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This is True #5

Yesterday, I posed the following question:

Which is True:

Statement A: In a deep stack tournament with a reasonable blind structure, it is better to have tight hand selection while the blinds are small relative to your stack.


Statement B: In a deep stack tournament with a reasonable blind structure, it is better to play more hands early, while the blinds are still small relative to your stack.

After receiving 10 comments from some fine poker thinkers, we have another split decision. Out of 10 commentors, four believe Statement A is more correct, three believe that Statement B is more correct, and three land in the "It depends..." category. Even amongst the "It depends..." three, there is dissension, with one player leaning toward A, another toward B, and one squarely in the middle.

Inevitably, the truth behind the statements rests in one's style of play. Obviously, both statements address conflicting styles, namely the Loose and Tight styles of play. Before I give my opinion, though, let's take a look at some of the comments.

The Statement A crew consisted of Kaja, LJ, HUC6 Commissioner RecessRampage, and Gnome.

According to Kaja, "A lot of top tourney pro claim that the tournament doesn't start until the antes hit and the pots are worth playing for." Kaja has a valid point. Early pots where the blinds are small compared to the pot are not worth a lot of chip value. I emphasize "chip value", because Kaja also points out that there is more to early play than merely winning small pots: "if you play too tight you will not get paid on your big hands." That point is arguable, since I have seen early tourney donks who pay off the tightest player, but it does at least open the door to the question of whether there are non-chip-accumulation reasons to play lots of pots early.

RecessRampage does a good job of explaining why it may be right to play fewer hands early in a deep stack tournament. According to RR, "It depends on what kind of hands you are talking about." Naturally, the definition of playing loose or tight is variable, but RR makes a good point. It is wholly acceptable to play drawing hands like 89s and still be "tight." The key is position: "I think playing tighter has more to do with playing hands in position, not committing too much chips in marginal situation, etc and not necessarily folding until you see AA, KK, QQ, or AK."

RR also notes that building an image is not a factor in his analysis because, "no one is paying attention to your 'image.' What's the point of building a loose image if you get moved???" I consider this an arguable point. There is usually a few players at the table paying attention, and even the donks will notice if you are playing an unusually high amount of hands. It may not involve a player keenly watching all action, but if you constantly limp or raise, the guy to your immediate left will notice, even if he is 5-tabling, beating off to Red Tube and watching a DVR'ed episode of Price is Right.

Gnome believes that it doesn't make sense to play loose early because it won't pay off: "I find that taking too many chances early in a tournament are more likely to result in a diminishing stack. The reason for this is that it's hard to both hit a flop hard with gambling-type hands, and it's also difficult to get paid off." I am not certain that it is difficult to get paid off, especially since a lot of commentors argued that there are a lot of donks in the early stages of an MTT. Wouldn't it be true, then, that these aggro donks will pay you off if you hit early on. Also, if you are willing to play aggressively, you may not need to hit the flop to win the pot.

Gnome continues, "Sure, I like to see cheap flops if the price is right, my stack is healthy and I'm in good position. But even if you are somewhat successful in chipping up, I'm not convinced that the value of those early-tournament chips is high enough to to justify the risk." This is more akin to my De-Lucking MTT post from March 2006. In that post, I argued that if you avoid getting in pots, you will avoid suffering suckouts, etc., and can minimize the amount of "luck" one needs to win a tournament. Essentially, loose play does not net enough chips early on in tournaments because of small blinds, and therefore, playing tighter is preferable because you are reducing your exposure/risk.

LJ thinks that Statement A is the 'better' of the two ("no sense in stealing blinds when they're so small"), but advocates a mixed approach, based on position: "there's nothing wrong w/ seeing cheap flops in late position, as long as you can throw garbage hands away when you don't hit/only have a small piece." Frankly, this idea surfaced in a couple of comments in all three categories (Statement A people, Statement B people and the It Depends people). So we will examine it further as we proceed to discuss the Statement B Crew.

Three people leaned toward Statement B: DP from Wired Pairs, CK aka BWoP, and Smokkee. In the end, the common thread was something hte LJ mentioned, postflop ability. In fact, the statement was first made by Fuel55 in my comments, but we'll get to that in a minute.

