MTT strategy thoughts - asking the right questions on the "tricky" hands
A lot (if not all) of this is retreading ground that has been gone over many times, but I thought I'd give it all another go anyway
MTTs should be a fairly simple business based on solid, straightforward play. With good card selection and application of decent pot and implied odd theory it's not difficult to build a stack and get a decent return.
But as various authors have noted, success or failure turns on a small number of hands (Harrington calls them "inflection points"). Playing these hands well is what makes the difference between a solid and good player and it requires understanding not only the cards and the odds
but also the context of the hand in the broader game and play of the other players in the hand.
There is a huge amount of information available in any game of poker and while you can't see your opponent's hand shaking as he reaches for the mouse there is plenty that can be discerned from their behaviour that affects how you play the critical hands at the table.
Things to pay attention to include;
- size of bet preflop with certain hands
- size and frequency of continuation bets
- any tendancy to limp-reraise with AA or KK in early position
- size of bet (or checks) when flopping the nuts, TP, 2nd pair, draws
- are they capable of bluffing? If so how much?
- are they capable of folding? To what pressure and how good a hand will they let go
There are many more.
Solid notetaking paying attention to the above combined with use of a tool like Pokertracker provides a pretty detailed picture of a player's game after a fairly small sample of hands. Of course the more active a player is the more information they provide (though of course inaction is itself information). It should also be noted that decent players will vary their game depending on the stage of the tournament, the size of their stack and the aggression levels at the table. The guy you had pegged as passive and tight may suddenly wake up when the conditions change and suddenly appear to be a maniac.
Back to the key hands though and a typical example of a hand that can be the making or breaking of your tourney. So you have decent notes on most players at the table, Pokertracker has been doing it's thing and you have a decent stack. You are in no imminent danger from the blinds (say 25x BB) and a double-up or decent pot will probably see you through to the money with ease. It's at this point that you get dealt one of those "tricky" hands that can cause trouble - say AQ on the button.
No-one has made a move yet but already you should realise that this is a hand that could make or break your tourney and the information you have gathered up to this point will effectively decide what you do.
A player in early position with a similar stack to yours raises to 3xBB. It folds you and you have a decision to make with your AQ.
This is where information is everything. You will have position following the flop and assuming the blinds fold you will be heads up (this is where the notes and stats you have on the blinds will help). Answering all the following questions is essential if you are to make the right decision,
- What is the range of hands that villain will raise with?
- What is his VPIP% (voluntarily put in pot?)
- what is his preflop raise%?
- Has he raised from early position before, if so what with?
- Has anything happened to him in the last few hands that may have changed the way he is playing? Has he just gained a lot of chips? Has he lost a lot? Has he suffered a horrific beat?
- Is he Australian?
If he has a very small preflop raise% and/or VPIP% and you can narrow his range down to AK,AA,KK,QQ,AQ,JJ - then you may consider letting it go, if he has a big pfr% then it's time to start thinking about whether to call or raise. Very occassionally you will come across someone who plays lots of pots (VPIP% 35%+ who never raises preflop. A sudden raise here means danger!)
Once you have assessed all this then answer the following questions before acting -
- If I get involved in a pot with villain, will he make a continuation bet whether he hits the flop or not?
- will he fold if we both miss the flop and he checks and I bet?
- Will he call me to the river with any pair?
- Will he bluff?
- Have we been in hands together before and what happened?
- How is villain answering all of the above questions about me?
Essentially you are trying to work out how much getting involved in this pot is going to cost you, because it is very unlikely that the 3xbb you call with are going to be the last ones you put in this pot. You are after all aggressive enough to take a stab at it whether you connect or not aren't you? This probably means that what on the face of it is a decision for 3xBB is actualy for at minimum another 4-5xBB and this represents a sizeable chunk of your stack.
So you've evaluated his range of hands, you've considered his likely action post flop and whether or not he's a calling station, passive or a maniac bluffer and you've assessed the likely impact on your stack. Now you can make an informed decision.
It is the very tight players and the very loose who you need to watch out for. In the case of the former you may decide to call or even let it go now based on their very small range. In the case of the latter you may wish to call and hope to hit the flop better than they do and take down a big one, or you may decide to begin representing strength now with a reraise, looking to use this to help you take it down post flop. A middle of the road or "tricky" player, perhaps call and go from there.
The correct decision will of course vary from hand to hand, but whatever decision you make it should be based on working out the answer to all the above questions and assessing the full likely liability of the hand and impact on your stack before you do anything. Hopefully this will help avoid that annoying experience of seeing a decent stack dwindle into the danger zone almost accidentally.