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Head Games: Play To Your Strengths and Abuse an Opponent’s Weaknesses in Tournaments

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Dec 01, 2013


The Pros: Tripp Kirk, Jordan Cristos, and Chris Moorman

Craig Tapscott: What are your three biggest strengths as a tournament poker player? Perhaps share how you developed a certain skill or mindset and some keys to your growth.

Tripp Kirk: First would be my ability to adapt to a table based on how everyone else is playing. A lot of players consider themselves “tight” or “super aggressive” when they really should be changing based on the players around them. Most people think that you should simply tighten up at an aggressive table or loosen up at a tight table when it is really a lot of other factors such as position, stack sizes, stage of the tournament, etcetera. Another strength is my discipline to try and take advantage of the weaker players at the table. A lot of good players tend to want to try and outplay the other good players at the table when there are four-to-five guys at the table that are much more willing to give away their chips. A lot of times early in a tournament, I will try and pick out the one or two worse players on my right and pick on them a bit to frustrate them into stacking off. Last, I try and soak up every piece of information that I possibly can while I’m playing. Even when I’m not in a hand, I try and read people’s body language and mannerisms while they are in a pot. It’s very rewarding when you pay attention to a hand early in the tournament and you pick up on something that wins you a large pot later in the tourney.

Jordan Cristos: I don’t limit myself to the fundamentalist mindset which allows me to find spots a lot of players miss. No matter how good or bad people claim a certain style/tactic/idea is, I try to dissect it from every angle and figure out what makes it tick; then potentially incorporate it in my game. A lot of people disregard anything they don’t understand and/or agree with and never look twice, and valuable information they could have gained passes them by. I’m guilty of this in some aspects of poker, but when it comes to creativity and willingness to experiment I’ll try anything to expand my mind, even if I know there’s a high chance of failure. Edges are thinning and the more things you do differently that pertain to your unique style, the more of an edge you have in every hand versus someone that doesn’t come from your school of thought. I’m brutally honest with myself about mistakes because I understand that’s the quickest way from point A to point B in terms of developing and improving. Most players disregard their blunders and chalk them up as an unlucky or run-bad situation or whatever they want to call it. They tell themselves the donkey’s bad play is the reason they lost, when in reality it’s almost always their fault but they’re too close minded to see it. I know a lot of pros have this leak which costs them dearly and almost 100 percent of donks use excuses like these to cope with their losses. Pretty much everyone is guilty of not being honest enough with themselves at times. Keeping that in mind has definitely been a key to my growth in the game. I understand the small-ball mindset very well and earlier this year developed a unique game to combat it more effectively than, in my opinion, most of the current trends. It’s built around putting players in abnormal situations which in turn yields more wins than losses. I like thinking of ways to take people by surprise as opposed to expanding on the more chip efficient or standard style of play that’s become the norm online or live.

Chris Moorman: I believe my strongest attributes as a tournament poker player have to do with applying pressure, hand reading, and identifying different player types. I feel like the vast experience I have playing this game really helps me to quickly establish which players are looking to battle and which players are looking to scale the ladder up the pay jumps. As far as hand reading goes in tournaments, I find that it is quite easy to identify hand ranges and realize how many barrels a player would be willing to call with the top and bottom of their range. Applying pressure is closely related to player types and obviously different players can be pressurized more than others. As I have been deep in tournaments many times before, I think I can draw on previous experiences to work out which players are going to be trying to make a certain move at a certain stage in the tournament or hand. All of this really comes together well in tournament poker. Overall I would say it is my experience which is my greatest asset and I use that to my full advantage.

Craig Tapscott: What are the biggest weaknesses you are keeping an eye out for or perhaps come across most often when evaluating various opponents at the table?

Tripp Kirk: A very big one for inexperienced players is bet sizing. A lot of time amateur players will size their bet to exactly the strength of their hand. So they are betting their value hands huge, their bluffs small, and making large overshoves with flush draws. I find myself over-thinking their sizing too much at times when I could just determine their hand strength by simply paying attention to their sizing. Another leak I see a lot is players defending too light out of the blinds. Most inexperienced players see a min-raise and they just say “well it’s only one more big blind for me to see a flop.” What they aren’t realizing is the reverse implied odds of playing marginal hands out of position. What I mean by that is that by playing a hand like A-6 offsuit or J-8 offsuit out of position, it is going to be tough to win a big pot, and you’re going to put yourself in a ton of tough spots when you flop one-pair hands. When new players ask me for advice, typically the first thing I will say is to try and not play hands out of position. Also, a weakness I see a lot is the tendency for inexperienced players to turn big hands into bluffs preflop. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone three-bet, four-bet and even five-bet and fold hands like A-K, Q-Q, and J-J. If it’s not a spot where you want to get all your chips in, then it is certainly okay to flat and see a flop with those types of hands.

Jordan Cristos: The majority of players in most large field tournaments are not very experienced and give away a plethora of information with their habits. They’re easy to take advantage of if you identify them and that always leads to a mountain of chips. It takes a high level of focus to pick up on these reads; which is hard to bring every time we play. But I think it’s 100 percent necessary for achieving one’s highest potential in the live arena. Another weakness I see is players acting too quickly, whether they open preflop, bet the flop, turn, or river. I think people on average are acting way too fast and giving away info that’s easy to pick up on. In a live setting, the clock is your friend and the majority disregard that. I can’t say how many times I’ve looked at a hand preflop and my first instinct changes because I pick up a read taking that extra five, ten or twenty seconds to deliberate. Some people can play fast and make it work for them. I prefer the slower route though.

Chris Moorman: Sometimes I give people too much credit for being on a certain level. For example, in a live tournament, you would normally make the assumption that a young player is going to be very capable and look to make moves. However, I have found that this often is not the case and they can actually have little experience if they do not play online regularly and are therefore not the typical “Internet kids.” It’s dangerous to categorize players based on their age without any extra information. Also, sometimes I will find that I give people too much credit for having a hand in a certain spot because it is a terrible spot for them to bluff, but in reality they are often unaware of this and don’t have the ability to give up on pots. You need to be careful that you don’t get caught thinking about hands with the view of what you would do yourself. You need to get inside the mind of your actual opponent. ♠