Monday, July 16, 2007

MATH Pimp, and Stealing & Restealing Late in Tournaments

Well it's Monday again and that can mean only one thing:



Last week we had 38 players in the weekly Monday night MATH tournament on full tilt, the largest ever non-BBT gathering for the MATH, and I look forward to more of the same this week as well. So come on out to Mondays at the Hoy tonight at 10pm ET on full tilt (password as always is "hammer") and try your mettle against the worstbest and brightestdonkiest that the poker blogging world has to offer in a good old-fashioned no-limit holdem tournament. And to clarify something that has been asked here and on other blogs many times over the past several months, there are absolutely no requirements or prerequisites for anyone out there to be able to play in the MATH, or the Wednesday night Mookie or biweekly Thursday night Riverchasers events -- all you have to do is have (or get) a funded online poker account at full tilt, and that's it Then you just need to look under the "Tournaments" tab in the full tilt lobby, under the "Private" sub-tab, and find Monday night's Mondays at the Hoy tournament at 22:00 with a $26 buyin. Use the password "hammer" to sign up, and that's all it takes. One thing about the MATH is that we love new players here, and that can include new poker players entirely, people who've played poker before but not so much online, or experienced online poker players who have simply never been manly enough to try to face the bloggers head-to-head like this. Several first-time players have cashed and even won the MATH tournament over the past year or so, so tonight is as good a night as any to get started in the weekly phenomenon known as Mondays at the Hoy on full tilt.

Today I wanted to write briefly on a topic about which I have been asked numerous times, and something which seems to come up in my blog comments, and in personal email / girly chat conversations fairly often. I really can't count how many times I've been asked over the past few years something along the lines of "How do you steal the blinds?" or "How do you resteal?" or, a bit more specifically, "How do you know when is a good time to resteal?" Obviously (at least I think this is obvious, as is probably apparent to you if you're an avid reader of this or the KOD's blog), stealing the blinds and antes is an absolutely critical skill for anyone who hopes to make a deep run in one of the large online mtt's. I would go so far as to say that I think it is truly impossible to win a, say, 1000+ person nlh tournament without stealing the blinds. I think it is very easy to avoid all blind steals for the first few rounds of an online mtt, maybe even through the first hour or two if you are particularly afraid of getting caught red-handed when making this move, but as the blinds keep going up and up and up, and especially once the antes kick in and they themselves start to really get up there, it is practically impossible to stay alive through just waiting for good cards. There's just not enough of them to stay ahead of the ever-increasing blinds and antes, especially once the tables start to get short-handed as you get down to the final 4 or 5 tables in a big mtt.

Thus, you have to steal. And more than that, you also have to resteal. That is, there is so much stealing going on in the late, well ITM stages of these big mtts, that quite often the late-position preflop raiser doesn't actually have anything worth playing, certainly nothing worth playing to an appropriately-sized reraise. And the thing about restealing is, it is worth way more in terms of chips won than any kind of a regular blinds-and-antes steal, so that makes it all the more important to a long-term survival strategy in the low-M late stages of mostly all online mtts. By way of example to show how much more worthwhile restealing can be than regular stealing, imagine you are down to the last 4 or 5 tables in a 1000-person mtt, and the tables are currently playing 7-handed. Blinds at this point in the tournament are likely to be in the neighborhood of 4000-8000 with an ante of 1000 chips. So imagine the action folds around to you on the button, and you raise the big blind up 3x (to 24,000 chips total) and take down the pot on a run-of-the-mill steal opportunity. In that case, you have just won the 4000 from the small blind, 8000 from the big blind, and 1000 in antes x 7 players to ante, for a total of 4k + 8k + 7k or 19k. That is 19,000 chips straight into your stack, at a time when the average stack in the tournament could easily be somewhere around 100k. Not a bad haul at all considering that you might have had nothing playable at all in your hand.

