Early Tourney Play Important Too; Poker’s Future; Take Control

Poker Strategy — Navigating The Early Stages Of A Tournament
Andrew Brokos Shares His Tools For Accumulating Chips

by Andrew Brokos

There’s a common misconception that the early stages of a no-limit hold‘em tournament are unimportant. The argument goes that the blinds are too small to be worth stealing, and consequently any pot you win or lose is generally too small to make much difference to your stack. After all, a medium-sized pot in level one will amount to nothing more than a big blind or two a few levels later.

This may be true for a certain type of tournament specialist who is an expert at stealing and restealing preflop but is inexperienced at postflop play. In truth, though, a skilled player’s potential edge is highest when stacks are deepest. This is because he has more tools at his disposal and there is room for his opponents to make extremely expensive errors.

This article will introduce you to some of the tools that great players use to accumulate chips during the early stages of a tournament and help you to avoid some of common misunderstandings that can lead to big mistakes when playing deep.

Position, Position, Position

It’s level one of a $10,000 main event. Everyone has roughly 300 times the big blind in his stack. There are several professionals at the table, and while some players appear weaker than others, none seem likely to make huge mistakes.

At such a table, I’m happier to be dealt a suited J-10 on my button than a pair of aces in first position. Granted, with the aces, I’m guaranteed either to steal the blinds or get money into the pot as a favorite on at least one street. Preflop is almost always the smallest betting round, though, and it’s likely that I’ll have to play out of position postflop, possibly against multiple opponents. That means that their decisions will generally be better than mine on the next three streets, when the bets are larger.

This isn’t a matter of J-10 suited being a better deep-stacked hand than aces. I’d still rather have the aces if I get the button either way, and that’s true no matter how deep we get (within reason – it’s possible that at some insanely huge stack depth the fact that a big suited connector will make more nut-straight flushes than A-A becomes overwhelmingly important). The point is that I’d rather have a good hand and the best position than the best hand and poor position.

There’s a point, probably when stacks are a little less than 100 times the big blind, when this changes. At that point, I’d rather have the aces in early position, because the preflop action becomes more significant. There’s less room for opponents with position to outplay me postflop, so my preflop edge counts for more.

Implied Odds Matter More Than Immediate Odds

At the same table, if I were in the big blind with an offsuit K-8, facing a minimum raise from a good player on the button, I would fold. This is true even if I knew he were opening any two cards, even though I know I’d be a 56 percent favorite against that range and getting 2.5-to-1 pot odds.

At that moment, there are 250 chips in the pot and 30,000 in my stack, so I need to be a lot more concerned about protecting the latter than the former. Playing out of position against a good player with a hand that will very rarely make anything stronger than a single pair with an uninspiring kicker is a recipe for tough postflop decisions. I don’t want to end up putting thousands of chips at risk to protect my equity share in a pot of 250.

Those chips would be at risk because I’ll virtually never make a strong hand with the K-8. On almost any board, the best I’ll be able to do is check, make a guess about my opponent’s bluffing frequency, and either call or fold. Good players will value bet well with almost any hand better than mine and bluff well when I have the best hand with king-high or third pair.

Against a weak player who wouldn’t make such good use of his position, I would call here. My postflop decisions wouldn’t be so difficult against such a player, making it easier for me to show my hand down when it’s a winner and get away cheaply when it isn’t.

Likewise, if stacks were much shorter, say 30 or 40 times the big blind, I’d be more inclined to defend against a good player. The potential downside of difficult decisions on lower streets would be much lower, and consequently I could give more priority to defending my equity in the current, small pot.

Shoot for Hands That Can Win Big Pots

In a no-limit hold‘em game, your whole stack could be at risk at any time. Tough opponents will put you to the test with bets and raises that threaten your stack, and if you consistently hold cards that can’t take that kind of heat, you’re going to face impossible decisions.

This is especially true when you’re out of position, with less control over the size of the pot. With the advantage of position, you can get away with making marginal hands postflop, because you’ll have more information to figure out whether you can call, value bet, get to showdown, etcetera. When out of position against a tough opponent, you’d like to avoid murky situations, and that starts with not playing cards preflop that rarely make hands with which you’d want to play a big pot.

Depending on the texture of a given board, straights, flushes, and full houses will generally be the sorts of hands you’ll want to hold when putting two or three hundred big blinds into the pot. Of course, those aren’t easy to make, but they are what you want to shoot for. Even strong hands such as overpairs and top pair with a good kicker are more like consolation prizes. Although an offsuit K-J will amount to the same thing as its suited counterpart on most rivers, the suited hand is much better when you are deep because of the possibility of making a two-card flush. Even a draw to a nut or near-nut hand can be more desirable than a marginal pair with little hope of improving.

