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Poker Strategy With Gavin Griffin: Homogeny

Griffin Explains The Benefit Of Playing Different At The Table


My local casino hosted its yearly tournament with a $1,000 buy-in recently and I decided to participate. The field was an interesting mix of individuals. There were quite a few locals whose average buy in is probably in the $100-$150 range. Some others were down from Los Angeles for the weekend to get a little taste of the San Diego action and hopped into a game of their usual size. Then there were some stone killers on the tournament poker circuit. People whom I wasn’t expecting to see and was, frankly, quite disappointed to see. Most notably, Joe Serock and Byron Kaverman were there.

It was a varied field by experience and level of play for sure. What wasn’t really all that varied was the way that people played. Almost everyone in the tournament played with a very similar style. Except one guy, and he had all the chips when I busted.

In a poker tournament, you can almost always guess at your opponent’s action before they do it. It’s their action preflop and they’ll probably make it 2.5x the big blind or fold. On the flop, if they bet, it will probably be about one-half to two-thirds the size of the pot. On certain river cards you know that they’ll almost certainly bet and on others you’ll know that they’ll almost certainly check. No-limit hold’em cash games and tournaments have been brought closer and closer to a science and it’s rare to see someone deviate. We found a few of those guys in this tournament, but one was using it very effectively.

One hand he played went like this: There’s a limp and a raise preflop with multi-way action. (I don’t remember the exact amounts and it’s not terribly important.) The flop is 6Diamond Suit 3Spade Suit 2Diamond Suit and the guy who had a bunch of chips checks to the preflop raiser who bet 1,800 or so. The big stack makes it 5,000 and the preflop raiser calls, putting about 15,000 in the pot. The turn is the 7Spade Suit and the big stack moves in (he probably had 200,000 chips at 250-500 blinds) for 54,000 effective. The other guy thinks for a long time, long enough to get the clock called on him in a highly irregular spot where his opponent did something very unconventional. It’s honestly a spot where it’s hard to get the clock called on you. He called all in after about 30 more seconds with 10Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit for top pair and a flush draw and the big stack had 6-6.

The big stack has a very strong hand, the third nuts at this point. It’s fairly unlikely that his opponent has 7-7 so it’s basically the second nuts. In a vacuum, his all-in bet looks really bad. His opponent will fold almost every hand that’s worse than his and call with the two hands that are better 100 percent of the time. He should certainly fold the 10Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit getting nowhere near the right price and I don’t think it was the best hand any significant portion of the time to make the call justifiable. I honestly think he called because he wanted to gamble for a big stack or just jump right back in on another re-entry.

Small sidebar, this tournament was a prime example of why re-entry tournaments are terrible. A group of local hopefuls who don’t play buy-ins anywhere near this big on a regular basis play a bunch of satellites and generate tons of rake for the casino to have a few of them play this tournament just to get all their equity gobbled up by world class pros, of which very few are going to put any money back into this small casino’s ecosystem and certainly not into their tournament pool, but I digress.

This was an example of a non-standard play working out really well for the person who made it. Sure, I’m being a little results oriented and picking a hand that went well for him to illustrate my point, as there were definitely some others that didn’t go as well for him in expected value but did work out his way in real value.

The thing is, you could see the other players being excited to play with this guy and making some comments to their friends about it. I even overheard someone telling their friend that some good player at our table was going to have a ton of chips at the end of the night, implying that he would continue to play this way throughout the day. I thought there was a good chance when the blinds got bigger and the stakes more significant that he would tighten up and that he was essentially just “playing his rush,” feeling invincible. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to stick around to see the rest of his day as he busted me not too much later. He did end up making it through day 1 and cashing for something small.

It reminded me that there is some value in sticking out from the crowd and playing a little differently than your opponents. All of the best players in the world today have more in common with Stu Ungar than they do with Johnny Moss or Sailor Roberts and nobody stuck out from the crowd like Stu did. It’s okay to be different, the best ones almost always are. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG