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Poker News | World Poker News

Short Handed Poker Strategy and Baye’s Theorem

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So many times we hold our breath watching the conclusion of a basketball game come down to free throws. Similarly, the fate of a football game decided on a single field goal with virtually no time on the clock. In golf it’s putting. When examining your score card you remind yourself to drive for show putt for dough. In tournament poker, ability in short handed play becomes paramount if you want to make the big bucks. In team sports you might have a ‘closer’, like my boy Mariano Rivera. In an individual sport such as poker, you need to rely on yourself.

Short handed play is defined as a poker game that contains seven or less players at the table. If ten people are sitting at your table but three are walking, you’re short handed. If there are eight players, but one of them is a rock, you’re short handed. It’s funny because often times when a player or two ‘pick up’ from a game and the chain reaction starts, the guys who are stuck want to keep playing. The one guy who’s even, or winning a little bit, yanks back his big blind and declares “I don’t want to play short handed!”

Given the abundance of games, I have no objection to anyone’s phobia of short handed, live game play. They believe they have a system and it works for them – so be it. However, in tournaments, you do not have a choice of table and seat (excluding The Orleans, Las Vegas, for reasons unbeknownst to the poker playing world). If you play a tournament and are fortunate enough to get down to the wire you’ll need a specific game plan to get into the money – that could be folding every hand, regardless of strength because there are players with short stacks that will bust out from the blinds/antes if they don’t pick up a hand. Many players feel once they make the money they don’t care, they’re on a free roll. Wrong! If the tournament pays the final table, you’re already short handed when there are 14 players left. How many times have you played seven and seven, so incredibly tight, just trying to make the money? That’s a wonderful technique if your goal was to spend eight hours of your day making less than 10% on your investment.

Okay, let’s say you did it, you survived the arduous hand for hand, and lo and behold you’re five handed. Here comes that four letter curse word that’s thrown around too often. “Chop?” Why should I? The pansies that are sitting in front of towers of chips want to split up the prize pool five ways. Don’t let them. They figure it only cost them X amount to get here, they’re already guaranteed Y, let’s all be friends and start shaking each other’s hands like we’re at a wedding. It goes like this: “Hi nice to meet you. I’ve hated your guts for the last two hours, but please let me shake your hand because I’m spineless and I didn’t take my short handed play pills today.”

The real money is in the top three spots. The real, real money is in first. This is why you’re playing—the overlay. Let’s say Anna (my better half) and I end up heads up in a tournament. Quick background on Anna, solid player, patient, likes to play tedious $1 tournaments online with 1000 person fields. Me, I’d rather kill myself. Give me the five table tourney at Bellagio for a $1000 a head. First place is usually $25,000 compared to Anna’s staggering $265.

Conventionally, heads up play favors the aggressive player (notwithstanding Ted Forrest and Andy Beal dynamics, that’s a different animal). If Anna and I play 100 times heads up, I’ll beat her 85 times, she’ll beat me 10 times, and 5% of the time she’ll run out of the room screaming. I promised you math so bear with me.

In combinatorial mathematics, one of many of Baye’s theorem applications has to do with conditional probabilities. Let’s say I have Anna out-chipped 12 to 1 (my article, not hers). For Anna, only 10% of hands are playable. Therefore, if I go all-in on any given hand, there’s a 90% chance of me picking up the blinds. I could do this until the tournament ends, or until she runs out of the room screaming. If she does call me, and I have K-3, and she has A-2. I still have a chance to win, end the tournament, and pick up first place money. At 12 to 1, I could do this three times in a row, and still be in the tournament. Therefore, even if I’m an underdog, my collective percentages (a term I totally made up) are still in my favor to win the whole thing. If I lose three in a row at a 12 to 1 chip lead, I could win the fourth hand, win the fifth hand all-in, and still take down the tournament. (This I didn’t make up, check it out). Therefore, given that 90% of the time, she wouldn’t even call my all-in, when she does, she’d have to beat me four times in a row, which is pretty unlikely.

To sum it all up, sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose, but at least you gave it a shot and learning to play shorthanded is a must if you’re going to survive the long run of tournament poker.

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