The evolution of the poker player
Poker players go through an evolutionary process while learning the game. It is almost like a pattern with most players.
Players start off playing loose and taking huge swings. They win a ton by getting lucky one day, and lose a ton the next when all those draws don't come through for them. When players start to learn the odds of the hands they are trying to hit, they start listening to the players around them, criticizing them for chasing such a silly draw.
Inevitably most players tighten up and start to play ring games and tournaments like robots. They always raise A-K, always fold K-2, and become very regimented in their style. In a ring game atmosphere, this style of play can be marginally successful. By contrast, in tournament play it is the kiss of death.
How to become a better player
The interesting question that is heard a lot is what you would do with "such and such hand in middle position in a tournament?" Walk out of the poker room during a break in the tournament and you will hear many people discussing the A-K they were dealt in a certain position and asking should they have raised it, folded it, or what?
The point is, there is no right answer. To be a successful poker player in both ring games and tournaments, you have to get out of that box. You have to learn to be flexible in your game - open up and get away from the tunnel vision that most people have about how to play the game.
One of the biggest obstacles is realizing that you aren't as good as you think. The day you stop thinking you are a good poker player and stop blaming the bad beats for your losses is the day you can leap frogged forward and start to improve your game.
Everyone takes bad beats, whether they are a good player or a bad player. The difference is that really good players play through the bad beats, overcome them, and make money. No matter who you are, a beginner or Erica Schoenberg, there's always something to learn and there are always holes in your game.
The person who starts looking at his game when something goes wrong and tries to fix it, is the player who will improve the fastest. The mistake that many players make is not realizing that there are many ways to play a hand in a tournament. There is no one right answer. You have to adapt to the situation you find yourself in and be able to adjust to that situation. Hopefully make the best decision you can with the information you have.
The play of ace-king is a prime example. More people go broke in tournaments on this hand than any other. It's probably the most overplayed hand there is in poker. Some play it as though it is a pair of aces. The first instinct most players have is to raise, or re-raise all in. No. A-K is a folding hand, it is a calling hand, it is a re-raising hand, and it is an all-in hand. But, it depends on the situation you are facing. The blinds have to be taken into consideration.
The action in front of you has to be looked at. Your own stack size has to be evaluated. Your position in the tournament has to be considered. There are many issues to look at before you decide how to play A-K. I've seen many people in late position facing a raise, an all-in re-raise, and a caller, call with their A-K. Sometimes they get lucky, but more times than not, they are completely dominated and end up walking away from the tournament area freshly broke. A hand like A-K is a drawing hand, not a made hand. Although there are times when you may just call this hand facing a raise, there are other times when you don't need to risk your stack with it. If you are short in a tournament, you may decide to commit and play it. In this case, you will probably want all five flop cards to come down because you are probably drawing against your opponent.
The case of aces cracked
For example, holding A-A may not always be a raising hand. If you are short chipped, most players will raise this hand. Doing so takes the chance of only stealing the blinds if no one calls. You may want to limp in with A-A and hope for a raise behind you pre-flop so you can re-raise your hand. Or, your opponent may hit a pair on the flop to give you action. You want to make more than the blinds because stealing the blinds will only buy you one more orbit on the table. Of course you risk getting busted by limping in rather than raising, but you need the action and the chips to recover from being short chipped. The point is, there's no right answer. You have to be flexible in your game.
Making adjustments to your game as a tournament progresses is critical to your overall tournament success. As blinds increase and people's chip counts start to vary, the way you play your hand will not only depend on your stack and position, but also your opponents' chip position. The decision on how much to raise a hand, call a hand, or even play a hand at all should include your opponents' stack count in your thought process. While you may play a certain hand very passively against a small chip stack because, considering he needs a miracle, he is very likely to call you, you might be a lot more aggressive against a bigger stack with that same starting hand. Decisions on the way you play your hand have to involve every piece of information that you can process.
Stacks, position, blinds, and your opponents' style of play need to be considered. The worst mistake a player can make is to base their decision solely on their own holdings. How many times have you seen someone call all-in holding aces on a flop that most likely has them beat.
You can only sit there and shake your head because had they thought about it and processed the information in front of them longer, they may not be walking away from the table wondering why their A-A was beat by J-9 of spades on a J-J-9 flop. Slow down and process all the information that is in front of you and you will probably start making better decisions in the tournaments that you play. Everyone makes mistakes no matter how good they are at this game. It is the person who makes the least amount of mistakes that sees more success in the long run.
Realizing that there are many ways to play a given hand in a tournament situation will help your game. Processing all the information of the situation in front of you will aid you in making the correct decision. Inevitably, you will make mistakes in your decision or your play. When you make such a mistake, think about it afterwards, considering what you can do differently. When you take a bad beat, think about what led up to that bad beat. Would it have been possible to play the hand differently thus avoiding that beat?
Maybe you made a mistake an hour before? Had you not made that mistake an hour ago, that bad beat you just took may not have taken you out of the tournament; it may have only cost you some chips. Sometimes there is nothing that you can do. If this is the case, it wasn't your day. Many times though, people make critical mistakes over and over again because they are playing by habit and not being flexible to the opponents they are facing.
Practice new things in your game every time you play. Get the feel for playing outside the box. In a tournament, so much more has to be taken into consideration than the cards you are dealt. To be successful consistently in tournaments, you need to be able to process mass amounts of information around you and use it to make good decisions. You have to learn to turn a bad hand into gold, or at least, make it look golden to your opponents.
If you are going to sit and wait forever for aces or kings, tournaments may not be your most profitable poker game, because you turn the game into one that depends mostly on luck and more times than not, you won't win the tournament. Be creative and create your own opportunities. Make more intuitive and educated decisions and you will see your results improve.
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