The World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel and the World Series of Poker on ESPN have brought the excitement and intrigue of no-limit hold'em tournaments to cable subscribers everywhere. Many novices have witnessed gutsy bluffs and bold calls. But some misapply the lessons learned from the pros. In both online and live play, the staff of PokerSavvy has seen some dreadful plays repeated again and again by tournament neophytes.
This article will point out some of the more painful errors we see in the hopes that we'll prevent you, our readers, from repeating these mistakes.
Error 1: Calling All-In Bets in Early Play
Say you're in the first blind period of a tournament at Party Poker. You started with T1,000 in chips and now have T1,150. You hold a pair of tens on the button. Someone you've never played with in middle position goes all-in for T1,200. DON'T CALL. FOLD. WITHOUT HESITATION.
Yes, a pair of tens is a strong hand. But it's hardly a lock. Why put your entire tournament on the line so early, when you can't be sure you're a big favorite. Even if the raiser has a suspect holding like K-J, you're only a slight favorite. This isn't the appropriate time to push such a small advantage. And if he has a pair of queens, you're in serious, serious trouble.
Call with aces, maybe call with kings. Otherwise, fold. In general you should be very circumspect about calling huge raises early with anything but the best possible starting hands.
Error 2: Overvaluing Medium and Small Pairs
On the World Poker Tour great players play very aggressively with hands like 5-5 or 8-8. But it's very important to keep in mind that small and medium pair are not very strong hands when there are nine or ten players at your table or when you are out of position. If there are loose callers at your table these are very dangerous hands.
Say you have an average-size stack in early position when you are dealt a pair of fours. If you raise, what will you do if someone in late position makes a big re-raise? If he's raising on ace-king, you're a minuscule favorite, but if he's got an overpair, you're a monstrous underdog.
Note that as a table shrinks, if you're playing four-, five-, or six-handed, the value of a pocket pair goes way up. (The World Poker Tour telecasts start at a six-handed table -- part of the reason pairs are played more aggressively). As you move to later portions of the tournaments, when things tend to tighten up considerably, a pocket pair can be very strong.
These hands also work well for "last stands," when you're short-stacked and are going to get blinded off if you don't win a pot. And, of course, if you can get in cheap with a pocket pair, you can do some serious damage if you flop a set (three of a kind, two in your hand, one on the board). Note that we're not advocating limping with low pair in early position. Decent aggressive players will attack those sorts of weak plays.
And in general, in early position at a full table, especially early in a tournament, you should play small or medium pairs very cautiously.
Error 3: Overvaluing Ace-Ten, Ace-Jack
Ace-ten and ace-jack are nice hands. No question about it. But generally, you don't want to be calling raises, or, for that matter, re-raising with these starting hands. In no-limit, where you put your entire stack at risk every hand, you want to avoid situations where you're dominated. If you're up against ace-king or ace-queen, you are dominated and are going to need some serious luck to win this hand.
Lets say you hold ace-ten and the flop comes ace, 7, 2, and the person who made the initial raise bets. What do you do now? Calling is a possibility. But you're likely to face an even bigger bet on the turn or river. Do you want to raise? Possibly. But if you're re-raised, you'll almost certainly have to lay the hand down.
The best option is to stay out of trouble with a hand like this. Fold behind a raise.
Error 4: Playing Out of Proportion to the Blinds
Let's say the blinds are T15-T30 and in middle position you have an average size stack and are holding K-K. You want to raise. No question. You don't want folks holding suited connectors or ace-rag staying in. But with only T45 in the pot, you can't raise too much. If you were to raise, say, T500, it's likely you're going to force out hands like Q-Q, T-T, and A-T. In fact, with such a large raise, you can be pretty certain that only one holding will risk a call: A-A. If everyone folds, you've limited yourself to a T45 win with the second most powerful starting hand in hold'em.
In general, you should consider raises of about three times the big blind pre-flop (in this case, T90). The exact amount will need to vary based on a variety of factors, but it's a good rule of thumb.
Error 5: Bust-Rebuy-Repeat
Many tournaments offer opportunities for re-investments, known as rebuys. If you bust, you can reach into your wallet and get back into the action. In certain situations you should rebuy. If, for instance, the rebuy garners you more chips per dollar than the original buy-in, it makes sense to pony up more cash. With the rebuy option available, some like to play speculative hands with hopes of getting lucky and building a stack early. This can be a reasonable tactic. But use your head. Set a maximum number of rebuys for every tournament before you take your seat. If, for instance, you need to finish third to make your buy-in back, you're over-invested.
Error 6: Raising or Betting When one Player's All-In
We, the keepers of PokerSavvy, need to be really clear on this one. Why? Because there is nothing that pisses us off more. There is nothing in tournament play that is more galling than a needless bet when a player is all-in. Here's an actual situation taken from a recent Party Poker tournament. Screen names have been removed to protect the incompetent.
Blinds are T50-T100.
Late Position Player: T120 in chips
Little Blind: T3145 in chips
Big Blind: T3265 in chips
All fold to Late Position Player who goes all-in. Both blinds call. Flop:
6h Ad Qd
Little Blind bets. Big Blind folds. Turn and river are, respectively:
Little Blind shows 4h 9h. Late position player shows Js Td and wins on the jack high.
So not only did Little Blind lose the pot, he allowed another player to stay in the tournament. It's likely that Big Blind (who folded correctly) could have beaten the jack.
What exactly did the Little Blind gain by betting here? He increased his odds of winning the pot slightly. And there may be cases where the increased statistical advantage makes a bet appropriate when one player is all-in.
In this case, however, with such a minimal pot and a terrible holding, there's almost nothing to be gained. But there's a lot to lose. Any player with a chip and a chair is dangerous.
Error 7: Playing Too Many Hands When You Own a Big Stack
If you are far and away the chip leader, especially when you get to the final table, you need to be very cautious about the hands you're willing to play. Don't put your stack at risk by playing a speculative hand against another player with a substantial stack. You can find yourself losing your advantage over the table on an unlucky flop. Be careful and remember the goal is to finish in the money.
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