As part of my concerted strategy to play as many live tournaments as possible before baby arrives, I woke up early on Saturday and drove up to Mohegan Sun to play the $1100 Main Event of their Summer Open. Even though this year’s version paled in comparison to last year’s $2500 buy in with a $750,000 guarantee, as defending champion I felt compelled to make an appearance.
The trip also made imminent sense because I run like Usain Bolt at Mohegan Sun. When I do something crazy in any other casino in the world, I end up getting caught with my pants down and looking like a fool. When I do something crazy at Mohegan Sun, this happens:
After biding my time for the first few levels, I chipped up from the starting stack of 20,000 to around 80,000, which put me amongst the leaders in the 211-player field. I then fell silent, playing very few hands before deciding that I had found a nice opportunity to do something stupid.
Blinds were 800-1600/200. My table featured one chronic, habitual limper. And when I say “chronic, habitual limper” I really mean it. The dude was getting involved with hands like J-2 suited and K-3 off, etc. etc. This guy limped under the gun, and the action was folded to a big-stacked (~75,000) kid in middle position. This kid was new to the table and my guess was that he was a competent, aggressive foe. He proceeded to raise to 6,000. It was folded to me in the cutoff and I figured the kid was isolating pretty light, so I three bet to 15,700 with the old Q3o, a bet designed to tell the kid who was boss at this table. Mr. Limper folded, but the kid called. Stand back, stupidity in progress.
The flop was 9h-7c-3d, giving me bottom pair. The kid checked and I followed through with my plan, betting 20,000. The kid thought for awhile and called. The turn was the ten of clubs. The kid checked, and I checked behind. The river was the king of hearts. The kid checked again, and I thought for about twenty seconds before deciding that this was a nice card for me to get completely stupid with. I figured I’d bluff the kid off his pocket pair now, so I cut 31,000 chips out of my stack and placed them in the middle, leaving me with around 10,000 behind. It was likely the biggest pot of the tournament to that point.
The kid tanked for about 40 seconds, and just as it seemed like he was about to fold, he made up his mind and determinedly declared “call.” I sighed, silently cursed my recurring stupidity and said “you win” as I tabled my bottom pair face up (yes, face UP, thankfully!).
The kid exultantly said “yessss!” and turned over…. the losing hand. A-8 of hearts. He then claimed to have misread his hand. WTF?
I was now chip leader of the tournament and rode the momentum from this hand all the way through the end of the night, finishing Day 1 second in chips with 37 players left, in good shape yet again at MoSun. Finding a hotel room, however, was a nightmare. Southeastern Connecticut was swarming with visitors, and it took me two hours to get settled into an overpriced bed a few miles away from Mohegan.
Day 2 was a slow grind during which I committed the same tactical error over and over again (more on that below), and my stack was under the tournament average by the time there were 15 players remaining. When the tournament was down to 11 players, talk of chopping up the prize pool began, and I put an end to it by declining. When we reached the 9-player final table, I was dead last in chips and had 7.5 big blinds remaining in my once formidable stack. A deal was once again discussed, and we worked out the equity numbers. After about 40 minutes worth of wrangling, the other eight players were in agreement on a deal. It was essentially up to me. I considered a few factors. Namely, my desperate situation in the tournament, my sub-par results for the year, and the fact that I would be the lone holdout if I declined again. I reluctantly decided to take my exact equity number, which was roughly sixth place money, and that was that.
I immediately regretted the decision and am still not thrilled with it. Although my tournament was reduced to push/fold poker, I do it as well if not better than anyone who was at the final table with me. More importantly, a nine-way chop just isn’t what tournament poker is really about. Yeah, I got around $11,000, but it felt vaguely violative of the whole spirit of the enterprise. You’re supposed to make the final table, then go about the cutthroat business of taking everyone out. You don’t make the final table and quit for the night! I still feel kind of gross when I think about it. It will likely be my first and last nine way chop.
And now for a brief discussion of MTT strategy:
Preflop raise sizing has been a confounding issue for me throughout my career. Everyone knows that live players tend to raise anywhere from 2.5x to 4x the big blind (and in some cases, higher) in their steal attempts. Online play features smaller raise sizing; amounts vary from minraises up to around 2.5x. Most everyone agrees that the smaller raises seen online are optimal in that forum, where players (correctly) do not defend their blinds lightly. Live poker is a different animal. I routinely run across players who will defend their big blind with literally any two cards against a 2.3x preflop raise.
I have traditionally utilized the smaller raise sizing online and notched my sizing up in live tournaments, automatically adjusting my sizing to what I imagine the big blind’s threshold is for calling with a trashy hand. Starting late in 2009, however, I began to default to the small online-type raises (e.g. 1875 at 400-800, 2800 at 600-1200, etc.) in live tournaments as well, regardless of opponent. I have always appreciated the superiority of the average online player to the average live player, so it seemed to make a lot of sense to just play like I was playing online when playing live. On Sunday at Mohegan Sun, that strategy cost me dearly, as I lost a number of pots to players who defended with dubious holdings such as 4-3 and outflopped me. It has caused me to reconsider things.
The debate revolves around whether or not it is a good or bad thing for bad players to defend light against us. Proponents of the practice of transposing online raise sizing into the live arena state that they want bad players to play pots against them out of position with shitty hands, it makes it easy to take their money. This sounds like common sense, but in my opinion it is incorrect.
The reason is this: a vital part of your equity in raising preflop comes from the times everyone folds and you steal the blinds. It is an integral piece of the overall strategy of raising preflop. When your raise sizing makes winning the antes and blinds uncontested impossible, you are costing yourself equity no matter how great you play postflop and how terrible the player in the big blind is.
To illustrate, consider the scenario where a player has only two big blinds in his stack and is forced to post on the next hand. This player is smart enough to know that he must call off his tournament with any two cards. The action is folded to you in middle position.
Should you be raising lighter or tighter in this spot? The correct answer is that you should be tightening up your opening range. You cannot steal the blinds (he’s calling every time) and hands like A3 and the like are basically coin flips against a random hand. Part of the reason we raise with trash is to win uncontested and that objective is ruined when the big blind has no chips left. While many good players understand this concept, they do not realize that the same idea applies throughout the tournament.
A good raise size preflop is whatever amount gives the players in the blinds pause before they automatically call. It could be as low as a minraise (and it often is online) and as high as 3x (and it often is in a live event). I will no longer be making the mistake of grafting optimal online tourney play onto my live game.
Next live-a-ment for me isn’t until August. I’m really happy to spend some time at home.