Photo by Brian Bentley @ 2009 WSOP Main Event

Friday, May 6, 2011

Vol 2: Why Math is Overrated in Tournament Poker

You’ve probably heard someone say it a hundred times in a tournament. “I had to call.” Here’s a theory on why “I had to call,” usually means, “I had to lose.”

Math is obviously an integral part of poker, and to ignore it is to overlook what the game is about. But sometimes players miss the huge structural differences between cash games and tournaments. If you’re multi-tabling cash games online to grind out a living, and utilizing programs like Hold Em Manager, your decisions are based on numbers and tiny statistical advantages that pay off nicely over time and thousands of hands.

Tournament poker is a completely different animal. There is only one hand that matters – the hand you are playing right now. Calling down light is the biggest mistake anyone can make. I have seen excellent players prematurely dismissed from tourneys after horrible calls that were prompted by the misuse of poker math. As they rise from the table and gather their iPods, they rationalize why it was mandatory to call an all-in from a very tight player. Maybe they were drawing to an open-ended straight or the nut flush. Their pot odds and their outs (likely to be missed) dictated they “had” to call that shove.

Watch too much poker on TV and you start to think that chasing cards is easy because all you see are the draws that hit. Antonio Esfandiari built his reputation as a fearless and successful party boy gambler by routinely spiking absurd two and three outers at the World Series of Poker. But in the real tournament world, if you are constantly calling off your stack with just top pair and medium kicker – while drawing dead to a weaker flush – then you probably bust out early quite often. Pot odds mean next to nothing in a single elimination structure when you are completely dominated in a hand.

The problem for some players is they fall in love with their holdings, especially if they started out strong. But as the texture of the board grows scarier by each street, an unhealthy combination of ego and stubbornness settles in. Like Birthers who still believe Obama was born outside the U.S., these players just cannot let it go. A pair of aces is basically worthless with three-to-a-flush or a straight on the board, and several others showing strength. If you find yourself trapped into calling because you’re “curious,” and there is a lot of money in the pot, expect that satisfying your curiosity will be expensive.

A-K is the type of vastly overrated siren hand that lures players into the rocks. Early in a tournament, when players are trying to settle in and read the various opponents at the table, why would anyone call for most of their stack with this unmade holding? A-K will whiff on the flop two out of three times. If the other guy has A-Q, you’re in the driver’s seat. However, if he’s already got a pair, you’re not even 50%. In the early/middle stages of any tourney, racing with coin flips is unnecessarily risking your tournament buy-in. I’m not advocating playing like a scared nit. But seriously, learn how to lay more hands down and survive to fight another day.

I’ve seen players bust out and then launch into long monologues with their rail buddies about fold equity and implied pot odds, and why they would make the same losing play again, even if it seemed they were behind. Loose tables with bad players just magnify the problem. If no one else in your game is paying attention, how can they be aware that they have no mathematical reason for being in a hand? Opponents who ignore pot odds and stick around just to hit something, make it imperative that you go to showdown with premium hands. In a donkey game, it’s not uncommon to have four callers to a 4x Big Blind raise. Fancy strategies are wasted in these settings.

Reading players at a live tournament is the most potent form of poker math. Betting patterns and physical tells are the best indications of how to play your hand. There is also a subconscious voice that every player needs to listen to. It’s the one that says you’re beat. Ignore this voice at your own peril. Start relying more on gut feelings about the opponent across the table and less with assigning percentages. Don’t gamble from behind or chase unless the blinds are through the roof, or you’re completely card dead.

If you discover that you’re often ahead when the cards are flipped over, be content that you’ve made the right calculations. Make it a goal to stick around and remain within striking distance as the tournament winds down. Learn the math; just don’t be a slave to it. If you think you are beat, there is no percentage in ignoring your poker intuition. Realize that making the “right play” means making the smart one that will keep you alive.

Online Casino Admin
Online Casino Admin

1 comment:

  1. I have been really impressed by going through this awesome onlinea


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.