Pricing In & Pot Committed: Lessons In A Poker Tournament

published on 02/17/10 at 7:43 am

Pricing In & Pot Committed: Lessons In A Poker Tournament

What I would like to once again point out is how this methodology is applied differently in cash games than in tournament play. In a cash game this is a very good strategy to implement whenever possible. If the pot odds are there are you have already priced in then it is obvious that you are pot committed, thus, you proceed to make the call and let the cards fall where they may. More often then not, you will be ahead of the game, and statistically you will be far ahead in the long term. I am sure that everyone that plays poker more than once a week would agree with this assessment.

The question, however is, when are you pot committed in tournament play? The popular thinking is that when you are short stacked you want to get the remainder of your chips in the middle of the table. There are situations though when a more cautious approach may lead to a better outcome. Thus, this is not a rule of poker, it is a mere suggestion to be used as a guidance tool to assist in you in the decision making process. I cannot count the number of times I have witnessed someone pushing his remaining chips into the pot when he is clearly behind in the hand and has little or no hope of survival. Yes, this is the difference in a tournament that does not apply to cash game play. It is about survival and about getting paid. The logic when they loose the hand, as expected, is that they were pot committed at that point and had no other choice. I’m sorry but you always have a choice.

At the WSOP main event I found myself in just this exact situation. I was doing well throughout the first day. I wrapped up the evening with a decent chip count, placing me in the top 40% of the field going into day two. When day two came, however, it was a whole different ball game. I could not catch playable cards to save my life. My best hand the first hour was a J-8 off suit. I tried taking a couple of stabs at the pot, just to get some blinds back. Every time I would enter a pot I would end up with an average of two callers and a raise. Nothing was going right and I began to realize rather quickly that my presence at the tournament would likely be short lived.

After the brake I found myself significantly short stacked with 4,200 in chips and on the Big Blind. After laying off the Blind and ante I was left with 3,200. Much to my surprise I look down to see pocket 9’s, the best hand I had gotten all day. One player called the blind in late position as did the small blind and I pushed in a 2,000 raise. I could have pushed all in, and most players with my chip stack would have. However, I did not. Both the other players called the bet and we went to the flop.

The board flopped A, Q, J rainbow. Not the best flop in the world when you are holding pocket 9’s. As a result of the flop and in poor position I checked as did the small blind. The button makes a pot sized bet followed by an All-In raise from the small blind. At this point I am “pot committed” I am getting great “pot odds” and conventional wisdom would tell you to push in the remainder of you measly stack. I folded. The Button called. The small blind revealed pocket Queens and the button A, K suited. The board turned a 10 and rivered a 9. Even though I would have made a set I was third best at the table with a set of Queens out on the flop and the pot going to the nut straight on the button.

The good news was that I made a great read and a great lay down. I did not let odds or statistics influence my decision. No matter how good the odds are sometimes you know you are beat and you need to lay the hand down. The bad news was that I had almost no chips left and perhaps this was merely an exercise in futility. Then again, perhaps not.

The most famous saying in No Limit Hold’em is “a chip and a chair” well, I had three chips and a chair and all the necessary tools required. A few hands later I caught pocket 6’s and pushed all in with three callers getting almost 6-1 on my money(with the Antes and Blinds). Not to bore you with the details of every hand, but I was still at the table seven and a half hours later and had build up my 3 chips to over 28,000.

The above play completely defies conventional wisdom. But then again this is Poker. This is not a road test at the motor vehicle bureau where we need to follow all the rules and regulations. The poker police are not going to come running out of the back room and arrest you or even fine you. If you “know” your beat lay the damn hand down. I don’t care how much you have in the pot or what position you are in. Stop marrying losing hands post flop because you can justify making a stupid call as a result of odds and calculations.

Your goal at a tournament is first and foremost to get paid. If you are in the money and are willing to take the chance, then go ahead have fun and knock yourself out. You have secured a pay check. If you are out of the money, and, especially close to the bubble then let’s stop the bullshit and focus on why we entered the tournament in the first place. Yes, you entered to win. But in order to win the tournament you have to make it in to the money first, and then survive the feeding frenzy that follows.

No one is going to come out and give you a “Player of The Year” award because you busted out of every tournament on day one but you followed the rules flawlessly. They will however give you that award if you have the most cash finishes that year and as a result, you are, most likely, leading the field. Once you get past the bubble go ahead and open up your game. Push in early and hope for callers. You are not going to make a final table unless you accumulate chips. And you are most certainly not going to win a tournament without them either.

John “The Greek” Leontakianakos is a professional poker player with 27 years of experience.

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