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Mind Over Poker

Make a Plan and Stick With It

by David Apostolico |  Published: Sep 04, 2009


Taj Mahal

I was playing in a daily private tournament at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City that had some very good players. The play was atypical of a normal daily tournament, in that the players were less likely to take needless gambles. There were lots of last-longer bets, as well, so I knew that I had to make some adjustments.

We started with 5,000 in chips and the blinds at 25-50, which seemed like a fairly decent structure. However, the blinds increased every 20 minutes, so while you could be patient, you could not be too patient. I quickly realized that the players were very solid. There was no wild play. Conservative play with selective aggressiveness dominated. The first elimination did not take place until the fourth level, which is unheard of for a daily tournament with close to 70 players. I managed to avoid mistakes, and maintained a slightly higher-than-average stack throughout the first few levels. After a few hours of play, though, I was becoming short-stacked. So, I became more aggressive and managed to build up my stack again.

I faced a critical juncture with the blinds at 300-600, and a 100 ante. Each pot would begin with 1,900, which was well worth stealing. I was in middle position with a stack of 6,000 when the following hand came down. Everyone folded to me, and I looked down to find pocket tens. I knew that I was going to raise, but the question became how much. There were a couple of fairly large stacks yet to act behind me. They had been playing fairly conservatively, though, so I wanted to bet enough to test them. I did not want to give them a chance to play a hand like A-J or K-Q. I wanted to bet enough that if they called or raised, I would know I was in trouble and could re-evaluate. That is, I wanted to leave myself enough to play with just in case I had to throw away the hand. The big blind was down to about 1,800 in chips. I knew that he would be willing to play just about any hand, so I wanted to isolate him.

I finally decided to throw out 2,400, which was four times the amount of the big blind. If I got raised, I could still throw my hand away and have 3,600 to play with. Now, 3,600 is not a lot, but this was a very tight group, so I liked my chances if I had to play with such a short stack. Everyone folded to the button, who looked at his cards, set them down, and then contemplated what to do. I knew that he was going to play the hand; it was just a matter of how he was going to play. He finally reraised enough to put me all in. I was 99 percent convinced that he had a pair of jacks or queens, with a slight chance that he had A-K. As expected, the big blind called without much hesitation.
The action was back on me, and the smart thing to do was fold my hand. I knew that I was beat, and my original play all along had been to get rid of this hand if I was reraised. Instead, I called off my last 3,600 in chips. Sure enough, the button turned over pocket queens. To make matters worse, the big blind turned over 10-7 offsuit, taking one of my outs. My plan to isolate the big blind would have worked perfectly — I had him dominated — if not for the button finding queens. Of course, that’s poker.

The board brought no help to anyone, and I was eliminated. The real mistake that I made was not getting rid of the hand when reraised all in. I knew that I was dominated. More importantly, I had left myself with an exit strategy in just such an event, and I failed to follow through. The point of this column is not the strategy involved here, but the fact that I had deviated from what I had planned to do, for no good reason. If you have faith in your analysis and make a plan for certain events, follow through with that plan when those events unfold. Spade Suit

David Apostolico is the author of several poker-strategy books, including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. He is available for lessons, and you can contact him at