As DP explained, post-flop play is the key to making a looser style work in the beginning stages of a deepstack tournament: "Assuming a skilled NL Hold 'em player, preferably with cash game experience (read: post flop playing abilities) ...Statement B is definitely more accurate, but that plan takes A LOT more effort and focus." The amount of focus and effort is a great point. Clearly, folding all but premium hands is an easy strategy. A natural part of loosening up, however, is the fact that you will see more flops. If you are able to make the correct plays given the flops, then a looser approach may be more profitable. However, it invariably requires more work, since the tighter player will have much fewer decisions. Focus is more important as well, because the tight player's decisions could be based entirely on his/her cards (AA and KK often play themselves), whereas playing middle pair on a flop requires one to consider his/her opponents' cards and play.

CK agrees: "it does require a lot more *skillz* than style A (being able to make good reads, knowing when you can get tight opponents to fold, managing bet sizes, etc.)." She also adds two very appropriate caveat: "If you are okay with increasing the variance in the early portion of a tournament, go for it. How often have you seen someone amass a huge chip lead early and then blow it out in the middle of the tourney? Once you have the big stack, how can you make adjustments to keep it?" Variance will increase if you play more hands, leading to more early bust-outs. That leads to another question, whether busting out early is preferable to busting late while still out of the money, but this is almost another topic unto itself. The bottom line is, even if you are playing well, you may play 79s, flop two pair on a 279 rainbow flop and get all-in against KK (for instance), only to turn a King. Or you may hit a major second-best hand, such as a set-over-set situation when you play low pairs like 22 or 33 for set-value. Similarly, even if you do not get unlucky, once you have a big stack, you must adjust to make that early accumulation worthwhile. This may mean keeping up the pressure, but it also may mean tightening up. Once again, the player who goes for Statement B has a lot more decisions to make.

Finally, Smokkee agrees that post-flop pay is key to a Statement B player: "so, i guess i would lean more toward (B). i'm very comfortable with my ability to play post-flop." Naturally, Smokkee has his own words of caution though: "there really is no sense making fancy plays early in an MTT stealing/restealing and you don't want to get caught in a bad situation with something like AJ/KQ/QJ, etc. but, i do like calling standard raises in LP with suited connectors, gappers, small pocket pairs hoping someone will stack off if i hit a huge flop." Once again, the Statement B player has more decisions. Does he play the Royalty-heavy hands like KQ or is the suited gappers better for a low blind, deep stack game?

As you can probably figure out by now, the Statement A people tempered their answers by pointing out the pitfalls of Statement A (no action when you get hands, missing postional opportunities). The Statement B people did the same (harder decisions, higher variance). So, it makes perfect sense to turn to the "It depends" people to see if they have figured out when its right to follow path "A" and when its best to follow path "B".

The "It Depends" group consists of Fuel55, Instant Tragedy and PokerWolf (and, arguably, many of the Statement A and Statement B people).

Wolf stays with the tried and true formula, play opposite of your table: "It depends on how your table is playing." This is certain a smart strategy, but I do not afford it the same weight some people do. Logic would dictate that if the table is loose, you should tighten up, but arguably, if the table is loose, you should loosen up and see as many cheap flops as possible, with the hope to hit a hidden major hand against one of the loose players. This may be especially true in deepstack games, since you can afford to see many cheap flops and fold when you miss.

Wolf also correctly points out that, "It also depends on your definition of 'tight'". This is similar to Smokkee's idea, that certain hands like 89s may be better than others, like QJ. Depending on the player, "tight" might mean top-ten hands only, or it could mean top-ten hands and suited connectors in position. I didn't define "tight" because I wanted to allow people to use their own definitions. Ultimately the question is whether one should play "looser" or "tighter" in deepstack, small blind tournaments. It's about adjusting styles, without necessarily choosing which style is correct. Regardless, one's definition of tight and loose do come into play.

