Cool Concepts #1

British poker pro Marc ‘Mr Cool’ Goodwin gets to
the bottom of some of the game’s trickiest concepts

How do I build a big stack in multi-table tournaments?

First and foremost you need total confidence in your game. A lot of people lock up early and play tight, especially in big-money tournaments. While you shouldn’t get too busy on the first level you should push on from level two. Mix it up – start reraising with suited connectors or odd cards where you’ll get paid big if you hit. If your raise is called then you know you’re in trouble unless you hit the flop hard. It’s also essential to find out early on who the weaker players are: those just wanting to stay in rather than win.

Put pressure on them. Make the pots bigger than they want them to be even when you might be behind. This is easier to do in deep-stack tournaments, because if you only start with 1500 chips your first big raise can lead to you being set all-in!

Are you in it to win it?

You have to decide if you’re in it to participate or in it to win, and be prepared to take risks if you’re going for the top. Top players like Roland de Wolfe, Ram Vaswani and Andy Black have a lot of gamble in them. They get the massive stacks – or can go out early – because they force the issue on big hands. If I’m drawing to the nut flush I might be willing to risk a third of my stack, whereas they’ll draw for three-quarters of their stack because if they hit they’ll push home that big-stack advantage all the way through to the final table.

Roland was on his way home just 40 minutes into the Monte Carlo EPT despite adding 7000 chips to his 20,000 starting stack early on. He got knocked out with two-pair against a flush draw. Many players would have played that slower but will never get the chips that he does. Roland’s prepared to risk his entire tournament on his two-pair standing up for the chance to get a huge chip stack. Cautious players would want to see the turn, make sure the flush doesn’t come and, if it does, think to themselves ‘bloody hell’ – and pass. You can’t be sure if you were right but you’re guessing you were. Players like Roland will push or fold on a hand like that.

Should you come out firing on the first hand?

To build a big stack you don’t need to be ultra-aggressive from hand one. Sit back and watch for the first level and try to guess other players’ hands. You’ll only get to actually see them at showdowns but try to give yourself a guess according to their betting patterns. They may have raised in early position so you could say that’s probably one of four key hands. If you subsequently find out that they raised with 10-9 then you know that they mix it up; you may want to stay clear of them in future because anything could be going on. Then you find the guy that flat-calls under the gun with Aces or the player that doesn’t re-raise with Kings and you realise that these are people who are trying to stay in the tournament by keeping pots small.

Finding out the players that you can pressurise with big raises is the key to getting and growing your monster stack.

Hands to play at the beginning?

In the early stages of a tournament I will call almost any raise with almost any hand when I’ve got position. Be careful about calling reraises though – you don’t want to have the option of having to put even more chips in with a marginal hand! Avoid playing hands like K-J and K-Q because they’re often dominated and you’ll get yourself into trouble. I’d rather play hands like 4-5 or 5-7 because with those holdings it’s much easier to know where you are in the hand.

Once you’ve amassed a big stack should you slow down?

If you sit back on a big stack there’s no absolutely no point in having it. No one has ever blinded their way to victory! You must continue to pile on the pressure and never, ever play in a called pot. Let everybody know that if they want to play a pot with you, whether they’ve got you beat or not it’s going to cost them a lot of chips. That’s the fear factor you have to put people under when you’re building your big stack.

What you must always remember is that the ‘money’ is in the first three spots. Everything else is negligible. It’s nice to make a final table but you can have nine or 10 final table finishes or two top-three finishes, and it’s the latter that will net you more dough.

Dave Colclough always says to me, ‘I’m here to win,’ because anything below third is a wasted opportunity. On that basis you should be trying to push home when others are trying to stay in a cash position.

Should you always enter a pot by raising?

I never like to play in any pot that’s not raised, whether it’s me raising or someone else. If you’re thinking about flat-calling the big blind, you should probably pass instead. A-Q, A-J, K-Q should all be mucked from early position.

If someone raises I’m only going to call if I’ve got really good position on them and think I can catch them out. If you want to get chips you should be looking at taking it there and then with a big raise. Once people know that you’re going to raise they’ll start flat-calling with big hands in early position to trap you. That then allows you to check from the big blind with suited connectors or small pairs and they’ll have no idea how stitched up they are when you hit the flop hard. That’s the pressure a big stack can bring to bear.

How should I use a big stack on the river?

You don’t usually get a big stack in just one hand. You have to build it up. You may start with a stack of 5000 and win a nice pot early on to take you up to 6200. This gives you some extra leverage on the river. If you think you’re behind and someone puts in a small value bet on the river, try coming over the top for a significant proportion of their chips that would leave them crippled if they’re wrong.

Make sure that you know they’re a player who is capable of laying a marginal holding down. If they make a loose, but correct, call you’re still not too far behind the average stack but if they lay down suddenly your 6,200 is closer to 9,000. It’s a risk you have to be willing to take to get a lot of chips. If you can work out a player’s breaking point on the river that’s the point at which you’ll get yourself a big stack.

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