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Freeroll Tournaments — Part II

Preflop play

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Jun 07, 2011


Bob Ciaffone

This is the second of our columns on Las Vegas-type freeroll tournaments. These events have very short periods of time at each blinds level, and are often settled with a chop of the prize money when there are still two or three tables remaining in the tournament. Jim Brier, Bob Ciaffone’s co-author of Middle Limit Holdem Poker, is a regular player in these events.

This column will focus on preflop play from every position except the blinds, which will be covered later. In cash games and normal tournaments, “tight is right.” However, because the blinds go up so quickly and the prize pool is chopped up within a couple of hours, playing too few hands in a freeroll tournament may be a bigger mistake than playing too many hands. You simply cannot wait for premium cards.

Many hands are played heads up. Most of them don’t go to the turn or river unless someone is all in. You rarely make big decisions on the turn or river. Three stack sizes will be discussed. This column will deal with a standard stack of 30 or more big blinds. Short stacks between 15 and 30 big blinds and “mini-stacks” of less than 15 big blinds will be addressed in subsequent columns.

The shorter your stack, the more aggressively you must play. Fold equity is much more important than usual. When you raise a limper or reraise an open-raiser by tripling his bet, he will often fold.

The following guidelines assume a standard stack. They may seem insanely loose and aggressive to most cash-game and tournament players, but you must accumulate chips, and you have very little time to do it.

Early Position (EP): Open-raise or raise a limper with any pair higher than sixes or the three big-card hands of A-K, A-Q, or A-J. If someone opens with a standard raise to three big blinds, reraise to at least triple his bet with any pair higher than tens or with A-K. Flat-call any standard raise with sevens through tens and either A-Q or A-J. Fold everything else.

Middle Position (MP): The same as EP, and you can add any two suited Broadway cards by open-raising or calling an early-position player’s raise. Fold everything else.
Late Position (LP): The same as MP, and you can add 2-2 through 6-6, A-10 offsuit, A-9 suited, and suited connectors down to 5-4 by open-raising or calling an early-position player’s raise.

Hand No. 1: You are in early position with the K♠ K♥ and a stack of 6,000. The blinds are presently 100-200 and will double in five minutes. What should you do?

Answer: Raise to 600. It’s obvious, but some players limp in, hoping to reraise. Unless you’re sure of a raise, limping in invites others to come in cheaply and gives the blinds a free play. Without flopping a set, you won’t know where you stand against several players. Raise and hope to get one caller.

Hand No. 2: You’re in EP with the 7♠ 7♥ and a stack of 3,000. The blinds are 25-50. A player raises to 150. What should you do?

Answer: Call. Usually, you should avoid cold-calling early-position raises, but in freerolls, you should play. It’s only 5 percent of your stack and you might flop a set or overpair. A set can double your stack. With a bad flop, you can fold to a continuation-bet.

Hand No. 3: You’re in EP with the J♠ J♥ and a stack of 6,000. The blinds of 100-200 are about to double. You open-raise to 600, and it is folded to the button. He has a stack size equal to yours, and makes it 1,200. The blinds fold. What should you do?
Answer: Go all in. There is 2,100 in the pot and you have only 5,400 left. Don’t just call, since the resulting pot would be more than half of your remaining stack. The button could have a hand like A-K (16 hands), A-Q suited (four hands), pocket tens (six hands), or something worse. You’re in bad shape if he holds a bigger pocket pair (18 hands). In a cash game, you might fold and wait for a better gambling opportunity, or just call. But in a freeroll, you cannot afford to wait for a better hand or opportunity. The no-limit hold’em adage, “Don’t risk all of your money being a marginal favorite or a big underdog,” doesn’t apply. If you fold, your chip stack will be only about 14 big blinds (at the next level), which is a mini-stack.
Hand No. 4: You are in MP just to the right of the cutoff seat. You have the A♠ Q♥ and a stack of 6,000. The blinds are 100-200. An early-position player raises to 600, and a middle-position player reraises to 1,800. It’s folded to you. What should you do?

Answer: Fold. You would have happily called the first raise, but the presence of a reraiser who made it 1,800 makes it too expensive to play. Between the raiser and the reraiser, you are probably badly dominated. You are in decent shape right now with your 6,000 stack and these blinds levels.

Hand No. 5: You’re on the button with A♥ K♥. You have a 6,000 stack and the blinds are 100-200. An early-position player makes a minimum-raise to 400. Two players call. What should you do?

Answer: Go all in. With 1,500 in the pot, you must seize this opportunity to increase your stack by 25 percent. You have one of the best starting hands possible. Everyone will probably fold. You rarely get more than one caller and your hand plays well either heads up or multiway. If you get callers, you have a decent chance to double your stack. A-K is an excellent tournament hand with which to go all in, because you get to see all five cards. You have no decisions to make, whether the flop or the turn hits or misses you.

Hand No. 6: You’re a chip leader with a 12,000 stack. The blinds have just doubled to 200-400. The freeroll started with 80 players and it’s now down to 30. The average stack is 5,000. Once 10 more players get eliminated, a chop will be offered. You are in MP with pocket jacks. An early-position player limps in with a 5,000 stack, and another early-positon player with a 9,000 stack raises to 2,000. What should you do?
Answer: Fold. Don’t get involved. You can probably make it to the chop, since the average stack is only about 12 big blinds. Since many players cannot get through more than one or two orbits, they will be going all in and busting out shortly. If you played, you wouldn’t want to just call, so you would reraise, thereby committing a lot of your chips. Eighteen hands are better than yours, making you a large underdog. Another 48 (A-K, A-Q, K-Q) are about even money. Furthermore, the early-position limper has only 12 big blinds and may choose to “protect his investment” by calling or even going all in. You could try to aggressively accumulate more chips and refuse to chop, or negotiate for something more than an equal share of the prize pool, but it’s probably not worth it. ♠

Bob Ciaffone has authored four poker books, Middle Limit Holdem Poker, Pot-limit and No-limit Poker, Improve Your Poker, and Omaha Poker. All can be ordered (autographed to you) from Bob by e-mail: Free U.S. shipping to Card Player readers. Ciaffone is available for poker lessons at a reasonable rate. His website is, where you can get his rulebook, Robert’s Rules of Poker, for free. Bob also has a website called