Every time a tournament is played there is always at least one person who is asking "what is the structure"? If the stacks are deep and the levels are long everybody is happy and everybody has an advantage.
Wait a minute.... Surely a long structure can't be good for everyone, can it? Naturally, it can't. This weekend I got a great opportunity to find out just how wrong this idea is in practice. I am quite certain that starting with 15k in chips at blinds of 25/50 and hour long levels was the milkshake that brought all the boys to the yard to plunk down their $2,100. Did it do them any good? No. Did it do me good? Well, yes and no.
Here is what happens when you are this deep and the money is this significant:
Everybody gets scared and thinks they need the nuts to play a big pot. Being that this was far and away the largest tournament around, the money spent for most people was very large and the anticipation leading up to the event was even bigger. Not only did they not want to lose their chips, they were also afraid of losing out on getting their $2,100 worth of entertainment for the day with no other equivalent outlet for another few months, at least. If you are in a position to play such an event, here is what you can expect and how you can get an advantage.
Starting at 300BB deep, getting huge implied odds is a no-brainer...there aren't any! Though this certainly flies in the face of anything you have been taught, a simple dose of common sense says that it shouldn't. Implied odds rely on a willingness of your opponent to cash off his chips to you. If everyone is afraid of committing large portions of his chips at any point in the hand, then they are just not willing to give you implied odds. I saw guys with big pairs, trips, and sets shut down immediately after getting check raised small on the flop and often times after just being flat-called. After all, if the guy with a known big hand isn't willing to give action, then you definitely can't expect the guy with the lesser hand to be pushing real hard either. In essence, perception becomes the consensus reality so if you had planned on playing a big pot, you had better have the nuts or....
LAUNCH A BIG BLUFF
This would have been trivially easy. When you are this deep and everyone is playing this straightforwardly with big money on the line, this is how you play big to win big. Three betting was virtually non-existent in the first 4 levels and few hands even went to show down. Would I have had the guts to do this? I am not quite sure, but I did perfectly well for the first 6 hours or so making lots of small bluffs with a success rate that was close to 100%. Here are a few examples:
A weak player limps in early position and I notice that this guy is capable of peeling light on the flop but not willing to take any hands to showdown. So I limp on the CO with 75o and if he checks, I will fire 3 barrels no matter what. The older gentleman in the BB is of no concern as well because he shares the exact same tendencies, so barring anything unusual, I will try to bluff both of them on the turn if necessary, though I would probably give up on the river if they both got that far. In any case, the flop is K94. The guy checks and calls as expect and the BB folds. Turn is a T and he checks and calls another 1/2 pot bet. The river makes a backdoor flush and though my first instinct is to check because no one could ever believe I hit that card, I realize that I am not competing with poker competency, but their fear of failure and looking foolish. So I another 2/3 pot and he grunts and lays it down.
#2. A very loose, though seemingly decent post-flop player limps in middle position for 150. I decided that I will make a play at him on my button if no one else enters, despite what my cards are. I look down to see 96o. First, I should give a little background info on this guy. The very first hand of the tournament he limps in EP with AA. He gets heads up with the BB, who check calls a board of 764 to the river and then leads out for $500 when the straight hits (about 1/3-1/2 pot), which he obviously has. The loose player laughs disgustedly to himself and then flips over his aces. Not a huge laydown technically, yet many people could not bring themselves to do this. Personally I feel that this was a huge mistake on his part to show, but I happily file this piece of information away since I might be able to use it later. Secondly, I see that he is perfectly willing to lead at a lot of flops, yet is not paying off on the river.
So I do what any reasonable player would do and raise my Big Lick to 600. The flop is KT7. He checks, I fire my annoying half pot bet and he grunts and folds. It is duly noted that once I again I plan on firing at least two barrels and then making a judgment call on the third, if necessary.
KNOW WHEN TO SHOW
Just as bluffing indiscriminately should never be done, showing your cards should also be meticulously planned. As I soon found out after my first table broke and I got moved, if you are winning too often without a showdown, it is crucial to show a good hand. Here is where I feel that I made a rather small, yet significant mistake. I had about 22,000 in chips with blinds of 100/200 and made my typical raise of 500 with KQo and got a caller behind as well as both blinds. The flop was beautiful as it came KK7 rainbow. Being that these guys often took off a card on the flop, I decided to go ahead and bet 1,000 and the loose player behind me whom I had already tangled with several times decides to be my only customer. An ace hit on the turn which did me no harm but looked as if it would totally scare away any action so I decided to check it.
Though some people might advocate firing again in case he has a king, I just don't consider this to be good advice because if he has a K, the money is going in anyway and the chance that the ace really helped him is minimal and would only allow me to get one more bet from him if he does have it. However, checking gives him a chance to think he can take it away. He doesn't oblige and checks behind and a 9 falls on the river. I bet 2,000 and he quickly folds and I muck my hand. Being that we had played several pots and has now been moved off of all of them (I still had not showed a hand yet), he naturally inquires as to what I had. I told him the truth, that I had KQ and even mentioned that I should have showed that one.
It was then that I realized that I had made a mistake. Even though I had the goods about half of the hands in which I had won, the only thing they thought about me what that I was a complete fucking thief. After all, though I had previously flopped a set and also had trip K's, they didn't know this. By not establishing my honesty, per se, I actually encouraged "Wild" Bill, an old timer from Tennessee who wasn't particularly good, to take a shot at me a short while later on a scary turn card because he said "he keeps raising."
