Late Stage Tournament Play
It’s in the late stages of a tournament when the men are separated from the boys. Players who consistently win on the poker circuit do so by taking full advantage of the opportunities available to them at this time.
One particularly important tactic they use to reach the final table is focusing on opponents who tighten up their play.
Playing tight late in a tournament turns out to be a fairly common mistake even among skilled players. Yes, adjustments need to be made in terms of hand selection in later rounds. But too often players take it to the extreme and fold hands they should be playing.
While a hand like 6h-7h is well suited for early rounds when blinds are low and chipstacks are still high, don’t automatically abandon this type of hand late in the game just because the blinds and the cost of playing are more substantial.
For example, if the players in the blinds are tight and you’re in late position with no other players entering the pot, it would be a mistake to fold a hand like Jh-9h. Recognize the fact that many players tend to tighten up late in a tournament. As that happens, your success rate at stealing blinds will increase. This is simply not the time to reduce the number of hands you attempt to steal blinds with.
On the contrary, this situation frequently presents a raising opportunity specifically designed to exploit tight players.
If you do elect to raise, the small ball approach will be most effective against tight opponents. These players will often neglect to focus on the amount of your raise. Instead, they’ll zero in on the fact that they just don’t have a strong hand themselves.
Let’s look at another example.
With blinds at 400-800 and a 100 ante, most players will fold a hand like 9-7 offsuit regardless if you make it 2,000, 2,200, or 2,400 to go. With that in mind, you can safely reduce your risk by choosing to raise the lower amount.
For the most part, if you continue to use the same game strategy late in tournaments as you would early on, the adjustments your opponents make will actually render the small ball approach even more effective. Why? Because winning blinds and antes becomes increasingly more valuable as a tournament progresses.
That’s not only because the value of blinds and antes continue to escalate. It’s also because stack sizes in relation to the blinds decrease.
The blinds in a typical big buy-in event may start out at 25-50 with a 10,000 stack. By the second level, however, blinds would increase to 50-100 whereas the average stack would be much less than 20,000 — probably closer to 12,000.
The deeper you get into the tournament, the more extreme this imbalance becomes. So, when the blinds get to 500-1,000, the average stack will likely be around 50,000. On a percentage basis, that’s a significant increase when compared to early stage conditions.
Here’s the bottom line: Paranoia is likely to set in among tight players late in a tournament when blinds escalate to a point where they represent a large percentage of their stack. These players will tend to sit on their hands while more aggressive players rob them blind by relentlessly attacking the blinds with a barrage of small raises.
Tight players simply get gun shy late in a tournament. Don’t make that mistake. Instead, be the player who takes advantage of opponents who play not to lose. Playing to win is the name of the game.
By Daniel Negreanu
If he loses it, the ‘Poker Brat’ may be out of WSOP
World Series of Poker officials want to do a better job tabulating infractions by players and improve enforcement. Players could be assessed penalties ranging from warnings to one-hand or one-round suspensions.
Hellmuth, the 1989 World Series of Poker champion and owner of a record 11 individual title bracelets, is one of the game’s most decorated players. He is also the main reason for the new disciplinary program.
Known as the “Poker Brat” for his boisterous antics and outbursts at the poker table, especially when ESPN’s cameras are rolling, Hellmuth seriously crossed the line during last year’s main event.
Bluffed out of a $400,000 pot by a relative unknown opponent, Hellmuth berated the player, calling him “an idiot” and the “worst player in history.”
World Series of Poker officials handed Hellmuth a warning. The poker community grumbled that he was given special treatment.
“After the episode with Phil, we reviewed our system of warnings and penalties,” World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said.
Tournament organizers plan to monitor players’ conduct more closely during events so punishments for violations such as taunting at the table will be effectively enforced.
“We saw a couple of things we weren’t too pleased with or proud of,” Pollack said. “Some changes needed to be made.”
Tournament officials will keep a written log of warnings and penalties to determine appropriate punishments when rules are violated.
“Our intention is to make sure that the behavior of a few does not impact the experience of the many,” Pollack said.
