Pre-flop play: A Tight-Aggressive Point of View
Megabitís article was published recently, and it got me thinking. Mega and I have both had some success, but we look to be very different players. The difference is most obvious in pre-flop play. Is one of us wrong and incredibly lucky? Or, more likely, are we both right?
Iím going to go with option two. We each have our own style. Each is well thought out and geared towards winning tournaments, and each can work.
Mega used the following points as the main considerations in pre-flop play
- Position and who is in the pot already.
- Stack size, yours and your opponents.
- The current stage the tournament is in.
- Your hole cards.
I agree whole-heartedly. The difference is in how we weigh the factors. Whereas Megabit states that hole cards are the least significant factor, I disagree entirely, especially in the early stages of the tourney, because of the fact that with many loose players or players I donít know, I never assume I can make them lay down a hand.
In my earlier, wilder days, I would play a junk hand on impulse once in a while, and make a move on it with bottom pair on the flop, only to get ďtrappedĒ by a guy with middle pair. In no limit tournaments, you have to be able to get a guy to lay down, and if you canít, you have to have something to show down. I'm not interested much in wrecking my tourny because this fool is going to call a big bet on the flop with AK and no pair. If Iím not sure whether I can push him off, and I have nothing worth a showdown, then why am I in the hand?
My conclusion is that when M's are around 50 (the first levels of the tourny), or when out of position, Iím just not going to get involved. So when it folds to me on the button, with blinds 10/20 and Iím holding JTo with 1500 chips, Iím not going to take a stab at the pot. Guess why? Because thereís 30 chips in there! Guess another reason why? Because I plan to win this tournament, and Iím not really interested in putting my stack at risk with a bad hand.
Similar situations include:
- stacks are deep, thereís a raise and a call, and I have KQs in any position.
- Stacks are deep, and Iím in first position with AJ or 22 or KJ or KQ or any other marginal hand.
- Mís are 10-15, thereís a raise ahead of me and Iím holding 55.
- Mís are 10-15, thereís a raise ahead of me by a tight player and Iím holding AT
- 4-handed, shortish stacks, and a tight player pushes. Iím holding A8.
- 4-handed, healthy stacks, and a maniac pushes. Iím holding 66
And so on, and so onÖ
First in vigorish and position is way more important than any other consideration, and so Iím liable to not call a pre-flop raise more than once or twice in the first hour of a ChipTalk.net Thursday night tourney. With so many, ahem, letís say ďcreativeĒ players in the field, why would I get involved? I know Iím going to get paid when I flop a set, or when I have AA and the flop come 27K. I know it, so why gamble with an easily dominated hand? Answer: I would not.
The bad news: playing this style will fairly often get you to the 50/100 level with about a starting stack. Then what? Well, if you get unlucky enough to not get any hands for a half hour, then itís time to take your stack size into consideration. At some point in this level or the next, your M will get towards 5, which is means you need to get doubled up. A rule of thumb for me is that I need to have 3k in chips at the first break, or I donít have much chance of a final table. At this point, first in vigorish and position become of utmost importance.
With an M of less than 10, if it folds to you in the cutoff, button or small blind, you should push with a wide range of hands, all things being equal. If you have a calling station on your left, that sucks, but you still need to pick up some chips. The tighter the guys on your left are, the more you should come in raising. The looser they are, the more careful you should be. This seems counterintuitive to some, I think. But you have to know that a guy with a healthy stack is going to lay down hands better than yours. If you have 1000 chips at 50/100 and I have 3000, do you think Iím going to call you down with A8? WellÖIím just not. So if you push against me with 78s in this situation, you should know that Iím most likely giving you my blinds. Any of the other tight aggressive players in the field will often do the same.
Itís not so bad getting into this push/fold mode. If you can be patient and not give up, you have a good chance, if you donít let yourself get blinded down too far. In order to do that, you have to take your opportunities where you can get them. That means taking serious advantage of the guys on your left. If they turn out to have AA or KK, thatís just how it goes.
