Changing gears: Grosvenor Poker pro Ellie Biessek on how to build a stack

Grosvenor Poker pro Ellie Biessek explains that you don’t need to play lots of hands to build a stack – you just need to know when to go on the attack

Everyone has seen the player that plays lots of hands with less than marginal holdings and ‘gets there.’ It’s frustrating and you might find shaking your head at just how lucky this guy is, while jealously looking at his huge stack.

That’s where the temptation starts… If he plays hands like that and gets lucky why can’t you? You sit there, card dead, watching your stack slowly diminish while this guy has just cracked Aces with his T-3s after calling a huge four-bet preflop for a third of his stack and getting the rest of his chips in on a flush draw. You watch him scooping the monster pot when he hits the river, while you, after not playing a hand for what seems like ages, get A-5s UTG. And the temptation grows…

This is why I see lots of people playing far too many hands – at some point the temptation wins out. What these people aren’t seeing though is the outcome of this loose play. The fact is, most people who play like this leave the card room early and empty-handed.

In Grosvenor’s 25/25 series I’ve seen a lot of people playing far too many hands. If you want to be better than them you can’t play the same way they do. Let me describe two players…

Ms Nit is a lady who hasn’t played a hand for ages and seem to be a scared player. The last time you saw her playing was about two hours ago when she called a preflop raise and check-folded her A-K face-up on a low flop. A few hands later she raised again and won a small pot with a set of Tens which she played very passively.

Mr Aggro is a very active guy who plays lots of pots. You’ve seen him three-betting preflop with A-To, 8-8, T-9s and Q-Jo and he also seems to like playing suited Aces. He is very aggro postflop where he tries to scare his opponents off the pot. His stack goes up and down like a yo-yo.

Example 1

The blinds are 400-800 (100) and you are on the button with Q-J. There is a raise to 2k from Mr Aggro in the hijack, and Ms Nit has called in the cutoff. You and both of your opponents have roughly 40k stacks and you make the call too.

Both blinds fold and Mr Aggro checks on the Q♠-J♠-T flop. Ms Nit bets 3k and you decide to re-raise to 8k. Mr Aggro folds but Ms Nit goes over the top and makes it 20k. How do you feel about your two pair? You have seen her playing and know that A-K is a very likely holding and if not she is more likely to have Queens than a flush or straight draw. 9-8, J-J and T-T are unlikely but possible. Are you willing to put half of your stack in now, knowing that she will probably put you all-in on the turn?

But let’s just change the scenario and let’s switch Ms Nit and Mr Aggro. How do you like your chances now, knowing that Ms Nit has folded and it’s just you versus this guy? If you have seen him three-betting with A-J and 8-8, do you think he has just called now with A-K, Q-Q, J-J or T-T? So the only hands that are beating you are K-9 and 9-8, while you are beating all his draws. And even if he does have you beat, you’ve got outs.

What many people fail to see is the role of the fear factor. If you are facing a tight player who suddenly shows aggression you have the fear that you can lose all your chips if you don’t hold a monster. On the other hand, if you are this tight player who has been card dead for hours you might ‘change gears’ in the right spot because that fear factor is there to help you. Here’s an example of a recent hand that I played.

Example 2

It’s the middle stages of a tournament and the last hand of the level with blinds at 400-800 (100). I’ve got a really tight image – the only few hands that I’ve played that have gone to showdown have been pretty much the nuts. I have 8-6s in the hijack and I can see that the cutoff is already preparing to fold and is putting on his jacket to rush off for the break. The player in the small blind is acting similarly, so I’ve only got two players to worry about.

I make it 2k expecting everybody to fold but the button three-bets me to 5k. In the time that I’ve played with him I know he’s more than capable of making a move on the button and that he’s also capable of making a big fold to me as he’s seen how tight I’ve been so far.

I four-bet him to 12k out of my 50k stack and I’ve got his 30k covered. He tanks for a long time but then eventually folds his A-K face-up. Needless to say I didn’t expect him to have such a strong hand, but this shows the power of the fear factor!

You don’t have to play lots of hands to make chips in tournaments. The key is to actually play few hands while observing the table and waiting for the right moment to attack. For that, you don’t necessarily have to wait for a big hand.

Ellie is sponsored by Grosvenor Poker.

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