The Tsunami

Strategize. Optimize. Pulverize.


How to Employ Turn Check Raises in No-Limit Hold’em Tournaments

Another weekend; another Pokerstarsathon! This has been my 3rd consecutive weekend of logging 20+ hours on PokerStars. The past two Mondays, I felt horrible despite pulling in some nice profits. Yesterday, I felt a bit more chipper even though I netted a loss for the weekend. I’m proud of being a bot whose physical and mental states are outcome-independent and a pure function of remaining battery power.

Between my coaching duties at PokerPwnage and the book I’m working on with Matthew Hilger (entitled Tournament Endgame Strategy), I’ve been thinking a lot about tournament play recently. In fact, I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis. When playing 6-max no-limit hold’em cash games, I max out at 12-13 tables. When playing multitable tournaments (combination of 180-man turbo SNGs and scheduled MTTs), I max out at 16+. I’ve long maintained that, per table, cash games yield a higher hourly win rate than tournaments. However, given my ability to play more tournaments at once than cash games, the reality that the average tournament player isn’t as skilled at deep-stacked poker as the average cash game player, and the mind-boggling fact that many tournament players make fundamental mistakes when playing jam/fold poker, the race between cash games and tournaments now seems very close.

With my recent focus on tournament play, I thought I’d dig into my hand history archives for something interesting. I covered check-raise bluffing on the 2/12/2010 edition of Killer Poker Analysis on Rounder’s Radio. This hand seems to be an appropriate supplement to that discussion. Enjoy!

This hand is from a $530 buy-in $500K guaranteed tournament at PokerStars:

Seat 1: P3 (12296 in chips)
Seat 2: P2 (8295 in chips)
Seat 3: P1 (9525 in chips)
Seat 4: B (11237 in chips)
Seat 5: SB (15414 in chips)
Seat 6: Tsunami (23225 in chips)
Seat 7: P6 (4475 in chips)
Seat 8: P5 (6225 in chips)
Seat 9: P4 (19330 in chips)
SB: posts small blind 100
Tsunami: posts big blind 200
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Tsunami [7h 7s]
P6: folds
P5: calls 200
P4: folds
P3: folds
P2: folds
P1: folds
B: folds
SB: folds
Tsunami: checks
*** FLOP *** [6d 8d Ad]
Tsunami: bets 300
P5: calls 300
*** TURN *** [6d 8d Ad] [8c]
Tsunami: checks
P5: bets 600
Tsunami: raises 800 to 1400
P5: raises 1200 to 2600
Tsunami: folds
Uncalled bet (1200) returned to P5
P5 collected 3900 from pot

We’re 64 hands into the tournament and no where close to the final table (i.e. I’m playing purely with respect to maximizing my expected stack). With effective stacks on the order of 30bb deep in an unraised pot, there’s room for some postflop maneuvering. In fact, even though this particular hand was from a tournament, this hand could easily have come from a cash game.

Regarding information about P5, he has voluntarily put chips in 30% of hands preflop and has raised only 6% of his hands preflop. He’s open-limped preflop 5 out of 31 times. Postflop, he’s folded to 2 out of 3 flop continuation bets. I don’t have much additional information on him.

Given his position and his preflop stats, I put P5 on a distribution looking something like {AT-A5, TT-22, random hands along the lines of KJ and suited connectors}. Though 77 is ahead of his range preflop, I decide against raising preflop. I think that my fold equity is low, and I’m not excited about playing an inflated pot out of position with 77. With effective stacks of T6,225, a raise to T800 and a call would make the pot T1,700 going into the flop. And with T5,425 effectively remaining, I think that my opponent owns me with his positional advantage.

When the flop comes Ad8d6d, I’m not excited about the ace. However, leading here with my pocket pair is pretty much mandatory in my playbook. Betting into A-high boards only when you have something really good results in an attack that’s not balanced enough. Generally, your opponent can only mess up by playing too loosely against you instead of by playing too loosely or too tightly. Granted, my fold equity here is further cut down by the fact that the board is monotone; just under half of my opponents hands will contain a diamond. However, my 60% stab at the pot only has to work 37.5% of the time to be a profitable part of a balanced attack. (Realize that I’m not betting any two cards here. Really, what I’m doing is using my small-medium pocket pairs as a reminder to bluff since there’s no value to be extracted from them to begin with on boards like this).

When my opponent calls, I think that his likely holdings are AX, a high diamond, or possibly a pocket pair like 99 or TT. Therefore, I’m prepared to shut down. There are only about 5 cards in the deck that could prompt me to put additional chips in this pot: three 8s and two 7s (though 7d has some problems associated with it).

The 8 on the turn is a great card because I’m also leading a pair of 8s on the flop. My strategy with 77, in particular, is very easy to exploit. But I don’t just have 77 here. Yeah, I have 77 on this particular hand, but I’m really playing an entire distribution here. When the 8 falls, my plan is to bluff it. I could just come right out and fire a second bullet here (and I should some percentage of the time). In this particular hand, I opted for the other line of play: small check-raise.

Many players think that they need to make big check-raises to get opponents to lay down. Those players are wrong. (Yes, some circumstances dictate bigger bets; I’m just making the point that small bets are also effective bluffs)

When I check-raise to T1,400 here, I’m implicitly threatening a river bet as well. I’m not going to bet river 100% of the time that I check-raise the turn. However, an opponent who calls my check-raise here is usually (correctly) thinking that there’s a decent probability that I’ll be following up again on the river. Smaller check-raises on the turn have two additional benefits:

1.) You’re getting a much better price on your bluffs
2.) You’re making it easier to gain additional chips with your made hands

(i.e. smaller check-raises are a classic double-edged sword attack)

Many players think that large bets put more pressure on their opponents than small bets. While it’s true that players should fold to larger bets a higher percentage of the time, it’s also true that smaller bets put more mathematical pressure on your opponents. Opponents who don’t properly reduce their hand requirements and who don’t mix in a proper frequency of bluffs are in big trouble against smallball attacks.

In this particular hand, my opponent 3-bets me, and folding is the proper response. Even though this particular hand didn’t work out in my favor, I wanted to share it because it’s important to realize that a line of play still has merit even though it might not work out favorably on a particular hand. I also wanted to share this hand because it shows my willingness to be active early in tournaments. Even though I’m around top 10 or 20 in chips, I’m not sitting around and waiting for the nuts. I’m not playing recklessly either. I’m simply trying to play profitable poker with respect to chips.

May Your EV Always Be Positive!

Tony Guerrera


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