The arsenal of ‘poker weapons’ included in the strategies that each of you bring to the tables have often placed you in the final 10 of a cash or free online poker Multi-Table Tournament (MTT). And, on a fairly consistent basis (likely in the area approximating 20% of the time) they have also placed you in the position of playing ‘Heads-Up’ for a tournament title.
Moreover, whether you’ve specifically chosen to play in a ‘Sit-n-Go’, or you’ve ended up at a MTT final table, you’re going to experience multiple similarities between the 2 events that host a total of 10 players….the final 10 from a MTT, or the 10 who joined the ‘Sit-n-Go’. This commonality, plus the subsequent practical issues tied to ‘Heads-Up’ play, require some advisories.
Now….I know y’all get to a final table with a degree of regularity. But, I also know that many of you have a problem getting beyond 10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd place finishes.
Additionally, I’m fully aware of the fact that those of you who are ‘stuck in this rut’, are unable to find a cure to the problems that are ‘rustling you into this rut’. And, the fact that you’re doing so is costing you money.
Fittingly, might it not be a good idea to ‘rid ourselves of the rut’.
Of course it is! The 2 guys named ‘Dumb’ and ‘Dumber’ ain’t here. Both of them finally decided to get on the bus with all those bikini glad young ladies; some form of sanity intervention deposited on each of them implanted a modicum of intellect….or, they saw the ‘Alpha Bull’, and decided on the better option.
We also have a ‘better option’ regarding our approach to final table play.
> It incorporates the dictum that ‘Tight is Right’….at least until we reach the point where there are only 4 players left in the game.
> Additionally, we no longer want to view the table in 3 sections….i.e: Early, Middle, and Late.
> Change is necessary. The final table of any MTT (or ‘Sit-n-Go’) has only 2 sections: Early and Late. No Middle positions exist!
> What were the Middle positions now become Early positions. It’s a different game. Adjust!
Having written the above, keep your ‘Playable Pockets Matrix’ (PPM) in mind.
> It tells you that Early position playable pockets are limited to AA, KK, QQ, AK, and AQ suited.
> Thus, when you’re seated in what was the Small Blind (SB), Big Blind (BB), Under The Gun (UG), Middle 1 (M1), Middle 2 (M2), Middle 3 (M3), and Middle 4 (M4) positions, you’re not gonna’ be in too many hands any more.
> Again, a reminder, ‘Tight is Right’.
The ONLY exception to the above are pockets 22 through JJ.
Whenever any of these 10 pockets are dealt to you, call the forced Big Blind bet, hope that only ‘limpers’ enter the pot, and then pray that you flop a set.
Of course, if someone raises the forced Big Blind bet, whether you’ve already ‘limped in’ or have yet to act, lay down your pocket pair. This includes the Jacks (there’s a 66% chance that an Ace, King, or Queen will be a part of the flop).
‘Tight is Right’, and you want others OFF the final table before you begin to play competitively for the tournament title.
> And, of significance, that competitive point in time occurs when you and 3 other players remain in the game.
> Plus, by then, by the the time it’s just the 4 of you left, you’ll clearly have an understanding of the style of play and idiosyncracies associated with the game put forth by your 3 opponents.
Now, when play does begin on the table of 10, the size of your stack dictates your actions.
> If you’re among the low stacks, DO NOT go crazy with an Ace/rag pocket
> Try as best as you can to let 2 or 3 other players make the Ace/rag mistake, or the King/rag mistake.
> And, in so doing, as they get eliminated, move up from a potential 10th place finish to at least a 7th or 6th place finish.
> Again, lose the inclination to play Ace/rag (a frequent action on the part of many players who are low-stacked).
Or, fail to do so, and remain in a 10th place rut.
> Additionally, lose the inclination to go ‘all-in’ with a low pocket pair; 22 through JJ.
> Certainly you’ll want your low pocket pair to be hunting for a set, but you ought not be willing to take an ‘all-in’ loss on a low pair.
> Set mining….Yes. All-in….No.
However, if you’re one of the low stacks, and any one of the 5 playable pockets does come your way, get your chips into the pot, it’s one of the few times we’ll allow ourselves to act with aggression in the early stages of final table play; hopefully you’ll double up.
And, yes, you actually just read a sentence where I suggested, proposed, or alluded to an ‘All-In’ bet. Is the world coming to an end? Vadnais and an ‘All-In’ bet. Good Lord!
“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”….these are the last 2 lines from the poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley. And, in the instance of a low-stack, with you in possession of one of the 5 playable pockets, and a brief prayer to your God, the British poet’s words DO NOT apply. Serendipity does!
Allow ‘Lady Luck’ to to be the master of your fate, allow ‘divine blessings’ to be the captain of your soul. So, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, the ‘all-in’ bet is acceptable.
If you’re mid-stacked or average-stacked, pound the words ‘Tight is Right’ into your mind.
> Primarily because your singular goal at this stage of play is to get to the final 4.
> Of note, since you’ll be involved in game play with ONLY the 5 playable pockets (and the low pairs of 22 through JJ), you’ll experience a ‘Flops Seen Percentage’ of much less than 10%
> Far lower than the 16% to 24% that you might normally identify as your customary number.
If, on the other hand, you have a large stack, or, if you are the ‘chip-leader’, you have a choice to make.
> And, it would be wise to make the choice that represents the opposite ‘style of play’ versus the ‘style of play’ that you generally compete with.
> Essentially throwing a ‘curve ball’ at the other players.
Remember, many of them are not familiar with the WAFABA group, they play well, they maintain a consistency of focus, and they know your game.
