I got an email recently asking for some poker coaching.
“I’m not a poker coach.” I told myself. But what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.
D.G., a guy I play with regularly frequently, is heading to the WSOP, and he wants to be more aggressive.
He said that he finds me difficult to play against, and I seem to have some of the aggression he would like.
The problem for D.G. is that ramping up aggression feels reckless to him. It feels like being a maniac and spewing away money. He plays a solid, theoretical style. In fact, he’s won more money than I have in tournaments. He just knows instinctively that he’s not aggressive enough for modern tournament play. Many of the books would table him an “ABC” player. “ABC” players tend to struggle against “LAGs” or loose aggressive players. But there’s a difference between loose aggressive and reckless.
I get it, because for a long time I was reckless. I spewed off a lot of money, and would bust out of a tournament with complete air on some embarrassing hand. It’s taken a while for me to learn how to harness my aggression. I’m stubborn that way.
Since we were talking about tournaments, let’s stick with that idea for this post.
The concept we ended up talking about the most was range balance.
Before you skip ahead or close the browser, this concept is super important to beginning and intermediate players.
If you want to have the proper level of aggression to be a winning tournament player, you must spend some time away from the table thinking about your ranges. As a practical matter, in D.G.’s case, he needs to three bet, four bet, and raise more often. That means adding hands to the range he would naturally do that with.
So let’s set up a situation. You are in a tournament, the blinds are 100/200 with a 25 ante. You have 80 big blinds (16,000 in your stack). You are in middle position and there is one limper in front of you. There’s 750 in the middle right now. Big Blind + Small Blind + 10 Antes + Limper. You look down at ATs. This is about a top 8% hand. So how are you doing against the limping range? Is it better to call or raise here?
In my experience with amateur tournament players, limps from early position are inherently weak most of the time. Every once in a while, you’ll get a crafty guy that limps AA or KK, but most of the time that’s not the case. Hands like 78s or pocket 4’s tend to limp. Hands that they really want to see a flop with, but are not in love with. So I suggest raising with ATs. We have 80bb, so we can afford to make this play. I’d make it something like 750 or 800 here. Depending on who’s behind me, maybe make it 1000. But 800 is 5% of my stack, and I have a good chance of taking it down now, or seeing a flop heads up.
But the real question to ask yourself when thinking about tournament aggression, is what hands WORSE than ATs should you add to your three betting range? This is how you increase your aggression to keep up the blind structure of the tournament. You have to artificially increase your three betting range to compensate for blind structure. Build a chip stack at this stage of the tournament when you have more than 50bb.
So if we say that we would 3-bet with all the hands in the 8% range, let’s pick some hands outside that range we would also three bet with.
So 8% of hands is 104 combos. If we wanted to be truly “balanced,” we would try and find 104 other combos to add to this range. Let’s see if we can do that in a reasonable, logical way. If you add KQo, KTo, JTs, JTo, ATo, QJo, QTo to that basic 8% range that’s 96 additional combos. We are very close to being theoretically balanced. Maybe you throw in A9s and you’re in balance.
You might also create a range here where you add more suited Aces and remove hands like JTo. It depends on how you like to play. You get to make your own range here that you’re comfortable with. But the important thing is that you do it away from the table and think about it deeply so you can access these ranges in game.
So we 3 bet and raise it to 1000 trying to win 750. If this play works 1/3 of the time, we are in good shape. Sometimes everyone folds. That’s a great result. We add almost 5% to our stack. Good job.
Sometimes it folds around and the limper calls. The flop comes out, he checks, you bet half pot and he folds. You just increased your stack by almost 10%. It’s a totally boring hand. It didn’t go to show down.
Sometimes it runs out in a way where the button 4 bets and you fold, or you take a flop 5 ways and you lose the hand. No big deal. You still have 75bb. You only need it work 1/3 of the time. But by increasing your ranges, you put yourself in position to increase your stack by 5% more often. That’s the name of the game in tournaments. Keeping a healthy stack size later and later into the tournament.
The thing that made the biggest difference in my game was thinking about my ranges from different positions. Increasing these ranges, and then doing it again for 4 bets, and for calling in position. I literally took notes on what hands I played from what position for a month of tournaments. Then I took out a piece of paper and wrote down all the hands I played from each position. When you do that, you’ll be able to see which garbage hands you need to take out, and then which hands you can insert to ramp up your aggression.
It takes a while to become comfortable with it, but when you master it, you will find yourself building a stack and staying in front of the blind structure.
Hope you run good.