Player Tips

Poker Tournament Tips

Happy holidays everyone! The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with family and friends and do the things you love. If you love poker like I do then the additional free time this time of year is a great opportunity to try your hand at tournaments! Some of you may be familiar with no limit hold’em poker tournaments already but for those that aren’t here’s a quick break down as well as some basic strategy tips to help you reach the final table.

In a typical no limit tournament everyone pays a fixed buy in amount and receives the same amount of tournament chips. The blinds increase at regular intervals thus driving the action. You have to win pots or the blinds will eat up your stack. Play continues until one person has all of the chips with players paid out based on their order of finish.

Navigating a tournament field is no easy task. At any time it only takes one bad decision or one bad beat to end your chances and send you to the rail. If you understand that then you already have a grasp on one of the most important differences between playing in cash games and playing in tournaments. Once you lose your chips you are out and the game is over. There are two basic ways to use this fact to alter and improve your tournament play.

Avoid chasing draws and taking unnecessary risks. When you call to chase draws or play marginal hands you’re risking valuable chips that could be saved and used in a much better situation. Chips you already have are usually more valuable than the chips you might gain. If you call chasing a draw and hit your card the card may scare your opponent and you won’t get paid off. Playing marginal hands usually leads to tough decisions and disadvantageous situations: you simply don’t have enough chips in a tournament to justify it unless you are short stacked. This leads me to my next tip.

Use aggression and the fear of going bust to your advantage! A player who understands the concept of going bust and being eliminated will play tighter and more cautiously and rightfully so. The savvy player will pick up on this and use this to their advantage. Chasing draws is often times a poor decision in most varieties of poker however if you flop a draw and play it aggressively your opponent is the one in the tough situation. Take the following example and see how the way you play it changes the entire makeup of the hand.

The blinds are at 20-40 and everyone at the table has roughly 750 in chips including you. You are in the big blind and are dealt 9h 8h. The play folds around to the button who raises to 100. The small blind folds and you call. There is 220 in the pot you and your opponent have about 650 in chips and the flop comes Kc 7h 6d. You check and your opponent bets 140. What should you do? If you decide to be passive and call the pot will swell to 500 you will have 510 left and you will be looking at a turn card out of position. If you miss your card on the turn you either have to bluff and lead with a bet into your opponent risking that he has a hand and is likely to eliminate you or you can check to your opponent who is likely to bet an amount that is close to your entire stack. You will be forced to fold or put your tournament life on the line with one card to come. You have just lost one third of your stack chasing a draw and you only got one card more! You didn’t even get to see the river before committing your chips!

Now consider playing this hand differently. Your opponent bets 140 on the flop and you raise him or her to 340. Your opponent now faces calling an additional 200 but he or she also knows that if they make the call they will likely have to call your remaining 310 putting them all in on the turn. With your small raise of 200 you have turned the tables on them and made them make a decision for their tournament life. Think of all the hands your opponent might raise with that would fold in this situation. Any pocket pair that isn’t aces and didn’t flop a set is in a very tough situation and would likely fold. AQ AJ AT Ax and any other raising hand that doesn’t contain a K is likely to fold as well. On the off chance they have top pair with a K they will still have to hold up against your open ended straight draw. More often than not they will fold and you will take down a nice pot without a showdown or a made hand. Occasionally they will call or go all in and you will still have a decent chance to win a bigger pot. It is a great situation to try and accumulate chips that will help you reach the final table.

No limit hold’em tournaments are great ways to play a different form of poker than cash games limit how much you can lose and still have a chance to make a big score. Understanding the differences between cash games and tournaments will help give you an edge on the competition and guide you to making better decisions at the table. Remember to avoid taking unnecessary risks and chasing draws. Use aggression and your opponents’ fear of going bust to your advantage. These basic tips will help you to get deeper into tournaments and hopefully reach that final table. Next time we’ll take a deeper look into final table tournament play and I’ll have a couple more key tips that can help get you that big score! Until next time see you at the tables!

