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Tournament Poker Mistakes

Andrew NS Glazer

What are the three classic mistakes made by players who are nervous, inexperienced or just plain badin in Sit'n Go and Satellites tournaments?

Tournament Poker Mistakes

What are the three classic mistakes made by players who are nervous, inexperienced or just plain bad? Andrew NS Glazer, our resident poker expert, reveals the tell-tale signs of a tournament sucker. If you spot someone else playing like this, go in for the kill. And if you're playing like this - stop it!

Thanks in no small part to television, poker tournaments are now more popular than ever. Even many good money players - who used to shun tournaments, fearing that their profitable anonymity might vanish - can no longer ignore them. The massive amounts of prize money on offer, as well as the potential benefits from resultant corporate sponsorship are simply too alluring.

If you're an experienced player, what are some of the most common errors you can expect the huge influx of new players to make, and what can you do about them?


Ever since a friend mentioned this to me a few months ago, I have been watching carefully for it. Here's an example taken from an online tournament I was playing recently.

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I held A-J suited on the button, an above average hand to be sure, but nothing overwhelming either; against good players it's a trouble hand because you're almost sure to be out-kicked if another Ace is in play, you're a small underdog to most pairs, and you're not that big a favourite when you are up against two other non-paired cards. For example, A-J suited isn't even 2/1 against 8-7 off suit, even though it looks so much better.

Because the button so often tries to steal, though, A-J suited looks pretty good - people will play with you with inferior hands. I had 1,900 in front of me, and raised the big blind's 400 up to 1,200. The big blind moved in, I suppose thinking that there was a chance I could let the hand go, but with 2,600 already in the pot, it's pretty hard to get me to throw almost any hand away. The big blind had two 4s.

If I had moved in, would the big blind have played? Calling with small pairs is one of the worst plays in poker, but because there was almost no chance I would fold, this was in essence what he was doing. Nonetheless, because he was a player I didn't know, I shouldn't have assumed he knew the meaning of 'pot-committed' and just moved my whole stack in.

If you have a hand where your raise does commit you to the pot, you might as well go ahead and move all-in with it. If you're winning, you'll win more, and if you're losing, there's a bigger chance that your opponent will fold.


Earlier in this same tournament, I had flat called from the button with that same trouble hand, A-J suited.

The player just to my right, the cutoff seat, had raised it from 30 to 150. I had played with this guy enough times before to guess that this was one of those rare situations where a call was correct instead of a raise or fold. The big blind also played along.

The flop came small and raggy, something like 9-6-3. The big blind led out for 30. The cut-off called. There was 525 in the pot. For 30, I was going to look at another card. A deuce came off on the turn, and the big blind again bet 30. The cut-off folded. I just could not imagine what kind of hand could warrant a 30 bet, and so even though I thought there was a decent chance I was getting milked (or set up for a trap), I didn't fold.

A Queen hit the river, and here it came again: 30. I can honestly say that I called 99.98% sure I was beaten. For 30, I wanted to see what the big blind had been doing, in case I faced him again. He turned over K-10, and I was startled when the chips were pushed my way. This had been a pure curiosity call. I was not calling for the size of the pot. I just wanted to know.

I do admit, I considered throwing the hand away, and so the big blind was taking a very inexpensive shot at stealing the pot, but the pot was just too large to try this play. I had plenty of chips. 30 wasn't going to mean a thing. If he had bet just 100, my hand would probably have gone in the muck.

The lesson here? If you're going to try to steal a pot with a garbage hand, you have to make it expensive enough so the other player can't call just for the information he'll gain.


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I see tournament novices make this mistake again and again. We're in the same tournament, and this time I manage to get involved with something other than A-J, although not by much: A-Q, in the 50 big blind. Two players had limped, and I decided to look at the flop without a raise, figuring I wouldn't be placed on this particular hand.

The flop came 5d-4s-Qd pretty fair, except for the flush draw. The player to my left was fairly aggressive and I figured he would bet my pot for me. I checked, and sure enough, he bet 100. The other limper called, and I moved in, a raise of about 1,000. I didn't want to give a flush draw the right price to play.

The player on my left called so fast that I assumed he either had the same hand or a small set. The third player got out, and my opponent turned over Kd-9d a non-nut flush draw. There was 550 in the pot, and he was going to have to put 1,000 in to go for the hand.

There was a pretty reasonable case for him to think that he had outs other than diamonds, that is, for him to think that the other three Kings were also outs. This gave him 12 outs and roughly 46% winning chances, although if I had been semi-bluffing with the nut flush draw, certainly a realistic possibility, he was in bad shape.

I suspect this fellow wasn't even thinking about his Kings as outs; he was, as I've seen with so many players, just too excited about having a big draw. Draws are death in tournaments. They might be fine in your limit money game, where six people see the flop, but calling with a draw is just asking to be eliminated. There's no chance to win with your bet: your hand has to hold up, and you haven't made a hand yet.

Naturally, recognising that you're playing someone who will call big bets with draws is a double-edged sword. You may not want to bet if you don't really want the action. If you can make the drawer's price terrible, though, the play is worthwhile. Where you can really find an edge is when you locate someone who will call with a draw with just one card to come, rather than two. Just hope you can get either of these guys on your left, and bet them for value until the cows come home.

Even if the pot had been large enough to offer my opponent fair pot odds, you're not looking for fair pot odds situations in tournaments either. Chips are just too difficult to replenish, and only a weak player would gamble like that.

It can be tough to let your hand go if you haven't been catching cards or hitting flops. If you bet enough to stand a very good chance of winning with the bet, you can consider it. Calling for most or all of your stack with a draw is only slightly better than calling with small pairs. At least when you call with your draw, if it is the nut draw, you don't risk running into a dominated hand situation, where you're a 9/2 underdog.

I wouldn't argue too strongly with someone who felt that calling a huge bet with a pure draw, even a draw to the nuts, is actually the worst play in poker. The pot odds you're getting might prove to be a mitigating factor, because even if it is your whole stack you're putting at risk, if four people have already gone all-in and you're sitting with the nut flush draw (knowing you are up against at least one set, possibly more, so suited cards that pair the board are no use to you), the play can be right.

Realistically, though you're not going to run into that sort of situation more than once or twice in your life. Big bet poker is usually heads-up, and when you can't replenish your stack, merely calling with a hand that isn't yet a hand usually spells doom.

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