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Extreme Tournament Tactics

When facing players of equal or better skill level

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Oct 03, 2008


In my last column, I explained the most common and most successful tournament tactic around - the small-ball approach. I explained when and how this approach works best, and also provided some appropriate countermeasures if you happen to face a high-quality small-baller.

When I think I'm the best or second-best player at my table, I usually play according to the small-ball approach. However, more often than not, I think there are two or three players who play as well or even better than I do - and in these cases, I will often resort to different and sometimes extreme tactics.

Tactic No. 1: The Weak-Tight Rolf

If you call a player "weak-tight," you are usually implying that he is not much of a player. What it means is: "Well, OK, maybe you know how to fold hands preflop, but the hands that you do play, you just don't get maximum value." The fact is that in tournaments, I sometimes go out of my way to acquire such a weak-tight image. By the things I do or say and by folding in situations in which aggressive players would raise, I try to build an image of someone who is playing scared. This may serve two purposes for you:

• Those who have noticed your tightness may give you credit for a hand when you enter a pot. So, against these players, you may be able to steal a few small pots while having nothing, and sometimes with a rather minimal investment.

• At the same time, there will be highly aggressive players at your table who may think that you are "easy pickings" and can be run over. Against this type of player, you can expect to get excessive action on your good hands, knowing that he will be trying to push you off your hand. I have won lots of huge pots with an unimproved overpair or even just A-K against players who were so eager to push me off my hand that they (a) gave too much action in situations in which they should have known that my hand was too strong to fold, or (b) gave away too many "strong means weak" tells that convinced me that my marginal hand was still good. Plus, even after winning pots that were much larger than they should have been based on absolute hand strength, my weak-tight image would remain intact, and those players who basically had given away their chips would still feel superior - thus enabling me to continue my supposedly weak-tight tactics.

Tactic No. 2: Rolf the Maniac

If I think there's not much room to outplay my opponents post-flop, or if a high ante structure simply won't allow me to, I sometimes shift gears in a rather explicit manner. Through big open-raises, relentless post-flop aggression, and lots of all-in reraises, I will try to put maximum pressure on my opponents, not allow them any cheap flops, and win every pot in which it seems no one has much. You will win many pots uncontested, and if you happen to get lucky in the two or three massive pots that you will play, you could very well grab the chip lead and bully your way to the title - even when facing high-caliber opposition. The danger with this approach is that you will often be investing a very large part of your stack with cards that don't warrant it, and the few times that you do run into a quality hand may be very costly. Also, when you finally pick up a decent hand and still get action, it may be very hard to lay it down. After all, your opponent could be making a stand with a marginal hand, thinking that - because you raise so frequently - you probably don't have much. Example: In a pot-limit hold'em event at the World Series when I used this maniacal approach, I grossly overplayed pairs on no fewer than three occasions - committing fully with 10-10, 10-10, and Q-Q against announced overpairs.

Tactic No. 3: Getting-Under-Your-Skin Rolf

This is a tactic that I reserve for when I'm facing either proven tournament champions with big egos or young and highly successful online players who tend to look down on "boring," "grinding" live pros.

In as much as the proven tournament champions love to be the center of attention, I will sometimes do whatever I can to take them out of the spotlight. Assuming that I can't find a way to get an edge in the actual playing department, I will try to irritate and ridicule the pro a bit more than I normally would. By sighing just a little every time he says something, ignoring him whenever he speaks up, saying something derogatory about his play whenever he wins a pot, or simply trying to catch the attention of the cameras through silly jokes or impressive chip towers, I will try to get under the skin of the pro with the big ego. Knowing that some of the very best players tend to perform badly when they just don't feel well or are off their A-games, it is my task to make sure that this happens, by affecting their emotions in such a way that they feel more vulnerable than usual. The downside of this tactic is that it's not always very sportsmanlike, and it can create a tense, even hostile atmosphere at times. And, obviously, this is not something that, as a pro, you would usually want to do.

The successful high-stakes online players generally want to play fast, push small edges, make expert reads and then discuss them with their friends, and in general just show off how good they really are. So, what do I do in return? Well, knowing that it's probably hard to outplay them when it comes to pure poker ability, I will do whatever I can to get them out of their comfort zone. I will tell stories about tough folds before the flop, such as folding A-K before I had even a single chip invested - exactly the things that I know will irritate them and will make them view me as the type of supernit for whom they have no respect. Or, I will stall the action a little and go into the tank on occasion, in order to make the game as boring as possible for these multitabling action junkies. The goal is that when they are finally involved in a hand with me, their dislike of me or the way I play will cause them to make mistakes, overplay their hands, make ill-timed bluffs, or give away crucial tells. Keep in mind that this is not an optimal tactic, by any means. Outplaying them through pure poker skills while maintaining a good atmosphere would be much better.

Rolf has been a professional cash-game player since 1998. He is the author of the successful Secrets of Professional Pot-Limit Omaha, and the co-author of Hold'em on the Come. He is the creator and presenter of the hold'em four-DVD set Rolf Slotboom's Winning Plays. He is the first-ever Dutch Champion, and maintains his own site at