Our Sunday morning tournament at the California Grand is a perfect way try out these tips. The buy in is only $55 and the California Grand adds additional prize money to the prize pool. The tournament starts at 10:30am but sign ups start at 8am for cash game players and 8:30am for all other entrants. The spots fill up fast so be sure to get here early!

learning the game

Playing Small Pairs NLHE

Playing Small Pairs Before the Flop in No Limit Hold’em Poker

The holiday season is the perfect time to take a step back and be thankful for all of the wonderful things in life. If you’re anything like me one of those wonderful things is taking all of someone’s chips with a well hidden hand. One of the best hands for accomplishing this is small pocket pairs. Just as we discussed last week when we were dealing with limit hold’em small pairs can be very tricky hands to play in no limit hold’em. The fact that we are now playing no limit does not change this fact one bit. As is true with virtually all poker decisions understanding the specific situation you are in and what factors to consider will help to guide you to the best decision.

We are going to define small pairs as any pocket pair from 2’s through 6’s. In no limit hold’em as opposed to limit the factors we are looking for change slightly. Position is important but no limit brings with it two new things to consider: stack sizes and bet sizing. It is incredibly important to take note of every player’s stack size before making your decision just as it is to bet the proper amount after you’ve made the decision to bet. Let’s examine how bet sizing and stack sizes may affect your pre-flop play.

You are in a no limit game where the big blind is $3 and the maximum buy in is $200. Everyone at the table has roughly a full buy in including you. You are on the button and look down at pocket 3’s. Three people limp into the pot for $3 and the action is now on you. What is your play? Clearly you’re never folding in this spot; you have a hand that has the potential to bust another player with the right board. This leaves you two options: call or raise.

By raising you increase the size of the pot before the flop which increases the size of the bets on every subsequent street. This is often overlooked but can have a drastic affect on the ending size of the pot and how much you stand to win. Let’s say that all the bets at the table are roughly two thirds of the pot. If you just call and five players go to the flop for $3 each the pot will be $15 on the flop. A 2/3 pot bet on the flop is $10. A 2/3 bet on the turn (assuming one player called the flop) will be 2/3 of $35 ($15+$20) or $22. Now we have a pot of $79 on the river leaving a 2/3 pot bet of about $52. But if you raise to $12 and all but one of the limpers calls the pot is now about $40 including blinds. A 2/3 pot bet on the flop is now roughly $25. Assuming one caller the turn bet will be $60 and the pot will be $210 going into the river. You would have about $100 left at this point meaning any bet should be the rest of your stack. One small pre-flop raise drastically changed the final size of the pot. Of course hands rarely play out this smoothly and a multitude of other things could occur in the hand but the concept and point remains the same.

Another small benefit to raising with position in pots and situations such as this is that you have the option to check behind on the turn if it is checked to you and see a free turn card. Few things feel better at the poker table than getting that free card hitting your set and having someone who is drawing dead betting into you on the turn.

There is a very major drawback to raising with your small pocket pair before the flop and that is causing people to fold. But wait! Don’t I want my opponents to fold? I’m more likely to win the pot against one or two opponents than I am against the whole field! This is true but you must ask yourself what your goal is in the hand. Are you trying to just win the most pots or do you want the pots that you win to be big ones? If you raise out opponents you’re eliminating people that could potentially pay you off big when you hit your set. It’s rare that you get to hit a set in no limit so you definitely want to increase the chances of getting paid off as much as possible. With four or more opponents you are way more likely to have someone else make top pair or connect with the flop in some way that enables you to get action with your set.

If you were to ask me how I like to play my small pocket pairs in this situation ideally I would want to build the pot without driving many people out. A smaller raise generally does the trick in these lower no limit games. Be careful though. An observant player will pick up on this quickly and know what type of hand you have.

Stack sizes also play in integral role in defining how you play your small pocket pairs before the flop. If the players left in the hand do not have much money in front of them the value of your small pocket pair goes down. If you hit your set no one has much money to pay you off with. A strong case can be made for simply folding the hand and waiting for a more lucrative spot. The same can be said if you have a short stack yourself. If you find yourself with only $50 in a $200 buy in no limit game (which I would NEVER recommend, that’s another whole article right there!) and get a small pocket pair dealt to you folding is likely the right play. You simply don’t hit a set often enough and won’t get paid enough when you do to make it a profitable play. You could try to raise more and win the pot against a single opponent but if you end up all in pre-flop you will rarely have your opponent in trouble. If you’re lucky you’ll be in a coin flip situation if not you’ll be dominated. Just letting the hand go and waiting for a better spot is the play here and all that changed was your stack size!

