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Winning Poker Tournaments III – Hand #46

by Matthew Hilger |  Published: Apr 17, 2013


Matthew HilgerWinning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time Volume III by Jon “PearlJammer” Turner, Eric “Rizen” Lynch, Jon “Apestyles” Van Fleet, and yours truly, analyzes 50 online poker hands. This article looks at hand #46.

Seat 1: (1,090,152) Hero
Seat 2: (19,409,266) Small Blind
Seat 3: (1,556,479) Big Blind
Seat 4: (13,881,665)
Seat 5: (35,830,853)
Seat 6: (10,556,303)
Seat 7: (1,075,282)
150,000-300,000 Blinds, 30,000 Ante

Setup: Matthew observed this hand from the final table of a major $215 Sunday tournament with 8,358 entrants. The prize payouts are:

1st $245,897
2nd $179,697
3rd $125,370
4th $83,580
5th $66,864
6th $50,148
7th $33,432

Pre-flop AClub Suit QSpade Suit (660,000): Seat 5 raises to 777,777. Seat 7 pushes all in for 1,045,282.

What do you do?


Independent Chip Model (ICM) considerations turn a seemingly obvious play into a pretty interesting one. I only have about 3.5 big blinds with A-Q, and a stack slightly shorter than mine has pushed all-in with no fold equity over the top of the dominating chip leader’s raise. The chip leader could be raising with any two cards, expecting players to fold almost all of their hands as they wait for the three very short stacks to bust. Seat 7 may have a very good hand, but he does not have to have a premium hand by any means. A-Q is well ahead of both of their ranges, but if I fold, and Seat 7 busts, I would move up almost $17,000!

If this $17,000 were a life-changing sum of money for me, I could certainly make a legitimate (though perhaps not based upon poker theory) case for folding. However, as long as this is not the case, several factors mean that I must call with this hand!
First of all, I have Seat 7 slightly covered, and therefore I only have to beat him to move up to sixth place. If Seat 5 busts both of us, my chip advantage dictates my higher finish in the prize pool. I am fairly likely to dominate Seat 7 in this spot, as he would probably get his money in with about A-8 plus or K-Q, perhaps even some weaker A-x hands, or Q-J. Also, if I manage to win this hand and triple up (and I do expect to be the favorite the vast majority of the time), I will be back in the game with almost 4 million in chips!

This would be a far better result than merely waiting a few hands, hoping to get all in heads-up in a race situation, where my best case is getting back to a little over 2 million chips.


I would call. A-Q offsuit is too strong a hand to fold with three big blinds. There is the payout jump to consider, but note that seat 5 should always be calling, and I have more chips than Seat 7. So if Seat 5 wins the pot, I will still jump up in pay as seat 7 would take 7th place. So if seat 5 or I win the pot, then I will still get the pay increase. If I had fewer chips than seat 7, I would be tempted to fold in order to move up the payout scale because my stack is so short that even winning the pot wouldn’t significantly increase my chances of winning the tournament.


Seat 5, the chipleader, opens the lo-jack, and the cutoff goes all in with about 3.5 big blinds. When a player holds such a dominant chip lead, he will usually open with a wide range of hands from this position. I think the tightest range with which the cutoff could be getting it in is A-9 suited plus, A-10 offsuit plus, K-J offsuit plus, K-10 suited plus, Q-J suited, and 6-6 plus, which is around 12 percent of hands. This is the range with which he should be getting in his money, but his actual range probably has more A-x hands and more pairs. There is some chance he will fold a few more hands than that, but with three big blinds, it’s unlikely. The original raiser is probably opening 20 to 30 percent of hands from his position. On average, I have around 35 to 37 percent equity. I’m getting roughly 2.6-to-1 preflop so I only need around 28 percent equity for the play to be chip expected value (EV) positive.

Nonetheless, there are arguments for folding: For instance, as I’ve mentioned in previous hands, tedious ICM forces good players to play very tightly in some spots. Plus (even though this shouldn’t factor into making the best poker decision), the payouts are huge in this tournament relative to the buy in, and I don’t want to bust out too early. I don’t find the arguments for folding to be very convincing in this particular hand, though, since I have less than four big blinds and thus no longer have first-in fold equity. Also, since I have the all-in player covered, if Seat 5 busts us both, I finish sixth, not seventh.

Just for fun, let’s look at the ICM numbers. According to an ICM calculator, my current stack is worth $56,273 (realize that ICM doesn’t see how many big blinds I have and can’t judge the utility of my stack). If I were to win the pot, my stack would be 3,915,586 and worth around $86,354, according to an ICM calculator. And if I were to lose, my stack would be worth either $50,148 if Seat 5 wins, or worth a tad more than $33,432 if Seat 7 wins.


.35 of the time, I win $30,081 = $10,528
.35 of the time, Seat 7 wins, and I lose $22,841 = -$7,994
.30 of the time, Seat 5 wins, and I lose $6,125 = -$1,838

So even using ICM, which usually dictates extremely tight play, getting my money in wins $696. I would like to mention that I didn’t raise the possibility of the small blind or big blind waking up with a hand for the sake of ease of calculation, even though that happens around 5 percent of the time. With those added factors, it might be closer to breakeven, ICM-wise. However, strategically, I need to give myself a chance to win this tournament, and the ICM is very close. ICM is also only a theory, albeit a valid one.


Every chip, every mistake, and every good play matters. In this hand, you have 1,090,152 chips, while Seat 7 is sitting on 1,075,282 — a difference of 14,870, or one half of an ante. That half of an ante could be worth $15,000. If you go all in, as all three pros recommend, and you and Seat 7 both lose to Seat 5, you move up the pay scale. This is just one example in which every hand and every move, however small, can lead to big differences in your payout — just one more reason why paying attention to every detail at the table is so important.

The hero folded. Seat 5 showed 5-5, and Seat 7 Q-Q. ♠

Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, which just released Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time Volume III available at in both print and e-book format.