I recently returned from a nice two-week vacation to New Zealand. My wife and I lived there between 2001 and 2003, and absolutely love the country. Our best friends were getting married, so we decided to surprise them and show up at their wedding. The nice thing about their wedding date was that it coincided with the New Zealand Poker Championships, an event that I won back in 2002. We got to see old friends, eat at our favorite restaurants, and drink our favorite wine, and I got to play some poker. What could be better than that?!
The main event was a three-day tournament with a $3,300 (N.Z.) buy-in (about $1,800) and a little more than 100 entrants. We started with 15,000 in chips, and a decent blinds structure that increased every hour. One great thing they did in this event was move the blinds back a level at the beginning of day two and day three, giving the players more playing time if they survived. Of course, the big challenge was surviving to be able to take advantage of it.
I had a relatively tough starting table that included two other previous New Zealand champs. Eric Assadourian, a PokerStars pro and winner of the event in 2007, is an outstanding player. He reminded me a lot of Daniel Negreanu, getting players to reveal a ton of information by chatting it up with everyone at the table. Jamil Dia, winner of the 2005 Aussie Millions, was also at my table. There were also a couple of other very solid players, and then a few players who were my targets.
I played for seven hours that day before busting out. During that time, I never made a hand better than one pair. What was particularly frustrating was that the best players got knocked out and replaced by much weaker players. There would have been great opportunities to make a good run if the cards had only cooperated. But, this just didn’t happen. This column is about how to manage in a tournament when the cards just won’t cooperate.
It is obviously difficult to double up when you aren’t hitting any flops. The key is to win chips without cards, to stay alive until, hopefully, the cards finally come.
Without cards, you have to try to create situations. One of the ways to do so is to use a tight image to steal pots. But first, you have to build a pot to steal. A good spot to try to do this is when there are a couple of limpers in the pot. A decent-size raise can win you a nice pot. If successful, you have just bought yourself a couple more orbits around the table to try to hit a big hand. If one of your opponents calls, you can often steal the pot on the flop. In these cases, if successful in stealing the flop, you buy yourself three or more orbits around the table.
I tried this strategy twice, both successfully, although one was quite scary. In both cases, I was in the small blind with two or three limpers in front of me. Once, I had 5-3 offsuit, and the other time I had Q-7 suited. On the first occasion, I got one caller and stole the pot after betting half of the pot. On the other, I got two callers, which put me in a tough position. Fortunately, I got a favorable flop and was successful in stealing. These two trash hands bought me a couple of extra hours to try to hit a big hand.
Another time to try to make some plays is when you’re in late position. The power of position can always be used to try to pick up some chips. In this hand, there were two limpers, and I elected to limp from the button with J-3 suited. The flop came 9-7-5 and everyone checked. The turn was a deuce, and everyone checked to the cutoff, who made a small bet. This reeked of weakness. Why wouldn’t he have bet the flop? The only hand with which he would be strong was 2-2. This was a prime spot to make a raise; however, I elected to wait until the river. My thinking was that any river card would look quite scary, and I wasn’t worried about my opponent making a play on me by acting first. I was quite confident that he would either check the river or make a weak bet, and then I would move all in (my stack was about twice the size of the pot). Indeed, the river was a 7, and my opponent checked. I pushed, and picked up a nice pot.
These moves enabled me to stay in the tournament, hoping to pick up a big hand. Eventually, I did pick up K-K. A player raised, I pushed my small stack, and my opponent folded. That was not exactly what I was looking for, but it was at least a chance to double up. Unfortunately, the blinds finally caught up with me, and I was forced to take some chances with a stack of about 15 big blinds, and ended up running into J-J in the big blind.
My moves with trash didn’t have a good ending, but at least I gave myself more opportunities. After the dinner break, with such a weak table, one double-up would have made a huge difference and put me in a spot where I could start making a move. Without my earlier moves, I never would have made it past the dinner break. In a tournament, you have to be prepared for the ups and downs that will occur with the cards. Sometimes you are rarely dealt decent starting hands, and sometimes you are dealt a lot of good starting hands but keep missing the flop. The key is to have some strategies ready to use so that you can survive for as long as possible — hopefully, until things change.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.