Saturday, October 23, 2004


Thinly Disguised Bad Beat Story

First of all, sorry that the "Secrets of the Amateurs" have remained secret for the last 10 days. I have been very active in the "talking crap" diary instead, and putting the secrets into practice in Party Poker Sit and Goes. Now I have stepped up a level, to $50, and am concentrating on the best games, I'm suddenly making some money. Who'd have thunk it ?

Moving forward, the plan here is to talk through my strategy for winner-take-all satellites. It's easy to isolate concepts when talking about this case because you're not worried about proportional payouts, etc. Every now and then though I'll break off and talk about hands I've been involved in.

Here's a good one from tonight's Prima Poker $100 freezeout. With 666 runners and a $100K guarantee, who cares if it's the work of Satan, there's value to be had ! I'm the middle of the pack with just under 8K chips, blinds 400-800, when this happens. I find QQ on the button yum yum. Early position moves all in for 3200. On the previous hand I made him pass on a low flop, so he could be steaming. Big stack (12K) calls. Moderate stack (5K) calls as well ! Nuts to this, I've seen enough fishy play so far tonight that I'm not going to pass QQ preflop. I'm all in (3 opponents is plenty) call call. In turn we see KJ, AK and AK. Now, KJ is beyond reproach with only 8 SBs and a couple of hands to go, though I wonder if he's only done the right thing through tilt ? First caller AK is OK, although you can make a good argument for reraising. I think it's the second caller who makes the questionable play. If only he had read "Three Way Action" below ! Once I make it 4-way and the cards go over, the probabilities are QQ 66%, AK 12%, AK 12% and KJ 10%. As I say, KJ and the first AK don't know what's lurking behind them but the second AK - it's very marginal. AK loses a lot of value when it can easily be duplicated. QQ isn't subject to this and so is much stronger in this situation. If instead of QQ I find AK with three people already in, two of whom are committed, this is a clear pass IMO !

Would I pass AK in seat 3 in the actual hand ? Possibly. If so, I might be the only online player who would. Anyway, needless to say in the actual hand an Ace flops. There's no justice.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Three-way action

No, not that kind of three-way action. This is the Internet, there's plenty of that around elsewhere. I'm talking about a much less pleasant situation that can occur when you're short stacked. Here are two hands I played in the US which illustrate the problem.

1) In Reno earlier this year. At a full table in the middle of the tournament, I had just under 8 SBs and really wanted to make a move before the BB hit me (in 4 hands time). The woman in second position, who had been playing a lot of hands but mostly passively, went all in (she had me covered). I found AJ and called. Someone else woke up and called. On their backs - AJ v AQ (woman) v KK. Doh.

2) In Tunica the year before. Down to four tables (short of the money), I had about 12 SBs when early position went all in and another player (with fewer chips) called. Both were shortish stacked before the hand, but not critically so (they probably had around 15 SBs each). I found AK and called. On their backs - AK v AK v 88. Doh.

My pot equity once the cards were known was pretty rancid in each case. 13% in the first instance, 17% in the second. Even though I can triple up each time, it's a bad spot. You're only in this bad shape heads-up if someone finds an overpair, and if you make your move first, that's pretty unlikely.

Note how many combinations of hands can kill me in the AJ case. When one player has AK or AQ, and the other has AA, KK, QQ or JJ (JJ being worst of all for me !), I'm screwed. In the second case, against AK and a pair I'm screwed. Any time someone else has AK it's not looking good - AK v AK v AQ is only marginally profitable (36%) and AK v AQ v TT (the most common kind of situation) almost exactly break-even. Let me put it this way, if AK is so marginal, where does that leave anything less ?

When you're facing a raise and there are several people still to act (case 1), you must tighten up. AJ should have been passed here - the clue was in the question, the original raiser was playing lots of hands but passively, and a raise indicated a real hand. In case 2, it probably was just about a call, and I'm pleased that I did at least think about it at the time instead of calling automatically. AQ would be a definite pass in this situation, and I think that would surprise a lot of people. As for the fish I've seen go in with KJ here for the valyoo (and I've seen it many a time), they are making just about the worst play they could possibly make with a short stack. If three way action is possible, tighten up. If two people are already in, ROCK up.

Note : It's a bit different when the first raiser might be weak and the second player is the type to reraise "to get it heads up". But this is still a situation where you should be very careful.

It's also worth noting that AK is a very marginal hand in normal (medium to large stack play) when there's been a raise and a reraise already and both raisers are likely to have solid hands.

Sunday, October 10, 2004


When someone limps in front of you

This is a relatively common scenario on the Internet. 100-200 blinds, you have say 900 with three players behind you, your hand is good enough to play. You're getting ready to slide all-in when someone with 1200 calls in front of you. Now what do you do ?

