In tournament play, it’s generally advisable to avoid risking large sums of chips in coin flip situations, like pocket sixes versus A-K. After all, the pocket pair is only a very slight heads-up favorite. Why risk your tournament life on a near 50/50 proposition?
Let’s look at an example that illustrates this concept.
Two tables of six players each remain in a $10,000 buy-in tournament. You are the chip leader with 2.8 million chips. The blinds are 40,000-80,000 with a 10,000 ante.
From late position, you raise to 210,000 with 6d-4d hoping to steal the blinds and antes. An excellent player in the small blind, however, reraises all-in for a total of 635,000 in chips.
What do you do?
First, figure out the pot odds. There’s 985,000 in the pot already: 635,000 from your opponent and the 210,000 you bet, plus the 80,000 big blind and 60,000 in antes. It’s an additional 425,000 for you to call the reraise.
Calculate the pot odds by dividing 985,000 by 425,000, or in this case, about 2.3-to-1.
Next, figure out the range of hands your opponent might be playing.
You can rule out the possibility that he’s bluffing. Why? Well, he’s on a short stack plus he knows that you’d probably call an additional 425,000 bet given that you’ve already invested 210,000 in the pot. No bluff here.
So, he’s either got a pocket pair, probably sixes or higher, or a hand like A-K or A-Q.
Your 6d-4d is an underdog against any of those hands but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily fold. Say it would only cost an additional 200,000 to call. In that case, you’d be getting close to 4-1 pot odds; it would be an easy call. You’d be getting the right price even if your opponent does have a high pocket pair.
Okay, getting back to our example, though, you’re only getting 2.3-to-1 odds to make the call.
Now, that’s about the right price against a hand like A-K, but what if you are up against a high pocket pair? The pot odds would be too low. You’d be taking too much risk to continue with the hand.
The correct play would be to fold your hand and conserve your chips. Many tournament players, however, make the mistake of calling in this situation. They think they’re getting about 2-to-1 pot odds as a 2-to-1 underdog but that’s actually the best case scenario.
They fail to consider that it’s only an even money proposition if and only if they truly are a 2-to-1 underdog and not worse!
Look, in tournament poker, a big chip stack is something that should be protected and not gambled away. There’s just no need to risk a big chip stack in a 50/50 coin flip situation.
Another important consideration is that it’s best to avoid giving a tough opponent any opportunity to double up his short stack, especially when he has the power of position over you. It’s much better to leave him short-stacked and crippled than it is to play a big pot against him when he probably has you beat.
The ability to perform basic math calculations is certainly an integral part of playing fundamental poker. But in tournament poker, it’s equally important to understand that survival often trumps mathematics in coin flip situations.
In our example, go ahead and fold your 6d-4d. Save the 425,000 chips for later when you can again try to aggressively attack the blinds. Also, play big pots only when you believe that you’re in a favorable situation with a winnable hand.
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