Poker players are an eccentric lot. Whether we base our strategy decisions on mathematical expectation, a gut feeling, or the whim of the moment, we all have peculiarities. For example, take favorite hands. They can be on the junky side or they can be downright rubbish, but for some private reason—we’ve won a lot with that hand in the recent past, or the combination of the two numbers has some special meaning—we feel good whenever we look down to see those two particular cards.
Sadly, there will always be times when we have to play the short stack. In cash games, it’s not such a great handicap. If you run out of chips, you can always buy in for more—and if you don’t have enough money to buy in again, it’s a clue that you never should have been playing those stakes in the first place.
But playing short-stacked in tournaments, that’s another situation altogether. Now there’s no question that being low on chips is a major disadvantage. Escalating blinds put enormous pressure on those who are short of stack, and replenishment is not an option. Once you’re out of chips, you’re out, period. And yet, for anyone who plays regularly in no-limit tourneys, playing a short stack is inevitable. So learning how to deal with this situation is critical to becoming a good tournament player.
I love to draw. And I know I have a lot of company in that respect. Drawing hands have a sneaky, seductive kind of allure that can be almost impossible to resist. When your draw comes in, it’s one of the sweetest feelings in poker. But in spite of that wonderful feeling—or perhaps because of it—some drawing hands are often more trouble than they’re worth. Exhibit A: the one-card straight draw.
Picture this: You’re playing 5-10 no-limit hold’em. On the turn the pot is $120 and board reads 8-Q-5-10 rainbow. You got a free look at the flop with Q-7 off-suit in the big blind and now it’s down to you and one loose-aggressive opponent acting behind you. The river brings a jack, putting a potential straight on the board.
In poker, a raise can serve a multitude of purposes. By far the two most common motives for raising are to get more money in, and to drive opponents out. The first is a pretty straightforward proposition. Any time you believe that you have the best of it, whether in the form of the strongest hand or the most promising draw, you want to build up a nice juicy pot. You are raising for value.
The number two incentive for raising is to eliminate opponents. If you’re holding a good-but-not-great hand such as top pair, your odds of victory are still looking iffy, but they increase as your number of opponents decreases. So you’d prefer to push opponents out of the hand sooner rather than later, before they have the chance to make a better hand.
Any time a full poker game dwindles down to just a few players, the character of the game changes dramatically. Because the blinds come around more often, every hand is more expensive to play. So hand values are substantially different than they would be in a full game. Strategy has to change.
Dominated hands are the bane of poker players everywhere. A classic example is when you hold K-J at the same time your opponent has A-K. If a king falls on the flop, you’re toast, because your opponent has you out-kicked and in all likelihood you are going to stick around to the river with top pair. And then there’s something called reverse domination, which is even nastier. Your hand is reverse-dominated when you have something like A-K and one of your opponents holds A-6 on a flop of 9-6-2 rainbow. Spiking an ace will now cost you dearly, because it gives your enemy two pair. So your only hope is to spike a king.
Re-buy tournaments come in all shapes, sizes, and payout structures, but the one thing they all share in common is that players can purchase more chips during the competition. Players who bust out—or drop below a certain level in chips—can simply buy more and continue to play.
After the first hour or so, the re-buy period ends and the remainder of the tourney plays out as a standard freeze-out. At the conclusion of the re-buy stage, most tourneys offer an add-on, which is basically a final, larger re-buy that you can purchase regardless of how many chips you’re sitting behind.
Of all the many ways that poker players have devised to bamboozle each other, chip dumping is one of the most unsophisticated. Practiced almost exclusively in the world of tournament poker, chip dumping usually works something like this: Two or more players enter the same tournament with a private agreement between them that one player will purposefully and deliberately lose all his chips to the other at some point during the tourney. The designated chip dumpee is effectively getting a free and illegal re-buy in the middle of the tourney. The ill-gotten chips give this player a distinct and very unfair advantage over the honest players in the competition, which is why anybody who is caught chip dumping can receive a severe penalty.
For anyone who plays tournament poker on a regular basis, making deals is a fact of life. While a few tournament players eschew them, most players who make the final table will find themselves at least discussing the possibility of negotiating a deal.