Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Strategy Eye Opener for Low Limit Tournaments

I picked up the Poker Tournament Formula I and II by Arnold Snyder on Amazon the other day. I have pretty much finished volume 1 which caters to small buy in fast tournaments. This book really drives home how important position is in poker tournaments.

The main theme of the book is that you need to play fast and aggressive poker to stay ahead of the rising blind levels in these tournaments. He makes a great point in saying instead of relying on luck to bring you good cards to double up, why not bet on the fact that your opponents will not have good cards?

The chapter on position was the real eye opener for me. His strategy in late position is extremely aggressive, but I really think it would work well in the tight passive games I’ve seen at Casino Arizona.

All of these plays assume you have at least 30 blinds in your stack.

Here is a brief summary:

If it’s folded to you in the button, cutoff, or hi-jack raise with any 2 cards. If you get a caller, fire ½ the pot or more on any flop. If you are called again, be looking to bet the turn as well unless it looks like suicide.

If the pot is unraised, but there are one or two limpers, go ahead and raise any two. Same strategy on the flop and turn applies.

If someone raises in front of you and he is the only one in the pot, call with any two on the button. Your opponent will usually bet on the flop. If he doesn’t, try to take the hand away with a bet. Otherwise call the continuation bet. If he checks the turn, make a big bet to take it away. If he bets the turn, look to raise all in.

This may seem crazy aggressive, but when you stop and think about it, these situations do not come up very often. It is not folded to you very often in late position, so I think you can get away with most of these steals. Calling a raise of one player does not happen very often as well, only because a lot of times the raise gets multiple callers. I think I have probably raised without looking at my cards 15 times in late position, over all the tournaments I’ve played and I think my success rate is nearly 100%.

The position plays where you call a pre-flop raise to take the pot away on the flop or turn can also be very strong. Snyder’s book made me think of all the times I have raised up AK, AQ, QQ, JJ, or TT in early or middle position only to see me miss the flop or have an over card hit. I usually make the continuation bet on the flop and I absolutely hate it when I get called. I rarely will fire two bullets on these bluffs. Even when I have an over pair and I like the flop, I usually bet the flop then check the turn for pot control. If my opponent, who has position on me, fires a big bet on the turn or raises my turn bet, I’m probably throwing away everything but the nuts.

The key is to pick your spots carefully. You need to have a good idea of where your opponent stands in chips and plan your bets accordingly. If your plan is to call the raise and a flop bet, but then realize that your opponent has now put half his stack in the middle, he may feel pot committed and make the call. We definitely want the opponent to feel comfortable in folding. Plus this play can pick up a lot of chips. For example let’s say a middle position player opens for 3x the BB and I call on the button. My opponent fires on the flop and I call. Now he checks the turn and bet and win the pot. That’s 7-9 BB that I pick up on that play. Even more, if I make the risky play where I raise a turn bet from my opponent. I would have to steal the blinds 5 times to make the same amount as this one play.

Now I know that the tight conservative player would argue, “What happens if you run into an opponent with a real hand? You just lost 7-12 BB running a bluff!” I have found that there are some days when every move you make seems to work out and there are other days where every time you make a move, someone raises you. The objective is to accumulate chips and it just seems much more difficult to do waiting for good cards and hoping you get paid off.

The one part of his strategy that I do not agree with is that if you are under 20 blinds that you should push all in if you are the first player to enter the pot. I believe the hands he mentions are QQ – 77, AKs, AQs, AJs, AKo, AQo, KQs, and QJs. If you are under 10 blinds then the range is even wider. I think the 20 BB shove is not the most optimal way to play. If the table is playing tight, and you get called, your hand will probably be crushed. Now it’s great if you get called and win since you may win up to 20 BB. I just think that a standard 3x or even a 5x raise will work the same and allow you to get away from the hand if someone pushes over the top and you don’t like your hand. I may experiment more with this theory in the turbo Sit-N-Gos to see if I’m right.

Snyder likes to break down his strategy into a Rock – Paper – Scissors theme. He says Position beats Cards, Stacks beat Position, and Cards beat Stacks. You have three weapons at your disposal. Cards are only one of them. He estimates that in his tournament wins he has won 40% of his chips from cards, 40% from position, and the other 20% from using his stack. My results are probably more like 70% cards, 15% position, and 15% stack. Snyder likes to say he would almost rather play a tournament without getting good cards because those are the ones you tend to bust out with.

I did fire up a 90 player turbo Sit-N-Go and a 180 player turbo Sit-N-Go on Poker Stars after getting half way through the book. I incorporated some of his moves and did very well. I finished in the top 20 in the 90 player tournament and I finished 5th in the 180 player tournament. I managed to build up a big stack in both of the tournaments. I ran into a maniac in the 180 player tournament at the final table that was calling all in bets with nearly any two cards and getting lucky. He picked me off in the end, even though my hand was a slight favorite before the flop.

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