I Suck At Tournament Poker

March 8, 2013

God, it sure feels like I do. I mean, my history in online tournaments pre-Black Friday and even playing live up through all of 2011 suggests otherwise, but my success (or lack thereof) since the start of 2012–particularly in big ($150+) events–has been…unsettling. I managed to post a profit in tournaments last year and went deep in multiple major events, but the overall result is lackluster and disappointing. So far in 2013, I’ve fizzled out of a couple events and have been cold decked out of a few others. All these experiences have lead me to the following conclusions:

a) I handle the short term luck factor in tournaments very poorly. This is a concept that creeps into my limit hold em cash games very seldom. Generally, when it comes to variance in cash games, I realize that over time, all the money I lose when I get unlucky eventually comes back, with interest, and often within the same session. I also grasp the fact that these frequent beats are a result of poor play and that errors from opponents is how I make money playing poker. Therefore, I never berate players and rarely tilt, spending as much time playing my A-game as possible. I have a much harder time applying these same concepts to tournament play. Perhaps it’s the absolute nature of tournament poker: once your chips are gone, you’re out. If you get unlucky or coolered in a massive pot, you are usually out or crippled, and the amount of chips you have directly correlates with how you can play. And when you bust out, you might have to wait a month to play in another good event. All of this tends to make me highly upset during a tournament and almost always afterwards. I mean, I don’t want to be bothered by anyone and my day of poker is usually mentally over with. For the third time in less than two months, I immediately left the casino instead of waiting for the dinner break to use my free meal voucher and socialize with the other players. I lose, I’m gone. No goodbyes. Rarely a “nice hand.” It’s not a good look.

b) I have no idea what style suits me best. Without a doubt, I’ve experienced my most success using a tight-aggressive (TAG) and frequently nitty style. The problem is, while this style gets me to the money most often, it also leaves me short stacked in the late stages of tournaments and relies far too heavily on what cards I’m being dealt (luck) and has much less to do with playing position correctly, exploiting my opponents’ tendencies, staying unpredictable, and playing poker after the flop (skill). However, my ventures into playing a loose-aggressive (LAG) style have led me to continual destruction (often self-inflicted). I have little doubt that a controlled LAG style is the best way to play tournaments, as it makes you highly unpredictable and sets you up to make the final table with a bundle of chips and the ability to make moves your short stacked opponents can’t afford to. Note that I said “controlled,” which seems to be where I go wrong. My use of the LAG style is frequently misguided and random, as I’ll show when I start talking about the $180 tournament I played at Little Creek on Friday night. Ultimately, the biggest problem here is that the TAG style is my comfort zone. It’s not how I want to play, but it’s the style I feel most comfortable using and my history of experimenting with the LAG style has been… questionable.

So last night, I’m playing in the $180 event of the Spring Classic at Little Creek Casino and within the first two levels I run JJ and TT into overpairs on favorable boards and lose a bunch of chips, but stay alive. Then I flop a full house with QQ in a raised pot and make 0 chips after the flop and then I flop another boat with 22 in a 3-way raised pot and manage a measly +700 in chips. I raise with 99 over one limper and both blinds also call. We see a flop of TT6 and only the big blind calls my bet of 500. At this point in the hand, I feel like I should tell another story.

Flashback to the Fall Classic $230 Main Event at Little Creek last year. I get into a massive leveling war with the big blind in the hand I’m talking about in the last paragraph. A few people limp into the pot for 200 or 300, something in that range, and I make it at least 1000 on the button (OTB) with a deep stack holding the monstrous T8o. The big blind repops me to, say, 2700 and everyone in between folds. My first instinct is to fold, well, because I just got caught with my pants down and T8o isn’t exactly AK… but then I start thinking… I already have this guy sized up as someone that pays attention and is capable of making plays and realize that he probably realizes that I’m raising light. So if I know that he knows this, how can I possibly let him get away with it. For the first time that I can remember, I pull off the preflop 4-bet bluff and make it 6500 to go. For some reason on this day, I have chosen to sit with my chair backwards so that my arms can rest on top of the chair and my face is basically buried in my arms. I am nervous, oh boy, am I nervous, but this is the same posture I’ve taken the entire tournament. Regardless, after sizing me up for quite some time, this guy pulls the trigger and ships it all in. I spend very little time posing for the cameras before tossing my hand into the muck and he turbo fastrolls 96o. Good play, sir. And the lesson learned here is that if I trust my read, I can’t let him have the last move (the 5-bet shove) because even if he “knows” I’m bluffing, he can’t call me, much like I couldn’t call him even though I was sure he was full of it.

