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Poker Strategy | Tournaments Strategy

An In Depth Look at the Squeeze Play

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In the past five years, the squeeze play has become one of the most common plays in No Limit Holdem tournament poker. While the concept was in play and use before this time frame, it was brought to the limelight by Dan Harrington and his excellent series of books in addition to the squeeze play he pulled off at the final table of the Main Event in 2004. On that hand, Josh Arieh opened the pot for a raise with K-9 off suit and was called by eventual champion Greg Raymer who was holding A-2 of clubs. Harrington was on the button with 6-2 off suit and made a large re-raise. Harrington had been playing conservatively up to that point and his raise was given a lot of credit. So much so that David Williams folded A-Q in the big blind. Arieh and Raymer followed suit and Harrington picked up a large pot.

The squeeze play is an effective play for several reasons. First, it shows extreme strength. There are already two (or more) people in a raised pot. In order to raise in this situation, a player usually is going to need a very good hand. Second, it is effective because the initial raiser has to worry about the player who called their initial raise. If they have a marginal hand like A-J or K-Q, they are going to toss their hand thinking they are well behind. The raise in effect has squeezed your opponents out, thus the name squeeze play.

However, there has been a proliferation of literature on the squeeze play as of late and accordingly the play has become over used and it is given less respect than it might have been given in the past. In fact, you could make the argument that most players automatically assume a player is making a move when they raise after there has been a raise and a call of that raise. This doesn't mean, however, that it is a useless play and in fact if you have shown the ability to make a squeeze play with a legitimate hand and your opponents have seen it, the opportunity is likely there for you to do it on a bluff. This is why it's important that if you are going to squeeze play with a marginal hand that you will also be able to do it with a legitimate hand. Without any information on your play, most opponents will base their belief of what you are doing on what they perceive the average player to do.

When pulling off a squeeze play there are several factors that you will need to evaluate before deciding whether to “pull the trigger.”

Factor #1: Who the initial raiser is – knowing the tendencies of the player who opened the action is important. While it is true that doing a squeeze play when the initial raiser is a conservative, tight play might not be the best move, this isn't necessarily always the case. It is their conservative, tight nature that might make the play even better than against a different type of player. A rock in this situation might fold a hand as strong as jacks, queens, or a big ace not wanting to “take their chances.” So don't automatically discount making a squeeze play if the original raise comes from a rock. On the same token, if the initial raiser is a maniac, or a savvy Internet player who doesn't ever give a re-raise in this situation credit, then you need to only make this play with a legitimate hand. Also worth noting is the position of the initial raiser. If they raised from early position, unless they are open raising an absurd number of times, they should be given credit for having a legitimate hand.

Factor #2: Who the caller(s) is – most players that call a raise do so because they want to see a flop and are speculating. Most of the time these players will toss their hand quickly into the muck if a squeeze play has been made. However, there are tricky players who like to flat call raises with big hands in these situations with the sole intent of inducing a squeeze play. These are obviously the players you want to be wary of.

Factor #3: Number of callers – there are two trains of thought on this one. First, the more callers there are, the more profitable the squeeze play is because of all the extra money in the pot. Second, the more callers there are, the more likely that one of the players will have a legitimate hand and one of them will look you up. This is where your observations of the players involved in the hand will be crucial. If the players in the hand are weak, passive, or tight, and will fold to adverse pressure, then raise it up. If you know there is no way they will fold, then don't squeeze unless you have a legitimate hand. If you do have a legitimate hand, this can be a great opportunity to win a huge pot.

Factor #4: The strength of your hand – you don't always need a hand in order to pull off a squeeze play, but having a hand can be the best time to do so because of the very nature of the move and the fact that it will not always be believed. If you have a big hand like aces or kings and there has been a raise and a call in front of you, re-raising can lead to one of the original players putting all their chips in the middle.

Stack size often comes into play when deciding whether to make a squeeze play or not. As a small stack, it can be a perfect opportunity to accumulate a significant amount of chips with minimal risk. As a big stack, you can utilize your chips to force the weaker stacks to fold.

For a small to medium stack, moving all in over the top of a raise and a call of that raise can give you enough chips to survive several more orbits. For example, let's say that you have 15,000 in chips with the blinds at 500/1,000 and a 100 ante at a 9 handed table. A player in middle position raises to 3,000 and is called by the cutoff. You move all in for 15,000 from the small blind and both players fold. You add 7,900 to your stack, an over 50% increase in your stack size.

When pulling off a squeeze play as a short or medium stack it is important to note whether you have any folding equity. If the initial raiser or caller had a small to medium stack like yours to begin with, you might not be able to induce a fold. If you have 10 big blinds or less, you might not be able to induce a fold because of the price your opponent(s) are being given.

What hands should you be squeezing with as a short stack? If your opponents will fold, it doesn't matter. If they won't fold or there is a good probability that they will call, your range needs to be in line with the hands they will call with. If you are wary of being called, you want to avoid “dominated” hands. These are hands like small aces, K-9, and Q-10.

For a big stack, the squeeze play can be a thing of beauty because the players left in the hand know that they will be risking their tournament life if they take you on. For example, let's say the initial raiser started the hand with 25,000 with the blinds at 500/1,000 and raises to 3,000. He is called by a player who has 30,000. You have 100,000 and make it 10,000 to go. Both of these players know that they can't just call – they will either have to move all in and risk their tournament life or fold. This is why the squeeze play is a great source of additional chips for a big stack. The one thing you want to be careful of though as a big stack, is knowing what players won't fold hands like medium pairs and hands like A-J and K-Q. As with most things in poker, paying close attention to the tendencies of your opponents is crucial.

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