By HOWARD STUTZ
Heads-up field gets better and better
LAS VEGAS, Nevada — (PRESS RELEASE) — Get your tournament brackets ready! NBC’s 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championship, the granddaddy of all heads-up poker tournaments, will take place once again at Caesars Palace Las Vegas on March 5-8. Now in its fifth year, this year’s event will feature an array of many of the greatest poker players in the world along with some celebrities known for their poker-playing prowess and a few amateur qualifiers. Each will battle for their share of not only the $1.5 million prize pool, but for the recognition and fame that comes with capturing the coveted title.
The NHPC has been an extremely successful venture for NBC over the years and this year’s tournament promises to be no exception as the field is quite possibly the toughest yet assembled. Last year’s champion, Chris Ferguson, will be there to defend his title and attempt to improve upon the success he has experienced in this event that has seen him win 84% of the matches he has played in over the last four years, compiling an unprecedented record of 16-3.
In all, a total of sixteen players will make their debut in this year’s championship, including two Caesars Palace qualifiers and four others who qualified online. There will also be five celebrities in the field, four who have played in this event before, and newcomer actor/comedian Brad Garrett.
At the conclusion of the 2008 NHPC, event organizers and NBC executives came up with a list of criteria that would establish automatic qualifiers into this event for the first time ever in 2009. In all, nineteen players received bids to play in this year’s event based on the list found below.
Previous four NHPC champions: Chris Ferguson (2008), Paul Wasicka (2007), Ted Forrest (2006), Phil Hellmuth (2005)
Previous two NHPC runners-up: Andy Bloch (2008), Chad Brown (2007)
Defending NHPC semifinalists: Huck Seed, Phil Ivey
Four consecutive years of cashing in the NHPC: Scott Fischman, Huck Seed (2)
Previous three World Series of Poker Main Event champions: Peter Eastgate (2008), Jerry Yang (2007), Jamie Gold (2006)
Defending WSOP Championship runner-up: Ivan Demidov
Multiple WSOP bracelet winners in 2008: John Phan
Defending WSOP Player of the Year: Erick Lindgren
Defending WSOP Heads-Up champion: Kenny Tran
Defending World Series of Poker Europe champion: John Juanda
Reigning World Poker Tour Player of the Year: Jonathan Little
Reigning European Poker Tour Grand Final Monte Carlo champion: Glen Chorny
Reigning Card Player magazine Player of the Year: John Phan (2)
Reigning Bluff magazine Player of the Year: John Phan (3)
Barring any last minute changes, the following is a list of all 64 players. The names of the four amateur qualifiers not listed will be released as soon as they have all been determined, and will be posted on www.nbcsports.msnbc.com/poker, along with bios and past performance records of all players participating. Those players with an asterisk (^) by their name are competing in their first NHPC.
1. David Benyamine
2. Andy Bloch
3. Chad Brown
4. Doyle Brunson
5. Johnny Chan
6. Don Cheadle
7. Glen Chorny *
8. Allen Cunningham
9. Ivan Demidov *
10. Annie Duke
11. Tom Dwan
12. Peter Eastgate *
13. Eli Elezra
14. Antonio Esfandiari
15. Sam Farha
16. Chris Ferguson
17. Scott Fischman
18. Layne Flack
19. Ted Forrest
20. Brad Garrett *
21. Jamie Gold
22. Clonie Gowen
23. Barry Greenstein
24. Gavin Griffin *
25. Bertrand Grospellier *
26. Joe Hachem
27. Gus Hansen
28. Jennifer Harman
29. Phil Hellmuth
30. Orel Hershiser
31. Jeffrey Ishbia * (Caesars qualifier)
32. Phil Ivey
33. John Juanda
34. Gabe Kaplan
35. Phil Laak
36. Howard Lederer
37. Erick Lindgren
38. Jonathan Little
39. Mike Matusow
40. Dario Minieri *
41. Chris Moneymaker
42. Daniel Negreanu
43. Scotty Nguyen
44. David Pham
45. John Phan *
46. Greg Raymer
47. Vanessa Rousso
48. Ilari Sahamies *
49. Huck Seed
50. Vanessa Selbst *
51. Erik Seidel
52. Mike Sexton
53. Gavin Smith
54. Jennifer Tilly
55. J.C. Tran
56. Kenny Tran
57. Paul Wasicka
58. David Williams
59. Jerry Yang
60. Leon Yanovski * (online qualifier)
61. Caesars qualifier *
62. Online qualifier *
63. Online qualifier *
64. Online qualifier *
This tournament also has a strong international flavor, with 15 different countries of origin represented among the 64 players. And just to underscore the difficulty that each of the players will face in winning six straight matches en route to collecting the $500,000 first place prize, the field has collectively won 14 World Series of Poker Championships, 119 World Series of Poker bracelets, 27 WPT open titles, and amassed more than $290 million in live tournament winnings!
