Thursday, October 07, 2004

One Step Closer

A few days ago, or maybe a week, I proclaimed that instead of just trying to make the money in multi table tournaments, I was going to shoot for the final table. Last night I busted out one spot from that final table. In an Absolute rewards tournament (you use rewards points for the buy in but cash is paid out) in which over 340 people registered, I began my quest. Five hands into the thing I had 165 chips left from the original 1500. I had pretty much resigned myself to busting out among the first players as my AKd ran into 10 7o. The 10 7 made two pair on the turn and my flopped K cost me almost my entire stack. Short stacked play was the overriding theme for the night so that's what we'll address here today.

Conventional wisdom states that when short stacked you need to be aggressive and try to steal blinds when the opportunities arise. This is sound strategy if you have enough of a stack left that you might intimidate someone. What do you do if you don't have enough of a stack to even match an average size pot? I know Celebrity Poker is a bad reference but I keep hearing Phil Gordon's voice in my head. "I can't believe he folded that hand. That was a horrible play, when your short stacked you need to pick any two cards and move in. You need to get lucky and try to double up." I don't specifically remember the episode this came from, or even if that is an exact quote, but it covers the main point he was making. Well I say pushaw Mr. Gordon.

I have an approach that completely bucks the trend. Be patient and wait for a top starting hand. Will you be blinded off, maybe. Will you double up when called, yes, most of the time. I had to put the disclaimer of "most of the time" since we all know even aces can be cracked. What you want to do is give yourself the greatest possibility to be the victor. Put as much of the odds as you can on your side. In essence, cut down on the luck factor. When you are left with a small enough stack that you are almost guaranteed a call from a bigger stack, you have to be patient and wait it out. Fold hands you may even normally play. I folded small pocket pair on more than one occasion last night waiting for the proper cards and position.

Position is key in deciding what hands to play. This holds true in everyday play and is even more critical when short stacked. Those pocket 4's are good to move in with if your on the button and it's folded to you, but if your under the gun just muck them. It won't take long before the observant players start respecting you again even if they have you covered four times over. I had taken my 165 chips and turned them into an above average stack before the first break. I didn't get more than my fair share of good cards, I was just patient and looked for opportunities to maximize my gain when these hands came.

I stayed above board until we were down to 54 players. I don't remember the specifics of the hand but I found myself with less than 10x the big blind when the chips were pushed away from me. At the late stages of a tournament you will have a big stack call an all in from a short stack holding just about anything. I've seen 72o call an all in so you need to take advantage of these opportunities by maximizing your preflop odds. With so many players left I knew I wasn't going to make the final table if I got careless. I sweated it out and finally ended up all in on my big blind. I was dealt 84o and knew I was busted. One caller came with me and I received my first of two lucky breaks in the tournament. I made two pair and more than doubled up. My next lucky break came when I raised the big blind from my small blind. I went all in and the BB only had to call 230 more chips to cover me. He wasn't paying attention to the chip stacks though and folded. I had the goods holding AK but still he committed a critical error. The table let him know this and he was the next to bust out.

They say you need luck as well as skill to win a tournament and my luck came at these two opportune times. I stayed among the shortest stacks until the end but I played my chips hard when I had my best preflop chances and continued to double up when I needed to. I knew I wasn't going to be able to mount a serious run for the win without a much bigger stack but I couldn't mount that large of a comeback. I took my chances with a small pocket pair with 10 players left and was handed my walking papers. My ride from 50 down to 10 may not have been flashy or pretty but I did what was necessary to propel myself through the ranks. A succession of all in bets may have been what some will recommend, but in my experience, the tortoise can beat the hare.