One of the most enjoyable things about tournament poker is that there are myriad of ways to approach playing the game. For example, you can come out of the gates firing chips, playing lots of pots – what I like to call a “splash and dash” style – or you can sit back and look for those big hands to get paid off – the “slow and steady” approach. But which one is the best? Let’s break it down in a “pros versus cons” look at the situations.
“Splash & Dash”
One of the biggest pros of playing a wide ranging style is that it makes you completely unpredictable to your opponents. If you’re going to play 10-2 off suit with the same intensity that you would play a big pocket pair, it is going to be tough for another player to put you on a range of hands. Thus, if you are employing this style, you will get credit for “having a hand,” especially if you’ve shown down some winners and the opposition has a menial holding or has missed their hand.
Taking on the “splash and dash” style usually ensures that you’re going to get paid off big time with your hands. If it is a big pocket pair that catches – and your opponent(s) don’t believe you – then they will come to the river and pay you off. The same goes for when you connect with your “rags” – using the example above, it will be difficult for an opponent to put you on that 10-2 and they might pay you off when the board comes K-2-7-9-2 to give their Big Slick a nice two pair.
The biggest con is that, if you play lots of hands, then you will burn through your ammunition – your chips – faster than normal. Even with the blinds at 25/50 or 50/100 (unless you have built up a stack) you will be risking chips frequently that might be better saved until you have some adequate holdings with which to go to battle. If you’ve ever employed the “splash and dash” style and seen your stack shrink and then get a big pocket pair, you might wish you had some of those chips back.
There is also the downside of just not connecting with the board. Sure, you might be able to push one, even two hands and get the opposition to drop their cards when you’ve got air, but at some point the opposition will begin to push back. Statistically speaking, it is more likely that you won’t connect with the board when you are playing marginal holdings (with whatever cards you’re holding, really), thus all you need are a run of hands where you completely whiff to spew off a large portion of your stack.
“Slow & Steady”
Taking the “slow and steady” approach allows you to ease into the game and get a feel for your surroundings and your opponents. Picking up on the playing styles and, in particular, any tells that a player may put off are important to learn. If you’re playing every hand or otherwise busy, you may miss key nuances that may help you down the road in the tournament.
Another great product of this approach is that, when you do make any type of move at the table, it does get a bit more respect than if you’re splashing around in the pool. If you are playing, say, 20% of the hands, observant opponents are going to take note and probably will not play against you if you are in for a raise. This also allows for you to make some moves later on in the tournament once you have established a “solid” approach to the game.
There are plenty of players in the game today who do not respect the “slow and steady” approach and will try to pound on you if you are in a hand. The reasoning for this is that, unless you’ve got a monster, most “slow and steady” players will not four- or five-bet the action if it comes back around to them after they have raised. Thus, you will get players coming against you with middle Aces (A-9 down to A-6), potentially looking to best your pocket tens with a less-than optimal holding.
It is also not a great thing to just sit there for a long period of time folding hands. First, people will quickly learn that you’re just waiting for the big ones, guaranteeing for the most part you won’t get action when you do pop the bet up. Second, the rising blinds will eat into your chip stack; without replenishment, even if you do have a great hand, if you don’t have enough ammunition to fight, there are players who will call just to snap you off. Finally, it’s supposed to be fun, and there isn’t much fun in not doing anything but sitting!
So What Do You Do?
The answer to this question is much like the answer to many questions in poker: it depends. What will the table let you get away with? If you are amongst a bunch of rocks who are looking for quad Aces each hand, then you might be able to get away with a little larceny in the more freewheeling “splash and dash” style. If you are sitting with an array of LAGs who are basically playing an Old Maid card and a Monopoly title card as if they’re Aces every hand, then sitting back and watching for a bit – the “slow and steady” style – may be optimum.
Whichever decision is made, it is critically important to employ both styles at various points in a tournament. These “gear changes” keep your opponents off guard as to your particular “style” and will, more often than not, see your chip stack rise. If the proper amount of “splash and dash” and “slow and steady” are applied, it can be critical to deepening your run in tournaments and even in winning the events.