournament.  The basic gist of this approach is to gamble for a big stack early in the event (the “go big” part) which inherently increases, maybe dramatically, your chances of an early bust out (the “go home” part).  I have seen players to use this approach to tournaments in general, and those who never do so and even loath the thought.  This is an approach I will take sometimes, and I thought discussing it might help give others ideas for when they might want to try it, or not.

First of all, let’s be clear that when I say “gamble for a big stack early” I don’t mean wantonly punting off your stack.  You still want to take intelligent gambles.  Perhaps a better way of saying it is to take high variance lines in an effort to build a stack quickly. 

So when might one want to take this approach?  Here’s some ideas:

-When the tournament structure is fast. 

Most tournaments start with some varying degree of deeper stacks.  Over time, as the blinds/antes grow, the average stack gets more shallow, forcing the action.  When the structure is slower, such that the stacks will stay deep longer, patience is rewarded with opportunities to try and chip up while having a big edge of some sort, so protecting your stack from reckless risks can make good sense.  In a turbo, or even more so a hyperturbo structure, not so much.  There just isn’t enough time for those big edge opportunities to manifest, and that big stack you’re protecting is going to be a short stack much sooner than you think anyway even if you don’t take any risks.  So you might as well be willing to take some.

-When you’re playing high volume

If you’re grinding online and have a full line up planned that will see you mass multi-tabling, you might opt to take a go big or go home approach to the early stages of your events.  The early bust outs when things go sideways simply free up more real estate to add new games, with the ultimate idea being to have your grind session ending in some deep runs with big stacks in the games that go well… increased volume meaning more opportunities for the latter.

-When there’s another good game available

This is more a live poker one, since online you can multi-table.  This is an approach I will take sometimes at live events.  As a cash game player primarily, if the games are good then I have something +EV to do after busting a tournament.  Adopting a go big or go home approach is a good fit in this case… it’s much better for me to bust out in the first couple hours of the tournament and spend the rest of the day in those juicy cash games, than to grind the tournament for 6-8 hours and bust short of the money, or with just a min cash.  So if my day is to be spent sitting in the tournament, building a big pile to do so with is preferable since that will lead to more deep runs and final tables.  Combine this one with a fast tournament structure (which is common in smaller buy in live tournaments) and go big or go [to the cash game] starts to look even more appealing.

When I play a bigger buy in tournament, or a deep stack/slower structure event, there is so much more time to identify and exploit edges that I generally won’t take this approach.  But in a faster or more shallow money structure, or one where my cash game profitability trumps my tournament expectation, I will often do so.

-You are planning to re-enter

Re-entry tournaments are all the rage of late.  The 2 ways these generally work are this:  Tournaments with multiple day 1’s allowing you to re-enter on a new starting day, should you bust out of your current day 1.  And tournaments allowing you to re-enter on the same day if you bust out during the late registration period.  If you are prepared to fire multiple bullets as it’s called, then there’s less urgency to protect your starting stack as much, with a new starting stack being only a re-entry away.  So adopting a higher variance approach to build a big stack becomes more attractive, when your plan is to simply start over and try again when it doesn’t work out.

The point of this blog is not to advocate one way or the other, simply to provide food for thought.  IMO some events fit the bill for this and some just don’t.  The WSOP Main Event for example, is a very deep stacked and super slow structure tournament that does not allow re-entry, with a massive prize pool and life changing money on top.  It’s a textbook example of a tournament where you don’t want to take a go big or go home approach imo, as there is ample time to identify and exploit edges, and ample edges to be exploited during the early stages of the game.  In other tournaments however, where perhaps several of the points above come into play together, a go big or go home strategy can make a ton of sense.

Whichever strategy you’re choosing, best of luck in all your tournaments.