'Go Big or Go Home'

by Daniel Negreanu

I recently played in a World Series of Poker Circuit event at Bally's-Paris in Las Vegas and was involved in a hand that seemed pretty straightforward to me. Later, when I opened my message boards, I saw that many of the posters were questioning my play of the hand. It ended up becoming a pretty heated discussion, so I thought I'd use this column to share my thoughts on the hand.

We started with $10,000 in chips, and despite showing up about an hour late, I was able to get my chip count up to $11,400 by the time we hit the second round of blinds: $50-$100.

Everyone folded around to me, two spots from the button, and I raised with the 8h 7h to $250. Now, this is a very standard play, but I did have a few people question what I was even doing in the pot with 8 high.

Well, in no-limit hold'em, hands like this play extremely well in deep-stacked situations. By making a small raise with the hand, you also add some texture and deception to your game that is crucial to becoming a successful player.

So, anyway, to my left, the current leader for the Card Player Player of the Year award, John Phan, called the raise. Then from the button, another top player and new father (congratulations!), Paul Phillips, called. The small blind folded, and yet another player in contention for the Player of the Year award, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, called from the big blind.

Strangely enough, I had all three of my opponents covered at this point. The flop came 10h, 9h 5h. I looked at that flop and thought to myself, "Gin!" I'd flopped an open-end straight draw, a flush draw, and even a gutshot-straight-flush draw.

The Grinder checked to me and I bet $500, which represented just slightly less than half of the pot. Phan hesitated for a moment (he always does) and flat-called.

Then, Phillips quickly raised to $2,000. The Grinder folded, and it was decision time for me. I saw that I had a few more chips than Paul, but he had enough chips left so that he wasn't necessarily committed to the pot.

Folding here was out of the question. My only real dilemma was whether I wanted to just call or play the hand aggressively, giving myself two ways to win with a semibluff. I opted for the latter, and pushed it all in.

John reluctantly folded, while Paul quickly called with his last $7,750 in chips. If I won this pot, I'd have $22,450 and be on my way; if I lost it, I wouldn't be out of it, but I would be down to just $1,400 in chips.



When Paul called so quickly, I assumed that I was in decent shape, figuring that he had a set or two pair. The hand I really needed to worry about was the bigger flush draw, but that wasn't what my senses told me he had.

Paul had flopped the nuts, a set of tens. It was time for a race, and I was a 61-39 underdog, or about 3-2. The turn was a 5, giving Paul a full house and reducing my outs to just one, the 6h.

So, the river brought the 6h, and once again I was an absolute genius! No, unfortunately, that's not what happened; the river was the A.

Now, as I said at the outset of this column, this seemed to be a pretty standard play, yet many people in the forums wondered why I didn't just flat-call on the flop and hope to hit a card. And others still questioned my reasoning for playing a drawing hand in such a large pot so early in the tournament.

Well, let me start by explaining why I believed moving all in was better than calling. The first thing to consider was that Paul is an accomplished, thinking player. Knowing this, it increases the likelihood that Paul might fold a hand like K-10 or A-10, or possibly even a hand like J-J, to my all-in raise.

If I could get Paul to fold one of these hands on the flop, I'd pick up the pot without having to worry about hitting my draw. If Paul called with a hand like K-10, well, I would actually have the best hand! The definition of best hand is often misused. It's not important who has the better hand on the flop; what is important is figuring out which hand will win more often when all the cards are dealt.

Against K-10, my drawing hand would be the best hand because I would win the pot about 55 percent of the time. It's important that you study these numbers regarding drawing hands so that you understand how powerful they can be. The best way to do that is to use an odds calculator.

Now, the other key consideration is that even if Paul called, it was unlikely that I'd be a big underdog. As you can see, he flopped the nuts, but I would still win 39 percent of the time. Even if Paul had the Ad Kd, I'd still outdraw him 38 percent of the time.

There are a few hands that he could have that would have me in bad shape. If he had the Ah 10h, I'd win only 27 percent of the time, or if he held the Qh Jh, I'd win only 28 percent of the time.

Now, that's the worst-case scenario. The goal with the raise was to win it right there on the flop and increase my stack about 30 percent without a fight. That play is made profitable by the fact that if he calls, I know that I will still have a fighting chance to win the pot.

If I had just called on the flop, that would have made playing the turn extremely difficult, and would have given me only one way to win the hand. If I didn't catch my hand right away, I would have to make a difficult decision as to whether it was worth seeing the river card. Also, if I did happen to make my hand on the turn or the river, with Paul being a good player, there was no guarantee that he would call a bet from me.

That should help explain to you why semibluffing with these monster draws is often the best way to go.

The next bone of contention I wanted to deal with was this: "Why would you take such risks early in the tournament?" Well, if you are a recreational player and your goal is to just last as long as possible in the tournament, you should not even play the hand in the first place. If you are trying to win the tournament and aren't embarrassed about going out early, you should simply look for the correct play based on the cards you are dealt.

I do find it a little strange when people say that you shouldn't play a marginally profitable situation early in a tournament, but it's OK to do so late in a tournament. I think they are missing out on several key points, but I'd like to touch on just one: By doubling up early in an event, it enables you to accumulate even more chips, as a big stack demands respect and is often given free rein to pick up chips at will by aggressively attacking the blinds. I answered a hypothetical question a while back that went something like this: Let's say you are in the WSOP main event, and on the very first hand dealt, you have A-K offsuit in the big blind. Everyone folds to the small blind, who exposes his cards to you and goes all in with Q-J suited. Would you call?

You should - seriously. You would win the pot 60 percent of the time, meaning that six out of 10 times, you'd start the tournament with twice as many chips, while four times, you'd be out early and could enjoy the rest of the afternoon! That is too good an offer to pass up. You could justify folding as a 53 percent or even 55 percent favorite in this situation, but 60 percent is just too much equity for any mortal to give up.

Unless you believe yourself to be some kind of a poker god and think you can routinely fold in positive expected value situations because you can "outplay" everybody else without taking any risks, you should be willing to take some risks regardless of the stage of the tournament. 


Additional Articles:
-Beating Up on Weak Players
-Go Big or Go Home
-Conditional Probability

-Mixing It Up
-Sit-and-Go Strategy
-4 Quick Tips for Better Online Play
-The Truth About Tells

-Asian Poker Players
-Seating in Cash Games: A quick way to increase poker profits
-Lessons From the FBI
-The Gordon Pair Principle
-Battling with 'The Mouth'
-Grinding Out the Borgata
-Standard Pre-Flop Raises in No Limit Tournaments


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