Champions are fearless, resolved, focused. With everything on the line, the greatest heroes consistently conjure victory out of seemingly hopeless situations. At the poker table, the willingness to risk it all is confounded by the uncertainty of what may happen. Those players who attack at the right moments, taking valuable risks while their competitors pass on the opportunity, frequently emerge on top.
In decades past, aggressive play in no-limit hold ’em was still unfamiliar, and maniacal players such as Stu Ungar dominated. Today, though the general level of aggression in the game has increased substantially, there are still many situations in which an appropriately bold player can prey upon the passivity of others. While recently discussing tournament concepts with a friend, a great example of this phenomenon came up.
Twelve players remained in a $125-buy-in tournament at Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The hand began with four players limping into the pot at stakes of 800-1,600 with a 200-chip ante. Our hero found himself in the small blind with Ks 8h and 10,200 chips remaining in his stack after posting his blind and ante.
With 10,600 chips already in the pot and nobody raising, he decided to go all in and try to pick up the dead money uncontested. Though it’s uncommon to see people go all in with such a weak hand, our hero recognized a major opportunity: a chance to more than double up without even having to win a showdown.
One of the initial limpers did elect to call, and the rest folded. When the opponent tabled Qd Js, our hero was in excellent shape, getting over 2-to-1 odds on his all-in bet and being a 56 percent favorite to win the pot. As the board ran out 9c 9h 4d 3s 6c, his king-high held up and scooped him a nice triple-up. He went on to chop the tournament for the fourth-place prize when seven players were remaining.
Our hero’s play seemed like a good one to my intuition, but it was close enough that I wanted to do the math myself.
In my estimation of a worst-case scenario, with the help of some spreadsheet calculations, my friend was looking at five opponents who would each call his all-in bet about 35 percent of the time. Using simulations to estimate his chances of winning against one through five opponents, and turning those chances into profit-and-loss equations, I calculated that, on average, this move would profit 2,685 chips – a healthy addition of 26 percent to his stack.
Seeing the aggressive angle on this hand required my friend to see past the easy ways out: just calling to see whether he hit the flop, or folding straight away and guaranteeing that he would survive one more hand. Many players, even those capable of sometimes being aggressive, find themselves in these spots and only consider which of the two easy options they prefer.
Dominant no-limit hold ’em players are obsessed with finding the right situations to take big risks. Never stop searching for the opportunity to make an opponent – or several of them – fold.
Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.