Mind your tools of the poker trade

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Poker chips are currency at the table. Sounds simple enough, yet I don’t think players spend enough time understanding that concept, especially in tournaments. In any tournament, you have a finite number of chips. Every tournament is a balance between accumulating more chips and surviving elimination. If you’re short-stacked, those chips become even more precious.

Implementing them for maximum value and/or leverage is critical to success. I want to share a relatively straightforward hand from the Deep Stack Extravaganza at the Venetian I recently played. In the middle stages of the tournament, I open raised from late position with A-9 suited. It was folded to the big blind. Now, the blinds were 300-600 and I had about 22K when the hand began. I made it 1,800. The big blind reraised all-in for another $4K. I don’t really love my hand at this point, but it was a no-brainer call.

Part of the reason I don’t like my hand at this point is the big blind knows it’s a no-brainer call on my part and yet he pushed anyway. To my surprise, he turned over 3-3. The flop came K-J-6 with none of my suit. The turn was a nine and, for good measure, the river was an ace. I won the race and our big blind went home.

Now, let’s look at how the big blind could’ve played this hand in a manner that more efficiently used his chips. That is, how could he have gotten more leverage out of those valuable chips? While there is no way to read his mind, I’m guessing he was in push-or-fold mode. Let’s say that was his mind-set. There is another way he could’ve played the hand while honoring his mind-set and maximizing the value of his chips.

First, he has to know he’s getting called preflop. In his best-case scenario, he’s in a race, but he could be dominated by a bigger pair. So where is the value in pushing? Now, you may be thinking he can’t call and leave himself with only 4K behind. There’s a third option: He can call preflop and push the flop no matter what. In either case, he’s playing for his stack.

By pushing preflop, he’s guaranteeing a call. By pushing postflop, he has two ways to win (I could fold or he could end up with the best hand). As it turned out, he would’ve induced a fold by pushing postflop. In this hand, he was heads-up and would be in position to bet first postflop. He devalued the currency of his 4K chips by pushing preflop. Those chips are the tools of his trade and he needs to think of them as such.

— David Apostolico is the author of You are the Variable: Play Your Best Poker, ($5.99 for Kindle). Email him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.