But now look at how great a resteal is for your same average 100k stack. Now you're in the big blind, and the action folds to the cutoff, who raises it up to 24k on a steal attempt. Sitting on the button, you sense weakness in the cutoff's move, and so you move allin over the top for your entire 100k stack, the blinds fold and the cutoff folds his naked steal. Now look what you've just won. The same 4k and 8k in blinds, plus the same 7k in antes, but now you throw in an additional 24k representing the steal-bet made by the preflop stealer. Now that is 43k added to your stack, and when you're only sitting on 100k in total tournament chips, that 43k is a huge thing to have happen to you. That's why the resteal is so important to make a part of your general tournament strategy if you wish to last to the very end of the big online mtts: it is just too profitable of an opportunity -- and too often that late position preflop raisers are in fact just stealing without a raise-callable hand -- to pass up. In a game where it becomes all about survival at the end, to pass up the many possible opportunities to add 50% to your stack basically regardless of what two cards you have been dealt, especially where the other players you are likely competing against near the end of these big mtts will be taking advantage of such restealing opportunities, you are putting yourself at such a significant disadvantage as compared to your peers that it will turn the difficult enough task of late-stage mtt survival into almost a virtual impossibility.

OK so then the question becomes: when do you steal, and more importantly, when do you resteal? What kinds of things should one look for when comtemplating executing a resteal that could either end your tournament run right there (if you happen to resteal into pocket Aces, for example, as has happened to me many times) or get you right back into contention more or less right away? This is of course the key to the whole issue, and all I can say is that mostly for me this is dependent on feel. Sometimes I just get a read from another player that they are stealing, and the best advice I can give is that you have to go with your instincts. You need to understand and accept that anytime you do a steal, or more commonly a resteal, in the very late stages of a big mtt, you are putting your tournament life on the line. That's the way it works, and sometimes you're going to make a mistake because no one's reads are perfect 100% of the time. But this is a risk that you simply have to internalize and be willing to accept if you want to make it all the way in the big online mtts. Nobody ever wins these things without ever stealing blinds, and restealing blinds and steal-raises from restealers.

So what sorts of factors enter into my equation when contemplating a steal or a resteal late in a large mtt? Here is a non-exhaustive list:

1. The first general advice I like to follow when contemplaing late-stage steals and resteals is the stack sizes involved. Generally speaking, I try not to steal from small stacks, because #1 they've already made the money so they are going to be less likely to just fold to hang on than they would be, say, on the bubble of this tournaments, and #2 the pot odds alone often dictate that they call many steals or resteals with their small relative stacks size. And as far as I'm concerned, the biggest mistake you can make late in an mtt is to steal into a guy who feels pot committed and "has" to call you when you are in fact holding two shitty cards. So you have to pay attention to the stack sizes of your steal and resteal targets to make sure they're not so small that they are likely to call you with ATC (any two cards) just based on pot odds.

Similarly, I generally try to avoid restealing from the biggest stacks in the tournament. First, these guys have so many chips that they might be willing to call with a lesser hand and just see if they can make a pair or something else on the flop and try to chase you down. Secondly and probably more importantly for the particularly aggressive players, stealing or even restealing from a monster stack opens up the possibility that he could re-steal (vs. your steal), or re-resteal (vs. your resteal) with ATC if he senses weakness in you. So you're opening yourself up to a potential folding situation where you put in a big raise against a guy who has the chips to make another larger move right back at you. Generally speaking I prefer to avoid these potential situations entirely to the extent that I can, which is why I say you really want to target the middle stacks -- those players who are not feeling the extreme blinds crunch yet, the guys who are not so huge that they can call or even reraise you with a very wide playing range, nor so small that they almost have to call whenever they have committed any money to the pot, either from a blind, an ante or having bet at the pot so far.