Unfortunately this cuts down your options. This is one area where observation pays off. Have you seen this player limp before ? What did he do when he was raised ? What kind of hands has he shown after a limp ? Whatever the answers, you are going to have to tighten up. Ace-small is now vulnerable, and should usually be passed - I'd be looking for something like A9, KJ or better given my experience on the Internet to date.

IMO the limp is a horrible play. What's he going to do if reraised ? If he's going to call anyway, then there's no question that raising himself is better. If he's going to pass, then he's just pissing away 20% of his stack, while giving the blinds a cheap/free flop in the event that a raise would have taken it down. These players hurt themselves much more than anyone else, but having one or more regular limpers in front of you can seriously interfere with your strategy. I find this is more common at certain times of the day (most games online have different passive/aggressive tendencies at different times of day) so I tend not to play so much at these times. It's all about game selection once again.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Simplify !

No thanks to Richard G for comparing me to Paul Samuel in a comment below. I don't know, you try to help people and this is the thanks you get. Fortunately for him I know he was only kidding. Better have been anyway.

So although he doesn't deserve it, here is the simplification that I carry in my head to help me with this. Basically I remember 22-14-10-7. Any Ace is 22 SBs on the button, 14 in the cut-off, 10 in the next, then 7. On the button it goes 22 A2, 14 K8, 10 K2. I had it written on a card for a spell which I found helped.

Now, I don't recommend that an experienced player who does know how to handle a short stack dumps it all for this by-rote approach. But he might realise that a few more hands are playable than he thought in late position, and a few less in early. I can tell you though that anyone who just followed this strategy will be playing better than 90% of the field in their weekly tournaments, and probably 60% of the field in today's £3,000 comp at the Vic ! I could give you a list as long as your arm of people who've won this and that and/or been on TV who can't play a short stack at all. Familiarise yourself with the numbers below, use this as a base to work from and you'll be alright. Really you will !

Friday, October 08, 2004


Short-Stacked Mathematical Approach (2)

OK. Using a computer program to simulate the calculation below for various hands, positions and stacks, we can put together a table to help us determine whether to commit our chips in any short-stacked situation. Let me clarify that these results apply to the situation where everyone in front of you has folded their hand. Even if someone has just called the blind, that's different, and we'll deal with that later on.

Here are the four categories of hand we are going to consider in our first table :

- A good Ace : A7, KQ
- Any Ace : A2, KT
- A good King : K8
- Any King : K2, QT

The maximum stack size you need to commit in various positions is as follows :

Players yet to act

A7, KQ.............> 20 SBs............> 20................14...................10
A2, KT.............> 20...................14................10....................7
K2, QT...............10....................7.................7....................7

It's vital to remember the correct sense. If you have K8 with 3 players behind you, you can commit with 10 SBs or less. If you have more than 10, you should fold.

Notice how if you fold, then next hand you will need a hand that is one "level" stronger. With 10 SBs in front of you, on the button you need K2/QT. If you don't find it, next hand you need one level up, K8. Next hand again you need A2/KT. If you find yourself "in between", just adjust accordingly. For example, with 12 SBs on the button you need something halfway between K8 and K2 = K5 (or QJ).

Points to remember :

- A2 is about equal to KT. It's better than any smaller King. If you can commit with K8, you can also commit with any Ace
- Being suited is worth adding on 1 or 2 SBs (to the maximum requirement) - basically it might swing a close decision towards committing
- Any pair is basically good to commit from any position with 15 SBs or less. Smaller pairs in early position are a little marginal, and can be passed if you like, but there's nothing wrong with moving in with any pair when first to act with 15 SBs or less. AT or better is also good from any position (albeit slightly marginal with 14-15 SBs in early position)
- Committing can mean going all-in if you like, in fact that's probably best if you're not sure. If you prefer, you can move about half your stack in with the intention of calling/betting the flop irrespective. On some tables this might work better (if any opponent(s) might make a bad fold on the flop). But if you have less than 12 SBs, just go all in, you don't have enough chips to get fancy. And DO NOT get half way in and then fold the flop. If you think you might be tempted to do this on certain flops, then avoid the problem by once again going all-in pre-flop
- With less than 8 SBs, you must try to play a hand before taking the blinds. Now any pair, Ace, King, Q8, Q5s, J9, even small suited connectors are good. Position is less important now - in late position you have fewer potential callers, but in early position you have less time to make your stand, and these pretty much cancel out
- In the small blind, any above-average hand is good, which is the same range of hands as in the previous point. The small blind is the best position to bet half your chips instead of all of them, because you get to act first on the flop, and you can bet out. If I have 10-15 SBs in the small blind and I'm going to play, this is what I'll do. Obviously you call if you are reraised pre-flop.
- If you have 13 SBs in the small blind, or 10 SBs in any other position, or less, then you can raise with any 2 cards if there is at least a 50% chance all your remaining opponents will fold. The calculation is similar. Even with rags you are usually only a 2-1 dog when called (sometimes 5-2 and only occasionally in trouble against an overpair).
- If you prefer, you can apply the short-stack rules with up to 20 SBs. This might be a good idea if you are surrounded by tougher opponents. A2 on the button and A7/KQ with three players to act are ok with anything up to 22 SBs. Small pairs and AT should be passed in early position, but 77/AJ are good from anywhere with 20 SBs or less.
- These are guidelines. If you can pick up any tells on the player(s) behind you, factor those in. If someone is obviously going to pass, you can reduce the number of players to act by one. If someone's obviously going to play, you have to tighten up quite a bit, and basically use your common sense.
- I nearly forgot about antes. If there are antes in play, you can basically add them to the requirement in the table. If the antes total 2 SBs, then a "7 SB" hand in the table becomes a "9 SB" hand. In practice I prefer to use the antes as a "tiebreaker" in a close situation. If it would be close without the antes, I'll go for it. Antes also need keeping an eye on if you are close to "must-move" time. You might have more than 8 SBs now, but if the antes will reduce that to less than 8 SBs by the time the blinds arrive, you must try to move this round
- Similarly, if the blinds are about to go up, this can throw a spanner in the works. It's sometimes better to figure that you need at least 5 SBs next time you're on the button after taking the blinds. I can't cover all eventualities so just be aware when the blinds are going to increase, and to what.