This is part of the reason to fold K-8 offsuit to the button’s raise, but it should affect most of your preflop decisions, particularly when you’re likely to end up playing out of position. At a tough, nine-handed table full of deep-stacked players, A-J offsuit is an open fold from first position, but J-T suited is a raise. It’s better to flop an open-ended straight draw than top pair with no redraw when you’re out of position against one or more players who don’t give up easily. And if you do happen to flop top pair with the J-T, it won’t be worth that much less than if you’d done it with the A-J.


If your strategy for the early levels of a tournament is to play conservatively and wait for either good cards or blinds that are worth stealing, then you are easy to play against. You will never give your opponents difficult decisions. This strategy will work reasonably well against players who don’t have the wherewithal to get out of your way on the rare occasion that you show interest in the pot, but the only way you’ll ever take chips away from a good player will be with a suckout or a massive cooler.

You can make yourself a much tougher opponent simply by playing your best draws aggressively, not just when your opponent could have nothing, but when it seems clear that he has a marginal made hand. If he’s just checking and calling from out of position, keep firing big bets with both your good top pair hands and your eight- and nine-out draws. This puts him in the impossibly difficult spot I’ve been trying to teach you to avoid.

Of course, in order to have eight and nine-out draws to semibluff with, you have to raise preflop with the sorts of hands that create those draws, namely suited connectors and suited aces. This brings us back to the point about shooting for hands that can win big pots. With 30 big blinds, your goal is to make a good pair and go with it. With 300, you’re much better off making a nut draw if you don’t make the nuts, and you need to adapt your preflop strategy accordingly.


Of course this only scratches the surface, and there are quite a few things that the best players do successfully when very deep stacked. These general principles, however, should you help you quickly conceptualize the difference between 30 big blind poker and 300 big blind poker and avoid the toughest spots altogether. ?

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.


Editorial: The Future of the Poker World?
By Earl Burton
The opinions in this editorial do not reflect the positions of the ownership or management of Poker News Daily.

Over the past few days, I have been seeing ominous signs for the poker world. Beyond what is happening in the power structure in Washington, D. C. regarding the regulation of online poker (something this writer never thought would happen, by the way), we are seeing poker’s own seemingly drop off the map of the game after showing so much promise. Perhaps we are seeing something else that we might want to take to thought.

In yesterday’s edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, writer Matt Vilano wrote about former UB spokesman Joe Sebok. Sebok, the stepson of longtime veteran poker professional and Poker Hall of Famer Barry Greenstein, was expunged from the game with the results of “Black Friday” now more than 18 months ago. Although he was able to cobble together some results after that dark day, it is where he is now that may shock some.

In the Chronicle article, Vilano discusses Sebok’s current position in the wine industry in Santa Rosa. Mind you, this isn’t in the “tasting” of the wine or even in its selling. Sebok has put in the grunt work doing punchdowns. According to Vilano, this means you push the top layer of grapes down to the bottom of the fermenting vat. Sebok also does pumpovers, moving the fermenting wine between holding tanks.

“Basically, I came up here and got my ass kicked,” Sebok states to Vilano. He lost weight from the physicality of the work, but he found something that he seemingly enjoys. He is considering a future in the wine industry, saying to Vilano, “The game of poker is great and has been good to me but, at the end of the day, if you’re not doing other stuff, all you are doing is counting money.”

The Sebok story comes on the heels of the travails of two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Dutch Boyd and his attempts to move on in life. After not being able to land a job (even with his background, which we will get to in a moment), Boyd put one of his Bellagio championship bracelets on eBay, looking to get the meltdown value of it (around $2600). It eventually sold for just under $2960.

Here’s where we are going with this…if these men aren’t making a living at poker, who can?

While he wasn’t able to earn a major tournament victory, Sebok earned nearly $1.9 million since 2005 in tournament poker. Boyd, while winning two WSOP bracelets, has racked up over $2.1 million since 2002 and, in both cases, this doesn’t count what they may have earned in the cash game arena (or, logically, may have lost). They are both prominent members of the poker community, both live and online, and have done things that few of us will ever do.

Prior to starting their careers in poker, both got college degrees, apparently setting themselves up for a future if the poker “thing” didn’t work out. Boyd, in his case, was a child prodigy, earning his law degree at the age of eighteen, before heading into the poker world. And now…they are happy with being out of the poker spotlight.

