Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MTT Musings

Tuesday was a low and slow night for me on the poker front. Having been awake in the 50-50 the night before until 4:40am ET before I finally fell asleep, and then being woken up by the Hammer girls jumping on my bed at 5:55am ET, that left me with a precious one hour and 15 minutes of sleep overall on the night. Well worth the way that felt in the morning, don't get me wrong, but still it didn't feel so great the later in the day it became on Tuesday. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to run real deep in the big nightly tournaments before and so I have been through this experience on four or five occasions in the past, and I know how to deal with it best: don't play the next night. Now, I didn't take that advice literally, in that I still wanted to sign up for the Skill Series tournament in 6-max limit holdem, a game I have come to enjoy over the past year or so, but that was the sum total of what I played on the night. Not even a turbo sng, a quick FTOPS supersat, not anything. Having done the late-late-late-night poker thing before, I knew exactly what I was in store for on the night, and I wasn't going to get effed by that again.

So, when I fell asleep on at least two occasions during the Skill Series, it didn't faze me in the least. I knew from the past that by 10:30, 11pm ET I would be crashing hard, so I prepared for it. I like playing with my friends and I am a huge fan of the Skill Series in general, so I gave it a go and actually made a good run of it considering my level of fatigue, busting I think in 10th place on some kind of bad play or something. It did not stand out in my head so I don't believe there was fonkeyplay involved, though I could be wrong as my memory of most of the details of Tuesday evening is not so great. I do know I played pretty well in the shorthanded limit game, I stole a lot of a certain person's blinds as I always do when given that chance, and once again I had a lot of fun doing it, always the most important thing.

Thanks btw to everyone for their comments to my 5050 score on Monday. As I wrote a bit about yesterday, it is very difficult to put into words just how great fun it is to run deep in an mtt. I mean, I have had several days where I won four or five buyins at the cash tables, and I've had days just like this past Sunday where I have won around an equivalent amount of money while cashing in 7 out of 7 sitngos, but in the end those kinds of poker successes do not even compare to the feeling of running deep in an mtt. I sure wish I had won the whole thing, don't get me wrong, but taking it down to 3 players left from 1216 players who started is a truly awesome experience, one that gives you the full gamut of the early high-M time, to the middle stages where you have to start getting a little aggressive with the blinds and eventually with the antes as well, to the later stages where you can use the bubble to make some real moves at times when others are holding on for dear life.

But perhaps the most valuable and the most rare experience a real deep run like this provides is to give you the valuable and fun experience of those next couple of hours after the bubble breaks, like in the 5050 when you go from around 180 players at the money bubble and all the way down to, say, 20 or 30 players remaining. This is super-valuable stuff, something you don't ever get to experience in a cash game or even in a sitngo, where you must survive for a good two or more solid hours based solely on (1) your existing stack size when the bubble breaks, (2) being dealt a few monster hands, or (3) stealing and especially restealing. There is simply no other way to last through a good 150 hands or so without getting really lucky with your cards, something none of us can count on, or by aggressively stealing and restealing from other aggressive stealers whenever it makes sense. It's something I've written about before, but if you want to survive those key few hours and still be alive down to the last couple of tables when the final table bubble push begins, and you want to do so with the kind of stack that gives you an actual chance to make a run for the top few seats, you have no choice but to steal a bunch of the then-large blinds and antes, and you will simply need to resteal in a few key spots as well. In my run in the 5050 the other day, I definitely restole allin with 74o one time, with 98s one time, and at least one or two other occasions when down in the final 100 players, and as I've pointed out before, a resteal provides you with a huge amount more of chips in exchange for the admittedly increased risk as compared to just a regular steal. Like I said there really is no other venue for someone to get this experience other than in a late-stage ITM mtt context -- yes a turbo sng provides a similar push for stealing and restealing, but the blinds increase so quickly in that structure that in the end there is about 1/10th the amount of time spent in this phase as there is in a real large mtt, and this makes it just not the same thing at all.

