2004 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Greg Raymer has written a brand new book of tournament strategy, Fossilman’s Winning Tournament Strategies. The book has just been published, meaning it is out in time for those taking part in tournaments at this year’s WSOP.
Raymer — pictured above in action this week while playing at the 2019 WSOP — was unknown to many when he topped a field of 2,576 in the 2004 WSOP Main Event to claim the $5M top prize. Many poker players knew about Raymer already, though, thanks to “Fossilman”‘s frequent contributions to online strategy forums.
The idea of compiling his tournament strategy advice into a book began shortly after Raymer’s big win, but he became otherwise occupied over the years adding another $2.7 million worth of cashes to his tournament résumé. Finally, though, the book has come together and finds Raymer drawing upon his experience as a player and coach to share a comprehensive guide to “practical tournament play.”
The book is organized into 42 short chapters that cover a wide range of advice for tournament players. Raymer starts by sharing his “poker philosophy,” then moves into discussions of tournament vs. cash game strategy, ICM, game theory, pot odds, bet sizing, and other fundamentals. From there he addresses other tournament-specific concepts and issues with chapters on playing the short stack, playing the big stack, special situations and plays, avoiding mistakes, image, tells, deal-making, and more.
Readers will also find helpful, concrete advice about satellite strategy, how to approach re-entry and re-buy tournaments, heads-up tournaments, strategy when playing with the big blind ante, as well as tips for those playing the WSOP Main Event.
The following excerpt comes from the chapter “Pot Control” in which Raymer discusses its relevance to the playing of particular hands in tournaments while also highlighting how the term and concept has often been misused.
Pot control refers to the concept of playing in a manner that avoids creating larger pots, and thus avoids large risks to your stack. More specifically, players exercising pot control will pass up on opportunities where they feel they are a small favorite if they bet or raise, and instead choose to check or call, because doing so will ensure that they do not lose all (or a large portion) of their chips.
As I’ve discussed, you should be making the decision that is the most profitable (i.e., the highest EV), regardless of the amount of risk that comes with the play. And, I’ve described how if it is early enough in a tournament, where you are not yet in or almost in the money, the EV of each choice when analyzed by chip count is essentially identical to the EV of each choice when analyzed by money value (using ICM considerations). There are many times a player will believe they are exercising pot control when they are actually using ICM. That is, in their situation, betting or raising would maximize value in terms of chip count, but to maximize money value (because of ICM considerations), the player should just check or call instead.
Distilling this down, the entire concept of pot control is either a mistake, or a misdescription of what is really happening. If it is early in the tournament, you shouldn’t be worried about minimizing risk, but only with maximizing value, so there is no good reason to exercise pot control. If it is late enough in the tournament that there are now discrepancies between maximizing chip count value, and maximizing money value, you should try to make the decision that best maximizes money value. The fact that such a decision might also avoid risk, whether for reasons related to pot control or otherwise, is irrelevant. Therefore, in the strictest sense, you should entirely ignore the concept of pot control.
Having said that, there are many situations where players will describe a decision as being driven by pot control, even early in a tournament, and be both right and wrong. They are wrong in the belief that the decision is correct because of the idea of pot control, yet the decision itself is still correct. But it is correct for some other reason. One of the most common of these “other reasons” is the concept of “way ahead or way behind”. There will be many situations where there is a significant chance that you have the best hand on the flop or turn. And if you do have the best hand, you will be a large favorite for that hand to hold up and still be the best hand at the river. But if you are wrong, and do not have the best hand, then it is instead your opponent who is a large favorite now, and a large favorite to still have the best hand at the river.
Here is a very straightforward example. You are holding K♠Q♦ and the flop is A♦K♣7♥. If you have the best hand right now, then your opponent is way behind. In fact, any hand they are holding that is currently behind has at most five outs to become the best hand on the next card. This means that you are at least a 4:1 favorite to still have the best hand at the river. However, if you do not currently have the best hand, then it is you who has at most five outs, and is at best a 4:1 underdog.
If you are in position this hand, and your opponent checks to you, should you bet? The answer to that is very complicated, but you will often hear a player who checks in this spot say they did so for reasons of pot control. But even if their check was correct, pot control was not the correct reason. A better reason would be the idea of way ahead or way behind (and there are many other good reasons as well). If you bet here with the best hand, and the opponent folds, you have gained very little. They were drawing thin, so you were not saving yourself from being outdrawn very often.
But if you bet here when behind, unless your opponent makes an unexpected fold, you are putting more chips into a pot you are very unlikely to win. Therefore, it might be a more profitable play to check here, as the risk of giving a free card is minimal, but the risk of losing chips might be quite high. Also, by checking behind, you might convince the opponent that their inferior hand is actually the best, and convince them to mistakenly invest more chips in this pot on future betting rounds. You also might motivate them to bluff with a hand that they know is not the best, since you “showed weakness” when you checked. Therefore, because you are either way ahead or way behind, you chose to not play aggressively on this round of betting, and by doing so you will, on average, lose a smaller pot when you lose, yet maybe win a larger pot when you win.
Fossilman’s Winning Tournament Strategies is available in paperback and as an e-book at D&B Poker.
D&B Publishing (using the imprint D&B Poker) was created by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs 15 years ago. Since then it has become one of the leading publishers of poker books with titles by Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman, Dr. Patricia Cardner, Lance Bradley, Martin Harris and more, all of which are available at D&B Poker.
WSOP Photography by pokerphotoarchive.com.