by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
When we’re playing tournaments, we’re forced to make plays that conflict with our interest of not busting out of the tournament. The age old discussion of whether to play to survive or play to win leaves many players with questions as to the best way to proceed towards the final table. The truth is, both are wrong. If you’re playing to survive, the more aggressive players—as well as the blinds and antes will slowly erode your stack. If you’re playing to win, you’re very likely making too many negative expected value plays—costing you overall tournament equity.
A real world comparison to a typical poker player’s dilemma as to playing to survive or playing to win can be seen in the stock market. If an investor puts all of their money in low-yielding bonds and money-market accounts, they won’t be able to keep up with the cost of inflation. If an investor puts all their money in highrisk funds, they’re likely to suffer a catastrophic loss of their funds over time.
Even playing a “balanced game” can create issues, as it can be viewed as far from unpredictable. Even when playing a balanced game, we’re forced to find times to make plays and times to make tough folds. One of the keys to successfully navigating the tournament poker waters is not allowing your opponents to pick up on your playing style (and preferences).
Let’s say for example, we are playing more of a survival strategy—we might want to still open up the button with a wide range of hands. Taking a low risk line of open-raising a hand on the button might make us seem looser than we really are—if we showdown a relatively weak hand like king-three suited. All of that said, we aren’t going too far out of our way to risk our chips in the process. If we tend to lean towards more of a survival based strategy, we have to be sure not to simply duck our head into the shell and continuously fold.
Remember also that the tighter we’ve been, the more opportunities we presently have to make a bluff. A big mistake players make is playing tight (or loose) throughout the entire tournament without shifting gears. Generally speaking, if we’ve been loose, we need to find times to tighten up and get paid on our big hands in a risk-free fashion. If we’ve been very tight, we need to look for spots to run a bluff—leveraging our tight table image in order to accumulate chips.
Tight players can take easy steps towards loosening up just by taking advantage of situations—such as opening up under the gun more often. They can also call from the blinds and check-raise on the flop as a bluff. There are countless ways tight players can loosen up their range, while loose players simply need to find areas in which they can slow down.
In my career I’ve been one of the tightest players at times and one of the loosest players at times and understand where both types of players are coming from. I can say that it is incredibly rare for an extremely tight player to do well in a tournament format, just as it’s almost impossible to do well in a tournament simply with dumb aggression. If we’re going to try and fold our way to the final table, we’re going to run out of chips. If we’re going to continuously play overly loose and aggressive without changing up our style, sooner or later we’re likely to donk off our chips. When we play poker, we need to be sure to change up our game and play all styles in a way that makes us unpredictable and hard to play against.
David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a former #1 ranked online tournament poker player. He is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at www.TheMavenTraining.com