One of the first things I do when I get moved to a new table in the late ITM stages of a big mtt is to look at the stack sizes of all the players around my table. Obviously a bunch of big stacks at my table can be troubling for a lot of reasons, and dealing with the small stacks can pose its own set of problems, but what I'm really looking for is a bunch of guys who have medium sized stacks to be able to best take advantage. These are the guys who have enough chips that they're not yet feeling the pressure of the blinds and antes threatening to force them into playing one of the next few hands they are dealt, guys who still feel like with a little bit of luck they can play their way right back into the top 10 of remaining players in the tournament, and yet guys who have enough chips that they can lay down to your steal, or more importantly even if you re-steal their steal, and still have sufficient chips left over to keep playing their game and get right back into the thick of things. So for example, in the situation I gave above where the blinds are 4k-8k and antes are 1k, and the average stack size in the event is 100k, I am looking for the guys in the 80k-120k range or so from whom to execute most of my steals. The guy with 50k in chips left is likely to feel priced in after putting in 24k on a steal-raise, such that if I re-steal from him he might just call based purely on pot odds alone. Similarly, the guy in 3rd place with 380k in chips might be willing to re-steal from me when I open-raise it up to 24k from the button, which would require him to commit maybe 75k in chips to a reraise, an amount which he could afford to lose even if he has to fold to an allin re-reraise from me if that's what happens. So these are the guys I want to avoid restealing from, instead focusing on the middle stacks who have the most to lose by losing a big pot to me, and yet still have enough chips to be restealable against because they can post the big blind, and/or make a steal-raise, and still get away from the hand with a sufficient stack to play another day.

2. Closely related to point #1 is that I prefer to steal and resteal against players I have seen lay down to this sort of play before. Like much of poker, paying attention to the action -- in particular when you are not in the hand -- is paramount when it comes to this point, but you simply have to be paying attention as you get into late-stage ITM play in mtts to which players make the kind of plays that you are likely to be able to take advantage of. In particular, I am looking for two types of patterns to target with my raises and steal-raises. First, people who I observe laying down their blinds to late-position raises without a fight. There are lots of people like this, even lateish in big mtts, and it's important that you key on which of those players do not like to put up a fight, and do not like to resteal, when they don't have anything. Not only will this help you to isolate the players who are not likely to push back at you when you try to steal their blinds, but it will also come in handy when that player does come over the top when you try to steal from him, such that you can more readily put him on a real hand and consider laying down your hand as a result. Secondly, I am looking especially hard for the players who seem to be putting in an inordinate amount of steal-raises themselves. While any player can pick up any two cards on any one given hand, it is highly unlikely that someone is always raising strong when I have personally observed them steal the blinds from late position on, say, 4 or 5 occasions in an hour. While anything is possible of course, under such circumstances it is just far more likely that they've been steal-raising quite a bit, and that is just the kind of player that I tend to target with my resteals, one of the most profitable late-stage mtt moves. Ideally I am looking for a guy who is on a medium-sized stack, and someone whom I have observed making multiple steal-raises in the past. When a guy like this puts a move from the button on me in one of the blinds, I am fixing to come over the top of that man with many of my possible holdings in that spot.

3. This leads to my final point about stealing and restealing -- to some degree it does depend on the cards you hold in your hand. In other words, if I have a strong enough read on someone, I might go for a resteal with ATC. I've stolen pots with 52o, 74o, J2o, you name it and I've stolen with it. But generally speaking, since there is of course always the chance that you're actually running into a hand and/or that the other player might just call even without a great hand because he or she feels pot committed at that point, it is always nice to have the kind of a hand that you might be able to win a showdown with if necessary. This has a couple of implications that I try to follow when planning my steals and resteals late in big mtts. First, despite what I just mentioned above, generally I don't like to steal with two low cards like 52o. The problem here is that even if my opponent has a shitty hand, he might call and flip up Q8, 97, etc. -- two overcards to my two cards which in most cases will give my opponent a greater than 60% chance against me hot and cold. And "hot and cold" -- that is, playing two hands heads-up against each other seeing all five cards -- is basically what I concern myself with here since most of the time in these late-stage steal-resteal mtt situations, one of the players gets allin so you turn 'em up and see the board through the river to decide the winner. So generally you don't want to steal or resteal with two low cards without a very strong read, or you're looking at a 30-something percent chance to win once the cards and turned up.

