Jim’s All-In Poker Vol XVI:

Did you ever notice how many tournament outcomes are decided by one decision on one hand?  A person can be cruising along, crushing the table, when he decides to play one hand that is questionable that ends up costing him the game?  Some decisions are easy.  Calling an all in from a short-stack when you are the chip leader holding A-K is a fairly easy play for you.  Calling an all in from a short-stack when you are holding 8-5 off suit is an entirely different matter.

Making that call with 8-5 off suit requires you to consider how much is already in the pot, how much it will take to call, what percentage of your stack will be involved, how many players are still left to act after you, as well as several other factors.  It isn’t as much of a no-brainer as the A-K, but it can still be a profitable call.  Making the call in the wrong situation could cause you to go from the big stack to a short- stack pretty quickly though.

Most players would immediately improve their tournament outcomes by following one simple piece of advice.

THINK BEFORE YOU ACTPoker Chips

Last night was a perfect example.   One of the players had played his way into a monster chip lead.  He was using the stack to push players off of hands through the shear enormity of his stack.  Everything was going fine, until he ran into one hand late in the game.  With six players left, and playing under the gun, he raised.  Everyone folded around back to the button, who was a relatively unknown player to the table, but who had a decent chip stack himself.  The button thought for a little bit, and then shoved all in.  The blinds folded, and the chip leader hardly hesitated before declaring “I can’t let this hand go”, and he called.  The button turned over K-K, and the big stack turned over K-4 of Spades.

Now I don’t point this out to belittle the big stack.  I just use this example to demonstrate the point of the discussion.  The big stack did raise (out of position with a weak hand), but I have no problem with doing this when you have a monster chip lead.  You should use your chip stack as a bullying tool because just the threat of getting knocked out is enough to get most people to fold relatively decent starting hands.  The button though, in this instance, declared that he had a monster hand.  At this point the big stack should have stopped reacting, and sat back to contemplate the possible results of calling if the button did indeed have the monster hand he was indicating that he had.

By taking the time to consider the results of his decision, I believe the big stack would have folded and waited for a better opportunity.  Instead, his nearly instant reaction caused him to go from the chip lead to fighting just to make the money.

Chris_FergusonTake a player like Chris “Jesus”  Ferguson.  He takes the time to consider every action he takes.  For years he practiced with a metronome just to perfect his timing, and it never changes.  He takes the time to consider every aspect of the hand regardless of what he is holding.  Then, whether he has 2-7 or A-A, he takes his action.  This has two benefits for him.  First, it allows him the time to not act irrationally; and second, it disguises the true strength of his hand.  When every action he takes looks exactly like the 50 actions he took previously, it is impossible to even guess what he might be holding.

Another player at the table suffered even worse results earlier in the game because of the same rash decision.  Two players with equally large chip stacks faced off in this one.  One of the best players in that game raised preflop from the button. The small blind then folded. The big blind then looked at his cards and immediately shoved all in.  The original raiser thought for a bit and came to the conclusion that the move was an overbet meant to close out the hand, rather than someone with real strength wanting to see the flop. So he called with 10-10.  The big blind turned over A-K.  Sure, this is the classic race, but it was a race that didn’t need to happen, since not hitting an Ace or a King meant the big blind’s night was finished.  And he didn’t.

A better decision might have been to call the raise, see the flop, and fold if no Ace or King comes.  Sure, you lose a few chips this way, but you don’t lose ALL your chips.

As I said earlier, this isn’t an attempt to belittle the players involved in any hand.  I am simply using real plays to discuss the game.  I find it far more educational to use real hands, rather than me making up hands that simply fit the point I am trying to make.  Additionally, remember that my philosophy might not be the same as yours.  For example; shoving in a chip stack against a raiser with A-K is a pretty routine play out in the poker world.  The reason being is two-fold.

One:  The other person could fold right there.Poker Hand

Two:  A-K plays pretty well when played all the way to the river.  Many players don’t realize that it is only a coin flip hand against an under-pair when it gets to see the river.  Against just the flop it is more like a 2:1 underdog.  My opinion though is that while it may be a stronger hand all-in vs. just flat calling, it is still an underdog at 49:51.  Almost even money.  Do you really want to risk a giant chip stack, when close to the money, on something as precarious as calling heads or tails?

So with these two positives, I can certainly understand why a player would make the move.  I simply play a tighter game, and I will look for opportunities to be the first to act with A-K, rather than trying to come over the top of a good player who has already committed a large percentage of his stack with his raise.

There are many simple statements I like to use when discussing improved poker play.  This week you should simply remember:

THINK BEFORE YOU ACT

On another note, I received some emails about a recent column where I wrote that I routinely raised from the button when everyone folded around to me, regardless of the hand I was holding.  Most of the comments reflected the opinion that times had changed, and the game had changed with it, and most players were now expecting that and reacting back from the blinds.  While I do agree that the game is evolving, I still believe that the button is the most powerful position in poker, and that you can do things from the button that you can’t do from other positions.  Besides, if the blinds want to reraise or call me, I still have the button and position.

poker tipsAndy Bloch, one of the finest poker players in the world, believes that you should play less than 10% of your hands from under the gun (first position to act after the big blind), and over 50% of your hands from the button.  That is a giant difference in starting hand quality.  Since there are 169 possible starting hands in Hold Em, this would mean that he recommends playing maybe 15 of them from under the gun.  Pairs down to 8-8, along with suited AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, AT and KJ.  And then the unsuited AK and AQ.  Now, he isn’t saying to always play these specific hands under the gun, but when you do decide to enter the pot that early you should obviously have a strong hand.

From the button, if he recommends opening the betting with over 50% of the hands, then raising with Q-8 is perfectly acceptable.  (Q-8 off-suit is the computer model for the exact middle of starting hands, coming in at #85 if you rank them according to strength).   In the hand I was discussing, I opened the betting with Q-9 of Diamonds, which comes in around #33 in the rankings of starting hands, so it certainly fell within the suggestion of Andy Bloch of hands I could open with from the button.

Hopefully this shows you what the experts believe to be the power of the button.  Position is everything in poker, as it allows you the most available information prior to acting.  Like with x-ray vision, you should use your powers wisely, but you should still use them.

Submitted 9/11/09

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