The hand in question occurred when I was on the cutoff and was playing my rush with a K4s. The flop came down 764 with two spades. Bill, who had been playing very loose and calling often in his blinds, decided to check and call my half pot bet. When the A of clubs hit on the turn and he checked again, I saw an opportunity to move him off a better hand or get him to fold a straight draw. I bet half pot, about 2,000 and he check raised me 6,000. Did he have it? It was hard to say since he was playing so loose, but then again, I only had a pair of fours which could have been good at showdown had I gotten there, yet my own thieving image could have spurned him to make that check raise when an ace hit that also completed a flush. Excluding things like chaos theory, had I showed the KQo hand, I would have had more confidence in whether or not he was bluffing. Bill showed plenty of inclination in that direction and though the result could easily have been the same, I would now have had a better opportunity to read how Bill was reading me which could have led to a profitable play in the future.
This highlights one of the more interesting aspects of the game in that what is real is not actually what happens, but rather what people believe happens. The information flowing around the table amongst common competition tends to be very polarized. In other words, you are either a thief or you aren't. In Bill's opinion I was the former and I am sure that everyone around the table more or less agreed with him. Therefore by betting the flush card in this instance and then folding, I was only confirming their suspicions and it was now going to be harder to pull of my tricks in the future. Being that you have more shitty hands than good hands and miss more flops than you hit, I would rather preserve my ability to steal than to get a small bet paid off, since no one was really paying off big anyway.
GETTING PAID OFF (HOPEFULLY)
Now that I was down to 26k in chips after a high of 32k, I was delighted to pick up KK under the gun. With blinds of 200/400 with a 50 ante, I made my standard raise of 1,000 and was hoping that Bill would take this opportunity to show me that a naive greenhorn couldn't sit at his table. He said, "I'll be your huckleberry" and called. The action folds around to Megan in the BB on my immediate right. She has already proven to be nitty and unimaginative, though solid. With 12k left in chips, I am excited when she 3-bets it to 4,000. I announce that I am all in and after some deliberation, Bill folds. Megan turns over AQs and the board runs her out a four card straight to take the pot. Though it was my somewhat laggy image that caused this otherwise good result, it is very important to remember that preflop your edge can only be so big and therefore, it is MUCH more preferable to win a lot of pots uncontested.
At this point I was in quandary. Though I wanted to update my Twitter, it was now crucial that I be present for every single hand. I also didn't want to sound like I was whining, because hey, that's poker! So with a stack now of 14k, I was looking to either chip up or make a big move. With the blinds rising however, open-limping, which was previously very common, was occurring much less frequently. Here was my plan: the new guy who had been moved to my immediate left was playing very nitty and was neither raising much nor calling any raises. My goal was to force the action if we got to play heads up. With his stack at about 30k, I was virtually certain that he wouldn't be calling open shoves with anything less than 99+ and AQ+. However, my short stacking experience armed me with the knowledge that even if he was calling much lighter, it was still profitable to shove any two cards! However, as my stack dwindled to 10k and the blinds now at 300/600 with a 75 ante, he would be much more willing to call with for 1/3 of his stack than for about 1/2. So do I make a move now or do I wait?
Here is my philosophy about tournaments. Once your stack dwindles beyond a certain point, the value of your tournament life plummets, especially if you are intent on winning the event or at least getting to the final table. With 46 out of 102 players left, I was still a long ways out and was not planning on scrapping by the entire time. My stack also needed just a little push so that I could successfully threaten other players with some power moves, which I was ready and willing to do.
With Smitty limping UTG (the player I had been tangling with) and a very laggy player limping two spots after him, I looked down to see A2o in the SB. With 10k left, there was really only two options here: shove or fold. Calling was not an option since I would only get action post-flop if I was beat and flopping a great with with A2o is a lot more difficult than most people realize. In other words, I would be a waste of 300 chips. Now I understand how this might look, but hear me out:
1. The only hand I had showed this entire time was KK.
2. Smitty was playing very loose with a combination of raising and limp-calling and showing no inclination to limp re-raise. He had about 50k.
3. The LAG behind him had a very large stack, but showed that he was willing to raise with any two cards. When I first sat at the table, I even saw him raise Smitty and Bill with A2o. Though I understand that he is certainly not doing this every time, it is much like playing blockers in PLO- he could have such a hand and be willing to call, but the prior action makes it much less likely so. My main concern was that he would call with a small, yet larger ace or a small PP.
4. The BB behind me is almost never calling.
5. Any time you hold an ace, you have a shot against a player's entire range unless he holds aces. Given Smitty's tendencies and the fact that I held a blocker, this almost never occurs.
Finally, #6, the X-Factor
Smitty and I had been chatting it up and this makes him somewhat more likely to fold in a very marginal spot, rather than eliminate his new buddy.
So combining the fold equity, the value of future fold equity by increasing my stack by 30%, my suckout equity, and the diminished value of my stack, I choose to shove. The BB and Smitty fold as expected, but then the LAG calls and surprisingly shows me ATs. I don't know why he chose to overlimp in this spot but I still spike my 2, only to be rivered by a broadway straight.
Given the outcome of the hand, I am still very happy with the decision I made, specifically because it was all meticulously planned. Even though I was able to small ball my way to doubling my stack, I was very unlucky to have lost my tournament life to the only two large pots that I had played. Once again, that is poker!