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Sklansky's System

poker babe Celina Lin Even the most simplistic and predictable system based on moving all-in preflop - where you do it each and every hand, can have surprisingly effective results in a specific scenario.

Accordingly, we are now going to discuss the methodology used to come up with these results. We will do this by analyzing a basic, but very common, scenario that is going to come up in a no-limit Texas hold 'em tournament when we choose to play a strategy like this. In this scenario, everyone folds to us, and there are a certain number of players yet to act behind us, including the blinds. At this point, we want our system to help us evaluate our basic decision - do we bet everything, or do we fold?

Like all decisions in poker, this one is an issue of risk versus reward. Therefore, we will introduce our first and most important concept, and that is the ratio of the money we are risking with an all-in move versus the money put in the pot from blinds and antes. All decisions that we make will ultimately boil down to comparing this ratio to a numerical value. If we see that the ratio is above this value, we fold; if it's below this value, we move all-in.

How to play Sklansky's system

Henceforth, we will refer to this value as the Breakpoint, and all the variables are going to boil into that one decision. With a certain hand, in a certain situation, and having certain chip stacks, we know what the Breakpoint is; if our variables give us a number at or below Breakpoint, we bet it all, otherwise, we fold.

First, we will lay down some assumptions, mainly for simplifying our calculations: if we have the best hand preflop based on two card rankings, everyone left will fold; otherwise, exactly one of those people will call us; if we are called, the hand calling us is equally likely to come from any position; other than our own cards, we will assume that there is no effect of removal. Under these circumstances, here's how we calculate the Breakpoint for a given hand, using an example where there are eight players left to act, the blinds are 50 and 100, and we have AK suited.

By our assumptions above, the only hand that will call is a pair. Of the 2,450 possible combinations with the cards left, 144 make one pair. That's a 94.12% chance of one opposing hand having no pair, and a 61.60% chance of nine consecutive opponents having no pair and letting us steal the blinds, winning 150 chips. For the 38.40% of the time that we run into a pair, (thanks to pokerstove computer program) AK suited will win, on average, 45.59% of the time, and we will win what's already in the pot as well as doubling the rest of our stack.

If we make this move when our stack is 3,503.63 and the blinds are 50/100, we will break exactly even in the long run, meaning that, if you are over-betting the pot by 23:1 or less with AK suited in front of eight players, you must show a profit in the long run, even if everyone can see what cards you have!

In a perfect system, we would have a Breakpoint for each hand and each number of players yet to act. However, this is highly impractical, so we will assume each breakpoint is linearly proportional to the number of players yet to act, and use the Breakpoints from calculations that assume you have only one hand left to beat.

This will cause you to err on the side of caution when facing many players behind you, holding hands that have little chance of being the best but decent chances of drawing out on almost anything, like small pairs or suited connectors. As a result, we will mollify the impact of the biggest error our assumptions introduce, and that is the assumption we will always be heads-up when we call; in fact, having aggravated our opponents for hours with nothing but all-in moves preflop, one could almost expect a larger than normal chance of this happening.

So, without further ado, here's the first rule of our improved "System", which tells us how to calculate the value you will compare to the Breakpoint, a value which we will call the "Risk": if you are the first person in the pot, divide your stack by the total blind and ante money. Multiply this ratio by the number of players yet to act behind you to get your Risk. If the Risk is at or below the Breakpoint for your hand, move all-in.

One example of the Sklansky system

One thing to point out - notice how well AK does as a move-in hand: third best when suited, fifth best when offsuit. This is why we disagree strongly with authors who say that moving all-in with AK is generally a horrible play on the grounds that even a pair of deuces is a favorite. While this is true, you are just as likely to be an underdog preflop when you have deuces as when you have AK, and when you're an underdog with deuces, you're a huge one, but it is virtually impossible to be a big dog with AK. Incidentally, pocket deuces have a Breakpoint of 25, putting it on par with ace-five suited or ace-eight offsuit as a move-in hand.

Here's a typical scenario to show our calculations. With blinds of 400/800 and a 25-chip ante, you are the first of ten players to act with a stack of 10,000 and you are dealt AK suited. There is 1,400 in the pot, and your stack is a bit more than 7 times that. A ratio of 7:1 x 9 players to act gives a Risk of 63, well below the Breakpoint of 185, so you push in. If the blinds were only, say, 50/100, our Risk would be 8 times larger at well over 400, meaning that even pushing a pair of kings would be unprofitable if only aces will call us.

When others have entered the pot ahead of us, we calculate our Risk as normal, and then we multiply by the so-called "Volunteer Factor" to get our final Risk value. The Volunteer Factor starts at one, and for each person who limps into the pot, add one to the VF. If they raise, or call a raise, instead of adding one, add the "multiple" of their bet to the big blind. Here are some examples. In all cases, we assume the blinds are 200/400 and we have a stack of 6,000 on the button, so barring additional players in the pot, a stack-to-blind ratio of 10:1 and two players to act gives us a starting Risk of 20.

1. One person limps in front of us. Here, we multiply our Risk of 20 by a Volunteer Factor of 2 (us + 1 limper) for a final Risk of 40, meaning we would push with 66+, ATs+ and AJo+.

2. Someone opens for a raise to 900. The person entering the pot is raising the big blind to 225% its original value, so our VF is 3.25 (us + 2.25:1 raise), giving us a final risk of 65. We'd be re-raising with nines or better, and any AQ or better.

3. Someone opens for a raise to 1,400. The opening raise here is to 350% of the big blind, so our VF is 4.5, and our final risk is 90. Jacks or better, AQs and any AK are needed to make this all-in re-raise.

4. Someone raises to 1,400 and a second player raises to 6,000. Duck. Well, not quite, but close enough. Going with our System, the two raises are to 350% and 1,500%, for a VF of 19.5, and our System would only have us move in with two aces.

You might make adjustments based on your observations, and another question to think about is what to do if we are in the big blind and see the flop for free.


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