Similarly, I try to avoid big resteals even with just one very low card -- say a 2, 3 or 4, because this also leaves your odds of winning not in great shape. Say I try to steal or resteal a big pot with Q2, and a guy calls me with ATC. Assuming he is not also holding a 2 -- a very good assumption, mathematically speaking and especially since he is calling my steal raise here -- then whatever two cards he has are going to basically leave me with not great odds of winning. If he has one card above my Queen, then both of his cards are above both of my corresponding cards, and once again I'm looking at a 40% dog or slightly worse hot-and-cold in most of those situations. And even if neither of his cards are as high as my Queen -- say he is sitting on 98 or something like that -- then his two middle cards (98) vs. my top-and-bottom unpaired cards (Q2) will still make him only about a 44% underdog to my hand. Low cards -- even very low pairs like 22, 33 and 44 -- can be the kiss of death in these restealing situations sometimes, because you are either going to be a significant dog if the other player actually has a hand, or at best a very slight favorite against most ATC holdings that your opponent might call with.

So I've described a bit what kinds of cards I don't like to steal with. Now, what kinds of cards do I like to have when I do a steal? First, I am looking for cards that have some likelihood of being a favorite, which generally means two high cards of some kind. So, folded around to me on the button, I might raise it up with QT. With these two high cards, even if my opponent happens to have a King and a low card, making him the favorite in the hand if he calls me allin, now I'm the one with the two middle cards who is only a 44% dog in the hand. And QT is ahead of many hands that my opponent might conceivably call my allin with given the low Ms involved near the end of most of the big mtts -- hands like Q9, JT, T9, T8, 98, 87, and not to mention all the low pairs that would likely call as well which leave me as only a 48 or 49% dog overall, easily more than made up for by the pot odds after just the blinds and antes are in the pot.

Even if I don't feel like my cards are especially likely to be the favorite, there are still a number of favorable options that may not contain the highest card in any of the players' starting hands (and are thus not the preflop favorite) but still present a number of ways for me to make a big hand and win. For example, I will steal readily in the right spot with a hand like JTs or T9s. Usually, either of my hole cards pairing should win this sort of pot, and in addition any straight or any flush are likely winners as well. Against any reasonable holdings for my opponent, a suited connector like this is going to have pretty solid odds -- usually at least in the low 40s percentage-wise, to win the hand heads-up through the river, so that's where I want to be. The only kind of hand I tend to try to avoid in this spot is an easily-dominated hand like A4 or K6. While often pushing with any Ace or any King can work to your advantage, there is simply nothing worse odds-wise than pushing allin on a resteal, getting called and finding out that you are dominated. Stealing with KTs is one thing -- a hand that would be pure shit early in a tournament against a preflop raiser, but which, in the late stages against late-position open-raisers who are just as likely to be making a move with ATC as they are with two high cards -- but stealing with K5 or K4 can be the end of your run when your opponent calls and flips up that KT or K8s. Generally speaking, low cards are death in hot-and-cold situations, which is what you're dealing with late ITM in these big mtts. Yes the low cards tend to be live, but all things considered I would rather avoid the whole issue of needing two live cards by avoiding making moves with hands that are easily dominated, in particular by the very hands that are likely to call my allin steal-raise to begin with. So don't try to steal with A2 or A3 if you can help it -- you will often find that the hands most likely to call you are other Aces, in which case you are basically at least 3-to-1 against winning, or maybe the two-face-card hands which themselves are only very slight dogs to your Axo hand.