> They’ve seen both your ‘fast ball’ and ‘slider’.
> Thus, you unquestionably need the ‘curve ball’.
> At this point, it’s the only pitch they’ve yet to play against.
So, you can choose to play ‘Tight is Right’, or, you can choose to play very aggressively.
You have no other options. Unless, of course, someone has taught you ‘a new truth’ about the game, or a new ‘pitch’ to use as a metaphor or an option.
And, if that’s the case, I desperately need to have a special tutorial delivered for my benefit, heck, even at 67, I learn something new every day.
When you choose the latter ‘style of play’, very aggressive, you’re looking to steal as many blinds as is possible.
And, since the other players, in their attempt to get to the final 4, are probably adhering to a ‘Tight is Right’ approach, the pressure you apply to the table should be adding what are now fairly large blinds to your stack.
When you choose the former ‘style of play’, conservative, or ‘Tight is Right’, you’re looking to sit back, pick up on tells, discern playing habits, and let the competition eliminate each other from the game.
And, while you’ll be losing some blinds, while you’ll be moderately lowering your stack, it won’t be long before you end up finding yourself amongst the final 4.
Then, and only then, does the ‘real’ end-game play begin.
Now, at the advent of final 4 play, it’s ‘abandon the PPM time’, the Playable Pockets Matrix.
> Get in the hand for the cost of the Big Blind with suited connectors and suited one-gappers (like 6h/8h or 7c/9c).
> Get in the hand for the cost of the Big Blind with Ace/rag suited, King/rag suited, and Queen/rag suited.
> Plus, if you’ve been dealt a low pocket pair, push out a 4x the BB raise, where you’re looking to isolate your play against just one competitor.
> Hey! Take notice, you just became an extremely aggressive player.
And, from final 4 play to ‘Heads-Up’ play, it’s ‘extreme aggression’ that will produce significantly increased 3rd place, 2nd place, and 1st place finishes for you.
> Post flop, if the board does not fit with your pocket cards, get away from the hand.
>Alternately, if the board does fit with your pocket cards, vigorously maintain your aggression.
> And, you accomplish this by either pot-size bets or overbets, even when you hold a ‘nuts’ hand.
What? Betting with a ‘nuts’ hand, not ‘slow-playing’. YES !!!!
Simply because any one of your opponents could have reached the ‘limit of their frustration’.
By that I mean they are tired of playing, or bored with the game, or running out of patience, or dinner is ready, or fooled by your aggression, or, any combination of the five “I’ve had enough” mumbled words that they might be saying to themselves.
And, their call of your bet opens the door for their departure from the game.
Also, recognize that I’ve made no mention of ‘Continuation Bets’ (CB), for just cause.
> CB bets do not enter your game until Heads-Up play commences
> Then, you may well be consumed by Continuation Bets
> It’s one of a half-dozen keys to winning in Heads-Up (HU) situations; whether the play be in a 2 handed ‘sit-n-go’ game, a Heads-Up multi-player elimination event, or final table play between the last 2 players in a tournament game.
Importantly, you need to understand that you’re going to be in ONLY one of two positions when the HU action begins
> You either hold the chip lead, or you don’t hold the chip lead.
> And, the actions you will use during game play are directly correlated to which position you find yourself in
> Ahead in the chip count, or behind in the chip count.
When you’re behind, you need to be incredibly aggressive.
> This works to your advantage because your opponent is ‘hell bent’ on maintaining his or her chip lead.
> Additionally, you need to eliminate any fears you may have about Heads-Up play in general,.
> Simply think of it as a table of 10, with just you and your sole opponent remaining in the hand
> All the other players have folded
> 8 players watching the hand, 2 players competing in the hand.
The fundamentals to Heads-Up play when you DO NOT have the chip lead (you’re the lower stack) should be ingrained with ‘incredibly aggressive’ play as follows:
- anytime you’re dealt a Q/8 or better, put out a 3x the Big Blind raise
- post-flop, with or without a good hand, make a strong Continuation Bet
- in either instance, get out of the hand when an Over-The-Top raise occurs
- or, if you have a strong post-flop hand, push ‘all-in’ and try for a double-up
When you’re ahead, you need to be incredibly conservative.
This works to your advantage because all you need is one good pocket and board to claim victory.
You really don’t need to win a lot of hands, you really don’t need to steal a lot of blinds, you really don’t need to ‘bully’ your opponent – NO; you just need one ‘all-in’ winning hand. ‘
Tight is Right’ and ‘Patience’ should completely control your game play.
The fundamentals to Heads-Up play when you DO have the chip lead (you’re the higher stack) should be ingrained with ‘incredibly conservative’ play as follows:
- never initiate the ‘all-in’ bet, but call with pocket AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, and AQ suited
- never raise the Big Blind, but call a raise with the above pockets and any pair.
- always ‘slow-play’ your current ‘nuts’ hand, looking for an ‘all-in’ bet from your opponent
- never initiate any bet; allow your weak hand to be drawn against (put no chips at risk)
- your primary goal is to protect your lead; it’s NOT to defend your blinds
Were the fundamentals somewhat anti-climatic? Perhaps so! Yet, should you opt to follow each of them as listed above, along with a bit of practice, and a little more practice, you’ll eventually discover that approximately two out of every three Heads-Up game play situations will end up as an add to your victory column….and, an add to your bankroll.
Best of Luck at the Tables,
by D. M. Vadnais. (c) copyright; March, 2010; no reproduction, all rights reserved by D. M. Vadnais
Read the Previous article in the Advanced Poker Strategies at advanced free online poker part 8