I must stress again all the above only applies when no one has entered the pot in front of you. That's probably the most important point to remember. And that's about it. Everything else follows on from this basic strategy.

Monday, October 04, 2004


Short-Stacked - A Mathematical Approach

Let's get straight into an example. No-Limit Hold-Em, blinds 100-200. Everyone passes to us on the button, with 1400 chips, where we find Ah 2d. What will happen if we raise all in ? The worst case scenario is that our opponents will fold if they can't beat A2, and call if they can (See Note 1). This is what would happen if our opponents could read us perfectly (basically if they could see our cards). Computer simulation of the various outcomes tells us the following :

69% of the time, neither of our 2 opponents can beat A2. They pass, and we win 300.

The remaining 31% of the time, at least one of our opponents can beat A2 (note 2). There will be a showdown, which breaks down as follows :

18% of the time, we lose the hand. We lose 1400
5% of the time, we split the pot. We win 75
8% of the time, we win the pot. We win 1550

Note 5/10/04 : The split and win pot sizes now take into account the fact that if the SB calls, the pot is 3000, and if the BB calls the pot is 2900.

Adding all these outcomes up we get a total EV (expected value) as follows :

69% x (+300) = +207
18% x (-1400) = - 252
5% x (+75) = +4
8% x (+1550) = +124

TOTAL = +83

So even if our opponents play perfectly, this play still nets us, on average, 83 chips. Of course, in real life, our opponents can't see our cards and they will sometimes call with a worse hand than A2 (like KT) or fold a better hand (like A5 or 33). So our expectation will be better still.

Now, I know what you're saying right now. You're saying "but why should I risk getting knocked out of the tournament for 83 chips ? Are you nuts ?". The whole point is that your risk of being knocked out is included in the calculations above. When you lose, your equity drops to zero. If you double up, when you're short stacked, your equity doubles - as close as makes no difference (note 3). It's the two ways to win (nicking the blinds and winning anyway if called) that combine to make the play profitable.

It would be pretty tedious to do this calculation here for every hand that might come up. It would also, of course, be impossible to do it in the heat of the moment at the table. This is where the computer comes into its own. Being a clever programmer, I can write a clever program to do all these simulations and tell us the results. For example, if we do have A2, then how big does our stack have to be on the button before an all-in move becomes unprofitable ? The answer is 22 small blinds. Now we know that when we have 22 small blinds or less in our stack, if we find an Ace on the button and everyone folds before us, going all in is a profitable play.

One word of warning here - just because a play is profitable, that doesn't mean you have to make it. There may be alternative ways of playing the hand which are more profitable. It may also be worth passing up marginally profitable situations because, if we are eliminated, we will miss out on more profitable plays later on - but I stress don't overdo this. A bird in the hand and all that !

Next time I'll post the full simulation results, showing what hand is required in each position with various stack sizes.


(1) Since we are all in, we don't care whether they call or raise. Effectively they are calling.

