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David Chicotsky

The Particulars of ReRaising

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

Reraising: it’s one of the least understood and most talked about poker activities. It can have a great upside if applied properly, and can create great peril if we’re simply over-inflating the pot. There are certain times in a tournament where it is advantageous, and other times when it is not. With (or against) the wrong chipstack, it can be devastating, though if we are within the proper parameters - it can work beautifully. For the purposes of today’s discussions, let’s talk about reraising from 15 to 50 big blinds.

As a tournament gets deep, one of the most apparent dilemmas that will certainly arise is (figuring out) when we should reraise all-in for our stack. Just as importantly, when should we put our opponents all-in for their stack (assuming we have the larger stack)? In general, the most basic parameters for reraising all-in for your stack (or your opponent’s stack) is betwee

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Tournament Tips: Playing From Early Position

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

Many poker players approach tournaments the wrong way—not realizing that they will be essentially forced to “make plays” in order to keep up with the blind increases. Even if you are very successful and get away with murder at the table, you’re still going to get naturally shallowed out by the basic structure of the tournament. Tournaments, quite simply, revolve around stealing the blinds and antes. If you’re coming from a cash game background where you can sit around all night long peddling the nuts, this hard truth can work against you.

Some of the easiest and most obvious spots to steal from are on or around the button. Make sure you’re also going out of your way to re-steal from people raising in stealing position. It’s not enough to simply call from the big blind and hope you hit your hand. We’re forced to take an active role in defending the blinds by re-raising pre-flop as well as making moves against positional raisers and bettors postflop. The key is applying controlled aggression from many different positions with many types of pre-flop hands. Getting value out of marginal cards is critical—as we are only dealt premium and semi-premium hands very rarely.

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Take the Information and Run With It

by David Chicotsky

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, in poker, in the vast majority of situations—you can. For the most part, players are very straightforward with their intentions, and when you have a read on someone (assuming you’re competent at gauging other players’ tendencies) you can usually use that info against your opponent in the future. In my previous articles I’ve highlighted how important it is to shift-gears, since playing the same way throughout a tournament makes us predictable. Despite this advice, be aware that the average player doesn’t shift gears enough.

 As a good training exercise to work on shifting gears, play a tournament and alternate between playing loose and tight every other level. Obviously there is no other logic behind this exercise than to get you comfortable switching gears. Normally, you’d want to switch gears during opportune times of a tournament, but in this case it’s easy enough to go from tight to loose at the start of each level. In tournament poker there is a perceived need to reconfirm information to help substantiate our thoughts on various opponents. I caution you against this...and here’s what I mean. If you think someone is loose, and you’re correct let’s say 80% of the time, you’re better off treating him accordingly right away (by re-raising the player on our right in this example). If you reconfirm this information by not re-raising and deciding to wait until the player has made another loose open, you’ll be that much more sure the player is loose (let’s make up a number, say 90% sure). The problem is, now this player realizes you’ve seen him play loose and can adjust accordingly. So even though you’ve increased your hypothetical certainty percentage from 80 to 90, the effectiveness of using that information against your opponent drops drastically. Essentially, the longer you wait to counter-act your opponent, the easier it is for your opponent to be conscious of this and adjust accordingly.

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Change Up Your Style

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

Candy makers know that if they can get a person to like a certain type of candy as a kid, they’re much more likely to eat that brand of candy for the rest of their lives. Something similar occurs in poker - where players start out playing a certain style of poker and continue to play that style throughout their poker career. Just because something feels comfortable, doesn’t make it correct. In fact, in tournament poker, much of what initially seems correct is dead wrong.

The average poker player starts out overly tight, playing mostly semi-premium and premium hands. The sad truth is most of these players remain tight for years and years. It’s very important to be a chameleon at the table - adjusting to the table conditions (stack sizes, play of our opponents, time of the tournament, among other factors) on a constant basis. Other players start out loose (affectionately known as spewtards) and also follow along that path for far too long.

Playing poker is like driving a car; we go fast on the highway and slow in school zones. Just because we go fast on the highway, doesn’t mean we are a “fast” driver - it’s just part of the skill-set we need to efficiently get around town. Try not to mentally box yourself into a certain category of player. Let the game come to you and make the necessary adjustments along the way, since many other players won’t.

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The Ins and Outs of Metagame in Tournaments

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

 Let’s discuss “meta-game” theories and how they relate to tournament poker. I’ve always been very reluctant to play “balanced” - the main reason being that we are constantly being moved around from table to table in tournaments. What’s the point of balancing your re-raising range (or check-raising range, amongst other ranges) if you’re only going to play against a player for an hour or two? By the time they figure out what you’re doing - the table will get broken and you’re well on your way to menacing a whole other set of opponents.

Metagaming, from Wikipedia, “is a broad term usually used to define any strategy, action, or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Another definition refers to the game universe outside of the game itself.”

