As I get more comfortable with tournament play after spending most of my poker time playing cash games, I am starting to find spots where it is better not to be as aggressive pre-flop. Here are a couple of hands from the Trip Kings Team Tournament that I wish I had back, and at the time I wasn’t entirely sure how to play them. I erred on the side of aggression, but in retrospect with all the tournament factors involved, I would have been better off laying back and waiting for a better spot.
Pair of eights under the gun plus one (or 88 UTG+1)
I have about 15 big blinds (bb) at this point in the tournament, I don’t recall exactly. But I remember I had chipped up from 12 bb by shoving the last two hands with AQs and 77 and getting no calls. I look down at 88 after UTG folds, and I remember thinking, this is going to look so suspicious if I shove yet again. So right away, I know I might get call lighter than usual. If that’s the case, what hands am I up against that I really feel good about? Maybe pocket pairs under 77 (thinking I have two big cards), but that’s really it. I don’t think I get A8 to call very often here, and I never see 78 suited with no one really having a very big stack at the moment. One player behind me has over 20bb, but he has given me respect so far and I feel he would rather play post flop instead of flipping pre-flop. So that’s the quandary, I really only get looked up by hands that I am racing with (AK, AQ maybe AJ) or that have me dominated (pocket 9 or bigger).
If you’re going to shove, you can’t belabor the decision too long at the table because it lowers your nut range by the second (why does he need to think so long with AA or KK?), so under time pressure, I decide to shove. As I talked about on the show this week, I got looked up reluctantly by a player I had covered by a bb, and he flipped up JJ. I thought I was done. Instead, I flop an eight and eliminate the player who still thought I might have AK, AA, KK or QQ in that spot. I think after analyzing this hand and with so many shorter stacks at the table, I was probably better off folding 88 and waiting for a better spot to risk all my chips. I got lucky in that hand, and it helped me get to the final table.
KTo on the big blind with three limpers ahead
The first hand at the final table, I was able to double up against the chip leader and one of the looser players in the tournament. I had AQo and it held up against T7o. I actually flopped a queen, turned trip queens and rivered a full house. I had little less than 20 bb in that hand, and the double up put me close to 50 bb and made me the new chip leader.
The very next hand I am in the big blind, and three players limp into the hand including the former chip leader who still has second place chips. I look down at KT off suit. Now, I know this is a perfect squeeze spot. I have a hand that is ahead of most limp calling ranges, but it probably doesn’t play that well against multiple players. The other limpers have shoving stacks of about 12bb-15bb. I thought the trouble was my stack size. Do I want to shove a 45bb stack into this pot. Instead I decide to raise 10bb to force the shorter stacks to commit or get out. I am shocked that two players call, one with less than 5bb left, and the second in chips player who could cripple me if we get the stacks in.
My plan was simple: shove any flop that I hit, check/fold everything else. I totally missed the flop and it got checked through. Got a bet from second-in-chips on the turn and I folded. The other player called with a draw and lost to second-in chips who became chip leader again.
I now see that my mistake was thinking of my stack as a 45bb stack, instead of a 15bb (effective) stack. I should have shoved or checked. Probably check was better because second-in-chips would have called me (he had ace high) with just about any hand. These two spots have made me realize that I have to moderate the pre-flop aggression that has gained me some recent success especially in situations where it improves my tournament equity to just see a free flop or fold. Hope that helps you too!