Don’t get angry in tournament poker, get MAD


At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States embraced the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD for short. The underlying principle was neither party would launch a nuclear weapon against the other as it pretty much assured its own demise since either country could counter before the first weapon hit its mark.

Go all-in with a nuclear launch and you guarantee your destruction.
When playing a tournament, the ability to garner a big stack is a huge strategic advantage. Nobody wants to face what could be their demise. It’s much less threatening to go all-in against a stack smaller than yours.

The stakes in a tournament can’t be compared to nuclear war. So, how does that affect how you play? First, you want to take strategic steps to build up your stack.

You should constantly be balancing your need to survive against your ability to build your stack. Next, you want to avoid major confrontations with larger stacks unless you have a strong hand.

Finally, the trickiest part is figuring out who is buying into the concept of MAD. That is, who is afraid of their demise to the extent that they would not be willing to risk their stack if it meant potential elimination? Any player will risk their stack with a strong hand. But who will risk it on a semibluff or a bluff? Who thinks you’re adhering to the MAD concept and, thus, likely to fold to an aggressive bet? What image are you projecting?

Be honest with yourself. Are you a player who strictly follows the MAD concept or are you looser than that? What works best for your game? Can you take advantage of others’ adherence or non-adherence to the MAD concept? Whether players recognize the MAD concept, they’re consciously deciding to follow the principle or not.

Your job is to build your stack as the best defense. The largest stack doesn’t face destruction from anyone. The beauty of chips is that the more, the better. Where a few nuclear weapons can blow up the world and the extra weapons become superfluous, every chip has value. Use them wisely. Recognize their value and don’t commit them unless you have a clear purpose.

The irony of the MAD doctrine is that no one would be mad enough to blow up the world. There are mad men in poker since there’s always another poker tournament to enter. Know your opponents and know yourself.

— David Apostolico is the author of Tournament Poker and The Art of War. His latest, You are the Variable – Play Your Best Poker, is available from Amazon for $5.99. You can contact him at