Friday, February 03, 2006

So, are Aces a Good Hand?

Greetings and Salivations. The nice thing I’m finding out about this online poker and blogging thing, is that so many people are where I am or a just ahead of me in the Poker and Blogger Stages. Everybody’s got their particular game, their particular focus, and their hard-won advice to offer. My personal fave game right now is the NLHE Turbo SNG, preferably the 45 player MTTs on Stars. 11+1 buy-in, top 7 pay, 1st pays around $160, and blinds go up every 5 minutes, so you can complete one in just under an hour. Great fun and a great way to work on overall tournament strategy, which brings me to the topic of today’s post. Sit ‘n Go Strategy. There’s been a number of bloggers that have offered their take on playing SNG’s, what works, what doesn’t, etc. My own personal strategy has been taken bit by bit from what other bloggers have said, along with my own somewhat questionable observations. What I’ve found that seems to work, at least for me, follows here. The majority of it should seem like common sense, but some of the details and execution are where I’m doing most of my learning.

During the first several levels, usually up to 50/100, I play tight and selectively aggressive. Part of my early problems in poker came from not playing aggressively enough. Not so much playing any 2 cards, but betting an appropriate amount. Part of that I attribute to being a newbie donk, but part of it comes from starting my online play in fixed limit ring games. In the fixed games, all you can do is click the “raise” button, so looking at the raise button on a NL game, you just think “click,” as opposed to actually thinking about how much to raise. Scaring fish out of a pot doesn’t help the pot size, but blinds are blinds and keeping somebody from calling your rockets with J8 and flopping 2 pair or a set is a good thing. The other thing I’m working on is post-flop aggression (sounds like I need a therapist). I don’t do it all the time, but more and more if I get a premium hand but the flop misses, I’ll still represent a made hand. Obviously position and other action bear on what I might do, but I’ve raised preflop with Ax suited, paired my x on a rainbow rag flop, and bet aggressively. People think I’ve made a set and get out of the way, giving me a 6-12 BB pot. If somebody calls, I go into check mode and see what happens on the turn and (if possible) the river. If somebody reraises and I don’t have a note on them stating that they’re aggressive or bluff machines, I hang my head and muck my cards.

Usually, though, those post-flop moves happen later, when the overall aggression ratchets up a few notches. Once you get to the 100/200 levels, you are about half-way thru the tourney, and have shed a little less than half the field. This is where the shorter stacks start running into danger of being blinded out, and this is where I open up my calling range a bit. I’ll call more lower paint (i.e. KT, J9s, QTs) and lower pairs. The antes also typically kick in around this level, so people tend to tighten up. They’re getting close to the two final tables, which is close enough to the money that people become chip conscious. Two things start to happen, which other bloggers have mentioned, as well. The bigger stacks tighten up and only play the really premium hands, AA, KK, AKs, QQ, in the hopes of coasting to the final table and the money. The shorter stacks, on the other hand get a lot more loose and aggressive. Anything they can do to pick up chips, they’ll do. You’ll get people going all in on a 22, Kx suited, or any ace, in the expectation that they’ll scare people out and pick up 3 or 4 BB plus the antes. I’m learning that the best course of action is to attack both when they’re in the blinds. If I get a decent hand, I’ve got position, and my stack is healthy proportional to both the leaders and the shorties, I’ll toss out a “premium” raise. The big stacks will fold, or reraise if they’ve got a hand. If they fold, I pick up 400-500 more chips. If they reraise, then I evaluate my hand vs. their history. If I get into one of these hands, the key (and this is something I still have a problem doing) is getting away from a hand that didn’t hit the flop. KK with a flop with aces or paint. Somebody reraising me likely has either AK or high pair (TT up), and I’m in danger of someone hitting a set. The shorties become a different story. They’ll fold their blinds to preserve their dwindling stacks, unless they’ve got something. A small pair, Ax, or anything suited or connecting will almost guarantee an all-in from a short stack. Again, depending on my size relative to theirs, I’ll call with my good to great hand and pick up another couple thousand chips.

Once the bubble passes, I find myself falling victim to the same thing that seems to hit most other players in that situation. I’m in the money, so I can relax. Twice in the past couple of days I’ve made it to heads up as the big stack, and come in 2nd. A nice finish, but in looking at my hand histories, I found myself playing decent, but not great hands. Q7h, JT, etc. Blinds are huge at this point (2000/4000 + 100 ante), and you don’t want to make it to heads up only to get blinded out. Also, heads up, the likelihood of getting a Top Ten Hand compared to the typical Qx is slim. As such, most paint is probably safe. My last 2nd place finish came when I went all in (hero T26000, villain T41000) with QTh against Q2c. We both picked up a Q, but he paired his 2 and won. It is difficult to be in the BB, and put 4100 chips out, only to fold. Two full blind orbits can cost you over T12000, or one third of your stack. As such, waiting for a premium hand isn’t always practical, and if you get a decent hand (Qx, Jxs, etc.) you tend to push it.

In a nutshell, it’s pretty much what others have talked about. Tight/selectively aggressive early, mid-way thru things, loosen it up a bit, so you can chip up before the bubble, and then tightening up but taking opportunities to pick at the blinds. I know this seems like common sense, but there are two things to apply here that make the difference. First, find an appropriate calling range. I’m not a numbers whiz, and I’ve not ever sat down to figure out the various hand percentages, but find the range of hands you’re comfortable with and go for it. Second, stick with your strategy. Every single time I’ve busted out of a tournament, I can go back over my hand history and find the hand that I played where I ignored my strategy. I got cute, thinking I could make something with J9 suited (outs for a straight and a flush, right?) or something like that. I called a larger bet, caught a piece of the flop, but never enough to go anywhere. End result, stack crippled. See ya on the felt.

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