Poker Strategy: Tournament Poker and the Beauty of the Re-Raise All-In
Contrary to what poker on the TV would have us believe, many pots in tournament poker are very simple. Raising and taking down the blinds is always a useful thing, and becomes even more useful as antes come in, and the blinds escalate deep into the tournament.
Even better than the simple blind steal, however, is re-raising a bet you believe may be an attempted steal of the blinds. The combination of the blinds, antes and one player's raise can gain you a big pot if you manage to get the raiser to pass.
The move that is most worth thinking about is the re-raise all-in, as it is a simple one to pull-off, and will always leave you with a chance in the all-in situation even if you are badly caught. Let's look at some of the factors that should be right for the re-raise all-in to be an effective play:
• Of course, there has to be a good chance that your opponent will pass. The conditions do not have to be perfect, but should be somewhere close to these ideal conditions- an aggressive opponent, who has been raising a lot of pots, raises in a late position. You need your opponent to be not only aggressive, but capable of passing a half decent hand.
• Your image at the table needs to be fairly steady, so that people will not suspect that you are on a complete steal.
• Most importantly of all, your stack size has to be right- not too little and not too much. If you move in for too little, your opponent will call even if he thinks he is behind, as the pot odds may oblige him to.
Let's say you are playing a stack of 6,000 with a stealing hand like , and your opponent has raised blinds of 300/600 to 2,000. You do not have enough to make a move. Your opponent will be faced with a decision to call 4,000 to win 12,900, and will have to make the call.
Indeed, your stack needs to be bigger than it would often seem, and in these conditions it is only a stack of 10,000 and upwards that is big enough to make a move.
If your stack is too big, say 20,000 or more in these conditions, your opponent will still call with most of the same hands, and you are risking too much to pick up too little.
• It is really important to choose the right kind of hands to move in with. Of course, a hand like or is great, but this is not strictly a steal move.
Let's limit ourselves just to medium strength hands, and consider which are best. The crucial thinking is that of course our hand only matters if we are called. The typical hands to call us will be the biggest pairs( up to ) and the big aces- , and possibly .
Therefore, our stealing hands needs to have the best chance of salvation against these hands, and so a hand like is much better than a hand like , which can only find itself in bad shape. A hand like even, is better than , as it has a much better possibility of offering two live cards.
Small pairs like are more of a gamble, as they will be in decent shape against two big cards, but could be horribly caught by an overpair. They are best used if you suspect your opponent's calling range will include more hands like than .
• The position you choose to steal from is another interesting factor. Almost always, you will see the re-steal being made from the blinds, and more often than not the big blind. A move from the big blind has the real advantage that it does not have to get through any hands apart from the raiser. However, a move here looks a lot like the big blind is standing up for himself, and so is a lot more likely to be called.
In a very psychological game, the best position to move in from can often be the button. Because this is a move rarely pulled, a good player will not suspect as much, and will give you credit for a decent hand. The downside is of course that you depend on the two blind hands not waking up with a hand; if you can get a good read that at least one of the players is not interested in their hand, the move becomes a lot more profitable.
The squeeze play
The squeeze play is becoming increasingly popular in tournament poker, and uses the same principles as the re-raise all-in. It has the added daring to it that the raise has been called by at least one other player. This makes it more risky, but a potentially very profitable play if it does come off. Let's imagine that our squeeze play is going to be all-in, and think about what kind of factors need to be in place:-
• An aggressive player has raised, and is playing a very wide range of hands.
• Any players who have called are likely to be playing a marginal hand, and ideally have been seen to call too many raises before the flop. They will most likely be playing a hand like , or .
• You need to be reasonably sure that the callers are not trapping with a big hand, and that you are not going to disastorously run into kings or aces. Ideally, you will know that a player plays honestly before the flop, and always re-raises with the biggest pairs.
If you believe you will often find these conditions, it is worth waiting for the opportunity of the squeeze play rather than the simple all-in. It has the added strength that it is more difficult for the original raiser to call, because he may worry about the players behind him. A hand like or will typically be thrown away, whereas it would not be against a blind re-steal.
In fact, the ideal situation is that you are making a move through three or four players, who hands are becoming progressively weaker. This is crucial as it plays against the fact that their position to call is getting progressively stronger.
Let's say you are playing a stack of 25,000 in the big blind. The player in third position makes it 2,000 to go with , the next player takes him on with , the button sees his opportunity to play , and the small blind cannot resist seeing a flop with .
Now, you see the opportunity to steal 9,000 for free by moving in for 25,000 with , and each player is in a difficult spot to call you.
The player most likely to thwart your plan is the raiser with , but a decent player will know both that this is not a super-strong hand to call such a big bet, and also will know about the implied threat of all the hands behind him. You will often see them pass a hand like this, making the squeeze play such an effective move.
Ed note: Stuart Rutter is a regular on the EPT circuit and the sponsored professional at 32Red Poker - join today for a $500 bonus when you deposit