Putting on the Breaks

published on 08/21/07 at 10:15 pm

PokerPlasm.comAll too often you will be watching a major televised tournament and witness two players getting it All In on a proverbial coin flip. This is something I have always had difficulty understanding. You make a $10,000 investment to enter the tournament. You devote a week of your life to it. You grind it out for forty hours of play. And then, you push it All In with a hand like Ace-King, hoping your opponent only has an under pair, so that you could flip a coin and see who wins.

This is a practice I often try to avoid, whenever possible. At the tables, I usually have a conservative image, especially in major tournaments, and, players that have been paying attention are aware of the fact that I have a hand, especially when raising pre flop. What I have found is that most players today have trouble getting away from hands like A-K or A-Q, and the new bread of internet players have difficulty getting from any Ace for that matter.

In a recent tournament I found myself nearing the bubble. Our table had not broken all day, in fact, as luck would have it, it was a pretty good table. A couple of novice players, a couple of real tight players and the rest were pros. We got into a discussion at the table regarding playing A-K pre-flop. Coincidently, 6 players at our table, all 6 to be eliminated had called All-In bets pre flop with A-K and lost. When the seventh guy got knocked out in the exact same fashion, the whole table broke out in laughter.

The very next hand, I picked up QQ on the Big Blind. There was a small raise from mid-position, and then a massive re-raise from the button. I decided I am not going to lay the hand down and pushed All In. The player from mid-position folded instantly and the button went into the tank. Seven minutes later he hesitantly called. The table broke out in laughter once again with players rolling on the floor as the player turned over AK off-suite. After we had just spent twenty minutes talking about it, he still could not lay the hand down. The flop was all rags, as was the turn, and the river brought an Ace sending me to the rail.

It was once said that in order to win a major tournament you have to be able to win with A-K as well as have your hands hold up against A-K. At the end of the day, A-K is still just Ace high and a drawing hand. It is much easier in poker to end up with a pair if you start the hand with one. Don’t get me wrong, A-K is a very desirable hand, but do you really want to put everything at risk on a draw, when best case scenario, you are in a coin flip situation.

When faced with a difficult decision with an A-K pre-flop, especially in early and mid-stages of a tournament, I tend to implement what is commonly referred to as a “Stop & Go”. A Stop and Go is a simple strategy that will enable you to see the flop risking the minimum number of chips and, thus, permitting yourself the opportunity to make a more informed decision with regard to your tournament future.

Lets look at a few examples from the tables.

Example 1

In mid stage of a tournament I picked up A-K of hearts in mid-position. The blinds were 1000-2000. I had roughly 50,000 in chips. The action folded around to me and I raised to 7000. The action continued to fold around to the small blind, who re-raised to 17000. This is where we would go into the tank and re-visit our read on this player. This player had been playing solid thus far. He was a little tight but not excessively. In a previous hand a few hours ago he had re-raised a hand. I move over top and he folded showing me pocket 10′s. It was obvious he wasn’t making a move and had a hand. My consideration at this point would be to determine if I am facing a hand like AA or KK. Against AA I am an 87% dog going to the flop and against KK a 65% dog. Now a lot of players in my situation when facing a call representing a percentage of over 30% of their chips would rather move all in or fold. I decided to call the re-raise.

The flop came Ac-10h-3h.

This was a perfect flop for me. I not only hit top pair, I also picked up the nut flush draw, which may come in real handy especially if I misread my opponent and he is playing pocket Aces. My opponent bet out 24000 and I push All In for my remaining 33000 chips. With the obvious pot odds my opponent had no choice but to call. My Aces held up over his Pocket Kings and I doubled up.

A few hours later I picked up AK in early position. I raised 3x the Big Blind. One conservative player from late position min-raised me. A suspicious bet to say the least. I called the raise.

The flop was 10d-9d-3c.

As checking would provide me no information, I placed a small feeler bet of about half the pot. My opponent immediately moved All In. He had been playing pocket aces and had the Ace of diamonds for added insurance.

Another situation where a “Stop & Go” can be implemented is when one is playing large pocket pairs. It is all too easy to get yourself in trouble with hands like 10-10, J-J, Q-Q. With a hand like J-J against A-Q off-suite you are only a 53%-47% favorite. With 10-10, even against a weak hand like K-J off-suite, you are only a 54%-46% favorite.

Another obstacle we all need to face as a result of the online poker boom is the Ace-Rag scenario. Internet players have a bad habit of playing any Ace as if it’s a Joker. Many of your beats from this type of player will come from hands like A-3 off-suite; A-9 off-suite, etc. Another issue with this type of player is that they have little regard for pot odds and getting priced out of a pot, especially pre-flop. Bottom line – they simply don’t care. So, if you are seeking to sustain in today’s poker circles, this is one type of player you need to be aware of and know how to deal with. Lets take a look at some examples.

Example 2

You are in the Big Blind with Jc-Jh. The action folds around to the button, who raises 5 times the big blind. Now you can re-raise here, and most players would. If you are facing the type of player I described earlier, you may as well push All In here, as that is where you will end up pre-flop. If you are not willing to put your tournament at risk with this hand, facing this type of Player, then you simply call. By implementing a Stop & Go here, you have limited your loss to the amount of the raise you called and have an opportunity to re-evaluate after the flop.

The Flop is Ah-Qh-10d.

This is about as bad a flop as you can hope to see against this type of player. You opponent was playing As-9h. Not only did he hit top pair but he also has back door possibilities in the event he is behind. He is not going anywhere so you might as well get away from the hand.

Example 3

Early on in the article I describe a situation during a tournament where I had the good fortune to pick up Q-Q on the Big Blind. The tournament was a $1,100 satellite for the Bellagio $25,000 championship. We were about 7 players away from the bubble. Unlike a conventional bubble at a regular tournament, in a satellite event everyone that makes the bubble wins a seat and gets paid. So in all reality, the bubble is a first place finish.

The player that re-raised me from the button was a fairly conservative and somewhat novice player. He had avoided confrontations most of the day and when faced with significant resistance, or put to the test, he usually got away from the hand. Not what I would classify as reckless, in the least. I had to make a choice pre-flop when facing a re-raise from him. I chose to put him immediately to the test for all his chips. Well for a nervous player like this a hand like A-K is a godsend, as it enables him to make the call and not worry about getting outplayed by a superior player after the flop. Not to mention that, should he be facing an under-pair, he has plenty of outs.

Had I decided to implement a “Stop & Go” I would have simply called the re-raise.

The flop came 4d-7h-9s.

At this point I would have had the opportunity to fire out first and take the pot down. Even if he chose to call the bet on the flop, the turn was another rag, and he would have found himself having to make a very difficult decision with only one card to come. Against a “nervous” novice player, a “Stop & Go” strategy is always best.

John “The Greek” Leontakianakos is a professional poker player with 27 years of experience. He is currently in the process of publishing a book on poker and runs his own website called JohnTheGreekPoker.

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