The 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championship kicks off with a drawing party on the evening of May 5 at the Pure Nightclub located inside Caesars Palace. Opening round play begins March 6, and will continue for three days until the 2009 champion is crowned. NBC will air twelve hours of coverage on six consecutive Sundays beginning on April 12. Craig Hummer joins Ali Nejad this year to provide commentary, while Leeann Tweeden will again serve as the host and sideline reporter. Check your local listings for the exact times in your area.
When to Look at Your Hole Cards
Most professionals won’t look at their hole cards until it’s their turn to act. There are smart reasons for this, and it’s definitely something you should do yourself. Why? Because there’s simply no upside to looking at your hole cards before it’s your turn to act.
You see, most poker players, especially men, like to think that they have faces of stone. They believe that they’re incapable of revealing any physical tells.
Well, they’re just plain wrong.
Everyone has tells, even professionals, and if you observe carefully, you’ll spot them. Pros are just better at masking them. The tells that they do reveal are often very subtle.
I’m often asked how I’m able to get solid reads on others players. It’s a skill that takes discipline. I watch my opponents as they look at their cards before the flop. Depending on how they study their cards, I can often figure out if they’re planning to call or fold. That single bit of information can determine how I play a hand, and if I win or lose.
The main reason you shouldn’t look at your own cards right away is that there’s so much to be learned by watching your opponents look at their own cards instead. Why cheat yourself out of this valuable learning opportunity?
It’s also important not to look at your own hole cards until it’s your turn to act because you’ll conceal tells that your opponents might be picking up on you.
I recall playing in a $20-$40 Hold’em game at the Mirage in Las Vegas when I was in my early 20’s. I played a guy who always looked at his hole cards as soon as they were dealt. If he liked what he saw and planned to play the hand, he’d put a chip on his cards to protect them.
He wouldn’t bother to protect his cards at all when he had a junk hand.
Knowing this, if I planned to steal the blinds from late position, but noticed that he had placed a chip on his cards — telling me he had a hand he liked — I’d simply abort mission and save myself a probable loss. On the other hand, if he didn’t protect his cards, I’d push in my chips and follow through with my original plan.
Obviously, tells aren’t always that easy to read. Nor do tells have to be that transparent in order to give away useful information about a hand.
Many novices, for example, will glance at their chips immediately after they look at their hole cards and see a playable hand. They’re on the receiving end of a subconscious message telling them to get ready to grab those chips and fire them into the pot.
Remember, too, that tells aren’t exclusive to pre-flop play. Stay observant and you’ll be surprised just how much free post-flop information is out there ready to be exploited.
For example, when a player misses his flush draw on the river, he might literally jump out of his chair and curse his bad luck. You don’t ever want to be that guy but you certainly want to play against him!
More likely though, he won’t launch out of his chair. Rather, he’ll stare at the felt, crack his knuckles, stand a chip on its side — pretty much any physical act that might reveal something important, or might mean nothing at all.
If you observe some random behavior that you’ve only seen rarely, it probably means nothing. If, however, you observe repetitive behaviors throughout a long game, you’re likely onto a meaningful tell.
One final comment: Remember to stay alert as it’s always possible that you’re being set up by a false tell. This is poker after all.
By Daniel Negreanu