Tell me what you think of this - only if you have a positive opinion. :)
Over the last few years I’ve steadily increased my poker playing, both live and online, yet I continue to be intrigued, challenged and excited by the game; with my favorite variation being No Limit Texas Holdem. It’s a rarity when I sit down for a long MTT and leave without learning something from the experience. The more one plays, the better honed one’s skills become. Certain skills or strategies are critical if you want to improve your game enough to go deep in an MTT. It’s certainly no coincidence that the same faces appear at final tables in larger MTTs. These players have learned to utilize key skills that aid them in outlasting their opponents. Two of these essential skills are reading your opponents betting patterns/tells and the ability to fold a hand, even a winning hand, so you take fewer close chances and ultimately last longer. These are an enormous part of a successful poker player’s arsenal, whether you are playing live or online.
Tells in online poker are there for those who are observant enough to recognize them. Betting patterns are one of the easiest tells to monitor and use to your advantage. When playing an MTT, I like to spend the first hour or so observing my opponents’ betting patterns, which helps me determine what kind of player(s) I am up against. When someone behind me has been playing tightly, I tend to raise his big blind repeatedly. I do this because I know he will fold many more times than he will call and this enables me to pick up lots of blinds and accumulate chips. Also, there will come a time when this poor soul will have to take a stand to my repeated bullying. I love nothing more than to raise the same tight player with less than stellar cards, and then get a strong hand when he decides to finally call me because he has decided he isn’t going to take it anymore. He’ll lose even more chips to me then. Again, this works best with tight players, which is why establishing betting patterns and reading your opponent is so critical. As you’ve probably already gleaned, I’m an aggressive player. To put it simply, aggression wins in poker, especially in MTTs. The beauty of aggressive play is there are more opportunities to win. One option you have, is to win with the best hand, just like everyone else. However, an aggressive player will also win when he bets out and makes his opponent fold. The more often you put your opponent in a position where he has to make tough decisions, the better it is for you.
As I’ve said, I’m an aggressive player, but that’s only one facet of winning in No Limit Holdem. Folding strong hands when you know you’re beat is for me, the hardest part of this game. Remember, in a tournament you don’t have to win every hand but you do have to outlast everyone. You cannot win tournaments without this particular ability to lay a hand down when you are beat. Sometimes it becomes necessary to fold the best hand so you do not get trapped by cards that haven’t been played yet. Oh that dreaded river! Escaping losing situations is vital. For example, I recently played in a NLHE tournament and found myself with pocket kings. The first player to act before the flop raised, I re-raised, and two other players called my re-raise, in addition to the first raiser. Four of us saw the flop which was J-7-2 with two clubs. I was thrilled there was no ace on the flop and even more thrilled to see the under the gun player bet half of the already considerable pot. I felt I had the best hand so this was a “must raise” situation. With a hand like an over pair, it’s usually key to raise on the flop to find out what you are up against if you believe you have the best hand, which it turns out I did, at that point. I raised to 3 times the bet on the flop. Man #3 immediately jammed all in. Man #4 thought for a while and also went all in for a bit more. First to act decided to fold and then the action was on me. Pocket kings are awfully attractive, especially with a jack high flop, but I’m no longer loving this. As pretty as those kings are, what can they beat given all the action I‘ve run into on this relatively dry flop? I suppose my pocket kings could beat A-J but does a guy with just top-pair-top-kicker immediately jam all in after a big bet and then a big raise? I just don’t think so. I don’t put him on two pair as I doubt he’d call the big preflop re-raise with a 2 or 7 in his hand, but I do suspect he has pocket aces or more likely, a set. Flopped sets, oh so pesky and hard to spot.
And then what to make of the man who jammed all in after him? I’d been watching him play and saw him in far too many losing hands and chasing far too often. I decide he likely has a flush draw. Am I ahead of a flush draw now? Sure, but there are two more cards still to come and although I am ahead right now, there’s a 36% chance of him hitting his flush if I call his all in bet here. Remember, the key in an MTT is to outlast everyone and I don’t like the fact that more than 1/3 of the time I’ll lose to a flush draw early in the tournament here and never have a chance to get in my chips at an even better spot later in the event. Besides there’s still the other bothersome player, the one who first jammed all in, and I do suspect a strong hand here. The more I thought about going up against two all ins with just an over pair of kings, the less I liked it, so I folded. Ironically, both men had flush draws, one an ace high flush draw, and the other a king high one and neither hit their flush. Man #3 won that very big pot with ace high; not even a pair. Yes, I folded the best hand but I still believe it was the right move. I still had plenty of chips to play with and I was still in the tournament. It was just too early in the tournament to risk all my chips on a hand that could certainly be behind. If you remember one thing from this article, let it be this: The ultimate goal is to be the last player standing, not necessarily to prove that you have the best hand every time. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be rich than right.
It’s this kind of decision making that differentiates an adequate player from a great one. With real life practice you’ll soon be able to recognize the critical situations that make or break a successful session and detect what type of hands you are up against. These are powerful weapons to have in your arsenal, which I’m sure will help you to see better results in your own poker game.
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