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Plugging Some Leaks - Part VIII

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Mar 22, 2005


We are now reaching the final stages of this series on plugging leaks. While in previous parts I have focused mostly on cash games, in this column I will discuss two common mistakes when it comes to tournament play. I don't play tournaments very often, but in the relatively few tournaments I have entered over the years, my results have been very good and I'm starting to appreciate them a little more than I used to. This is even more so because of my involvements as the tournament reporter for some of the biggest European poker events, where I have been fortunate to witness some of the biggest stars in action. Watching them has really taught me a lot about the things you should and should not do if you want to become successful in this area of poker.

Leak No. 18: Trying to tackle large buy-in tournaments too early in one's poker career

This is something I have said before, and it has to do with game selection. It is beyond me why so many less-than-expert players who are serious about trying to make money playing poker keep focusing on playing large buy-in tournaments. Especially for someone who is relatively inexperienced, the recommended road to success should be to first become successful in small buy-in tourneys, then medium buy-in events, and then, only with more than enough playing experience and the proper bankroll to be a true competitor, large buy-in tournaments. Remember, in order to play with an edge in these big events, merely being good will not help you much, as you can expect to be up against a large group of top professionals.

In general, I like to look at things from a broad point of view. To make as much money as possible in poker, you should always try to (a) choose the best game and (b) play your best game. It should be clear that those who enter big events when they are not ready are not making the best possible decision regarding (a), and they are basically "gambling" by hoping to get lucky by making one big score. In the long run, they simply will be behind, meaning that if they play an infinite number of big events, they will probably not even end up in the black. In order to play with positive expected value, they will have to lift their game to at least the level of the players who routinely take the money now, and for most players, this is very hard to accomplish, because in general the level of play in the big events is very high. And it is not just the top players who make these events so tough. Because the big tourneys attract so many excellent recreational players, as well, and because (unlike many money games) people are truly trying to play their best game, it will not be easy for someone who is no real expert to gain any kind of edge. Now, compare this with the good, but not great, money player who makes a lot of money by picking the softest games available, or the young tournament player who tries to build his bankroll gradually and tries to improve his game slowly by playing relatively small events in which he has a clear edge until he feels that he is ready for the next step. The person who takes this route will have a much better chance of success than the person who goes for the big bucks immediately. The latter wants to challenge the best when his game is not perfect yet and still has many holes – holes that will easily be found and exploited by the better players.

Leak No. 19: Not being aggressive enough in the final stages of a pot-limit Omaha event

I'm a big fan of pot-limit Omaha. I guess it has become my main game for money play. (My main game used to be limit hold'em, a game I played almost exclusively for more than three years.) Even though I love pot-limit Omaha cash games, I am not that fond of the game in tournaments. One of the main reasons for this is that in this game, hand values run fairly close, meaning that whenever there's a clash, there is always a big chance of going broke, even when you hold the current nuts when all the money goes in. Because of this big chance of going broke, or the large short-term luck factor, if you will, pot-limit Omaha tournaments almost always offer one or two rebuys, even the big tournaments that have a very large buy-in.

Because you are almost never a very large favorite in this game, your best strategy in the final stages of a PLO event is probably to do a lot of betting and raising and avoid calling for your entire stack, even when you hold a fairly good hand. Your opponent will almost always have a 35 percent or 40 percent chance of beating you, and therefore a 40 percent chance of busting you out (assuming he has a bigger stack than you). But if you play an aggressive game yourself, coming over the top of your opponents by moving in, they will face this same problem of having to call and then showing the best hand at the end. In PLO tournaments, there is quite a bit of luck involved in the final stages of the event, especially if two players have put in all of their chips early in the hand. By playing a highly aggressive game, you may be able to pick up lots of pots uncontested, and if you get lucky in the pots in which your opponent makes a stand (and remember, in this game, your opponent is almost never more than a 2-to-1 favorite over you, not even when he holds a premium hand and you hold some random garbage), you may well acquire a load of chips, and you can continue to bully your opponents. And with a large stack, this strategy is usually very effective, simply because there are very few hands with which your opponents can comfortably make a stand in this game. And even if your opponent comes over the top of you while holding a pair of aces or kings, you are not that far behind if you have been raising with some random double-suited hand; in fact, depending on the exact cards you hold, you may actually be close to even money.

All in all, there is nothing wrong with a risk-avoidance strategy in the early stages of a PLO event, especially if the tournament has just one rebuy. But make sure that from the middle stages on, and especially in the final stages of the event, you are doing the betting and raising. You want to be the one who is in control, putting pressure on your opponents and confronting them with difficult decisions to make, knowing that one bad decision on their part or just a little bit of bad luck may be enough to bust them out. Of course, a bully-type strategy like this will be much more effective when the money is relatively shallow – that is, when just two or three raises are enough to put someone all in. With deeper money, an aggressive approach like this is much more dangerous, because your opponents will have more opportunities to try to trap you, in order to let you hang yourself. spades

Editor's note: To read Part I through Part VII of this series, go to