The Sneaky Check by Jon ‘Pearljammed’ Turner
At every stage of a Multi-Table Tournament, your stack size relative to the blinds should be crucial to how you approach different hands and situations. You may start a tournament with anywhere from 50 to 500 big blinds, but by the final table, the average stack is often between 25 and 40 big blinds. When deep-stacked, you can afford to make a lot of speculative raises, see a lot of flops, and make plays at pots without risking going broke. However, when you have about 20 big blinds or less, you should be looking primarily for favorable situations to get your money in pre-flop, oftentimes shoving all-in over the top of a raiser you suspect to be stealing.
Stack size also plays a large role in how you play hands post-flop. Unless you are extremely confident that you can get your opponent off of his hand, you should be careful not to invest too much of your stack in a pot post-flop if you do not intend to go all the way with the hand. Most players are well aware of this concept, but sometimes your stack size can create a perfect opportunity to use this concept against them.
Take a look at the following hand from the book I co-wrote, Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand At A Time: Volume 1, where I can safely assume that my opponent will perceive me as weak if I pretend to give up on the hand and check on the turn. My stack size is such on the turn that most opponents would expect me to move all in if I like my hand but check if I do not. If I were to bet again or move all in, my opponent would likely give up on anything less than top pair with a good kicker, as I would clearly be committed to the pot. By checking, I allow my opponent to make a mistake. If he checks behind, I can move all in on the river, as I have approximately one pot-sized bet left anyway.
Seat 1: Small Blind (14,120)
Seat 2: Big Blind (18,910)
Seat 3: Under-The-Gun (4,300)
Seat 4: UTG+1 (16,205)
Seat 5: UTG+2 (7,842)
Seat 6: Middle Position (12,360)
Seat 7: Jon Turner (6,562)
Seat 8: Cutoff (3,775)
Seat 9: Button (12,853)
Setup: I am well below average, but not short-stacked, in a $100 rebuy tournament a few levels after the rebuy period has ended. The blinds are 150/300 with a 25 ante.
Pre-Flop: As-Kc (Pot: 675): The action is folded to me, and I raise my standard 2½ times the big blind to 750. Seat 9 on the button and Seat 2 in the big blind both make the call.
Flop: Ah-8d-5s (Pot 2,625): I flop top pair, top kicker on a very safe board. Seat 2 checks, and the action is on me. I should bet approximately one-third to one-half of the pot, my standard continuation bet. Because my opponents expect me to make this bet now with any two cards, it will not give away the strength of my hand. I bet 1,150 into the 2,625 pot. Seat 9 calls, and Seat 2 folds.
Turn: 6d (Pot: 4,925): I am very confident that I have the best hand. If my opponent has me beaten, my stack size and the pot size dictate that I am willing to go broke. The only concern now is how to get my opponent’s money in the pot on the next two streets.
If I were certain that my opponent was as strong as A-Q or A-J, I would bet out now and easily get his money in. However, I cannot give him credit for a hand that strong. In position, he merely called my bet on the flop. He might have perceived this bet as weak since I would probably make a continuation bet with any two cards. Thus he might have called with anything from a weak Ace to an unimproved pocket pair. He might have even floated with air, hoping to take the pot away on the turn if I show weakness with a check.
If I bet the turn, my opponent will in all likelihood give up on his unimproved pocket pairs or weaker hands, as my bet clearly commits me to the pot. However, if I check the turn, he will likely try to take the pot away no matter what he holds. If he has an Ace, I will get his money in either way.
I check, and my opponent moves all in. This is precisely what I wanted him to do. I make the call, and my opponent shows 9d-9h. The 2d hits the river, and I win the pot with Aces and a King kicker.
(Note: This hand analysis appears in the book Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand At A Time: Volume 1, which is available in the Full Tilt Store.)
Jon ‘Pearljammed’ Turner