By the way, what if, many ask, the calling station on your left calls with any ace? That would suck for you, but not really as bad as you think. If youíre not dominated, and he calls with a weak ace, youíll win at showdown with rags about 35-40% of the time. If a short stack situation isnít the time to get yourself a little lucky (and winning with 78 v A4 isnít much more than a LITTLE lucky), then when is?
I think perhaps the key concept in this entire article is what Sklansky termed ďthe gap conceptĒ in his book Tournament Poker for Advanced Players. He writes, "You need a better hand to play against someone who has already opened the betting than you would need to open yourself." (27) Not very pithy, I know. But if thereís any concept a poker player should know, it should be this one. A player who has yet to act has a random hand. Random hands, we know, suck in hold Ďem. A player who raises or bets is MUCH more likely to have a strong hand. Strong hands are likely to dominate the hand we thought was pretty good a second ago. Our pocket tens, for instance, are dominated by JJ, QQ, KK, and AA and only a coin flip against JQ, KJ, AJ, QK, AQ, and AK. If you arenít in imminent danger of blinding off, do you like the sound of that? Do you want to put your stack in on a coin flip? Also, you can win in two ways by being aggressive, they can call and you make the best hand, or you can get them to fold. When you play passively, you have to have the best hand to win.
A note on gambling: itís good to get in as a dominating favorite, letís say AK v AT. Youíre about 75% to win there, and thatís great, right? But letís say the tournament is going to go another 2 hours. Youíre going to have to make these decisions a few more times. Letís say you get all your chips in as a 75% favorite 3 times, and if you lose any one of the three youíre out of the tourney. Whatís your chance of winning all three? If you said .75^3, or 27/64, you are correct, and you see my point. The more often you get your chips all in, the more likely you are to go bye bye. And the point of a tournament, friend, is to not go bye bye. You should do your best to not get all in when you think you are likely to get called.
The last sentence is bolded for good reason. Letís go back to the end of the first hour situation. You have 1000 chips after posting your big blind and the blinds are 75/150. A maniac in middle position raises to 450 and you have AT. The guy raises every hand, you know that you are almost certain to have him beat. You can push for 1150 chips, which will pretty much compel a call from him. You donít want to play here, generally speaking. Youíre looking at a whole round of hands, and all those chances to bring in chips uncontested. Why gamble with a 40% or better chance of busting? Look for opportunities to get your chips in with a reasonable chance of not seeing a showdown.
Finally, I hope (I really do) that you think this means you can push me around. Because good tight aggressive players (including such players as Solberg, ddollevoet, seitz33, scottwire, and others) happily encourage you to think theyíre weak tight. The more you raise them, the more likely they are to get action when they want it. In my opinion, the tight aggressive style is perfect
, when played well, because it canít effectively be countered. It gives up on small pots, and goes aggressively after pots that are worth winning, and with hands worth gambling on. When used well, a player will play very few hands, and yet still steal his share. Itís truly a beautiful thing.
One more finally: where this style and Megabitís style really differ is in their attitudes about post flop play and stack fluctuations. Megaís style calls for more difficult post flop decisions and for more stack volatility. Mine often simplifies your decision making and seeks for more stability. With Megaís style, youíll often flop middle pair with mediocre kicker and face an all in for 50% of the pot. What then? Or youíll raise with a QJ type hand and get pushed on for ďonlyĒ another 1000, offering your 2:1 odds. Then what? These situations can be handled optimally, but they require a lot of experience, and even then youíll likely see your stack up in the top ten then down to the middle of the pack 2 or 3 times in the course of the tourney. As I mentioned earlier, both these styles can work. It depends on what suits you and what youíre good at. Good luck fellas, itís rough out there.
Tournament Poker for Advanced Players
, David Sklansky
Harrington on Hold Ďem I and II
, Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie
More advice from Jojobinks (Matt Feldman): Poker Coaching by Jojobinks and Themightyjim2k