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Go big or go home

In 2012 I had a really successful run at the ACOP (Asia Championship of Poker). I won a PLO event and came very close to making the final table of the Main Event. Going into this year's ACOP, I was really hungry for another title and prepared myself well for the two-week grind--not only physically and mentally, but strategically. I had a new tournament strategy I wanted to apply at the poker table and although I followed through with my plan, the results were far from what I hoped for.


There are several different schools of thought on tournament poker and my ideal situation is to accumulate a lot of chips in the beginning. For me, there isn't any point in hanging around until near the bubble and only cashing for the minimum. I'm gunning for that Top 3 finish--go big or go home-- but I think I took that idea a bit too far this time.

At the ACOP, I did not survive three levels in any event I played. Prior to this tournament series, busting in three levels would have been a rare occurrence. It would have to happen on a big cooler or a really unlucky hand. However, this time I was playing really loose and playing so many hands resulted in me having to bluff a lot more. I wanted to be the table captain and was willing to do whatever I had to in order to get that position. If someone opened from late position, I would three-bet. And anytime someone would three-bet my late position raise, I would instantly four-bet. This strategy works really well if your opponent is intimidated or doesn't have a hand, but it didn't work on these guys. These players just wouldn't back down and I lost a lot of chips early.

Sometimes I would take slightly -EV situations just so I had a shot at the chip lead. I felt like the payoff would be better if I had a huge stack and could completely crush the table. For me, the most profitable situations in tournaments come from stealing my opponents' equity. For example, if I were to raise every single hand, people should be playing back at me with a set amount of frequency. When they aren't, I'm profiting. Eventually, opponents will catch on to my strategy, but until they do, I'm stealing a lot of pots, not to mention a lot of blinds and antes. However, now that I look back on it, I think I took that strategy too far and tried to force situations when I really didn't have to... especially in the Main Event.

The ACOP Main Event has a $13k buy-in and a sick structure. When the two Day 1 fields were combined, about 85% of the players made it through to Day 2. I was not one of them. I think I was the fifth person overall to bust out. Most of the time, when you bust out of a big event, you find somebody to sympathize with you because they busted out as well. However, when I busted out, everyone else was still playing! Tournament staff and players alike were coming up to me, asking what happened and I didn't have a good answer for them. There was no cooler, there were no kings running into aces, I just bluffed off all my chips!

After busting from the Main Event, I talked to some of my poker buddies and realized that I probably wanted that second trophy too much. Some of these spots weren't as good as I thought they were and I readjusted my play for the last few events. I think I played a lot better, even though the results weren't there. I went deep in the final event, which my fellow Team Pro Celina Lin ended up winning.

This was the first time I went into playing a big tournament series with absolutely no regard for my tournament life. In these fields, so many people are fearful of losing and when you're completely fearless about it, it does give you some power. But it doesn't give you everything. You know that saying, "In order to live, you have to be willing to die?" I went out there and died like a boss! But now I know I can't be so reckless in every tournament I play. I have to strike a balance and it's really difficult to do.

Playing so fast and "dying" because of it wasn't as bad as I thought, but maybe I wouldn't do it again in an event where 85% of the field survives to Day 2. It was pretty awful to bust that early. This was definitely a lesson learned for me. Why do I always seem to learn the important ones the hard way?

Raymond Wu is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

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