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Things to Avoid in Tournament Poker

David “The Maven” Chicotsky

• Leading out with only one other player in the hand, for more than half the pot. How often do you see players lead out for the entire pot with top pair, only to garner a fold? Even check-raising with strong hands induces too many folds (in my opinion) to be an every-time type action. Sometimes taking a weaker line like check-calling, with more inherent risk and patience will garner you more chips throughout the entire hand. When you have a strong hand, don’t let your opponent fold on the flop. Be sure to gain chips through the turn and river as well.

• Re-raising too big pre-flop or on the flop. If you have a strong hand, don’t thin the field so fast by re-raising too big. Don’t be so scared of letting another card peel off that you forgo long-run value. How often do you see a player essentially over-bet the flop (or ship all in) only to show aces and proclaim, “I’m glad to take down the pot. Don’t want to get sucked out on.” This is the closest thing to ripping up money that poker offers. When you have a strong holding or are in a favorable position, make the most out of it. Value, value, value. That’s our main focus when sitting at the poker table. Don’t be a “risk based” player, be a “value oriented” player - it might be scarier at times, but it pays better.

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Bet Smart, Not With Your Heart

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

There is an old saying in sports handicapping circles which relates well to poker and to the stock market for that matter, “Bet smart, not with your heart.” In many ways this flies in the face of the notion of many players of always going with their gut and acting upon instinct, rather than methodical calculation. I’m not here to make the argument that there isn’t an advantage to using your instincts in judgment situations where it could go either way, but instincts shouldn’t be your first line of decision-making. After all, instincts come into play mainly in general situations or situations where you are split between multiple options. My point is that you should try to recognize your preferences and do your best to steer away from a route that feels good, rather than another path that is more profitable. Tournament poker is its own animal, and personal preferences (what I call comfort-zone plays) can often cloud the waters when we’re deciding what plays to make or not make.

 The classic example of players betting (or not betting) with their heart, instead of making a smart play, happens when effective stacks have shallowed out towards the end of a tournament. If a situation arises where we’re able to re-raise all-in for 15 to 20 big blinds and get a fold from our opponent a very high percentage of the time, for the most part it’s necessary to go ahead and make the play. Many players will forgo this opportunity because they are scared and the play doesn’t “feel right.” To put it bluntly, when does it ever feel right to push your stack all-in into the middle without a premium hand? It’s really important in a general sense to undervalue your hand-strength and overvalue the other variables present in any given situation. This is partly due to the fact that when you go all-in, the vast majority of the time your opponent will simply fold.

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Tips to Improve Your Tournament Poker Game

by  David “The Maven” Chicotsky

 Get in the habit of re-raising: One exercise I like to have my students do to get in the habit of re-raising is having them re-raise within the first round of the tournament. If they can squeeze in a re-raise during the first nine hands of the tournament, it gives them the opportunity to do so at the lowest blind-level, assuming a minimal amount of risk. I also strongly advise that students drop down in stakes - where they can experiment without being penalized financially for it. Don’t think that re-raising is only performed pre-flop; get in the habit of re-raising on the flop, turn and river. Also, don’t get into the habit of thinking you need the better hand to re-raise. Oftentimes re-raising is a great way to manipulate your opponent into a free card on the next street - or simply bluffing in order to win the pot at that moment. Also remember that you have a wide range of options as to the sizing when re-raising. You don’t have to just triple the amount your opponent bet - you can re-min raise, double their raise size or even make it bigger than three times their amount for special circumstances.

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Different Styles of Play in Tournaments

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

There’s a big difference between passive and aggressive play, but it’s important to realize that very likely when playing tournaments you’ll need to come up with a mix of both styles to succeed. These two styles aren’t mutually exclusive; in fact, they tend to compliment each other. If you’re playing passively, you’re spring-loaded to make an aggressive play (possibly a bluff) with a higher chance of pulling the move off successfully. If you’re playing aggressively, you’re primed to be able to enter into pots cheaply and hit a hand. If you make a big hand, due to your previous aggressive streak, you’re more likely to get paid off on the hand now.

 There’s no magic formula for what ratio of passive plays and aggressive plays are needed to make a final table or win a tournament. The main key to this entire discussion revolves around adapting to the table conditions present—as well as your table image (relative to your prior play and the hands you’ve shown down). Don’t define yourself as one type of player or another— simply approach each table with an open mind and be the chameleon; adapt to the situation.

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Treating Poker Like A Business

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

One of the things I’ve always liked about poker is it’s a one-man team. I grew up playing competitive tennis in and around Texas. When things didn’t go my way, it was one person’s fault - mine. Don’t get me wrong, team sports have positive attributes as well. There’s just something beautiful about being in control of your own destiny.

 If there’s one observation I’ve made over the more than half decade I’ve been knee-deep in poker - very few poker players treat poker like a job or a serious business. Bankroll management is one of the most widely used terms in the industry and one of the least implemented. Especially with the overall demise of online poker in the USA, many tournament poker players are forced to play live tournaments. Instead of being able to buy into 10 different $50 tournaments at once, the same player might be in one $500 tournament. Instead of being able to distribute their risk (similar to buying into a mutual fund that has many stocks in its portfolio), they end up essentially taking shot after shot in every tournament they play (akin to buying an individual stock) - exponentially increasing their risk of ruin.

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