Evaluating some close decisions
This is the second column in a series that highlights some of the hands discussed in the new book Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time, Volume II, by Eric “Rizen” Lynch, Jon “PearlJammer” Turner, and Jon “Apestyles” Van Fleet. In this book, each author chose one tournament, and discussed the key hands from once he made the money all the way down to heads-up play. In this column, I’ve chosen a couple of hands from PearlJammer, in which he evaluates some close decisions on the button.

Hand 3

Seat 2: 19,596
Seat 3: 126,648
Seat 4: 202,322 Button (PearlJammer)
Seat 5: 52,155 Small Blind
Seat 6: 31,649 Big Blind
Seat 7: 27,422
1,000-2,000 Blinds, 250 Ante

Setup: Ten hands have passed in which I have had nothing playable and no worthwhile spots to steal. My table is now six-handed, as seat 3 busted seat 1, winning a standard A-Q suited vs. 9-9 coin flip.

Preflop (4,500 pot) JSpade Suit 10Diamond Suit: J-10 offsuit is a fairly standard opening hand from the button, especially with a big stack, and the action is folded around to me. Before I open, however, I should notice the stacks in the blinds, especially the strong player in the big blind. The small blind is not much of a concern, as I do not expect him to shove in 26 big blinds, and if he does, I have an easy fold. However, the big blind has only 16 big blinds and is very capable of reraising all in light. He is well aware that I should be raising a very wide range from the button with a big stack, and I would expect him to move all in with any pair, any ace, any Broadway hand, and some strong suited hands. I do not want to take J-10 offsuit up against that range. Also, my positional advantage is virtually nonexistent, as I don’t expect that the blinds will ever flat-call my raise. Even though it may seem counterintuitive at first glance, I would rather open with J-10 offsuit from under the gun or any other position at this table than the button, given the stack sizes of my opponents. I choose to fold.

The small blind folds, giving the big blind a walk.

Hand 11
Seat 1: 168,709
Seat 2: 65,705
Seat 4: 55,200
Seat 5: 64,156
Seat 6: 206,348 Button (PearlJammer)
Seat 7: 58,805 Small Blind
Seat 8: 42,749 Big Blind
Seat 9: 106,681
1,700-3,400 Blinds, 400 Ante

Setup: The blinds have increased, putting five of my seven opponents below the 20-big-blind threshold. In the previous hand, seat 1 opened for a small raise, and seat 7 called from the big blind. They ended up checking it down, and seat 7 showed 5-5 to beat seat 1’s unimproved A-9 offsuit. I find it interesting that with only 17 big blinds, seat 7 chose to play 5-5 in this fashion. Normally, I would expect him or most any strong, aggressive player to reraise all in preflop with his hand, maximizing fold equity against a player who is most likely stealing light. The hand illustrates that seat 7 is playing conservatively at the moment, not looking to take a gamble that has a marginally positive expected value, but instead waiting for a very good spot before committing his money.

Preflop (8,300 pot) QSpade Suit JHeart Suit: The action is folded around to me on the button with Q-J offsuit, a relatively good starting hand for my position. If both blinds had less than 15 big blinds, I would just move all in, putting maximum pressure on them and not giving them the illusion of having fold equity that they might have if I put in a standard raise. Note that I would never put in a standard raise and then fold to a shove if they had such stacks; however, I would rather apply the pressure myself than allow them to reraise all in with a hand like 3-3 or K-10 and have to call off with my marginal hand.

In this particular spot, seat 7 has 17 big blinds and seat 8 has 12.5 big blinds. Note the difference between this hand and Hand 3, in which I had J-10 offsuit on the button. There, the blinds had 26 and 16 big blinds, respectively, and I did not want to get involved against those stacks with such a marginal hand. Here, however, I am up against smaller stacks with a somewhat stronger hand. If I raise my standard amount of 7,875 and seat 8 shoves, I will be getting 1.6-to-1 odds to call the all-in bet (8,300 + 7,875 + 38,949 = 55,124; 55,124 ÷ 34,474 = 1.6). Although this is not the 2-to-1 odds that I would like to get in order to call a short stack’s all-in bet with a marginal hand, given our positions, it is strong enough to call. If seat 7 shoves, I will be getting about 1.4-to-1, which is not quite strong enough, even though he should be shoving a relatively wide range. I never make these sorts of exact calculations in the heat of the moment, yet I do estimate the odds and determine whether or not I would call a shove from either player before making the initial raise. Generally speaking, I should never raise from the button here unless I am willing to call a shove from a stack of 15 big blinds or less.

One last consideration that leads me to a raise in this spot is seat 7’s conservative play with 5-5 in the previous hand. I now believe that he will need a stronger hand to shove than I would have thought before witnessing that hand. Therefore, I am confident in my decision not to call a shove from him, but surely to call one from seat 8. I raise to 7,875, and both blinds fold. 

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