(2) About 2% of the time, both opponents can beat A2. In many of these cases, one of them will fold anyway. This is such a small factor it can be omitted from the calculations. 5/10/04 How small ? Quick fag packet calculation, 2% of the time, they can both beat A2. A conservative estimate would be that at in least 1/4 of these, the BB would have to fold because of the SB's raise. So 1.5 % of the time, you're about 16% (that's a guess) to win 2800, 84% to lose 1400. EV = 0.015 * (.16*2800 - .84*1400) = - 10 chips. But the way we counted it before (just one person calling) would have been -5 chips, so it's only a 5 chip difference (compared to our result of 83 chips). I will make sure my simulation includes this factor before publishing full results (which is going to delay me by a day or two I'm afraid)

(3) Except when you are already in or close to the money, there are other players who are liable to be blinded away before you and waiting for them to go broke will earn you significant extra money.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Short-Stack Overview (3) - Stack Size

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, it's a very encouraging response. I am already being taken to task by The Camel and Richard G, quite rightly ! Keep them coming guys but remember that I am pitching this a bit lower than the expert level, and if I miss out the odd titbit it's because I'm trying not to over-complicate. Or because I've forgotten whatever it was :-)

The last of the four main factors is stack size. As Richard points out, the lower your stack, the better proportional return should you steal the blinds, and you also have better odds if you get called. In addition, the shorter your stack, the less time you have to wait for a better situation. What you really want to avoid is the situation where you do not have enough chips to make everyone pass with your all-in raise. This can vary according to your opponents, but my general rule of thumb is that if I'm going to be left with 5 SBs or less after taking the blinds, I'd much rather make my move before those blinds come around. Sometimes 5 is OK, but 4 is definitely too low - now you can only double the big blind and you will get called.

To sum up to date, the lower your stack size, the fewer people to act behind you, and the less action there is in front of you, the lower your hand requirements are for committing to the pot. Later in the week I'm going to use the awesome power of my laptop to turn this into some more concrete guidelines, so don't go away !


Short-Stack Overview (2) - Position

When you're short-stacked, another important factor is your position. How many players are still to act behind you. Each extra player is another player who can wake up with a hand, or decide to be the hero and call just to knock you out. Most players will adjust a little to a raise from the button or the small blind, but generally not enough, and there are many who don't really care where the raise came from, they'll call if their hand is better than a certain fixed minimum.

This will become more apparent when I do the Maths in more detail (soon - be patient !). Even if I'm short stacked, I don't like to move in with more than 4 people still to act unless I have a real hand (at least AJ for a non-paired hand, except when I'm so short that I have to move this round). In one of Richard's comments below, he says that many players will move in with "any ink on their cards" with four people still to act - and no doubt they do, in the smaller comps, but I don't recommend it. The more players still to act, the more chance someone will find a good hand. And there is exponentially more chance that two people can find hands behind you, which can cause you to be almost dead pre-flop (for example with A8 against AQ and TT).


Comment Feedback

We've had some good comments already on here, check them out. One snippet is worthy of moving up into a main post. An anonymous poster says "I don't want to be ante'd away until my best hand resembles a Doyle Brunson special.". It's certainly true that you don't want to be ante'd away too low, but "the best hand" is not how you should be thinking. The four factors I have mentioned (hand strength, stack size, position, action before you) combine to form a situation. You need to ask yourself "Is this the best situation I will find ?" Not the best hand (or the best position, or any one of the factors in isolation). For all my words and hot air on here, if you just switch your thinking from best hand to best situation then that's half the battle.

Friday, October 01, 2004


Short Stack Overview (1)

Where to start ? Well, seeing as I am focussing on tournament type games (including Sit and Goes) rather than cash games, let's start with playing a short stack. Whatever the format you play, a solid short-stack strategy is required.

First, a definition. I define short-stacked as being in a position where your pre-flop raise commits you to the pot. When you are short-stacked, you are deciding to commit to a hand and you are not going to fold. In practice, if you're raising sensible amounts, this means having 15 SBs (small blinds) in your stack, or less. Throughout this discussion I am referring to big-bet Hold-em.

Many people make their stand based on one factor only : the two cards they hold. "This is the best hand I've seen for an hour" they say as they throw the chips in with KJ after a raise and a reraise. To play a short stack you must consider four variables before making your decision. Your two cards (ok that's one), your stack size, your position and the action in front of you. You could say that the latter three variables determine how strong a hand you need ; that's no different from what I'm saying, which is that you combine the four variables to come up with a Yes/No decision - fold or commit.

Which factor is most important ? Take a guess. I would say the action in front of you. It is absolutely vital to get your chips in first whenever you can. A raise in front of you changes everything. When you make the first raise, you have a chance to win the blinds unopposed, as there is a good chance that no one has anything much to call you with. When it has been raised in front of you, there is usually no chance to take the pot unopposed, as you don't have enough chips to make your opponent fold, and one person has already told you that they like their hand. There are many situations where you can commit with virtually anything as the first raiser. In a raised pot, you must have a better hand than your opponent ! If the raiser can have any of the top 20% of hands, you need something in the top 10%. The most common, and worst, short-stack mistake is to put your chips in as a caller (or a small reraiser) with a moderate hand.

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