This guide is to teach you how to play small pot, tournament poker. It is meant to keep you in the tournament by not over inflating pots by betting too much too early. The strategy is to try and maximize your river value bets by disguising your strength and allowing you to get away from traps and reraises with the least amount invested. The bets will allow you to still take control of a hand and not allow pots to get to the point where you are all-in before you really need to be.
How many times during the first couple levels of a tournament do you see someone raise 10-20 big blinds (BB)? Blinds are 10/20 but someone will raise to 250 in middle position with no limpers or any action in front of him. Two people call and all of a sudden at least one of them is busted out of the tournament. The person who initially raised to 250 made the outcome of this hand inevitable by over inflating the pot too early in the game. Understanding why you raise is straightforward but how much is the skill that most people don’t get. This is where management of your tournament stack becomes essential.
The raise is a declaration of power in poker. It is the declaration of war against the table by saying my hand is better than yours. There are two primary reasons to raise: 1) to decrease the number of players in the hand 2) to make money. You want to push out the weak hands to increase your odds of winning. You also want to invest money when you think you have the best hand. Who is going to call a larger than normal raises? Another powerful hand of course! Pocket KK will see AA at the showdown around 17% of the time. Who is going to call all the betting but another good hand?
In a tournament every chip matters and you cannot afford to waste a single one. Why? You have to keep ahead of the increasing blinds. Bets are made based on the size of the BB. Every time the blinds go up, the chips become worth less relative to the big blind. Think of being in the middle of a large tournament with a stack of 3,000. The blinds are 75/150 so you have 20 big blinds left. Now the blinds go up to 100/200 and now, without your stack changing in size, you now have only 15 big blinds left. Your chip stack has lost 25% of its value relative to the BB.
The bet needed to win a hand also has to increases as the pot gets larger. The bet has to be large enough to make the pot odds incorrect for a caller. This is called the compound effect. An overbet preflop will compound how much you have to bet postflop. As the turn and river are put out, the pot will get bigger and you will have to bet more to win it. Most of the time, you want to keep the pots from getting so big that you are forced to bet a large portion of your chips to keep playing. You want to keep the pot a reasonable since most of the time you are betting with good hands but not “the nuts.” The compound effect also works for the amount a player has to reraise to get you off the pot. If you are betting half the pot he only has to triple that to make a decent raise, but when you bet the whole pot the only move is all-in unless you have a deep stack.
Preflop The standard raise if you are the first one into the pot is a 3 BB raise. You need to increase this amount if there are limpers in front of you. You should add 1 BB for every limper into the pot in front of you. For example, the blinds are 100/200 and there are two limper in front of you. The bet should be 1000 (5BB) = 600 standard raise + 400 for the limpers.
The reasons are simple. You want to bet enough to force weak hands to fold but not prevent one or two callers. This creates isolation and helps you make money by increasing the odds that you will have the winning hand. By doing these standard raises, you are not investing more than you need to accomplish this. You can fold easier if someone goes over the top because you have invested only 3 BB. You are also decreasing the amount that someone will have to bet to go over the top of you. This will make it easier to call the reraise and stay in the hand.
Example one: It is the early stages of a large tournament and you are at a full table with 10/20 blinds. You still have your 1500 starting chips. You get AJ in late position and are first into the pot so you raise to 60. The button then comes over the top for 200. You can now let it go easily if you choose since you are only going to lose 60 chips. You can call since 200 is not a huge portion of your chips. If you don’t hit, you can fold and still have plenty of chips to keep playing.
Example two: Using the same set up as before, you are dealt AJ in late position and try to steal the blinds. You don’t want any callers so you raise it to 150. The button then comes over the top. Now the reraise will have to be around 400-500 to try push you out. He can’t just raise it to 200 anymore. You have just force this hand into a larger pot than it needed to be. You are now forcing yourself to fold because you don’t want to risk 1/3 your chips with the call here. If you call here, the pot is now almost 1,000 chips. A pot size bet is the rest of your stack and a fold now leaves you with only 2/3 your original stack and it is still the first blind level. You now have to play tighter to try and work you way back up.
