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Friday, December 16, 2005

Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Tourney Poker's Got to Go

And here's the problem with tournaments. Large multi-table, 2-table, or even single-table tournaments give you a pretty good chance to win a big chunk in return for a smallish investment. That's probably why so many fish end up in them. The odds of winning are much better than the lottery, and the skillset required is largely similar. That may just be the bitterness talking.

So, the problem. I think it can be best illustrated by looking at the hands I held when I busted out of several tournaments last night. Betting information is generally important, but since these people apparently cannot be pushed off a hand regardless of the bet size, I don't think it really matters if I was betting the pot or twice the pot. Also, since these are bust-out hands, I was short-stacked enough to have to push every time. The old axiom is that you should be happy to get your money in when you have the best of it, regardless of the result in specific situations.

Tournament 1
Blinds 100/200
Dealt AhKc UTG+1 Raise all-in for 1960
Fold to BB, who calls with Ac5c
BB wins with Club flush

Tournament 2
Blinds 100/200
UTG raises to 600
Fold to Hero, Raise all-in to 1715 with AdKc in MP
Fold back to UTG, who calls with QdKs
UTG wins with straight

Tournament 3
Blinds 100/200
Fold to Hero in SB, raise all-in to 1330 with AcJh
BB calls with Qd7h
BB wins with two pair, Queens and Sevens

Tournament 4
Blinds 50/100
UTG raises 200 to 300
Fold to Hero on button, raise 300 to 600 with KsKd
Fold to UTG, raises 1500 to 1200 with QhQs
Hero calls 655 and is all-in
UTG wins with Full House, Queens full of Deuces


And there you have the problem in tournaments. At least, online tournaments with $5 - $20 buy-ins. The fish are willing to call with virtually anything, and so it becomes so expensive to isolate with a good hand that you are practically pot-committed when you find a hand to play, especially if you play a tight-aggressive game. When a premium hand appears, you need to get as much money into the middle as possible. The fish are going to call large bets regardless of odds with an ace-high or a couple of face cards, and you will have your chips in the middle with the best of it. Jackpot!

Or not. You can hit a very bad run of suckouts like I have, and bust out of most tourneys without hitting the money. The terrible shame behind this is that you've identified the fish, managed to get them to get their money in with the worst of it, and then you're out and can't continue to exploit them. After the fourth ugly suckout last night (and to be fair, they weren't all fish...but they were bad beats), I decided to hit the ring games again. In a ring game, you can wait for premium hands, or good hands with position, and maximize your return. More importantly, if you are sucked out on, you can re-buy and keep fishing.

I bought into a .25/.50 for $20, and waited for some good hands while I got to know the table. After a while, I'm in UTG+1 and find JJ. Standard raise of $1.50 to $2. My left calls, as well as BB and SB. Flop comes 3hJhQs. Checked to me, and I bet $10 into an $8 pot to chase out the draws. My left folds, SB folds, BB re-raises $15.05 and is all-in. This guy was too loose to call a $2 pre-flop raise with queens, so I call. Turn and river come Kd Td. Villain wins as his Ah 4h makes a straight. So, with a flush draw and 3 cards to the straight, this guy re-raised me all-in. Unlike a tourney, I have the opportunity to re-buy, and you'd better believe I want another shot at this joker.

Time passes, and I find AsJs UTG+2. UTG folds, I raise $1 to $1.50. Fold around to the button, who calls, SB folds, BB (villain in previous hand) calls. Flop 6s 3d 5c. Villain checks, I bet $1. Button and villain call. Turn comes 9s. We all check. Thanks for the free card, guys. River comes 3s and I made the nut flush. Of course, since it paired the board, and I'm having that kind of night, and villain is just dumb enough to play something like 63, I have some reservations. Villain bets $3, I raise to $6, re-raise to $9, and I call. I would have rather seen myself go all-in here, but I was gun-shy, and I'm man enough to admit my cowardice. Villain shows Qs4s for a lesser flush, and I have taken back my money from him.

Since it's pretty late by this point, I leave the table, happy to be back to even. I think I'm going to really dial back the number of tourneys I play, and focus on the cash games. Tourneys offer outsized returns for your buy-in, but it just seems harder to ride the variance when you can't strike back at the weak players. Barry Greenstein mentioned in his book that he frequently buys in for close to the table minimum on NL cash games, so that he never has too much of his stake riding on one hand. I think that makes good sense. You can always buy more chips if someone sucks out on you, and the ability to go all-in at any time can be important in neutralizing a position advantage.

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