Thursday, December 1, 2011

MTT Survival Strategies

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.

Play smart.



KenP said...

Very interesting. Very black and white. Quite a structured approach.

I admit that I alack the colorful adjectives. I guess I gravitate toward an old print with a lot of shading. Seems the more I played and learned, the less I know. You have outdone me there by knowing almost everything now.

I stand in awe.

P.S. Some person who called me Grasshopper pointed out that every attack has a counter. Any idea what he meant?

Josie said...

@ken - whaddaya mean i know everything? did you not see this line---> "It’s a rarity when I sit down for a long MTT and leave without learning something from the experience."

I have a feeling that person called you "dinosaur" not grasshopper!

Lucki Duck said...

The thing I try to remember early in tourneys is that "you can lose them early, but you can't win them early." So, I think the K-K laydown was a good decision.

As far as laying down strong hands, how many times have we called when we knew we were beat, but didn't want to believe it?

I know I'm guilty :-)

Nice post.

Josie said...

Ducky, I've done that - calling knowing im beat, but im trying hard to stop that shit. thanks!

KenP said...

I said almost...

Actually, I do see growth. A willingness to fold the perceived best hand and best odds seems new. Whether it is right or wrong isn't really the discussion. Introducing an enhanced logic tree is the important feature.

Josie said...

:) all true. xoxoxo for this comment.

edgie212 said...

I think that while all these points are valid, the one unavoidable sticking point (and one I grapple with whenever I lay a tournament buy-in down) is that you arr going to eventually run bad. You're going to get killed by that river, and you can't reload like you can in a cash game. And, for folks like you and me, it is a little more difficult to shrug and say 'variance' because we don't play enough to see the swings. The idea that you can play optimal poker and not cash is a much more pitiful feeling than getting felted and reloading for another $300. Still, I enjoy playing tournament poker more than cash - less for the hero calls I might make, but more for the hero folds. I think where you struggled with KK, you have to view a fold there as a hero fold, not a missed opportunity. Like I told you the other week, along my path to the final table I mucked KK three times - was it the right play every time? At a cash table, probably not. In the three situations there was an A on the board once, and a paired board twice.While I might take a certain angle on a player in cash, taking that angle in a tournament is altogether too expensive early on. The emphasis being 'early on,', because later on, you're short stacked, you have to probably jam KK preflop or on the flop, but early on there is no need to stack off on a bad have to be assured thst there will be better opportunities. Once someone masters grappling with that probability, I think they end up having a more enjoyable experience.

Josie said...

edgie, you make so many valid points. i tried to stress that these particular strategies are only for tourney play. Cash is entirely different.

and yes being felted in a tourney is so much worse/devastating to me than in cash - not that i can recall getting felted in cash - don't think i have. not to say i haven't lost $$ in a cash game, i just haven't been felted - and of course everyone has their share of being felted in a tourney regardless of how great you play.

That being said cash games do not compare to tourneys for me. i love tourneys. as for cash games, they are like the fugly girl you might hook up with after closing time - they're better than nothing.