Discussing the game of poker will give you tremendous insight to not only your way of thinking about playing the game but the approaches other players take in the same situation. While you might feel that your thoughts are the way to go, a truly open minded player will consider the advice of others and gather new “tools for the toolbox” that they might use. Recently I found one of those situations in discussing taking on a limped pot situation while playing in the blinds.
Having just come off a live event, one of the members of our group posited a situation that they witnessed on the baize. With a stack of 6800 in chips and the blinds at 200/400 with a 25 ante, four people limp to your spot in the small blind – the player under the gun, or first after the blinds (UTG), a middle position player (MP), the hijack, or two before the button (HJ) and the button (BT). With all this action in front of you, in most cases you’re going to have to have something special to come along and, guess what…you do. Peeling the cards, you see you have pocket Jacks for the occasion. Now comes the big question, though…what do you do?
First off, let’s clear a couple of factors out of the way quick. Depending on the point of the tournament you’re in – early, middle, or late – and the number of players remaining and/or where you are in position to the money bubble, those factors will have a tremendous effect on what your action would be in this hand. From my investigation, this above situation would normally take place anywhere between Level 5 (a fast-structured event) or Level 7 (slower structure). This information is critical in a real-world situation but, in this instance and for our consideration here, we’re not going to concern ourselves with what segment of the tournament we’re in.
Secondly, we didn’t receive any information about the status of the opponents on the felt. There are some players who will make different moves depending on their stack sizes and, as stated above, the point that the tournament has reached. This information, along with player psychologies, would have been good to have (is someone being a table captain? Is someone short?), but we’ll also move forward without that information.
Being in the small blind with several limpers in front of you presents a myriad of options. You could make a bluff with a less-than optimum hand, but that isn’t the most logical situation to attempt the move. Of the four players in front of you who have already acted, at least one of them is GOING to have a hand (more on this in a bit). Thus, making a move with nothing to back it up would be tournament suicide in this situation.
Fortunately, however, we do have a decent, Top Ten hand to go to battle with. The only question is what approach to take.
If you’re looking to thin the field, a raise with four players in front of you isn’t necessarily going to get anyone to drop their hand. To be honest a raise – let’s say you go the min-raise route, for example – is just going to price people into the hand to come along for a look at the flop. Additionally, you don’t receive any info about their hands if you go with the min-raise and everyone just calls. A bigger raise…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
As you ponder the situation, you’ve got to examine what your opponents’ potentially have and put them on a range of hands. The UTG, for example, is probably going to make that move with a very good pair – potentially bigger than your pocket Jacks? – or a powerful Ace like Big Slick. The rest of the field is probably the biggest question mark – just what are the MP, hijack, and button all doing just calling the raise of the UTG? If they had big hands, you would think they would three-bet the action to keep others (like you in the small blind) from even considering calling. Let’s put them on the range of small pairs or connectors of some sort; it is possible that they have bigger hands but they’re taking a massive risk by playing them against more than one opponent.
Now let’s look at the math. With the actions of these four players, there’s 2225 in the pot. As stated above, raising probably isn’t going to push anyone off their hands and may even give them reason to stick around. If you push out three times bet (1200, and figuring that the big blind yet to act gets out of the way), each of those four players has more than 4:1 odds to stay in the pot (800 call to win 3425). If you’re thinking of four times bet (1600), that is slightly less than a quarter of your stack…you’d probably be better off with a jam all in.
In this place, perhaps discretion is the better part of valor. Completing your blind for an additional 200 leaves you with a still-viable 6600. What you’re looking for is the big blind to just check his option – the most desirable action – but if (s)he tries to play sheriff with a squeeze play, that’s not a bad move for you either. If the big blind squeezes or moves all in, you will get a great deal of information out of what the other four players do ahead of you. If they all fold, you can look for what will be a nice double up (and then some) against the big blind because you’re calling. If someone(s) in front of you make the call, then you can put your Jacks in the muck fairly confidently and only have lost your full blind of 400.
There is also some credence to going all in yourself. Using the Harrington M factor, you are under 10 putting in 825 chips every round and you need to get back to a viable stack. Will you find yourself in this position again in the next nine hands – a strong pocket pair with a shot at doubling or tripling through another player(s)? The odds are roughly 16:1 in being dealt any pocket pair, so that information says you might not find another time like this one when you actually have viable chips that have an impact.
As you can see, there are multiple ways to approach playing this hand. There are many factors to consider when deciding on the action, however, and all must be considered in the final analysis. The bottom line is, for most players, winning the tournament – which option presents the best method for you to win the event?