Ellie Biessek: Tournament tactics #1 – learn and observe

Grosvenor Poker pro Ellie Biessek explains why it’s important to pay attention at the table in low stakes tournaments like the 25/25 Series

There are many types of poker tournaments with different structures and prizes but some tournaments are more popular than others. The Grosvenor Casinos 25/25 Series is gaining in popularity from one event to another, but why?

First, a longer clock (40 minute levels on Day 1 and 45 minute levels on Day 2) and deep starting stacks (25,000 chips) mean there is more room to play. Even if you get unlucky and suffer a bad beat you are quite likely to have some chips left, so there is still a chance to rebuild your stack. Normally, tournaments with this excellent structure can be expensive to enter, but the 25/25 Series has a very affordable price of just £220. With a £25k guarantee it’s a very attractive package.

Starting right

So, once you’ve entered what is the best strategy to apply to your game? There is a very good saying, ‘You can’t win a tournament in the early levels, but you sure can lose it.’ The early stages of a tournament are not about winning pot after pot and being very active. Pots at this stage are usually small so winning one is not as significant as it is later on. A good player is going to use their time wisely during the early levels to study their opponents. So, if you’re watching a movie on your iPad or playing on your mobile, you are probably not going to pick up as much information as you could. Instead, you should try playing very few hands and concentrate on the poker going on around you as much as you can.

There is loads of information you can collect during these levels. For example, who is aggressive, who is tight, who is three-betting light, who doesn’t defend their blinds, how this person plays their draws and how they play their made hands on a wet flop, etc.

The next stages are about taking the information you have and using it against your opponents. As an example of what I mean I’ll describe two hands I played recently in the 25/25 Series.

Hand one

I was dealt T-9o in the big blind when a middle position player opened. I had been studying my opponents for many hours, so I knew he had a very wide opening range and would try to steal my blinds whenever he could. I decided to call and defend my big blind. The flop came 9-6-4 with two hearts giving me top pair with a weak kicker. I checked to the raiser and he went all-in for a substantial amount – much more than was in the pot!

Now was the time to think and use all of the information I had gathered so far. If he had an overpair, a set, two pair or top pair (likely with a better kicker than mine) he would just bet to make sure he got value – but to know that took me hours of watching how everybody was playing when I wasn’t in a hand. So what hands was he going all-in with? It was mostly hands that want to scare me off the pot but have outs if called – draws. I was ahead of a draw so I called and I was right! My opponent missed and was out of the tournament.

Hand Two

Later on in the same tournament, I was dealt Q-Q UTG+1. I opened and UTG+2 three-bet me. At that moment I was very happy as, after hours of watching my opponents, I knew this player was most likely just trying to make a move on me and I was willing to put all my chips in the middle in response. Surprisingly the hijack, who had played tight all evening, went all-in for 6x the three-bet!

I went deep into the tank. He was not likely to risk his entire big stack with A-Q or J-J with so many people yet to act and such strong action having already taken place. I thought he would probably four-bet rather than shove with A-A (it was a very big shove) but A-A and K-K seemed his most likely hands. With another player Q-Q or A-K might also be possible but that didn’t seem likely based on what I had observed here. It was a tough spot but I folded. I found out later that my opponent had K-K and had I called I would probably have been out.

Even when you’re not in a hand, observing and studying your opponents is a crucial part of the game – especially in the early levels. Next time you’re in a tourney, try to play tight early on and see how much information you can gather.

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