Instant Tragedy suggests that each player should loosen or tighten up depending on their usual (or preferred) style of play: "If you are aggressive, and you feel like you are better with early play, you try to see a lot of flops...I choose to be more selective because of the ability to play good hands." I definitely think that IT is onto something. On a personal note, I am more prone to play more hands for cheap, because I am an action player. I play to my "needs" and "strengths", whereas a player like GCox is more prone to tight play and would probably benefit most from tightening up his play, since he has time to let his usual hand-selection based strategy to pay off.

I leave the final word to Fuel, because his one sentence comment answered the question in a direct, and in my estimation, 100% correct way: "This really depends on how good you are postflop ..." Fuel is one of the few chosen poker role models at HoP. He knows what he is doing and he is playing at a level (not to mention stakes) that I hope to achieve some day. HoP is pretty swell-headed, so it isn't often that someone reaches HoP Poker Role Model status (other members include Cmitch and ScottMc). In that simple statement, Fuel says it all.

In the end, it all depends on how good you are at postflop play. If you are an excellent postflop player, then the increased variance is less of an issue and you should play more hands. If you are an excellent postflop player, you do not need to hit the flop to win often enough to make it a profitable play. If you are an excellent postflop player, those early accumulated chips will give you the ability to continue your postflop style game when the blinds get high enough to make most other players desperate. And, naturally, if you are an excellent postflop player, those things that make loose play so difficult, namely the extra effort and focus needed, are your strengths anyway.

On the other hand, not everyone is a postflop player. Many players do not have the focus necessary to make well-informed post-flop decisions. Others cannot stomach the variance. Whatever the case, those player are better off essentially nut-peddling when the blinds are low. Once again, these players are utilizing their strengths, namely patience and (hopefully) the ability to extract the most money when they do hit monster hands (which can be easy if you are playing against calling stations or aggro donks).

So, I'm in the It Depends category, I suppose, but if I had to lean one way, it would be Statement B. I sincerely believe that it is advantageous to see lots of flops while the blinds are low because I have faith in my ability to play well postflop. I know how to fold and I know how to take stabs at a pot when it has been abandoned by my opponents. I think position is key, in most of these situations, but if you get a good read, sometimes being out of position can be profitable as well.

But the bottom line is that this style of play ("B") is a lot more difficult, and some of my poorest performances came when I was trying to play style "B" without putting forth the necessary focus or effort. For a much more simple path to success, "A" is definitely a way to go. Unfortunatley, even though variance will rear its head less often in style "A", it will eventually play a large role late in tournaments if you do not get at all monster hands or the few monster hands you do get either earn you no chips or suffer a loss. This leads to more deep finishes, but not necessarily more ITM finishes and certainly not more big ITM finishes unless you get the right cards at the right time. Even so, it may be a preferable route, rather than slugging your way through hours of tournament poker playing a focus, laboreous "B" style game, only to suffer the fate variance anyway.

Thank you for my commentors. Once again, I'm inclined to join the people who agreed with Statement B, with the caveat that it takes a lot more effort/focus and it all depends on one's ability to make good postflop decisions.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 10:21 AM,


At 3:26 PM, Blogger BWoP said...


But I agree that B needs to be mixed in from time to time.

But for me, and my personality, and my current poker goals, style B doesn't make sense for me right now in terms of "regular" strategy. I am much more comfortable mixing it up in cash games than tournaments.

So I am looking for an effective style of tournament play that is more akin to style A. And that is what I will be focusing on.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

CK, I know what you mean, but you started with praising B before saying that for now you want to play A. I figured your variance comment was the crux of the matter, so I focused on that.

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Fuel55 said...

I am honored.

At 12:56 AM, Blogger smokkee said...

anyone who thinks 55 is gold ..... eaaaaw

At 8:42 AM, Blogger Pokerwolf said...

I'll point out that all I said was, "It depends on how your table is playing" and not "play the opposite of everyone else". That's my fault because I didn't include the other half of the equation: Who's playing at your table.

The ultimate goal for any poker player who wants to continually improve to reach a level where their cards don't matter. Playing the player and the table is the ultimate way to play poker.


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