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Head Games: Fixing Leaks In Your Tournament Game

Bryan Piccioli, Scott Sitron, Peter Jetten, and Jonathan Tamayo Break It Down


The Pros: Bryan Piccioli, Scott Sitron, Peter Jetten, and Jonathan Tamayo

Craig Tapscott: What are the biggest leaks you see players have in tournament play?

Bryan Piccioli: A mistake I see a lot of players making is not adjusting properly to certain stack depths. This is especially true in live events when you don’t have the person’s exact chipstack right in front of you like you do in online play. In live poker you should be paying attention to where the chips are moving around the table because it could be very detrimental to base a decision on a person’s stack when they had either won or lost a big pot the hand before without you realizing it. Another common leak I see quite often is not paying attention to timing tells. I’ve always thought timing tells were extremely important, both live and online. Try to start noticing what it means as far as hand strength when a player acts slow in one spot, and fast in another.

I think timing tells are very important, especially online. If someone is checking very quickly on each street, often times they could be on other tables and on autopilot. Small pots add up and you should be trying to pick up as many of them as possible when you can.

Scott Sitron: I love it when our opponents play passively out of position with average hands. When they take this approach it allows us to get maximum value when we make hands, forces them to make difficult decisions on multiple streets, and be bluffed out of too many pots. For example, we are the fish deep in a tournament on 30 big blinds. We open K-10 offsuit preflop and it gets raised for the second or third time in a row by an aggressive Russian twenty-one year old. Our ego takes control and instead of four-betting or folding like we should, we decide to call. Of course we brick the flop and the Russian kid bets tiny and we fold our king-high and he wins the pot with his nine-high. Another big leak that I see beginner players doing is making huge bets with overpairs when the scare card hits the turn or river. Another example, the beginner bets 300 with black kings at the 50-100 level from middle position and gets called by the button and the big blind. The flop comes out 8-6-3 with two hearts, the big blind checks and beginner bets 600 and the button folds and the big blind calls. Now we are heads up and the turn brings a 7Heart Suit, completing the straight and flush, and the big blind checks to him and he bets huge or all-in because he panics. The big blind either folds his one pair to the huge bet and beginner loses value or calls with zero outs. It is pretty basic, but I still see it happening all the time.

Peter Jetten: The biggest leak I see in players, especially ones who are newer to tournament poker, is lack of confidence. This can manifest itself as a leak in many ways, especially if you are lucky enough to be playing for big money towards the end of the tournament. Try to stick to your game, and not depend on gut instincts as much if you start feeling intimidated at the table.

Jonathan Tamayo: The first big leak that I see are that players basically play too conservatively late in tournaments. They tend to wait too long for an ideal spot. They would much rather get it in very good with six big blinds than get it in as a flip or slightly bad with 21 big blinds, for example. I think there are far too many instances of people registering tournaments 3-4 hours late, particularly $1,000 events where much of the value comes from awful players at the beginning who won’t last long and late registration means starting with 30 or fewer big blinds. I think return on investment (ROI) is significantly lower for those missing the first few hours. Also, registering late eliminates the ability to get a truly random table draw and impacts a tournament player by putting him at generally tougher tables. This is a larger mistake than most tournament players realize. The last leak that I see is not properly planning out meals and staying hydrated. Most players don’t understand how difficult of a grind a tournament is physically. Playing hungry or thirsty adversely impacts the brain’s ability to function.

Craig Tapscott: What did you struggle with in your tournament game the most as you were moving up the ranks? And how did you go about solving the problem?

Bryan Piccioli: One thing I definitely didn’t take advantage of when I first started playing and moving up the ranks was utilizing all the resources available to me to help improve my game. There is just so much information out there to take advantage of on forums online and some of the best players in the world are posting some incredible insight to certain situations. All of this information is just out there and free for anyone to read. When it’s as easy as just signing up for a forum and having instant access to all of this information, it’s tough to find an argument for not using it to improve your game. Another thing that definitely helped my play was going back and reviewing hand histories from online tournaments I played. Online sites make it very easy to keep all of your hand histories and access them at any time. Learning from your own mistakes is probably the most beneficial thing you can do. You can even do this easily with live poker. Just type out the action on your phone of certain hands you played and then review them the next day. Discussing hands with some friends who have open minds to different situations that arise is also very important. Try and surround yourself with people who are also trying to improve their games and the rate at which you’ll improve is remarkable.

Scott Sitron: My biggest weakness was always in the very first few levels. I was playing too tight preflop and too passively after the flop. I was just sitting back waiting for big hands, trying to flop sets and never bluffing when I missed flops. I was playing most of my hands face up and very exploitably. It was especially annoying in live tournaments because I could run into some Munson on the first break, he has to ask me what my chip count is just so that he can brag about his awesome double up right before break. It was so mortifying that I had no other choice but to improve my deep stack play or forever be known as “Scotty Shortstacks.” Now on the first break I am sometimes busted, but more often I have a double stack asking all the nits what their chip count is on break. Another weakness I struggled with was after I had achieved a small taste of success; I let my ego control my business. Instead of sticking to the roots of what had made me a great disciplined professional I became slightly reckless.

This is not only a poker lesson but a life lesson. I believe that in order to win tournaments and life you must be hungry and want to win as well as be prepared for victory on and off the felt. It doesn’t have to be for the money, but something must drive you to win or you don’t have a chance. I was entering every tournament that was plus expected value (EV) even though I wasn’t mentally prepared to win.

Peter Jetten: As I was moving up the ranks in poker, the thing I struggled with the most was finding a balance between playing and taking time away from the table to work on my game. At times, I wouldn’t play enough and other times I wouldn’t think away from the table enough.

Jonathan Tamayo: As I got better, I started playing larger and larger schedules, and I thought it’d be like playing Candy Land. I used to look at a schedule such as the WSOP, and think I could play everything every day. Burnout is a huge issue, and most people are not capable of putting in 16 hour days for two months straight. This is why actual working people take days off, and don’t usually work every hour. Most people don’t equate poker with work, but that’s what it really is, even if it isn’t your day job.

Each subsequent hour you play comes with diminishing returns in comparison to your true skill level, and most think they could just truck through a session only because playing 20 hours straight is just a number to them. It is fine to do something like this over a two or three day span, but any regular routine that involves such a heavy amount of hours becomes detrimental to your bottom line. It is much better to play less with a higher quality of play than more and start having the attention span of a goldfish. ♠



9 years ago

very good article for ONCE

many truths in there!