Well, I'm back. Two days of orientation at my new job have come and gone, and on Thursday I will head to my real office for the first real day at my new employer. The move to our new house also went off pretty much without a hitch, the first move I would ever describe as "ok" or maybe even "pleasant". Not only did nothing get broken or go missing or anything, but in the end the price even came in under their estimate. Yes, New Yorkers, you read that right! They came in under estimate, mostly due to my having made several trips myself to and from the new house over the few days preceding our move, but I've always done that in the past as well and that's never stopped these fuckers from charging whateverthefuck they wanted to, hundreds of dollars for boxes, packing tape, fuel surcharges, you name it. So things are progressing well on that front and my life is slowly inching back towards normal for the first time in many, many months.
Unfortunately, all this shit over the past week has kept me from making a proper poker post here. But fortunately, a 35-minute commute each way on the train has left me with plenty of time to read and think about poker again, for the first time in quite a while actually, and that's what I'm really here to write about today.
Only once in a long while these days it seems, a poker book comes along that really makes a mark. So much literature has been written already as a result of the poker boom of the past five years or so that the truly game-changing poker books -- the Super/System's, the Harrington's -- are very few and far between. And that's not at all to say that there are no other worthwhile poker books out there; far from it, I've written much here about a great many books that I've gotten between something and a lot out of as far as my game goes. But I'm talking about the ones that really are the difference makers. And as I've said, nowadays that is a pretty rare thing.
Which brings me to my point today. Several months ago, on jeciimd's recommendation in fact, I read and wrote about Arnold Snyder's book The Poker Tournament Formula. Well, today I am here to say that I am a good way's in to the sequel to this book, and unlike so many of the recent poker books where the sequel is clearly made purely as a Matrix Revolutions-style money grab, the second Poker Tournament Formula is so far even better than the first. In fact, it is chock full of very thought-provoking ideas and strategy tidbits that frankly I had never quite thought about in the way that Snyder presents them. I am maybe a third of the way through the book at this point, and I already have at least a week's worth of blog posts coming just from ideas presented in the book, or things I have thought about as I have analyzed what I am reading in the book.
In a nutshell, Snyder's overall concept in the book thus far is that of tournament chip utility. This concept is absolutely essential to any poker tournament, and this is the key idea that has not in my view been expounded upon, or even recognized at all, really in any other poker book I have ever read (and I've read most of them). In a nutshell, Snyder uses the term chip utility to refer to the amount of utility, or usefulness, one can get from one's chip stack at any given time in a tournament. As someone with a modicum of tournament success myself, I have to agree 100% with this concept, and with the conclusions that Snyder draws from using the concept, even (and to me, most interestingly) where they flat-out disagree or contradict with other popular poker authors' thoughts on poker tournament strategies. The basic idea behind chip utility is that a skilled tournament player derives much more benefit from having what Snyder calls "full utility" -- that is, say 100 big blinds or more and the largest stack at one's table -- than just having that number of chips itself. Having full chip utility is worth so much more to a skilled tournament player because it allows him or her to use his or her chips as freely as possible, truly opening up the arsenal of moves one has the room to make to include all possible moves like raising preflop with connectors and then c-betting regularly, float-calling another c-bet on the flop to try to steal on the turn, betting for information on the flop, raising the flop "to find out where you're at", etc. With less than 100 big blinds, argues Snyder, these various weapons in a tournament entrant's arsenal begin to disappear, until down to 20-30 big blinds where in most cases one's only real option is to push allin preflop, or maybe in certain circumstances to raise preflop and then push in on the flop. But it is that freedom, that "space", if you will, in your chipstack to be able to make all the different moves a poker tournament player can make, that makes chip utility such a crucial tournament concept.
The most interesting thing about this concept to me, as I mentioned above, is that it leads to some very interesting conclusions about how one should play in tournaments. I mean, basically everyone knows that tight-aggressive is the way to play poker. It just is. Ask (or just watch) any good cash game player and you will see or hear it for yourself. You have to play tight, and you have to play aggressive. Most well-known tournament poker writers advocate this exact same TAGgy approach to playing in poker tournaments as well. And yet, argues Snyder in The Poker Tournament Formula II, the true best approach to playing in poker tournaments is actually far looser than it is tight. Aggressive, yes. Surely. But not tight. LAGgy is the way to go in poker tournaments, and that is all because of the concept of chip utility.
Now, I will be writing much more about this in the coming week(s) as I myself continue to read, reread and most of all to absorb all that Arnold Snyder is saying in this truly interesting and powerful tournament poker book. But let me ask you a question. How many of you have secretly sat and watched one of the red ftp pros play in a big mtt? Or better yet, tell me you haven't sat, either in secret or openly, on the rail while lucko or Chad have been on one of their incredible mtt streaks. I know I have had tons of railbirds basically for all of my final table runs over the past couple of years, as is the case with LJ and basically everyone else in our group who has final tabled with any regularity at all over the past several months. Think back over all those times you've sat and railed someone, especially early on in these tournaments, and you tell me: does lucko play tight poker early on in an mtt? Does Chad only ever raise or call with the top 5% of starting holdem hands? Is that how I play, be it in a blonkament or other large mtt? Of course not. Not even close.
Almost all of the successful large mtt players actually play this looser-aggressive style, especially early in tournaments. Although I suspect most of us -- certainly this includes me -- have never actually thought about things in terms of the concept of chip utility in any meaningful way, that's exactly what we're doing at its core. I can't count how many times I've chatted in the girly with one of these people about how I have no interest in sitting on a short stack early or really at any point in a tournament. Now, I know and watch tons of players -- admittedly most of them bloggers -- who are more than content to let their chip stack dwindle and dwindle all through the first couple hours of a tournament, just waiting for the one big hand to try to get a double up that, in the end, will only get them back to maybe 50% above their original starting stack even if they do manage to fully double with their monster starting hand. But that's not me. And it's not LJ, it's not lucko, it's not Chad, and frankly it's not Erick Lindgren or Daniel Negreanu or Doyle Brunson either. The bottom line is that, although cash poker often requires a tight, aggressive style of play, the concept of chip utility in poker tournaments typically means that it is well worth it for a skilled tournament player to play far looser early on, taking much more chance of busting out early in exchange for getting one's chip utility up near full utility early on, which really enables such a player to open up his or her arsenal of weapons. And that is how the best mtt players in the world approach the tournaments they play in, almost to a person.
As I mentioned, this is just scratching the surface of the ways that chip utility affects proper poker tournament strategy, and I will have much more to say about this topic in my posts over the next several days. But I'm telling you, if you're one of those people who has never had the success that so many other poker tournament players have, you don't understand why, and yet you also rely on things like tight-aggressive poker, the gap principle, regular pot odds (as opposed to "utility odds" -- more on that one coming later), etc. in your tournament play, then do yourself a favor and read The Poker Tournament Formula II. Read the first one actually, and then read the second. Read it, read it again, absorb it, and then live it at the poker tables. You will not believe how very off-base so many of the popular poker strategies can be when it comes to typical poker tournaments, and even moreso to online ones. With this book, an open mind and a willingness to challenge one's assumptions and to learn, there is no telling how your game can improve.