The poker world can be a vicious one. Yesterday’s heroes are today’s memories in the scrapbook of time. Although there are some who have had sustained success, there are a multitude that have had some semblance of success in the game only to fall to the “Sirens’ Song” that the clicking of chips and ruffling of cards brings. It is something to perhaps tell to those that are currently out there.

That 18 year old (or maybe younger), be they in the United States, Canada, Russia, the United Kingdom, Asia…there are no guarantees in the world of poker, as there are none in life. While you might be killing online right now (or even in your live casino), success in the long term is a difficult road to fade. At the minimum get the education, some work experience…and maybe that isn’t even a guarantee. At the minimum, play on the side…the game of poker will always be there.

We are in dire straits right now in the poker world. If players such as Sebok and Boyd (and there are others over the past few years) have decided to move on, we won’t have a “familiar” player base to build a following for the “sport.” Those that have been the bridge between the past and future – and I would put Ivey, Negreanu, Hellmuth, Brunson and a few others in that category – will continue to be a force, but there is a downside to a lack of “name” recognition. If it becomes a constant march of unfamiliar amateurs who continue to take championships on the major tours, then we might be falling out of the mainstream that the poker world once thought it desired (the lack of online poker in the United States adds to this).

As we get ready to enter 2013, you have to wonder what is going on in the poker world and will we ever get back to our apex of the mid-2000s. If we continue on the current course – and such players as Sebok and Boyd don’t ever return to the game – then the outlook is bleak.

(As an aside, will look to get comments from both Sebok and Boyd…but they seem pretty happy in their lives at this point.)

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Brian Tracy played his cards right

by T. Dana Smith

Brian Tracy has taken lots of gambles in his life, though I doubt any of them have been at poker.

As a teenager, he crossed the Sahara Desert in a dilapidated jalopy. Using his endurance trials on the searing sands of the Sahara, he later risked financial security when he dumped a lucrative business career and ventured into the volatile profession of public speaking. Today, he is one of America’s leading authors of audio albums on psychology and management.

In The Psychology of Achievement, Tracy lists the mental laws you can use to transform any personal desert into an oasis of success.

Law of Belief. All of your actions are based on your beliefs. For example, when you are in an “Ican’twinforlosing” frame of mind, you act like a loser. But if you believe you are both skillful and lucky, you play like a winner. This is why Mike Caro admonishes poker players to believe they are lucky and to transfer that belief to their opponents.

Law of Substitution. Your conscious mind can hold only one dominant thought at a time. If that thought is negative (“I’m a loser”), substitute it with a positive one (“I’m a winner”). If you find yourself thinking, “I’ve been on a downhill slide for two weeks,” replace that thought by constantly repeating to yourself, “Today I am a winner. Good things are coming my way.” And they will.

Law of Attraction. We attract people and circumstances into our lives that are in harmony with our dominant thoughts. If your thoughts are negative, the people and conditions in your life also will be negative, and vice-versa. Always think of what you want; never think of what you don’t want. People are like magnets that pull into their sphere the things they are thinking about. Might as well make them the best things you can think of!

Law of Concentration. What you dwell on grows. That is, whatever you think about over and over evolves into your reality. Geniuses are able to concentrate for long periods of time on a single idea. If you concentrate all your thoughts on success and channel all your efforts toward your goal, you can write your own success story.

Law of Habit. Basically 95 percent of what we do is habit. If you’ve gotten into some self-destructive habits, you’ll continue being defeated until you change your habits. Motivational gurus say, “Keep on doing what you’ve been doing, and you’ll keep on getting what you’ve been getting.” Don’t like what you’ve been getting? Change what you’ve been doing.

Law of Expectation. You don’t get what you want – you get what you expect. Suppose you want a Mercedes, but you don’t expect to ever own one. You’d settle for a Hyundai Elantra. Guess what you’ll get? Suppose you want the ace of hearts on the river, but you expect a red five. Oops! Instead, why not simply expect what you want?

Law of Control. You feel good about yourself to the extent you are in control of your life. When you feel out of control, you don’t like yourself. This is why people who believe they are the puppets of fate are habitually depressed. Although you cannot always predict the events in your life, you can control your reactions to them.

You can take control of your life by taking Tracy’s advice: Believe you can. Substitute positives for negatives. Think only of what you desire. Concentrate your thoughts and efforts on your goals. Make positive changes in your habits. And expect the best. When you consciously practice these mental laws, your self-esteem will soar, along with your bankroll.

You will have the gambler’s edge.

Contact Dana T. Smith at DanaSmith@GamingToday.com.

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