The ‘stop-and-go’ is a great way of reducing the lottery that pre-flop play can create in major tournaments

In a recent tournament, I found myself nearing the bubble. Our table had not broken all day and as luck would have it, it was a pretty decent one: a couple of novice players, a couple of real tight players and the rest were pros. During play, we got into a discussion regarding playing A-K pre-flop. Coincidentally, six players who had been eliminated at our table had called all-in bets pre-flop with A-K – and lost. Then, when the seventh guy got knocked out in exactly the same fashion, the whole table broke out in laughter.

On the next hand, I picked up Q-Q on the big blind. There was a small raise from mid-position, then a massive re-raise from the button. I was not going to lay the hand down, and so pushed all-in. The player from mid- position folded and the button went into the tank before hesitantly calling. The table broke out in laughter once again as he turned over A-K offsuit. We had just spent 20 minutes talking about this hand and the guy still couldn’t lay it down. The flop was all rags, as was the turn – but the river brought an Ace, sending me to the rail.


It was once said that in order to win a major tournament, you have to be able to win with A-K as well as your hands holding up against it. At the end of the day, A-K is still just Ace-high – a drawing hand. It is much easier in poker to end up with a pair if you start the hand with one. Don’t get me wrong, A-K is a very desirable hand, but do you really want to put everything at risk on a draw, when best case scenario, you are in a coin flip situation?

All too often you will be watching a major televised tournament and witness two players going all-in on a coin flip. This is something I have always had difficulty understanding. You make a $10,000 investment to enter the tournament; you devote a week of your life to it; you grind out for 40 hours of play. Then, you push all-in with a hand like A-K, hoping your opponent only has an underpair, so that you can flip a coin and see who wins.

This is a practice I often try to avoid. I usually have a conservative image, especially in major tournaments. And, players who have been paying attention are aware of the fact that I have a hand, especially when raising pre- flop. I’ve found that most players have trouble getting away from hands like A-K or A-Q, and the new breed of online players have difficulty getting away from any Ace.

When faced with a difficult decision holding A-K pre- flop – especially in early and mid-stages of a tournament – I tend to implement what is commonly referred to as a ‘stop-and-go’. The stop-and-go is a simple strategy that will enable you to see the flop, risking the minimum number of chips and permitting yourself the opportunity to make a more informed decision about your tournament future. Let’s look at a few examples.


In the mid-stage of a tournament, I picked up A-K in mid-position. The blinds were 1,000/2,000, and I had roughly 50,000 in chips. The action folded around to me and I raised to 7,000. All then folded to the small blind, who re-raised to 17,000. I went into the tank and decided to re-visit my read on this player:

He had been playing solidly up until now He was a little tight, but not excessively so In a previous hand a few hours ago, he had re-raised. I moved over the top and he folded, showing me pocket tens

It’s obvious that he wasn’t making a move and had a hand. My consideration at this point was to determine whether I am facing a hand like A-A or K-K. Against A-A, I am an 87% underdog going to the flop and against K-K, a 65% underdog. Now a lot of players in my situation – when facing a call representing a percentage of over 30% of their chips – would rather move all-in or fold. I decided to call the re-raise.

The flop came A-10-3. This was a perfect flop for me. Not only did I hit top pair, but I also picked up the nut-flush draw, which would come in handy – especially if I misread my opponent and he was playing pocket Aces. My opponent bet out 24,000 and I pushed all-in for my remaining 33,000 chips. With the obvious pot odds, my opponent had no choice but to call. My Aces held up over his pocket Kings and I doubled up.

A few hours later I picked up A-K in early position. I raised three times the big blind. One conservative player from late position min-raised me; a suspicious bet to say the least. I called the raise. The flop was 10-9-3. As checking would provide me with no information, I placed a small feeler bet of about half the pot. My opponent immediately moved all-in. He had been playing pocket Aces and had the Ace of diamonds for added insurance. By just calling his pre-flop raise and not going over the top all-in, I was able to get away from the hand, losing as few chips as possible.


By calling a re-raise pre-flop with A-K, not only do you enable yourself to improve what is essentially a drawing hand, but you also have the opportunity to get away from the hand if the flop doesn’t go your way. Going all-in pre- flop removes these choices


The “stop-and-go” is a simple strategy that will enable you to see the flop, risking the minimum number of chips

Another situation where a stop-and-go can be implemented is when you’re playing large pocket pairs; hands like 10-10 and J-J, which are easy to get into trouble with. With a hand like J-J against A-Q offsuit, you are only a 53%-47% favourite. With 10-10, even against a weak hand like K-J offsuit, you are only a 54%-46% favourite. A classic confrontation as a result of the online poker boom is the big pair versus Ace-rag scenario. Online players have a bad habit of playing any Ace and many of your bad beats from this type of player will come from hands like A-3 or A-9.

Another issue with this type of player is that they have little regard for pot odds and getting priced out of a pot, especially pre-flop. Let’s say you’re on the big blind with J-J. The action folds around to the button, who raises five times the big blind. Now you can re-raise here. But, if you are facing the classic online player, you may as well push all-in instead, as that is what will end up happening pre-flop. If you are not willing to put your tournament at risk with this hand, then simply call.

Let’s say the flop comes A-Q-10 and your opponent is playing A-9 – there is no way he is going anywhere in the hand so you might as well get away now. By implementing a stop-and-go, you have limited your loss to the amount of the raise you called and have an opportunity to re-evaluate after the flop.


Earlier, I described a situation during a tournament where I picked up Q-Q on the big blind. The tournament was a $1,100 satellite for the $25,000 WPT Championship. We were about seven players away from the bubble. The player that re-raised me from the button was fairly conservative and seemed a bit of a novice. I had to make a choice pre-flop when facing a re-raise from him, and chose to put him all-in. For a nervous player like this, a hand like A-K is a godsend, as it enables him to make the call and not worry about getting outplayed by a superior player after the flop.

As I said, he called, and an Ace on the turn ended my tournament. In hindsight, I should probably have implemented a stop-and-go and just called his re-raise. With a flop of 4-7-9 and me having the opportunity to bet out first, he would have found it very hard to call. Even if he did, he would almost certainly have folded to a bet on a ragged turn. Against a nervous, novice player, a stop-and-go strategy is always best.

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