Hopefully this has helped clarify somewhat some of the things I think about when considering stealing and restealing in the late-stage ITM mtt context. If I ever get the time I plan to do a nice writeup of my back-to-back final tables in last week's 50-50 tournaments on full tilt, which I assure you were chock full of almost nothing but steals and resteals, to help drive this point home. But even if I never get around to that post, hopefully this will be at least somewhat helpful to some of you out there striving to improve your end game in the big online mtts.

See you tonight for Mondays at the Hoy!

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14 Comments:

Blogger Schaubs said...

Somewhat helpful? Dude, this post was awesome. Exactly what we all needed to hear from you, so I think I speak for everyone when I say "Thank you very very much!"

Do you also apply a similar strategy to bubble play?

Resteals might be harder to pull off since the guys stealing are the larger stacks, or the smaller ones just push-stealing.

Regardless of the size of the tournament?

I could see myself using these types of moves in smaller live tournaments too where my reads and my feel for the table might be more accurate. Of course, as you said, stack size is the key and giving the opportunity for the stealer to fold to your resteal.

Ok I'm going to read this post again later, and probably again and again until I've got it down.

You can't even get this shit in a book! Maybe you should just write one and be done with it...

3:12 AM  
Blogger Blinders said...

Got a bit of a problem with the analysis. I like to put things in terms of EV and not chips won. There is a HUGE difference in your two examples. Stealing from late is an obvious move and is +EV when played corectly. You are putting a small portion of your stack into a pot where nobody has shown any strength yet. The blinds are out of position so it is hard for them to call even with a decent hand. Also, you can fold if the blinds play back if you did it with ATC. Factor all that in and I see the steal move as +EV easy.

Your resteal example where you push all-in with ATC I guess (you did not specify) will win you more chips when it works, but you are putting 4x the chips at risk and after strength has been shown. Sometimes the preflop raiser has something, or feels they are priced in and you will be heading to the rail after that move. What you described as a resteal, I would say is -EV (take this for face value as I am no MTT expert like you are). I think that much more goes into +EV resteal than what you describe. Position of the raiser, your position, stack sizes, raisers image, your image.....

All this makes things a bit more complicated, and makes it such that people experimenting with resteals often bury themselves, while people like you can do it to much success. I like the post, but are you keeping some info close to the vest here, or is it just way to complicated to nail in a singlr post?

3:37 AM  
Blogger Goat said...

I think it's impossible to actually quantify how and when to re-steal. It is all the things that Hoy mentioned, but it's also 'feel'.

Risking your whole stack on a feel. That's what it comes down to.

When it's on, you crush.

When it's off, you go home now again and again and again.

On the rare occasions when I have 'it', I do very nicely. Then I piddle it away again.

This is why even great MTT players go long stretches without a win; because it goes cold. Whatever the hell 'it' is.

I wish I could bottle it. Hoy, I think you've come as close as anybody could to writing it down. Very nice post.

3:54 AM  
Blogger DaSwam said...

Excellent post as usual. A few questions before I go back and re-read to make sure I digested everything.

1)When stealing, what amount do you typically raise with? It is obviously dependent on the size of the blinds, but when do you raise 3x or 4x the BB as opposed to open shoving?

2) Likewise on the re-steal, when do you raise 3x or 4x his original raise and when do you shove over the top?

3) When employing this method, is it crucial to keep the same pattern even when you wake up with a real hand, or do you try to disguise the monsters (AA, KK, AK, etc.)?

3:56 AM  
Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

Hoy,
It's no secret that your recent posts regarding the 50-50 opened up my eyes in regards to the resteal and how powerful a tool that is. Also reading KOD's "how to win MTTs" post was very solid in terms of understanding the strategy behind it and as such I've been using that more. Probably not enough but definitely more than before.

The key, like you mentioned is the opponent's stack size. A raisable hand by a medium stack in late position doesn't translate into a hand that can call a reraise. Which is why the resteal works and is a powerful tool.

