Ellie Biessek: Tournament tactics #2 – play the stages

Grosvenor Poker pro Ellie Biessek talks about how you should play the same cards very differently as you progress through a deep-stack tournament

In my last column, I talked about the early stages of a tournament and how important it is to concentrate on gathering information on your opponents rather than playing lots of pots. This time round I want to focus on some of the differences between the early stages of a tournament compared to the middle and late stages.

Here are three hands I played from a recent Grosvenor Casinos 25/25 Series event that illustrate these differences well…

Hand 1: The opening level

Grosvenor 25/25 Series
Level 1  Stack: 25,000
Blinds: 50/100  Hand: 8-8♣

In this hand, UTG raises to 250 in early position and I call with 8-8 on the button. The flop is Q-Q-2 rainbow and he c-bets 300. As it’s only the first level of the tournament I don’t have any information on the player so I decide to ask him a question by making a small raise to 800.

The reason I raise is not because I’m married to my pair but to gain a better understanding of where I am in the hand and how my opponent plays. Some of the time my 8-8 is good here, but I can’t be sure. If he has no pair (such as A-K) then I can take the pot down there and then, denying equity to his overcards. There’s also a small chance of getting a better hand to fold – what would you do with 9-9, T-T or J-J when you get raised on a paired board?

When my opponent calls I have no intention of putting any more chips into the pot, until the turn comes a beautiful Eight and he leads out for 1,200.

I very rarely see people leading out with quads, so that’s pretty unlikely (not that quads are very likely in any case!). The fact that he leads out again, having called my raise, makes me think that he has a Queen (or Twos) rather than an overpair. As I played my hand aggressively on the flop I see no reason to slow down on the turn, so I raise again, making it 2,800. He calls, the river is a Seven, I bet and he check-raises. We get all the money in and he eventually calls with A-Q, giving me a nice double-up.

While I got lucky on the turn, I could just as easily have had 2-2. In the early stages, hands which can make the nuts, like pocket pairs and suited Aces, can get your opponent’s stack if you hit the flop (or turn) big. That makes my range in the early stages wider than later on when stacks are shallower and the implied odds are not there.

Hand 2: The middle stages

Grosvenor 25/25 Series
Middle stages  Stack: 32,000
Blinds: 400/800/a75  Hand: 8-8♠

UTG raises to 2,000 and I have 8-8 on the button again. I decide to call and the flop is K-K-7 rainbow. A medium or small pocket pair is a good hand in position with 40BB. This is a deep enough stack to set mine, and 8-8 may well be the best hand preflop, but I don’t have the ideal stack for a fancy raise postflop [to find out where I am].

He makes a c-bet of 2,600 and I call. I will have the best hand here some of the time and my call on a paired board is likely to slow him down on future streets if he doesn’t have a big hand himself.

The turn is a Ten and he bets again. Two bets from my opponent on a paired board signals that I’m no good so I fold this time.

Hand 3: The late stages

Grosvenor 25/25 Series
Late stages  Stack: 40,000
Blinds: 1,000/2,000/a200  Hand: 8♠-8♣

Once again, it is the same scenario as UTG raises to 5k and I have 8-8 on the button. This time my Eights go straight into the muck. I only have 20BB and I’m looking for a hand to get my whole stack in preflop rather than set mine. An UTG raise normally means a better pair or two overcards. I agree that some people will raise with worse than that, but I think I can find a better spot to go all-in. I’ve seen many people trying to play medium pocket pairs in that spot, either shoving or calling in position, and most of the time it tends to turn out badly for them.

Many players don’t adjust their hand ranges enough based on the size of their stack (or their opponent’s stack) and the stage of the tournament they’re at. Hopefully this has given you an idea of the adjustments you might want to consider making.

For more info on the Grosvenor Poker 25/25 Series click here

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