So there is no right way to play small pocket pairs pre-flop in no limit hold’em. Understanding the situation and all the factors that are important will lead you to making a solid and profitable decision. Remember to take stock of everything around you at the poker table just as we all take stock of the good things in our lives. I wish you all a wonderful start to your holiday season. Until next time good luck in the card rooms!

learning the game

Playing Small Pairs in LHE

Playing Small Pairs Before the Flop in Limit Hold’em Poker

Small pairs can be very tricky hands to play. In limit Hold Em games a case can be made for all of your pre-flop options calling raising and folding. As with most things in poker there is no right answer but understanding the specific situation you are in and the players at your table can help you make the right choice more often than not.  Note that small pairs in no limit hold em is different, and we recommend a different strategy.

For this article we are going to define small pairs as any pocket pair from 2’s through 6’s. When you look down at your hand and see a small pocket pair you need to ask yourself some questions to decide how to proceed. The first question I would ask myself is “What game am I playing and how is the game being played?” By that I mean am I sitting in a higher limit 15-30 game where the players tend to be more aggressive or am I in a 3-6 game with more passive opponents? Is the table full of action and large multi-way pots or is the game playing tight with only 2-4 people seeing every flop? In situations where the game is more tight and/or aggressive I would lean more towards either folding or raising/re-raising. Why?

A lot of this depends on your position as well. If the action has folded to you and you are on the button with pocket fives I think a raise is clearly in order. If only one person has entered the pot for a raise and you know that player as a blind stealer or someone that raises with many hands then consider putting in a re-raise. If you have those same pocket fives and are under the gun (first to act after the big blind also known as UTG) then I would advocate simply folding the hand and waiting for a better spot to get my money in the pot. Let’s look a bit closer as to why this may be advantageous for you.

In the first situation on the button raising puts pressure on the blinds. They may fold and let you take down the pot right there or they may call with a less than strong hand. Once the flop hits if they check to you and you bet you will likely win if they miss the flop regardless of whether or not you hit your pair. They will also often lay down their hand if an ace or king hits the flop as they will give you credit for having high cards.

In the second situation re-raising a loose player gives you a great deal of information and creates a lot of advantages for you as well. Everyone acting after your re-raise will be much less likely to enter the pot without a very strong holding (although be aware of the players in your game to ensure that this is the case). You will drive out medium strength hands that are a danger to your small pair like KQ, JT and weak aces (Ax) making it much more likely that you end up with the best hand. Your opponent will also give you credit for a strong hand unless they have seen otherwise from you and will likely fold if they miss the flop. You are in a great position to follow through with your aggression through the hand and win the pot. If you’re lucky you’ll flop a set your opponent will hit the flop and your hand will be well disguised.

In the third situation you might be thinking “Why would I just fold a pocket pair? I could hit a set and win a big pot!” While this may be the case the numbers just don’t justify it. First and foremost your position is terrible. You are first to act and there are many players after you who could end up having a big hand. The more players behind you the more likely this is the case. You also don’t know if someone will raise behind you doubling how much it costs to see the flop. Secondly many people could enter the pot meaning any flop that comes is most likely going to make someone a pair bigger than yours. Your only hope is to hit a set and even then there’s no guarantee that it will hold up. You flop a set with a pocket pair roughly once out of every 7.5 times. This essentially means that when the only realistic way of winning the hand is by going to showdown and having the best hand you need roughly 7.5 to 1 odds on your money to justify playing and show a profit. Sure you can win more on future bets in the hand and that is something to be considered but remember that you will not win every time you flop a set as well. I’m sure we can all remember countless times where we flopped sets and lost to straights flushes etc.

Clearly there is no “right” way to play small pocket pairs since every table and situation is different. Understanding what factors to look for and consider when making your decision on how to play your small pocket pair is critical to your success and becoming a better player. If you’re just looking to enjoy the action and the game is wild by all means call with that small pair in early position and hopefully take down that monster pot! If you’re looking to improve your play plug some leaks and become more of a winning player then folding these small pairs in early position is something you can do to lower your variance and improve your bottom line. Until next time good luck at the tables!