In my last post I revisited an early live tournament spot in which I may have shown a lack of survival instincts. As a result of ignoring some obvious (in retrospect) warning signs I put my stack in way behind and was knocked out in last place. This time around I'm going to share two hands from another tournament in which my poker senses were a bit more in tune and I was able to stay alive and look for a better spot.
This tournament took place two weeks after the whole KK vs. AA debacle, so I had plenty of time to mull over the previous knockout and rethink my strategy going in. The tournament in question is part of another monthly league game that I play in less frequently, and it has a very quick blind structure with much fishier players that make it mostly a shove-or-fold game in the middle and late stages. I generally look for good spots to see cheap flops early on, raise big with big hands, and try not to waste chips on c-bets with air. It's the type of game where you can put half your stack in with an AK pre-flop raise and flop c-bet, only to be called down with the old guy with bottom pair.
There are two spots I found myself in fairly early that I felt were pretty crucial. Each player starts with 2k in chips with blinds at 10/20, 15/30, 20/40, etc. for 20 minutes at each early level. Once we get to the 50/100 level things really move quick (low M stacks), particularly since the levels drop to 15 minutes each. Both of these hands took place during the third level with blinds at 20/40 with effective stacks of a little over 2k.
Hand #1: Questionable AK spot
A loose-passive fishy player limps for 40 in EP, Hero has AKo in MP and raises to 90 (pre-flop raises are kind of rare in this game, with mostly loose-passive pre-flop responses to even smallish raises). Button player, who is fairly solid but can be a bit aggro at times, calls, SB and BB fold, EP fish calls and we take a 3-way flop.
The flop comes KQJ with two hearts (I have no hearts). EP immediately leads out with a bet of 200 into a pot of 330. Hero goes into a shallow tank to think about what could be a very critical spot...
First thought - what is villain representing? There are definitely hands I should be worried about. KQ, KJ, AT, and T9 all have me in bad shape, while there are all sorts of draws out there that top pair with a gutshot (my hand) will not fair great against. Also hands like KT, QT, and JT are possible threats, while if my gutshot comes through there's no guarantee that I won't end up chopping. Of course I still also have the Button player behind me to worry about.
If I call here, I'm giving a free card to any draws and basically hoping for mercy on further streets to get to a cheap showdown. A bet of 200 is about 10% of my stack, and on later streets I could end up in decision for half or more of my increasingly important chips. Calling could also present the Button player with an ideal squeeze spot, which would make matters even worse.
If I raise, I'm essentially putting a large chunk of my stack at risk in order to get some expensive information. I'm not sure I'll be thrilled about a call, and I might have to rethink my hand's strength against a shove. Even if I raise to 500 and only get a call from EP, my next move would likely be for all my chips.
Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to give up TPTK, something I would probably rarely do in this spot in an online SNG, and wait for a better spot to put my chips at risk. A fold might seem super weak here, but it only cost me 90 chips, and I can avoid being the guy who overplayed AK in a situation like this.
After I fold, Button calls EP's flop bet, and EP and Button end up checking it down. EP's K2s ends up holding up against Button's 87s heart draw. Turns out I was good all along, and a raise on the flop might have scared away both opponents. Oh well, next hand.
Hand #2: Trip Kings no good?
A few hands later in the tournament, still with blinds at 20/40 and effective stacks around 2k. Two players limp in, I complete in the SB with Kh6h and the BB checks. The flop comes out KK8 rainbow and I decide to lead for 120 into the pot of 160. The BB makes it 240, it folds back around to me and I decide to just call. The turn is a Q, I check to the BB and he bets out 500 with about 1250 behind.
My read on the BB player was limited to the half hour or so that he'd been on my left, but thus far I had him seen him pretty much fold every hand. He did not seem like the type of player that would be getting out of line here with anything other than a King or possibly 88. He was in the BB and he checked his option, so AK is probably less likely, but everything from K2 to KQ is in his range. I'd peg KQ as less likely given his large turn bet - it doesn't feel like he's trying to get extra value out of a made boat. So here's the range that I'm legitimately concerned about:
88 - currently ahead and drawing to 6 outs (K, Q, or 6)
KJ, KT, K9 - currently ahead of me and drawing to either a chop or a 2-outer (6)
K8 - crushing me, drawing to 5-out chop (Q or 8)
K7, K6, K5, K4, K3, K2 - currently chopping, save a sick 3-outer on the river
Throw in AK and KQ just for good measure, and I figured I'm at best chopping, but most likely drawing very thin with one card to come. If I call 500 on the turn I can only assume that BB is shoving the rest in on the river, and the sizing of the turn bet gives me little faith in having any fold equity. With only 280 invested at this point and the blinds still relatively small I decided this was not a great spot to get it in. I made a very nitty fold and lived on to fight another day.
After folding the BB player asked me if I folded an 8. I told him I actually folded a King and he did acknowledge that he had one as well - KJ he claimed. Oh well, next hand.
After making it through those iffy spots, things really picked up. I chipped up a fair amount but was once again a little below average when we got down to the final table. Luckily I picked up big hands, ran my big shoves into terrible calls (AK into A6, KK into JT, etc.) and went into heads-up play with a 2-1 chip lead. A few hands later it was all over and I was the last one standing.
This is another deep run that I've had recently that, upon reflection, highlights the importance of making keen decisions early on. Of course I've had my share of early bustouts that made me more aware of surviving the preliminary stages of tournaments. There are definitely arguments to be made for different styles of play - some folks may prefer to gamble more early on to build a big stack. When I played online it was a lot easier to take this approach since you could always fire up another game, but in live tournaments I suppose I like to make each trip worthwhile.