Poker Survival II

I’ve been thinking again about my recent (and very long) post on equity vs. survival in MTTs – and by survival I don’t mean playing too tight-weak-passive, and as a result have no chance of making the money, let alone winning. This is of course not a long term winning poker strategy, and not what I was advocating.

Maybe an example is the way to explain it better. I read recently a report about Hellmuth playing in a big event. At one point he had the nut flush draw and two overcards, giving him 15 outs with two cards to come. The other guy had a pair and went all in. Hellmuth could have called for all his chips at a point where at worst he was likely to be around 50/50 to win, and he was getting much better pot odds that that. He folded rather than risk going out. Some of the other pros criticised the play saying he had the odds to call. But it isn’t so daft if you think you are the better player and if your priority is winning this particular tournament rather than, say, moving across to the cash game in the corner or signing up to an event online. Basically by calling you are agreeing to take a close gamble, and if the other guy is the weaker player that is exactly what he wants. Why give a poor player what he wants?

I remember Sklansky in Theory of Poker talking about the (few) times when you might give up +EV. He says that you are right to do this if by giving up a small edge now you will be alive to take a bigger edge later. That kind of fits with my thesis: if you see your current stack of tournament chips as a finite resource then you are right to wait for the best opportunity before committing them. This is because losing knocks you out of the game. But if you see this current tournament stack as just one buy in (because you can buy into another tournament in a few minutes if you lose) then you are right to take every edge. This is because if you lose, you are still in the game. It depends what you mean when you talk about ‘the game’.

As I said previously, when I first read Harrington I was shocked by the number of times he recommends calling with marginal hands in tournaments. What surprised me wasn’t the fact that he played the hands, but that he let somebody else go all in and then called for all his chips, even when he had a big stack and could have passed the gamble. So it was the (apparently) passive nature of his play that alarmed me.

Anyway, I hope this gives some of you food for thought!

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