Long-term tournament success belongs to players who are proactive in their approach to tournaments. Players who take fate into their own hands.
Unlike the two types of players described in my article title Relying on Luck in Tournaments – the loose ‘button-clickers’ punting stacks and the ‘nits’ who leak chips waiting for the best starting hands – the proactive tournament player will find ways to accumulate chips without premium holdings. I’m going to detail a few ways for you to be proactive in your tournament play. This is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a place to start with some easy-to-follow tips for you to work into your game.
1. Speculate When Deep-Stacked
Early in tournaments when the effective stacks are very large, you have more room to see flops inexpensively looking to hit a strong hand or draw.
This is better served in multiway limped or single raised pots, so most of these plays should be done from late position or from the blinds, where you already are reasonably sure about who and how many will be involved, and the price to take a look. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should play two cards on the button with a few limpers in front, but speculative holdings such as small pairs, suited aces and kings, and suited connectors or one-gappers can hit some strong flops.
This is already common and chances are you’re already doing it, but the real skill is knowing times where you have to know when to pull back. When your stack isn’t so deep anymore, you should be more careful about continuing paying to see pots with speculative hands.
2. Isolate Weak Players
One of the things we should be trying to do at the tables is identify the stronger players and the weaker players. It should go without saying that we’d like to play pots with the weaker players whenever possible.
Once we’ve identified a weaker player, we can look to isolate them, when the opportunity arises. This may be when the weaker player has either limped in or opened for a raise, and no one else is in the pot yet. It may be when the weak player is in the blind and no one has entered the pot. If you have any playable hand, ask yourself whether it might be possible to isolate the weak player with a raise or re-raise. If it’s early in the tournament with deep stacks, you could even raise big.
In the micros, conventional advice you may hear for raising first-in when deep-stacked is 3 BB + 1 BB per limper. Don’t be afraid to break the mold on that. Sometimes isolation won’t be a realistic goal – sometimes it is, but will require more of push.
What if you make it something crazy like 8 BB? Most players will look at you incredulously, shake their heads, and fold all but their strongest holdings. Who calls 8x in an unraised pot anyway? The weakest player(s) at the table, that’s who.
3. Identify Over-Folders
As we need to win pots without the best cards, we’re naturally going to need our opponents to fold to accomplish that. Obviously, everyone folds when they have no prospects, but ‘over-folders’ will fold a lot more often.
These players will fold gut shots instead of floating with them. They fold pairs in the face of overcards. They fold facing aggression without a strong hand, and they politely fold when they miss the flop.
These are great players to target with some of our more marginal holdings in our range. They are susceptible to bluffs, and will communicate clearly through their actions when they hit a hand. Since it’s hard to make a hand, they’ll surrender more than they really should. Someone’s going to get those chips they abandon, so make sure you get your turn.
4. Seize Initiative
It is true that there are certainly times when calling is the optimal play, and players who stick rigidly to a “raise or fold” mantra miss these opportunities. But any time you’re considering calling, ask yourself “would a raise be better?”.
By seizing the betting initiative in a hand, good things can happen. We start to build a pots for when we make good hands. Plus, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat for when no one has much of anything. Pots where nobody connects with the board happen a lot, and the spoils typically end up going to the aggressor when everyone else folds. These spots are not always obvious to newer players.
For example, let’s say it folds to the Cut-Off and they open for a raise to 2.5 BB. We’ve observed this player likes to open frequently, especially in late position. We saw them earlier open from early position with A3s and from middle position with J8o. How wide do you think their cut off opening range is? Now we are facing this raise on the button with JTs. This is an attractive hand and people like to call with it. While we can likely call profitably in this spot, consider what happens if we choose to seize the initiative and 3-bet to a nice healthy 9.5x. The blinds will have a tough time continuing with anything but premiums. After they fold, the Cut-Off is now in a horrible spot.
They’re caught with their way-too-wide opening range, facing a sizable 3-bet out of position. They simply cannot defend this range properly. They are forced to either fold too much, allowing us to win immediately with jack-high, or they will call too much. Calling would take them to the flop out of position with no initiative and a weaker range – one that is unlikely to include QQ+/AK as they would 4-bet those holdings a lot. Of course this play won’t always work out – no play will – but we have now manufactured a fantastic situation where over time we’ll be printing money at a huge rate. Did I mention we have jack high?
By finding opportunities to accumulate chips without premium starting hands, we can try to build stacks on our own terms instead of simply relying on luck and hoping we get big hands. Start with these four basic tips, and think about how you might expand on them to do even more. It will transform your game from a gambler into a player, from a fish into a shark.
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