And Blinders mentioned -EV... I'm not gonna get into a EV discussion here because that does seem right up Blinders' alley but I think in a tournament, where you have a limited time to catch hands, you're gonna have to take the chance that the fold equity is enough to make up for whatever -EV value your hand alone might be facing.

Honestly, everything you've written here today is more a confirmation based on what I've been reading from you and KOD recently. But here's one thing I want to know...

How do you counter a resteal? Few weeks back, there was a situation in the Big Game I think where I raised with AJ late position and the BB (I think it was Wes) reraised me all in. The reason why I thought long and hard wasn't because I was just wondering if AJ was good enough against a normal reraising hand range. Rather, it was because I was wondering if he was restealing (cuz I raised from the CO) and if I included the restealable hand range, if my AJ might be good.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

One another note. Funny how you said you like to resteal with hands like Q-10 where there is a chance you're ahead. Those are exactly the hands I personally don't like to resteal because I feel like those are exactly the kind of hands that I could be dominated...

3:59 AM  
Blogger lj said...

sigh. i just wish you'd written this before yesterday. i assume the resteal is really only to be used when blinds are very high, and the money to be picked up in the pot is significant to your chip stack? or do you resteal even when it adds only a small percentage to your stack?

4:34 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

One more ingredient to add for a successful resteal:

Balls. Brass ones.

At first glance, restealing seems like a counterintuitive move, especially when it involves pushing your whole stack in with Q9 or T8 on a resteal. Especially when you're worked hours to build your stack, moving all in on what reduces to a bluff is not for the faint of heart.

This post is helping many of us to grow a bigger pair. So thanks.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Gnome said...

Great post. Thanks for the advice.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Astin said...

All-in-all a good post. Relative stack sizes are key, and too often do people fail to realize that you need to target the average stacks, not the small ones. Even the larger than average stacks are vulnerable if they've been showing weakness or are trying to hold on until the final table. It's the uber-stacks you really need to be afraid of, because chances are they didn't get there by luck alone.

Position is also a key here. If you're in EP - MP, you have to keep in mind that there are more people to go through. That said, with the proper image and the right-sized bet, steal attempts from UTG at this stage can be even scarier.

Finally, there are bet amounts. These often depend on the nature of your opponents. I'm a believer in consistency of your bets. If all of a sudden you limp when you've done nothing than raise, that will send alarm bells off in any sophisticated player's head who has been paying attention. This is why min-raises can often get blinds and antes in later stages. That said, when it comes to a re-steal, you will have to often finesse your bets.

For example - you are facing what you believe is a steal attempt. Do you push to re-steal? Depends on the player. Against Mr. ABC, it will probably work. But if you're looking at someone who's shown some skill, then a better bet might be to raise all but an M or 2. This looks VERY much like you're baiting them with a strong hand, as opposed to making a crying call with a medium-ace or medium pocket pair, and can induce a fold. If they do call or re-resteal, then you can fold and still have a few chips to play with.

Just my 2 or 10 cents.

6:13 AM  
Blogger lucko said...

Bah, I like my bloggers weak tight.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Dillo said...

This is why I check your blog often Hoy. Great post, even if we all have our different takes on what to do when. At least it keeps the grey matter humming.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

Fantastic post, Hoy. Thanks for sharing.

5:51 PM  
Blogger DP said...

How to be an MTT champion... go all in, baby. So skillful. (OK -- this may not work every time, but eventually it will! Real champions have stamina, damn it.)

See lucko's remark a few comments above this one? Ask him how to "play" MTTs... he'll tell you, "I go all in with any two cards, and I've won doing so." And what skill that takes.

You too can grow as a player if you do A, B, and C, so long as you feel the right moves.

6:08 PM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

Great post hoy.

The only thing I would add is to check your M before you make these kinds of moves. In your example, if you have 100K you have an effective M of 5, so you really can only push or fold. If your stack was at 300K you could make more moves like these.

1:41 AM  

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