Poker tournaments are contests of patience and discipline. Much of the player behavior in tournaments is governed by recent results, particularly a streak of hot or cold cards. Players who have recently been dealt numerous strong hands are likely to underplay the current hand, feeling that they can afford the patience to wait for another monster. On the flip side, a cold run – and the subsequent panic that waiting is no longer an option – can lead to desperate moves.
A friend of mine recently recounted to me a hand he had played in a $50 buy-in no-limit hold ‘em tournament online. He was seated in the big blind with roughly 26,000 in chips. Blinds were at 1,200-2,400 blinds with a 300 ante. My friend saw an early-position player limp into the pot, followed by another limp-in from middle position. Action folded to our hero, who checked his option with 8s 6s.
The flop brought Ah 2s 9d, a dry start. Action checked through.
When the turn brought the Js, our hero had picked up a flush draw. He opted to check again in hopes of drawing to the river for free. However, the early-position player bet 5,000 into a pot of 11,100. Following a fold from the remaining opponent, our hero semi-bluffed all in for about 23,600.
His opponent called and tabled Ks Qs. This was one of the worst hands for my friend to run into, leaving him with about a 13 percent chance to hit an 8 or a 6.
The 10c rolled off on the river, giving the villain a straight and busting our hero from the tournament.
I learned through additional conversation that my friend felt his stack, less than 11 times the big blind, was too short for him to pass up a double-up opportunity. I pointed out that basic analysis would show his all-in bet to frequently be a losing play.
To begin with, my friend’s opponent could easily have an ace or a number of slow-played hands such as 9-9 or A-9. Even with a hand such as J-10, the villain would be unlikely to fold – people love to make heroic calls, not least of all because they make for good stories.
Furthermore, this player was unlikely to be bluffing, as most players who are willing to open-limp preflop are not the type to wait until the turn and then take desperate stabs at pots. Rather, that type would usually try to just show down his hand in as small a pot as possible.
Additionally, our hero risked 23,600 to win either 16,100 (if the opponent folded) or 34,700 (if he got called and won). Given these figures, the opponent would have to fold at least 40 percent of the time for our hero to achieve neutral chip expectation. Realistically, due to the non-linearity of tournament chip value, the opponent would probably have to fold at least 50 percent of the time, which is highly unlikely in this scenario.
A short stack does not equate to automatic desperation. Successful tournament players are those whose play rarely strays far from the middle ground between panic and paranoia. Remember: patience, discipline.
Corwin Cole can be reached at email@example.com.