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Poker Strategy | Tournaments Strategy

Understanding End Of Tournament Bet Sizing

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While many poker professionals advocate keeping your bet sizes consistent in order to avoid giving away information, there are times that you will want to vary the amount you bet. Much of bet sizing depends on the situation you are in. With all stacks being equal and deep, a consistent approach to betting and raising is probably the best course of action to take. However at the end stages of a tournament, when stack sizes are different and are smaller in relation to the blinds, all bets are off (pun intended) and the best bet to make will often depend on a number of factors. This article is going to examine these factors and give you a few ideas and concepts to implement into your end of tournament game.

Pre-flop bet sizing

The one thing about the end of a tournament is that players' stack sizes are much shallower than they were at the beginning of a tournament. What  this means is that a player's stack is on average smaller in relation to the size of the blinds. For example, if there are 1,000 players playing in a tournament and they all start with 10,000 in chips and blinds of 50/100, each player has 100 big blinds. Let's fast forward towards the end of the tournament when there are only 100 players left and the average chip stack is 100,000. By this point the blinds are probably somewhere in the vicinity of 2,500/5,000 and the average stack has 20 big blinds. This is a huge difference from the 100 big blinds that every one started the tournament with but there are still the same number of chips in play. The ever increasing blinds in relation to the fixed number of chips in the field is what makes tournament poker such a strategic and dynamic game.

In the above start of tournament conditions, it would not be uncommon for a player to raise to 3-4 times the big blind and get numerous callers. The reason for this is that the raise amount is small in relation to their stack size and the implied value is high. Later in a tournament, however, it is much more difficult for a player to call a 3-4 times the big blind raise because it will often represent a significant portion of their stack. This is why you often hear players talking about attacking the bubble and money stages of a tournament, because raises at this stage can induce folds. This doesn't mean, however, that you have to raise 3-4 times the big blind at the end of a tournament. You can more than likely get away with raising much less. Some people are so tight at this stage of a tournament that if you can raise the smallest denomination possible, they'd probably fold. However, a minimum raise is required and this raise or any raise less than 3 times the big blind is usually effective.

Let's look at why. Let's say you and your opponent have 15 big blinds each and the blinds are 2,500/5,000 and you decide to open the action for 12,000 in chips. This 12,000 in chips represents 16% of their stack. Too many players worry about the price they are giving the big blind in these instances. It's true that the big blind will be getting astronomical odds but they'll be playing a hand out of position if they choose to play, and even 7,000 in chips can often be enough to sway a person with 50,000-100,000 to get out of the way. The best raise at this stage is one that accomplishes your end goal of minimizing the damage on hands you don't want action with, and maximizing the profit on hands you do want action with - 2.5 times the big blind is about right, but it can be higher or lower depending on the play at your table.

Using Stack Dynamics For End Of Tournament Post-Flop Betting

There is a concept called Stack Dynamics that is the driving principle behind how to make end of tournament post-flop decisions.  Stack dynamics is the relation of your stack size in comparison to your opponents and it affects what hands you can play and against whom you can play them. There are three distinct relationships between stack sizes:

#1 – A player can bust you without risking a large percentage of their stack. This is often the most dangerous player at the table because they can put you to the test for your entire stack without risking going broke.
#2 – You have relatively the same stack size of your opponent. This is usually where the biggest mistakes occur. Players will get involved in hands with players that they have covered, believing that even if they lose the hand that they will still have chips. What they fail to recognize is that the loss to their stack will be so significant that it puts them in the unenviable position of being a short stack.
#3 – A player you have well covered. These are the types of players you should be embracing confrontations with and attacking and taking marginal risks against. These players cannot bust you and even losing the hand will not significantly change your chip position.

How does this affect post-flop bet sizing? Here's an example to show you how each of the three relationships can work with and against one another.

Seat 1 – 100,000 in chips
Seat 2 – 50,000 in chips
Seat 3 – 60,000 in chips
Seat 4 – 20,000 in chips
Seat 5 – 150,000 in chips

Let's say that you are Seat 1 and have raised pre-flop to 7,500 with the blinds at 1,500/3,000 and antes of 500. Seat 2 calls you from the small blind and checks to you on an innocent looking flop. How much should you bet here? There is  20,500 in the pot and you have 92,000 left in chips and your opponent has 42,000 left in chips. A normal ½ to ¾ pot bet here would be 10,000 to 15,000. Each of these bets would likely commit your opponent to going all in if he is going to play the hand.

Is there a lesser amount that they will call and not go all in? This is the question that should be at the forefront of your mind when thinking what to do in this situation. Not many players are going to just call bets here. They are either going to re-raise all in or fold. Thus you want to make a bet amount that is as small as possible but will achieve your desired intent of getting your opponent to fold. A bet as small as ¼ pot, or 5,000, would probably achieve the same results as a 10,000 bet. As is usually the case when making these types of bets, you need to be willing to do so with both your strong and weak hands so as to not give any information away.

What about a different scenario where you are the one having less chips. For example, you are up against Seat 5 who has called your pre-flop raise using the same scenario as before. The big difference here is that your bet is not going to have the same impact that it did against Seat 2. This is how stack dynamics plays a role. What might be the correct decision against one player could be a monumental mistake against another. Here a ¼ pot bet would probably not achieve the desired effect. Instead, you would probably need to make a larger bet that creates a tougher decision for your opponent. 5,000 would be easy for them to call but 15-20K wouldn't be. Granted, you don't want to just throw 15K in there and fold to a re-raise so you need to understand your opponent and the likelihood that they will fold before just blindly betting, but the point is that the bet you make will need to vary based upon the stack size of your opponent.

At the end stage of a tournament, if your flop bet is called, more often than not you will have two decisions on the turn - all in or check. The reason being is that the pot will often be so large at this point in relation to your stack size that there is no other bet you can make. If you started a hand with 25 big blinds and raised to 2.5 big blinds pre-flop and made a ½ pot bet on the flop, the pot size on the turn will be approximately 15 big blinds. Another ½ pot bet in this instance will leave you with just over 10 big blinds, while checking would leave you with approximately 17. As you can see, this is a dangerous situation. Going all in isn't much more than a pot sized bet at this instance and anything short of all in when you have just over the size of the pot remaining in chips gives you the ability to make a mistake. The one time turn bet sizing will not usually be all in is when two healthy stacks tangle with one another, but even then a player needs to be careful or they will find themselves facing a decision on the river for a majority of their stack.

Your position relative to your opponents is the key

Making it to the end of a tournament is a great accomplishment, but winning one is even better. In order to do so, you're going to have to make smart betting decisions, both pre-flop and post-flop. Understanding your position, especially in regards to stack dynamics, can help you make calculated decisions that will win you more pots and lose smaller ones. Make bets that make sense for the situation you are in and the opponent you are facing and you'll probably find yourself sitting at that final table with more chips than you've ever had before.

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