Flashfoward to the 99 on the TT6 flop. After he calls my flop bet, I’ve already determined that a) I’m showing down and b) I’m going to keep the pot small. So I check back on the turn and call an 1100 bet on the river and he shows me JT. Nice.

I definitely have a fishy image at this point because I’ve had lots of big hands and I’ve shown NONE of them so far, so when it folds to me in the small blind and I raise to 450 with AQ the big blind makes it 1475 quickly and with a tone in his voice that says: “find someone else to pick on.” So… I shove it on his ass and he folds.

Then, I proceed to play AK so poorly that I’m not going to write about it out of fear that no one will ever back me again. I mean, seriously… Worst. Line. Ever.

So now I’ve been involved in a number of pots, have lost almost 67% of my stack, and I’ve tabled zero hands. My terrible image is still intact. Blinds are 50/100, one player limps, the button makes it 500, the worst player at the table in the small blind flats, and I look down at QQ. I’m sitting on 6200, which creates for a rather awkward situation. My inclination is to just shove it here, but that’s a huge re-raise and I want at least some action on my hand. I opt to 3-bet it to 2000, an amount that virtually commits me to the pot, and my plan is that, if called, I’m going to shove it all-in on any flop unless something dictates that I shouldn’t. This is a gambling line, but I want chips. I’ll take the risk. Everyone folds except for the kid in the small blind which is the perfect result. He checks to me on the KJx flop and I shove my remaining 42 big blinds into the pot and he calls pretty quickly with AT for… a gut shot. I’m holding two blockers and he somehow misses his 5-outer and I have a playable stack again.

Naturally, my playable stack lasts one orbit before this happens: Blinds are 100/200, the kid from last hand limps, I limp in with 99, one other player and the button limp in, the small blind completes, and the big blind raises to… 400! Yes, a min-raise. I’d love to hear the thought process on that one. The kid calls, and I briefly consider 3-betting because given the action so far, I almost certainly have the best hand and should be able to take it down right here. Alas, my confidence is shot and I decide to just call, as does everyone else. 6-way action for 2400 to see a flop of T98 with two diamonds. Not the best flop for a set, but the pot is big enough that I’m never folding here with my stack size. The big blind leads out for 700, lighting those chips on fire and kissing them goodbye because, well, because he just announced that he has absolutely nothing with such a weak beat on a super dangerous board. The bad player to my right makes it 1400. Perfect. I practically min-raise it to 3000, prepared to get it all in if anyone comes over the top of me, but everyone folds around to the kid, who only has 3100 total, which he proceeds to shove into the pot as he fastrolls TT for top set. FML. I actually have a chance to fold here for 100 more, but I’m getting 85 to 1 and it’s probably correct to draw to my 1-outer. I miss it and am back to short stacking it.

Final hand. Folds around to the button who has yet to not raise in this situation. He makes it 700 to go, the loose kid to my right calls, and I look down at A8. A few things to consider here that I didn’t take the time to think over at the table. The button has open-raised in this situation four times now. Once, I 3-bet with QQ and he got out of the way pretty quickly. Another time, I flat called with A2o and he checked the flop and turn when medium cards hit the board and folded when I bluffed the river after a 4-card straight showed up. Giving this information, calling preflop makes a lot more sense as this opponent took a pretty passive line with a hand he missed with and folded without resistance when I bluffed the river and he folded when I 3-bet the queens… so when I decide to raise it up to 2700, I’m only going to get action when he can… go all-in. Which he does. I deliberate for quite a while and study him. I’m not getting much information there, so I start looking at my pot odds and realize, with horror, that I’ve priced myself in with A8o for my tournament life. Awful planning on my part. Just terrible. I shake my head and put my chips in and he shows me QQ and the dealer wastes little time killing me off as he brings out the Queen high flop. GG.

Honestly, I’m so discouraged with my tournament play that I went to the cashier and had to go through the arduous and embarrassing process of refunding my tournament buy-in for the main event because well, I don’t want to waste my time and money (or my backers’ money) when I’m not feeling good about my game. I’ve had some terrible luck in the Oregon tournaments, but my play in the local ones has been pretty awful. I just need a break to collect my thoughts and think about what I need to fix.

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