Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Back To Poker School -- Dude, Where’s My Stack?

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: Jun 01, 2012


In this new segment, we reach out to poker instructors and analysts to answer questions, give advice, and basically troubleshoot various problems the everyday player may have in their game. In the last issue, a trio of tutors spoke about the common mistakes they see players making when they first come to them for instruction. This time around, the focus is on a problem that is apparently highlighted and expressed by many beginners upon perchance bumping into their favourite poker face. Neil Channing discusses.

NC: First thing to note is that very few “cool kids” come to an old live donk for help, so mostly I am giving advice to beginners who have seen me on TV. One of the most common problems I get asked about by low to medium stakes tournament players looking for advice is that they always make the final table but never have any chips. My first reaction is to want to congratulate them on making the final table of every other tournament they play but I try to ignore that and focus on what I think they are actually asking me.

What they actually are saying to me is that their ABC style of poker is only getting them so far and they are frustrated that they are never the people wielding the big stack and being a real contender for a top three finish. More often than not a player is not fully aware of their weaknesses — that’s why they are weaknesses after all. In this example, the player thinks it is a strength that they consistently have deep runs or are never the first one to bust, but in reality what they are doing is playing very tight, just sitting there playing the blinds, being afraid to reraise that guy who keeps bluffing even though you “know” he has nothing, always waiting for a better spot and waiting for a good hand. These guys will survive quite a long way in the tournament, they won’t win very often though.

There are many reasons why I think this particular issue comes up time and time again.

If you’re a regular player at your local poker club then I would guess that in your games it’s all quite social. There may be a bit of banter and some prestige in making “the final”. It may be a little bit of a stigma to go out early. Players should think more professionally and not care what others say.

Pressure Points

Another reason is that a lot of players never really change gears during the course of a tournament. It’s almost as if they have an opening hand range chart by position pinned to the table in front of them and rarely (read never) deviate from it. As the blinds go up and stacks get shallower it’s crucial to keep your stack ticking over and keep applying pressure to your opponents.

The flip side to playing more hands aggressively during the middle and late stages is to work on your calling and reshoving ranges. One of the best ways to keep adding chips to your stack while putting pressure on your opponents and hopefully busting them is to improve this area of your game. I’m pretty sure that the people coming to me saying they never make chips have hardly even considered this to be a leak in their game, but trust me, ducking out of these sort of spots in tournaments just because “you haven’t got much invested” is just as much of a leak as having too tight an opening range.

Aggression Pays

The first concept I try to introduce people to is that poker tournaments are basically a conundrum where you have two extremes. There are the players who play super tight who we’ve already talked about and then there are the guys who are super aggressive, attacking the blinds, attacking the guys that attack their blinds, playing their draws aggressively, reading the players and bluffing them off of medium hands. These players may get busted out early, but they are also more likely to accumulate big stacks. The basic mathematics behind the payout structure in most multi-table tournaments (MTTs) mean that the more aggressive player is far more likely to profit in the long run.

You see in tournaments all of the prize money is divided up between the top 10-20 percent places roughly. However if you consider that the first 80 percent of people that do cash are only doubling/trebling their buy-in and that realistically it’s optimistic to expect to cash in more than 20 percent of the tournaments you play then the figures simply do not add up if you are a serial min-casher. Put another way, if 20 percent of the time you are doubling your money and 80 percent of the time you bust without cashing you can’t win in MTTs.

It’s definitely a mental barrier that needs to be overcome. Lasting longer than most players feels good. Making the money feels good. Busting early feels bad. Risking a night’s work on a marginal hand feels bad. The human brain isn’t really wired to make good poker decisions so it does take a while to break old habits unfortunately.

As with most leaks in poker, they will be exposed a lot faster online than they will be live purely because online you can play upwards of 20 tournaments in a night whereas live you’ll do well (or not) to play two. ♠