Blending Strategy Stack Size and the Prize

Now it's time to look at another factor that affects decision making at short tables: the prize structure itself. Before you start playing at a final table, you need to commit to memory the exact prize structure for the last nine or ten places. You need to do this even if the prize structure doesn't affect you personally. You may be a retired gazillionaire who only carcs about finishing first. If true, that's great. But the money will matter to most of your motley crew of opponents, and it will affect them in predictable ways. Making some intelligent, common-sense assumptions about what each player is really hoping to do and what he's playing for can enable you to make some spectacular moves.

Let's look at a few poker types and make some observations about how the money will affect them and how you should play.

The Internet Qualifier. lie's a young kid, he paid $50 or so to get in an online qualifying tournament, he won a free shot to the big show, and now he's at the final table, staring at more money than he's ever seen before. Most of these players are just trying to move up the ladder, and every step on that ladder might represent several years' worth of income. A player who's thinking that way can be pushed around pretty easily. But some of these kids turn out to be real tigers who see their lucky break as the springboard to a real poker career. Keep an eye on them and let somebody else be the first guy to try to push them out of a pot. Watch what happens and act accordingly in the future.

The High-Tech Millionaire. He made money during the boom 0

the nineties, retired with his fortune intact, and now needs h 'S

something to fill his time. He's not playing poker for money; tie

• a to show you how clever he is. He will bluff liberally, and will sh°w y°u cafds when his bluffs work, so you'll know k6 much smarter than you he is. Whether he folds to your bluff k°not depends on what sort of bluff you make. If you just shove °U your money in the pol before the flop, he'll call you. (Can '/ me around.) But if you make some sort of long, intricate play and then bet on the river, he'll go away. (Your move was brilliant, but J figured it all out, ha ha.) As the table gets short, he will attack more frequently, knowing that the money means more to you than to him. You won't be able to wear him down; instead you'll need to pick your spots and make a stand. The all-in check-raise is a particularly good weapon.

The Down-on-his-Luck Pro. He might have been a millionaire a few weeks ago, but now he's broke. Such is life in the fast lane. The money will certainly matter to him, but in unpredictable ways. He may simply want to get a bankroll back, in which case each step on the prize ladder will matter very much. A good clue is his willingness to offer deals and splits during breaks in the action. But he may have colossal debts, in which case only one of the top prizes can get him back to even. In that ease, he'll be going for broke. (A story that became legend on the backgammon circuit concerned a semi-pro player in a London club many years ago. He got in over his head in a high-stakes game against seven wealthy opponents. The team eventually doubled their seven cubes to 128 aPiece. As he accepted the cubes, he remarked, "I might as well take, since I can't afford to pay if I drop." He lost, walked into the mght, and was never seen again.)

The Retired Businessman. He ran a business for a long time, had successful career, and has taken up poker as a hobby. He's spent ® lifetime making business decisions and negotiating, an ideal but 8rourid for a poker player. He doesn't need the money, J1! he respects money, and you can expect his decisions to be nal and shrewd. He knows that the pros will see him as a neophyte and try to push him around, and he'll be ready for ^ If he opens a pot and you have a good hand, just put him all.-He'll call more often than not.

The Wealthy Seasoned Pro. This guy is one tough hombre. He's seen it all, done it all, and kept the money, so you can forget about outplaying him, and the idea of putting money pressure on him is a joke. Recommended strategy: If you can't outplay him, you need another approach. When he gets in a pot, raise him all-in with any two reasonable cards. The other players will get out of the way and the first couple of times you do this he'll lay his hand down unless he has a big pair. Eventually he'll know what you're doing and at some point he'll pick a hand and call you, and then you'll actually have to win the hand. But maybe you'll have a good hand that time, or perhaps you'll just draw out on him. It's your best shot.

