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How I got 2nd place

I took 2nd in a 300+30 NLH tournament recently. It was one of the more interesting tournaments I’d ever cashed in and, as described here, remarkable in that three of the last four finishers were women. But what was so intriguing is that I went deep with no cards. I mean none. I was card dead the entire tournament. It took me some time to go back over what transpired in the intense 8-hours to examine what happened and unpack how it all unfolded. What I found are some poker lessons. I’ll share them.

The Basics: It was a “Turbo” tournament with short 15-minute levels. The starting stacks were 15,000. There were no re-buys or add-ons but re-entries were allowed for the first hour. We ended up with a  total of 67 entries. Turbo’s have a larger luck element than more measured tournaments. They require patience which most players lack. They see the rapid rise in blinds and antes and feel they have to play fast and get involved in more pots than they should.

As noted, I was card dead the entire tournament. I did have A,A once and doubled up a modest stack with it but that was it for “pockets.” The only other pairs I saw were 4’s and 6’s — both several times. I never flopped a set. I had A,K once and dumped it when there was a raise, re-raise and a shove before it got to me. I spent most of the eight hours looking at K,3 followed by 9,4 which arrived just before 7,2 which was followed by Q,6 and so forth. My modal hand was paint followed by a squeezed baby off-suit. I never flopped a straight, a flush, trips and only flopped two pair once.

So, how did I get 2nd place with this kind of dreck? This way:

I played tight — which was easy to do. Gradually my table image was established: I was the tightest dude in the room and could steal more effectively.

Second, I picked my steal spots very carefully. I aimed at strong players who were paying attention and would give me “respect” and medium-to-small stacks who worried that I could bust them. The best spots were the standard ones, the hijack seat and the cut-off but my main considerations were always who was left to act, what their stack sizes were and how they were viewing me.

I had good reads on people. I dumped that flopped top-two when certain I was looking at a set. I was.

I got lucky in that almost all my steals were made against what turned out to be hands that could not call. We often do not realize how important this factor is in these situations. We tend to only think we “got lucky” when we hit our 3-outer but luck’s most compelling role is in these more mundane situations. We re-raise bluff and are believed; we make a steal-the-blinds move and no one has a hand that warrants a call.

With these simplistic gambits working, I managed to stay just a bit below average stack size while the field got winnowed down. I kept reminding myself that my real weapons were patience and an understanding of the game. I knew I was not going to knock myself out.

I got moved to a table over which a woman was running roughshod. She was on a heater like I’ve rarely witnessed, mowing down opponents and building a huge stack. I laid low and let her do her thing. She had the rest of the table on tilt and people were making insane calls trying to get back at her.

Then I hit two miracle cards. Anyone who has played tournament poker even semi-seriously knows that you have to hit a couple of these if you’re going to go deep. One was when I tried one of those all-in steal moves with T,9 and, after some intense muttering got called by A,9. The flop and turn were no help but the river brought the magical T and I doubled up and reduced the field. The other was when I rapped in the BB with 8h,5h and shoved on a flop of 8c,3s,2h. Alas, the SB snap-called with 8,7 and I was in deep trouble — till the turn and river came down Jh, Kh and I filled my backdoor flush, knocked out a dangerous opponent and moved up the pay chart.

We were now down to six players. Five of us together had about 20% of the chips. The other 80% formed an unbreachable wall in front of Ms. Heater who was still catching cards. I continued playing the same way as before, trying to stay out of her way and watched as she took out the other four in ways that still seem unworldly. On one hand she shoved with two black 3’s on the button and got insta-called by the BB who showed two red Q’s. The flop had two spades and the turn and river were spades and Ms. H.’s flush knocked the guy out. Another: she raised UTG with 8,7 suited and got re-raised all-in by A,A. There was an 8 on the flop and the turn was a 7 and she faded all eight outs to take down the other remaining player.

At this point I had about 50k in chips facing Ms. H’s 950k or so. She agreed to carve off a couple of hundred from the 1st place prize and we ended it there.

You will, I hope, cut me a little slack if I state that I am pleased with how I played. The tournament supervisor told me he couldn’t remember seeing someone finish so high with absolutely no cards. I also learned an important lesson about poker tournaments and patience. I’ll see you in Vegas in a couple of weeks. I’m ‘rolled for the WSOP.

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