by Russell Fox
Yesterday, Adam and I decided to play in a no-limit hold’em tournament. Neither of us plays many tournaments, but we wanted to get in some practice before the World Series of Poker.
The first lesson of tournament poker is that for every player, your most likely result is losing your buyin. I don’t care if you’re the best player in the world, or the worst: Variance is high in tournament poker. Only ten percent of the field gets paid, and most of the money is at the very top of the pay ladder.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get anything going. About an hour into the tournament I won one of my few pots with 3-3. With the blinds T300-T600 I raised in late position to T1500 and was called by the big blind. The flop was K-Q-4 rainbow. After my opponent checked, I bet T1600 and he called. He had me covered. The turn was a 5 completing the rainbow. I bet T2600 and he called. I assume he had a weak queen, or a straight draw—probably with J-10. Of course, he could be trapping, but it didn’t feel that way. The river paired the 5. After his check I bet T5000 and he shook his head and folded. That was one of the few bright spots I had.
My day could be summed up by the following hand. I raised under-the-gun with a T23,000 chip count to T3,000 with A-K offsuit. The blinds were T600-T1200 with a T100 ante at that point. The next player went all-in for T10,000. It was folded back around to me and I called. He had A-2 offsuit so he’s not looking good, especially on the K-K-Q flop. But the turn was a 10 and the river a jack, so we chopped the pot. I eventually got my money in with 9-9 and ran into 10-10. I didn’t get a three-outer and my day was done. There were a couple of points that I was reminded of during the day. First, you don’t need to always have cards to win hands. Sure, good cards are helpful but if you can determine your opponents’ strategies you can win hands in no-limit hold’em with air.
I stayed alive for a couple of hours by re-stealing pots. I was in late position, and a player made a raise from middle position. The blinds were T600-T1,200 and they raised to T3,000. If your stack size is about 15 to 25 times the big blind, and your opponent is not pot-committed, you can raise all-in with either a very good hand—one you’d always raise with—or a relatively weak hand with live cards. Most of the time your opponent will be stealing, trying to win the blinds, so he can’t call your raise without a big hand. Because big hands are hard to come by, most of the time your re-raise will take down the pot.
The second point is that it’s pointless to try to bluff a calling station. There was a player at my table who, once he saw a flop, would always stay to the river and call down any action. Three times, I watched players bluff him and fail, of course. You can’t bluff a calling station. If you face a calling station, you have to play ABC poker.
I don’t know how many tournaments I’ll play this summer at the World Series. Today, I’m more of a cash game player. Multi-day tournaments at the WSOP are taxing and I have enough fun with taxes already. Still, I think I got rid of some of the cobwebs and am hopefully ready to do well if the tournament bug bites me.
Russell Fox is the co-author of “Mastering No-Limit Hold’em,” “Why You Lose at Poker,” and “Winning Strategies for No-Limit Hold’em.” He’s a federally licensed tax preparer specializing in gambling, with a blog at taxabletalk.com. E-mail Russ at firstname.lastname@example.org