The four toughest tournament spots and how to deal with them

Simon Hemsworth discusses a few of the toughest spots that regularly crop up in online multi-table tournaments, and explains how you can make the best of a bad situation

Unfortunately poker isn’t all simple decisions where we always know the obvious thing to do. The game is so complicated that it will frequently open up situations you haven’t encountered before. Calling, folding and raising might all be reasonable options, but none clearly appear to be the best.

Quite often such situations will be extremely difficult to make profitable and it may even be a case of minimising loss. Although the EV between very tight decisions can be extremely close, the difference between making the right and
wrong decision in tough spots can be all the difference between average and great players.

In this article we will look at some of the common difficult situations that can occur when playing online multi-table tournaments. We will also try to cover some of the things you should be thinking about in order to make the best decision possible. 

Tough spot 1 – Missing the flop with A-K

Toughness rating: ★★ (tougher than a $2 steak)

It will usually be correct to three-bet A-K for value in a tournament, although flat calling is also fine with deep stacks. Difficulties can arise when your opponent calls your three-bet and you miss the flop, particularly if you are out of position. this spot is tough because your Ace high will often still be the best hand but it will be difficult to get to showdown as your opponent will also frequently want to bluff his hand if he has missed.

A key factor in how to proceed will be the texture of the flop. Flops like J-3-2 are dry and will rarely connect with your opponent’s hand, so a standard c-bet will lead to lots of folds. A flop like Q-T-4 will connect with your opponent’s hand more often but on this occasion you have lots of equity with a Jack giving you the nuts and an Ace or King likely meaning you have the best hand. C-betting is again the best play here. However on a flop like 8-7-6 with a flush draw a more cautious approach makes more sense. This flop could easily hit your opponent and you could feasibly be drawing dead with an Ace or King turn leading to further troubles in the rest of the hand. Moreover this is a flop where the villain could decide to bluff raise your c-bet with a hand like Q-J (knowing he can easily represent a very strong hand) to which you would obviously have to fold.

Missing the flop with A-K will happen more often than not so it is useful to know how to proceed. typically c-betting dryer flops and slowing down on wetter boards where you have low equity is an effective strategy to follow. 

Tough spot 2 – Playing postflop with shallow stacks

Toughness rating: ★★★★ (tougher than Mike Tyson in the 1990s)

Nowadays players are flat calling a wider range from the blinds with stacks as low as 12BBs. This leaves the initial raiser with an awkward stack-to-pot ratio postflop, particularly when the flop has been unkind. For example you may raise A-T from the cutoff intending to call a 15BB shove from the big blind, only to be flat called instead. The flop comes J-9-5 and the BB checks.

In this situation your hand may still be the best but it will be difficult to get Ace-high to showdown so how do you proceed? Usually a small bet would be the best play here. This is because despite it being a small bet your opponent will now need to commit a lot (possibly all) of his stack in order to bluff. Therefore the villain’s range for raising your c-bet is going to be very value heavy and A-T high isn’t doing too well against that range. Yes, you could get ‘bluffed’ by a hand like Q-T but that hand still has 11 outs to beat you. 

Tough spot 3 – Medium strength hands with medium sized stacks

Toughness rating: ★★★ (running a marathon with blistered feet)

A common tough spot occurs when holding middling hands with awkward semi-deep stacks. For example the hijack opens with 50BBs and you hold 8-8 with 35BBs on the button. If you call the flop can come a nasty K-J-5 and then what do you do when you face a c-bet? If you three-bet then what do you do if the villain four-bets? You can’t just fold a hand this strong to the initial raise.

This is a spot where all options seem ‘meh’ but I would usually prefer a flat call. This is because the lower variance option in tournaments can be beneficial for chip preservation reasons. You will be able to get 8-8 to showdown enough times postflop to make a call profitable. Also, other good things could happen such as flopping a set or perhaps a shortstacked SB or BB squeeze-shoves a range considerably worse than 8-8. By three-betting the only result you want is for your opponent to fold so you could feasibly make this play with any two cards, not a hand with ‘potential’ like 8-8. 

Tough spot 4 – Overpairs with deep stack

Toughness rating: ★★★★ (you are in The Hunger Games)

In the early stages of MTTs bare overpairs can be a nightmare to play. You might three-bet K-K with 150BB stacks and c-bet a flop of T-7-6, only to get raised. This flop seems great and one you want to get value from worse hands but suddenly the flop raise reminds you that your opponent could easily have T-T, 7-7, 6-6 and 9-8. However your opponent could also be bluffing. In spots like this it can be prudent to check the flop to both induce bluffs from hands that missed the flop and pot control.

If you do decide to c-bet then calling your opponent’s raise will usually be best here, unless you have a specific read that your opponent is crazy, in which case you can happily try to get in K-K for a huge pot. Obviously if you call the flop raise then you will face potentially difficult turn and river decisions but as standard you will be looking to fold unless you improve. In the early stages people will rarely be willing to attempt huge multi-street bluffs and if they do, more power to them.

To make the best possible decision will require analysis of all possible variables. Factors such as player reads and history, table dynamics and tournament status are all key. For example, in the tough 8-8 spot, if it were a turbo where average stacks were 18BB then getting all-in preflop would be terrible! It’s also worth remembering that with tough spots come mistakes and negative outcomes. Difficult decisions will lead to more bad results than simple ones so don’t be put off by the times it goes belly up! Poker is a continual learning process. 

Test these tips by getting into some tough spots of your own! Sign up to PartyPoker right here!

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