by Alex Kravchenko
One of the most important strategies in MTTs is varying your game. That means that in similar situations with similar hands you must occasionally play a different way. For example, when you have a big hand pre-flop and there’s a raise in front of you, sometimes you re-raise and sometimes you just call.
I think there are two major factors that affect your decision. First is your opinion about a raiser – you must be more willing to call against a loose aggressive player who is bluffing a lot after the flop. Also this kind of player is raising with a lot of hands pre-flop, so it’s harder for him to outdraw you. And after all, if your image is solid, he will fold almost always when you three-bet (things are different if you are re-raising a lot – in this case may be three-bet is the better option, because you can expect a four-bet re-steal attempt).
The second factor is: Who is sitting behind you? If there are a couple aggressive players there then you can try to provoke them to squeeze after you call. This is one of the most profitable situations in tournament NL Hold’em, when somebody puts a big three-bet raise on a bluff, then you move all in, forcing your opponent to fold. It means you can win a huge amount of chips without showdown and with no chance of losing.
I would like to illustrate this concept with the examples of two hands which I played in the Bellagio Cup 15k Main Event in July, 2009. This tournament had a perfect slow structure, so even in the late stages the play was deep enough. These two hands happened on day three. In the first one the blinds were 2,000-4,000 (500 ante). Before the hand I had 155,000 chips, which was about 2/3 of the average stack. We were nine-handed. The UTG player opened with 10,500 and I picked up K-K in second position. The reason why I just called is that my table image is usually solid – and that applied to this particular table as well. I thought that if I re-raised in this position it would kill all the possible action behind. So I called – and then the cut-off player put a big re-raise of 60,000. Everybody folded, including the original raiser, and I went all in for 155,000 and my opponent was priced to call with his A-Q suited. Nothing bad happened and I doubled up.
The second hand was played at the end of the same day. With 27 in the money, there were 37 left in the tournament. We were playing seven-handed, with blinds at 4,000-8,000 (1,000 ante). My stack was about 420,000, which was slightly above average. Jeff Madsen (250,000 chips) was sitting to my left, so in this hand I was on the small blind and he was the big blind. The second position player raised up to 20,000, everybody else folded to me in the small blind where I had A-K suited. The way the raiser put his chips in gave me a feeling that he was not strong, and I thought that maybe Jeff noticed it also. So I decided to call, hoping he would try to steal this pot with a re-raise. My plan was that he would raise about 75,000, then I would move all in and easily pick up about 100,000 in chips.
To my surprise he moved in with all his 250,000 chips, and the original raiser folded. Now I knew that he had a hand, but the question was how strong? I was thinking for about two minutes and made a call. I wasn’t really expecting myself to fold, but I believe that if I’m taking my time to think in situations like this I’m not losing anything and am preventing myself from making bad instant decisions.
In this case the very important question was whether your opponent could have A-Q or not. If yes (and that I believed that was the case here), it’s absolutely a call. If no, then it’s very border line, especially when you are close to the money spots. For the showdown Jeff showed A-Q, and I won a 500,000 pot and finished the day with a comfortable 700,000 stack.
So there are two good examples of playing big hands well. Unfortunately, the next day was unlucky for me – I made two wrong decisions and finished in 19th place.