One trick that I have come up with myself, that some of you may view as a pussy move but I do it anyways and have had good success with it, is something that I typically only kick in once we are down to the last 100 players or so in a tournament. It involves not so much "stalling" in the sense that I generally use the word, but rather doing what I can to slow the game down when it seems advantageous to me to do so in late-stage mtt play. Here's how I do this: when I am in great chip position and we are nearing the end of a large mtt -- say the final 100 players or less in something like the 5050 with 1000-2000 players in it -- it is generally speaking to my advantage to slow things down. For example, at one point the other night I was in 3rd place out of 73 players remaining. With the blinds and antes just continuing to grow, I figure it is all good for me to take my time every time my turn is up, adding an extra 10 seconds or whatever every single time I make a decision, because in that chip position the increased blinds and antes are not going to affect me presently. But they might very well impact the shortest stacks, those in 50th-70th place of the last 70 players, forcing them to push into the larger stacks with increasingly desperate holdings that much earlier in the game, which again is all good for the larger stacks such as myself who can take advantage of that kind of thing due to their increased chip position.

Now to be clear, I don't sit there and let my timer run down to 1 second left every single time. But I also don't act immediately on any of my turns either. I just like to slow things down a little bit when it is to my clear advantage to do so. An extra 5 or 10 seconds even when I am utg and have T5o and know I am folding here, and a similar thing on every single round of betting and on every hand I play, it all adds up over a 2-hour waiting period from 100 players down to, say, the final two tables. And keep in mind, this strategy is something I do only in the real late stages of mtts -- I would not even consider "slowing it down" as I think of it during say the first hour of the 28k, even if I managed to luck out and amass the #1 chip stack out of 1500 players still in the tournament. At that point it is just way too early for slowing things down to have any beneficial effect to me, knowing that it will be another 3 hours or more before we even reach the ITM positions, and more like 5 or 6 hours or more before the money payouts actually become something that I would consider meaningful. But when you're trying to last from 100 players down to 20, those extra 10 minutes you can buy over an hour or two can really make a noticeable difference.

And the other important piece to this strategy I have developed over time for late in mtts is that it only makes sense to pursue when you have a strong chip position. In other words, if I were in 70th place of 73 players remaining in the 5050, it would be highly disadvantageous to me to slow anything down. With the blinds and antes poised to rise every ten minutes, all things equal I would prefer to see as many hands as quickly as possible in that position, to maximize my chances of picking up a strong hand or at least a playable hand in good position before the blinds increase and make my situation totally desperate and cause me to push with crap. So in 3rd place out of 73 I like to slow it down, and in 70th place out of 73 I like to play my hands as quickly as possible. But where do I draw the line?

Over time I have developed a rough rule of thumb on this point: if I am in the top quarter or so of the remaining players between 100 and 20 runners remaining, then I will generally try to slow it down in the way I have described above. So when I am in 11th place out of 73 remaining, I will probably play a little slower than I otherwise could if I was trying to rush things. But, after folding a for a couple of orbits, or maybe losing a pot or two, let's say that I've dropped to 20th place out of 65 players remaining. At this point, I will basically stop "slowing it down" and instead start making my decisions more quickly, as I usually would in a tournament. And if 30 minutes later I score a big double-up and I jump back to 5th place out of 48 players remaining, then I will move back to slowing things down again. I keep a constant eye on my relative position in the tournament during these stages, and I literally adjust the speed with which I act based almost hand-to-hand on my chip position relative to the number of players remaining. This is not something I have seen or heard about anywhere before, and yet I have used it in both live and online tournaments to much success over the past couple of years.