The all-in bet preflop is used in only a couple of spots. When you get under 10 BB, your only bet should be all-in (what cards to do it with is up to you). The other time is when someone reraises and forces you to an all-in or fold decision. For example, you only have 15 BB left and raise the standard 3BB. What do you do when someone comes over the top and reraises to 7 BB? You now have that critical decision to fold or go all-in. Do you see the value here of the standard preflop raise here and the compound effect it created? You can fold in this situation and not be shortstacked since you will still have 12 BB. If you had initially raised to 5 BB,have pot committed yourself without knowing it. By making the larger than normal raise, you will leave yourself shortstacked if you fold.
Post Flop There are 3 kinds of bets post flop. A small bet which is ½ to 2/3 of the pot. A medium bet which is ¾ to a pot size bet. And a large bet which is over the size of the pot or all-in. The first two are the most common, unless the person betting is shortstacked. Postflop there is two scenarios to look at: a single caller or multiple callers.
Single Opponent You have what you really want, just one caller. Small bets work when facing one opponent. On a non-drawing flop, the proper bet should be ½ the pot. It is enough to announce that you are still in control and think you are ahead. If you do this consistently, it will make it harder to tell if this is a continuation bet or you really did hit the flop. It also allows the pot to stay smaller if he goes over the top. Small bets all the way down also help hide the value bet on the river. If you bet the pot on the flop and turn, then bet only ¼ the pot on the river, something will look fishy to smart opponents. If you are betting about ½ the pot after the flop and on the turn, the smaller value bet on the river seems a more natural bet amount.
A medium sized bet is better on a flop with a flush or straight draw present. The proper bet is a ¾ pot size bet so it is harder for them to call and chase. You want to make it look tempting to call but really have them priced out. You don’t need to bet the pot to do this. You are actually extracting value if you get them to make the incorrect call. Loose players will look at the bet and say I am willing to risk it even if it is incorrect pot odds. The bet looks small because it is not a full pot size bet or really close to it. Shorter stacks will push on a drawing hand to semi-bluff. You will then have to decide if it is worth the call. The smaller the pot the less likely they will attempt the semi-bluff to begin with.
Multiple Opponents First and foremost, bluffing is not recommended in a multi-player pot, even in position. You more than likely are behind and don’t want to risk chips in a losing cause. More traps are found in these hands than in heads up because there is a better chance someone hit the hard. You don’t need to risk a reraise by doing a continuation bet (you bet first preflop so you fire out again hit or miss after the flop). If you bet after the flop and someone calls, then you increased the pot with a small chance to really improve on the next card. You should try to take a free card and see if you improve. This will reduce the bet you will have to make on the turn if you want to take a stab at the pot. Think of the compound effect here. The trapping opponent just got more money into the pot and will make his move on the turn with a reraise and collect even more money.
The medium sized bet here is good if you hit the flop. A ¾ pot size bet is good enough to take most non-drawing flops down or a flop that has only a flush or straight draw present. You want to bet enough to scare the draws and make the under pairs and second pair hands pay to see the turn or fold. If you don’t bet enough and everyone calls, the draws will get priced in. You need the bet to be big enough to start isolating or winning the pot outright. The pot size bet is for a flush and straight draw boards. You will have lots of scare cards here and will want to take the pot down right away.
The all-in bet postflop is used as a scare tactic and a double up move. It can be used to look like a bluff when holding a monster or forcing someone to lay down a marginal hand. The other time all-in is used is when the pot gets to big and that it is your only bet left in large multi-player pot.
The betting patterns you present when playing in a tournament are different than a ring game. Once you run out of chips you are done so you have to be more careful. The betting amounts here may not maximize every hand you win but will also help you lose less when you are behind. It will also help you stay in a tournament longer. The longer you stay in a tournament the better chances you have of hitting that monster hand that really boosts you chip stack. Slow and steady wins the race; fast and crazy is for roller coasters.
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