This summer readers are getting a chance to look at tournament strategy through a pair of poker’s most famous sunglasses with the publication of 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Greg Raymer’s Fossilman’s Winning Tournament Strategies.
Already a longtime contributor to poker forums at the time of his big Main Event win, over the years since Raymer has continued to build upon his tournament strategies while adding another $2.7 million worth of tournament cashes to the $5M he won in 2004. Due out this July, Fossilman’s Winning Tournament Strategies finds Raymer drawing upon his experience as a player and coach to share a comprehensive guide to “practical tournament play.”
After starting with chapters sharing his “poker philosophy,” tournament vs. cash game strategy, ICM, game theory, pot odds, bet sizing, and other fundamentals, Raymer then covers numerous other tournament-specific concepts and issues with chapters covering playing the short stack, playing the big stack, special situations and plays, avoiding mistakes, image, tells, deal-making, and more.
Raymer also includes 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 advice about playing the WSOP Main Event.
The following excerpt comes from the chapter “Tournament Equity and Goals” and highlights a specific issue that often comes up in discussions of tournament strategy. Is it okay to turn down a profitable spot now in order to wait for a potentially better one later? There are a few factors to consider when answering that question, explains Raymer.
What about the idea, which you will hear often from tournament players, of passing up on a given spot that is profitable, because you believe that an even better spot will present itself later? Early in a tournament this is just silly. Let’s presume that you are a great player, with a significant edge on the field. You know from the history of tournaments you have played, that you will double your stack in a tournament before you go broke about 80% of the time. Notice we’re not talking about making the money, or winning, just the concept that if the tournament started with T20,000, that you will, with about 80% certainty, reach T40,000 or more at some point before you are eliminated. Now, you are faced with an all-in situation, where you believe you are 70% likely to win. If you call, you will double up when you win, and be eliminated when you lose. But if you fold, you know that by continuing with your normal game you will double up at some point with about 80% certainty. Does this mean you should fold this hand where you’re a 70:30 favorite?
Sorry, but if you said yes, you need to think about it some more. The real question isn’t which decision gives you the greatest chance of doubling up. If this were a $100 buy-in tournament, and you had made a bet with a friend for $10,000 that you would double up at some point in this event, then yes, you should probably fold in this spot. But ignoring such silliness, the real question isn’t which decision is most likely to double you up, but which decision, on average, makes you the most money. If you call now and lose, it is true, you will miss out on those future opportunities in this tournament where you would have gotten your chips in good, and frequently (80% of the time) doubled up to T40,000. But when you call now and win, you will have doubled up right now, AND you will still be there (70% of the time) to enjoy all of those future opportunities. You might say that if you call now and win, you have become something like an 80% favorite to triple up at some point in this tournament, because those opportunities wherein you would have won those other chips will still be there for you.
Only at very end, when you are down to the last few players, should you consider passing on a profitable but risky spot, in order to wait for a better spot that you are confident is going to come along. Here is a common example. You are down to three players in the tournament, and your two opponents are both very passive and relatively tight players. It is obvious they are not used to playing short-handed, and do not understand that they need to play a wider range of starting hands than when the table was full. As a result, you have been able to raise preflop, and steal the blinds and antes frequently, and you believe that you will be able to continue doing so, even when it gets down to heads-up play. Now, you raise again, and one of the opponents moves all-in. You actually have a very strong hand this time, and even when carefully doing the ICM/tournament math, you know it is profitable to call. But should you? Maybe not. If these opponents are going to let you slowly grind them down, one blind at a time, with a very high certainty, then why play a huge pot, even when you are a significant favorite to win? This is a time where you can go beyond the math, and realize that the more profitable play might be to fold. In essence, what you are doing here is giving up on a call that is clearly correct as a Game Theory Optimal play, and pursuing your Game Theory Exploitative strategy of grinding the players down instead.
However, when it is still early in the tournament, it simply won’t be more profitable to pass on risky hands where you have the advantage. With so many players still left in the field, you can’t know that you will be able to win using conservative strategies. Even if the opponents you’re facing now would permit this as a reasonable possibility, you will be facing many other opponents as you proceed in the tournament, and it is highly unlikely they are all going to let you grind them down slowly and surely. Early in an event there is so far to go, and so many chips yet to be won, that there is always a lot of risk awaiting you. As such, it simply won’t be profitable to avoid risk early simply for the sake of avoiding risk. If the situation you find yourself in involves a lot of risk, but also gives you a significant edge, then it is a risk you should take if you want to maximize your long-term profits.
Fossilman’s Winning Tournament Strategies is available for pre-order 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.