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Poker Strategy With Greg Raymer: Why Structures Matter, And Don't Matter At All

Raymer Explains Why Adjusting To Opponents Is Better Than Adjusting To Structure

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Greg Raymer Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at info@fossilmanpoker.com.

I am known as a tournament player, though I love playing cash games. It is just that I prefer draw games and stud games more than flop games… and most venues only offer flop games. So, most of my travel decisions are driven by tournament offerings. Many of you probably travel, at least on occasion, to play in a good tournament. Even better, a good series of tournaments. (There are many options, most of which can be found on the Card Player website under the tournaments tab. Check it out when you get a chance.)

When deciding which tournament to play, however, there are many important factors. Geography is probably the most important, since it is easier to play something within a short drive rather than halfway around the world. Cost is also a big factor, and not just the cost of transportation, hotel, and food, but also the tournament buy-in. A tournament with a $1,650 entry fee may be too big for one player’s bankroll, and not enough to justify the time away for the next player.

Another important consideration is the structure of the tournament(s) being offered. Some of us prefer a slower structure, that takes longer, and offers more play (that is, deeper average stack size) throughout the event. Others of us prefer a faster structure that does not take up as much of their time. Some want unlimited rebuys or re-entry, some prefer freezeouts. None of these options is inherently better than the others. What is important is that you look at the structures, and make sure they satisfy your preferences.

While the structure is a very important factor in selecting which events you play, once you enter, the structure becomes practically meaningless. A tournament with a faster structure does not require a different strategy than a tournament with a slower structure.

Having said this, I know there are many tournament pros out there who will disagree with me. But I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why the structure should matter with respect to playing each individual hand. If you could tag me in to play a hand for you, and I want to play it perfectly, there are many things I need to know. Stack size, position, size of the blinds, etc., all of which is there for me to see.

I would also want to know how close we are to the money. I might play the hand very differently if we are on the bubble, or close to it. It could also matter if we are approaching an intermediate pay jump, or close to a final table bubble, or close to the end of the day (in a multi-day event).

But how quickly the blinds go up will have negligible impact on the best way for me to play this hand. If I am under-the-gun with a medium-strength hand and have plenty of chips, then it simply doesn’t matter whether the blinds increase every 10 minutes, or every two hours. The correct decision is to fold. A faster structure does not mean that you should play more hands, or play more aggressively, or change anything else in your general strategy, as compared to a slower structure. The smart play will still be the smart play.

There is one important reason, however, why maybe you should play differently. Does the structure affect how your opponents are playing? If they are playing tighter or looser, playing more aggressively or passively, bluffing more or less, or any other change, as a response to the structure, this means they are making different mistakes than otherwise. And this means your best decision might change as you attempt to take maximum advantage of their mistakes. So yes, you will adjust to your opponents, as you would at any time, in any game. But there is no inherent reason you should play differently just because the structure is faster or slower.

In a similar manner, if you want to maximize your EV, you should play the same in any tournament regardless of your ability to rebuy or reenter. If there have been multiple raises before it is your turn, and you can only choose between folding or calling all-in, the only thing guiding your decision should be which choice offers you the most equity. If calling is a money-losing play, it does not become a winning (or smart) play just because you can rebuy or re-enter. Yet there are many players who are much more loose, aggressive, and willing to risk their chips, if they can still rebuy or reenter. And often these same players immediately become much tighter and more cautious as soon as the reentry period ends.

The truth is, if their tighter style of play is more correct, then it was also correct prior to the close of re-entry. Again, the only smart reason for you to play differently during these two stages of the tournament, is to properly adjust to your opponents, and how they are playing. Only if they are making different mistakes should you change how you play.

The structure of a tournament can be very important when you are deciding which event to play. Once you are in the event, the structure has close to zero impact on how you should play. However, how you should play will always depend upon how your opponents are playing. Adjust to them, not to the structure. ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.