Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When to Go For It and When to Hold Back

I wrote this post on 10/20, but didn't finish it until 10/24. Rather than fix stuff like "yesterday" or "last Saturday" I just put this little sentence in.

I've been playing a lot of small stakes multitable tournaments lately with some success. In fact I keep cashing for about $1,200.

Shortly after my last post I finished 2nd in a $55 tournament with 100 or so entrants on Absolute which paid $1,150. Then on Saturday I had a $2,000 day, $1,175 of which came from winning a $22 tournament with about 200 entrants on Pokerstars. And yesterday I finished 3rd in a $55 tournament on Absolute with 241 entrants which paid $1,200. Of course I have been playing a lot of tournaments so it's not like that's all profit, but it has still been a good run.

During my time at the tables recently I came across a risky situation where going for it was clearly the thing to do in a spot where weaker players might not have and another where taking a very conservative approach was the way to go.

The first situation came in a $55 tournament on pokerstars with about 1,100 entrants that paid 153 spots. The blinds were 500/1,000, I was in the big blind with 14,000 chips behind, and we were down to 157 players. I got dealt AQ suited and when the action made it around to the small blind he moved all in for 20,000.

We'd started the tournament with 3,000 chips so I wasn't too far off of average which was about 21,000. The decision I was faces with was, fold and make the money for sure or call and potentially go broke.

Almost all pros would agree that if you can avoid risking your whole stack on one hand you should and anyone can tell you that going broke just short of the money totally sucks. Also often times when a player overbets the pot preflop like this they have AK which would completely dominate my AQ.

With that said, my opponent knows we're only a hand or two away from making the money and if I was in his shoes I'd be raising any two cards from the small blind (I wouldn't got all in with any two, but I'd raise something).

What was running though my mind was if I played this situation 100 times (or 1,000) would I make more by folding and bringing home at least the $75 for 153rd place 100% of the time or would I make more by sometimes going broke and losing my $55 but in but other times taking a stack of 31,000 (about 150% of average) into the money?

I'd be pretty close to even money against an underpair, but I'd be 3 to 2 against suited connectors, 2 to 1 against total garbage unders and 7 to 3 against a worse ace. Most importantly I thought the chance of being dominated by AA, KK, QQ or AK was negligible. Those hands make up about 2% of the starting card combinations and even with AK it would be a rare opponent who would move all in here.

Pile that all together and I figured I was at least 60% against his range. Now if you do a detailed analysis you might find that it's worth about $84 more to call than to fold. Of course you might not find that because you worked it out correctly and the shit I just did is total garbage loaded with fallacies. Which is why I deleted it out of frustration! With that said, $84 seems about right.

The brass tacks is, even though I was just short of the money it was still worth it to go for it. In the end I let my time bank run all the way down to give myself the best chance to sneak in to the money before I called. When the cards got turned over I was up against A6 off suit which meant I was 72% to win and 6% to tie.

A 6 came on the flop and I finished 155th, but despite that fact it would have been a major mistake to fold here.

At the same time I was playing in a $55 tournament on Absolute with about 100 entrants (I mentioned it above). I went into full on beast mode and by the time we were down to 5 players I was in first with 75,000 chips. The player dead to my left (let's call him Jerk Face) was in second with 70,000 and the other three players all had between 10,000 and 20,000.

One of my great strengths is finding situations where I can raise with any two cards and show positive expected value. After you've played a zillion tournament you get a sense for when other players are going to fold unless they find a total monster hand. At most final tables in tournaments of this size with players of this caliber playing loose aggressive is the only way to go. Every now and then you'll blow up an finish 8th or 9th, but much more often you'll end up at the top. When I get to a final table with an average stack or more I tend to win outright.

As per usual, in this case it was my aggressive style and not the cards I was getting that led to my sizable stack. But when we got to five handed I had to shift gears. On the first hand that we were down to five players I raised, and Jerk Face reraised me. I had total air so I folded. The next time I raised, he reraised me again and again I had to fold. The time after that he moved all in on me with no hesitation. Quit reraising me Jerk Face! At that point if I was going to play a hand it had to be one that could call a suspect all in reraise.

After those three hands the tables had turned a little bit. I was down to 50,000, Jerk Face was up to 95,000 and everyone else was under 15,000. Tough guys always say "I play for first" and generally that's what you should do, but in this case playing for 2nd was clearly the way to go.

Jerk Face was rolling over everyone and they were giving no resistance. While first place was just over $2,000 and that's what I was really shooting for, 2nd was almost $1,200 while 5th was only $500. My 3 short stacked opponents seemed committed to playing super tight and trying to move up one more spot.

I could stand up to Jerk Face with a hand that was better than average (like KJ or A9) since I knew he was on the "any two" track, or I could get blinded off a little and probably end up in 2nd place.

This was a rare situation where playing like a total pussy was actually the best way to go. I'm not saying I was folding premium hands, but I wasn't taking any chances. Just like clockwork, three of my opponent were ground down to a few big blinds, got their money in with Ax and went broke. By the time it was heads up I was down to 40,000 facing a stack of 160,000 which wasn't great, but anything can happen heads up. More importantly I had $1,150 locked up. I got it all in with A5 and lost to KJ, but I was still happy with the 2nd place. If I'd tried to be a tough guy I easily could have finished 4th or 5th and left a few hundred bucks on the table.

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