Several years ago I wrote about the biggest mistake I see players make in the WSOP main event – going broke with A-K. In many online tournaments, going broke with A-K after the first few levels is perfectly fine. But in the main event, when you start out with 150 big blinds, losing a lot of chips with A-K is a big mistake unless you hit a monster board.
2010 was my year of going broke with A-K (and to some extent A-Q), although it happened over a series of hands rather than losing a lot with just one hand. On Day 1 I increased my stack from 30,000 to 95,000, despite being card dead practically the entire day. On Day 2, the deck slapped me over the head allowing me to increase my stack to 260,000, putting me in the Top 35 of the tournament. I had a great stack, was playing great, and thought I would cruise into the money unless I ran into several coolers. Well, I didn’t make the money, but it wasn’t due to coolers. It was a long, slow demise where I never lost more than 35K in chips on a hand until my last hand where I had less than 20 big blinds.
Beginning of Day 3 - 256K. I lose a race with TT versus A-Q and drop 30,000.
226K. I raise with A-Q and the next player calls. The flop comes Q-x-x, two clubs. I play it tricky and we both check. The turn is a K. I check, my opponent bets, and I call. The river is a blank. I check, my opponent bets, and I call. He shows K-Q. Knowing what I know now about this opponent, I wouldn't call the river, but it was early in the day and a tough decision.
206K. I raise in early-middle position with A-K. The big blind calls. The flop is K-x-x. Again, I play it slow and we both check. The turn is a rag, putting two diamonds on the board. I get check-raised and call. The river is a third diamond. The big blind bets, I call, and he shows a flush with Q-2s. If I bet the flop, I win the hand. But on the other hand, by checking, I get my opponent to put in a lot of chips on the turn as a big dog. I lose another 25K.
180K. I raise A-K in the hijack and the big blind calls. The flop is K-J-4. I bet and he calls. The turn is a T. We both check. The river is a 4. The big blind bets and I make another crying call and lose to 8-4. I lose another 25K.
155K. The button raises and I reraise in the small blind with A-K. The flop is J-J-x. Yuck. We both check. The turn is a blank. I check and fold. In retrospect, I was probably tilting and feeling gun shy and should have bet out the flop or turn. I lose another 11K.
140K. I three-bet T-9 versus a loose raiser. The button calls and the big blind calls – oops! Four players see the flop of Q-8-x. We all check the flop. The turn is a blank and the big blind bets. I fold and he ends up showing QQ. I lose another 11K.
130K. I check-raise a J-5-4 board with A-Q. My opponent instantly pushes all-in. I lose another 11K.
120K. I raise A-8 in middle position. The big blind calls. The flop comes K-8-3. I feel my opponent hit something and check. The turn is a rag. Again, we both check. The river is an ace. The big blind bets and I make another crying call. My opponent shows A-K and I lose another 25K.
95K. I dip down a little more and then win 7-6s against a short stack with A-8 and end my day at 102K.
Day 4 – 102K. I raise on the button with A-K to 6K (1200-2400 blinds). The small blind calls. The flop is K-T-8. We both check. The turn is a 6. The small blind bet 9K and I call. The river is a 7. My opponent bet 11K and I make another crying call. He shows TT.
70K. I get blinded down to 53K and three-bet a loose button raiser with Q-Js and lose to KK. Tourney over.
Did I play all of these hands perfectly? No. But at the same time, I likely would have been out of the tournament a lot earlier had I played top pair, top kicker more aggressively. For certain, on Day 4 with A-K on the button and the K-T-8 flop, I would have likely gone broke had I bet the flop.
In deep stack tournaments, top pair or overpairs are basically two bet hands. What I mean by this is that you can’t really expect to earn more than two bets post-flop against a worst hand. If three bets go into the pot, you are probably the dog. For example, if you bet the flop, turn, and river and get called, you’ll frequently be up against two pair or better (there are some exceptions on a dry board). If you bet the flop, get raised, and call a turn bet, you’ll frequently be up against a better hand.
So what does this mean? If you can only expect to win two bets in a typical deep stack situation, you need to plan accordingly. There are basically betting lines:
- Bet the flop, check the turn, and bet the river.
- Check the flop, bet the turn, and bet the river.
- Bet the flop, bet the turn, and check the river.
The third option does the best job of protecting your hand, but it also shows a lot of strength so that medium strength hands may not call a second bet (this option does give you the opportunity to pick up a third bet on the river if you are fairly confident you have your opponent beat on a dry board). The advantage of checking the flop or turn is that you’ll get a lot of crying calls on the river with 2nd best hands. On Day 2, that is exactly what happened as I collected a lot of extra bets against 2nd best hands that might have folded versus a more aggressive line. On days 3 and 4, unfortunately I just kept running into better hands. But at the same time, I never lost a lot of chips on any single hand keeping me alive in the tournament.
When you flop top pair in a deep-stacked tournament, you should generally choose a line with the aim of gaining two bets, while at the same time protecting yourself when behind of losing a big pot. Just don’t run like I did.
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.