As you get involved in the poker circuit and start traveling around, hanging out with players while moving from tournament to tournament, you'll hear snippets of news, stories, rumors, and gossip. Some will be first-hand, some second-hand, some from good sources, some from bad sources. Pay attention to all of it. Try to piece it together into some recognizable mosaic. Knowing what financial or emotional state your opponents are in when you play them can be just as valuable as knowing that they like to check when they hit a flop and move in on fourth street.

Now let's look at a practical application of all this palaver.

Example 9. A major tournament, and just three players remain besides yourself. You are an experienced pro with several recent successes under your belt. You're widely respected for being tough, shrewd, and hard to read. You re sitting on the big stack of $4,000,000. Here are >our opponents:

onent No. 1: A top player of many years' standing, with "veiwins under his belt. Quite wealthy, totally *e adable and unflappable. His stack at this point is $1,500,000.

Opponent No. 2. An Internet qualifier, playing in his first major tournament. A polite kid, looks pretty intelligent and seems to play well. Likes to make small aggressive moves at a lot of pots. His stack: $1,200,000.

Opponent No. 3: A restaurant owner from London, probably fairly wealthy and here on a lark. His luck ran out a couple of hours ago and he's been nursing a small stack which is getting smaller. He hasn't made an aggressive move even when given a chance, so perhaps he's resigned himself to a fourth-place finish. His stack: $120,000.

The blinds right now are $10,000/$20,000, with $2,000 antes. There's $38,000 in the pot each hand. Everyone has a comfortable M except Opponent No. 3, whose effective M is now about 1.2.

The remaining prize structure looks like this:

First $1,200,000

Second $600,000

Third $400,000

Fourth $150,000

It's not an unusual prize structure for big tournaments these days, with a heavy weighting for first prize, but very |"espectable prizes for second and third. There is a sharp roPoff from third to fourth, however.

In the next hand you are first to act. The Internet ^*>alif|er is on the button, with the restaurant owner in the s®all blind and the old pro in the big blind.

300 Part Eleven: Short Tables You pick up

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and lead out for $60,000, triple the big blind. The Internet Qualifier raises, making it $130,000. The blinds fold. What do you do?

Answer: Call. You know the kid likes to make small moves, and this bet certainly qualifies. He may have nothing much but feel that by taking the lead in the betting, and by acting after you next round, he can take the pot away. You have a big stack and a playable hand under the circumstances, so call.

You call. The pot is now $298,000. The flop comes

What do you do?

Answer: That's a good flop for your hand — no high cards, all low cards, and now you have an open-ended straight draff plus two running cards for a flush. You could bet, but I woul be inclined to check for a reason which will soon he apparent.

y0u check. The Internet qualifier bets $130,000. What do

For a good player, this is almost a no-brainer, and has nothing to do with potential holdings, pot odds, or hand analysis- It has everything to do with your opponent and the prize fund.

Up until a few seconds ago, everyone at the table had mentally assigned fourth prize to the Restaurant Owner, who was just a couple of blinds away from being eliminated. In particular, the Internet Qualifier, playing in his first tournament on a free ride, was thinking "I've got $400,000 in the bag, and I'm shooting for more." Your all-in move has changed the equation. Now the kid is thinking "If I lose this hand, I'm going to lose $250,000." $250,000 looks like a lot of money to someone in their twenties playing in their first tournament, especially after thinking the money was theirs.

Your bet represents trips. Your opponent will fold this hand unless he has trips himself. He might even fold bottom trips, but he'll certainly fold a high pair rather than risk $250,000.

You go all-in, and your opponent folds.

The hand hinged on the presence of the restaurant owner, who was what we call a "cripple" — a player whose stack had bcen so low for so long that everyone else at the table had pegged themselves for one of the top three places. The existence of a ^pple subtly changes the dynamic among the remaining players, some invisible planet exerting a gravitational tug on ®Verything in its vicinity. It enhances the position of the big stack «0u in this case) who can threaten the medium-stacked players -in move that they can't call without risking money they "¡pught was already in their pocket. Once the cripple is e"Hinated, the threat goes away and the game returns to normal.

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