One other point I would make about mtt success relates to styles of play. I was chatting in the girly with another blogger whom I consider to be a good friend last night, and the point I was making to this person was that there are various styles of play that can lead to mtt success. I mean, in general, I am a firm believer that the tight-aggressive style is the most consistently winning style in all forms of poker and that definitely includes in mtts. But, even within that style, I know a number of bloggers for example (such as the KOD), and other professional players (such as Erick Lindgren, Michael Mizrachi and several others) who like to splash around a lot early, and don't mind taking chances to either bust out early or double up and get off to a nice big stack early. If this style works for you -- if you have the bankroll and the mindset to increase your early variance in exchange for increasing your chances of building a big stack early -- then I think that style can work, as is obvious from the tournament success of the very people I mentioned above. But for me, I tend to take my tight-aggressive approach a little more conservatively early on than some of those players. I prefer to play generally tight most of the time early in the big mtts, and as a result I do not normally get off to huge stacks in the first hour or two of the big mtts. It does happen, because I'm a trappy guy and if I flop a monster I am skilled at getting opponents' entire stacks, but I try not to take chances for big piles of chips in first hour or two of large mtts. As a result, most of my big mtt runs tend to begin like my 5050 experience the other night -- I slowly grow my stack and am around just twice the starting stack even a couple of hours in to the event, and then I tend to wait until the 3rd and 4th hours to make my bigger moves. But that's just my style, and it has worked for me in the times that I have run deep in the big tournaments. Chad's more aggressive style can work well (obviously), and so can the one I am describing here. The important thing I think is that, if you want to last to the very end of any large tournament -- either live or online -- you are going to have to ratchet up the aggression at the latest somewhere in the middle of the tournament, especially in the generally faster online structures. As far as I'm concerned, nobody ever made a final table of a 7-hour multi-table tournament without doing a whole lot of stealing and even a few key resteals with air in a number of significant spots in the tournament. Aggression will always be key in any deep run to the roses.

OK that's enough ramblings about mtt play. Hopefully I can bust out with some more cashes like mine this week as I really feel like my tournament game is as good as it's been in months, and I definitely feel a renewed sense of confidence in my game that can only come from making a deep run like this. Tonight of course is the Mookie, and while I am on my way to winning that tournament I expect to also hit up that 10:45pm ET FTOPS ME satellite that I won my ME seat in the other day, and maybe a few other fun tournaments as they appear to me. It's nice to have a big flush bankroll now to be able to look at these things with the optimism of new opportunities to play. And don't forget to check out Buddydank radio during the regular Wednesday night Mookie broadcast for what are always good times for everyone to listen to. Best of luck to everyone tonight trying to take me down in the Mookie!

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Blogger Blinders said...

I am the master of stalling in MTTs. It is way +EV in flat payout Satalites, but I really have to question doing this in a regular MTT, afther the bubble has been burst. I can't believe you of all people think stalling is a good thing in MTTs after the bubble. Stalling basically attenuates the action at your table while not at the others. While it is true that you will pick up some prize positions by delaying the number of hands that you play (less chance of busting), you are also reducing your chances of winning the MTT. People will continue to chip up at the other tables, while you are purposely reducing your chances to do the same. Not a good strategy if you are trying to win the MTT, and I will say that it is also a -EV move overall. The small amount that you gain by picking up a few prize positions does not outwiegh the money lost by a reduced chance of taking a top prize, where all the MTT money is.

I think stalling when very near the bubble to get to the Hand for Hand portion, and get in the money is +EV, but once you get ITM there is not much to be gained as the payouts go up pretty slowly after that.

12:34 AM  
Blogger $mokkee said...

it "sounds" like you go into a mode where you just want to protect your stack by stalling. kind of a defensive mode. i guess i can understand that kind of thinking. but, wouldn't you want to use that intimidating stack to punish other players at your table?

you seemed to pick the right spots to play back and fold which is really what got you into the top 3 payouts.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Iak said...

CONGRATS Hoy! Great score. I liked the writeup, but I gotta admit I would have a hard time releasing jacks in that early final table hand.

kudos indeed dude.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Julius_Goat said...

I'm reading Hoy's stalling in a different way, and I'll admit I hadn't thought of it before.

He's not stalling defensively if I am reading correctly. He's stalling offensively. In other words, with that big stack, the less hands he can let the shorties see (by playing slow), the more desperate he thus makes them, and the more likely to gamble and basically create havok at the table.

If that's the case, I kind of like it. I know I hate seeing the action slowed down when I'm a shorty and the blinds are coming.

Slowing down as a defensive ploy with a big stack is dumb. But I think if you go read again, you'll see that this is in fact a pressure move, and offensive one.

That about right, Hoy?

12:10 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Obv. you hit it right on the head, Goat. This is not at all "stalling" in the traditional sense of the word, which is tremendously pussy and really is Blinders' area of expertise per his comment above. In a way it's almost the exact opposite of stalling, and like you said it is a highly offensive as opposed to passive move.

Well done, Goat.

1:34 AM  

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