“Alex, how do some of these guys get through thousands of players? Ten thousand players? I can’t seem to do it.”
I was talking with a friend of mine recently. He asked me the question above. We were discussing students of mine who recently had final tabled some $50 majors with seemingly billions of runners. My friend wanted to know what they were doing differently to cut through these bizarrely large online fields.
“Honestly, man, can I show you a hand?” I asked. “I think it’s better to teach you this way.”
Let me share with you the hand I showed him.
I tried to use the most basic HUD so everyone could follow along. The numbers are Voluntarily Put $ In Pot/Pre-flop Raise/Aggression Factor/3bet Percentage.
“Okay, so here you’re in a tournament with a huge field with a lower buy-in. A guy you know almost nothing about has raised from early position. You’re UTG+3 with JJ. What would you do here?”
While you’re reading this article, be sure to quiz yourself as well.
I’ll try to give you some space to skim in the article before the answer comes out. That will give you time to think.
There’s a ton of research that shows if you actively quiz yourself you’ll retain much more from an article or training video. Let’s try it out.
Would you call or reraise with the Jacks here?
Let’s go with the three-bet here to start.
But oh boy. Now we’re getting called by half the table.
Alright, not optimal with Jacks, but let’s take it from here.
The flop comes out and it’s checked to us. What should we do here?
Do you want to check?
Do you want to bet 1/3 of the pot?
How about a half?
More than that?
Let’s say we bet small here.
We get called by one player.
We see this turn and it’s checked to us.
If you find yourself instinctively skimming to the answers, that’s fine. Some of us have ADD. Just look at the hand history situation and ask yourself what you would normally do in the spot and compare it to the answers.
What do we do here on the seven turn?
Do we want to check?
Should we bet small?
What percentage of the pot would you go with if you fired here?
Let’s say you go small again. Your opponent calls.
This river comes out. What would you like to do here after he checks?
Do you want to check back?
Do you want to bet small?
Do you want to shove?
We shove and we get this call.
And BOOM, we take a huge pot.
Let’s break down what’s going on in this hand step-by-step.
But let’s start with this to begin with. What we just saw was a 129 big blind pot. The average win rate for a tournament player is 5 to 10 big blinds per 100 hands. Securing a few of these 100+ BB pots every session can drastically change your bottom line.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
The question was how do we cut through huge fields in lower buy-ins. The question was not how do we play perfectly.
Many players are afraid of doing something egregiously wrong. They’re not playing to win. They’re playing to not make a mistake.
Unfortunately, versus unbalanced competition we will have to take unbalanced exploitative plays. This will leave us open to exploitation as well, because we will be getting out of line. However, to get the results we want we will need to take some risks.
The first risk we took in this hand was here:
Versus a relatively unknown higher stakes player we can call with JJ here a decent percentage of the time, because it’s less likely he’s opening wide from early position. Versus tougher competition calling is not a bad idea.
However, in lower buy-ins with huge fields, you’re likely to run into a number of people who are playing for fun. They’ll be raising anything they want to see the flop with. They don’t want to fold, and they know limping will get them raised off their hand a good percentage of the time. So, they take the initiative themselves and raise. They’re banking on people not three-betting them, and honestly, that’s not a bad bet. The average person doesn’t three-bet bluff that much, or even three-bet wide for value.
We, however, want to involve this player in a bigger pot out of position with what is likely the best hand so we three-bet an amount he can call easily. Then we get called by everyone and the cocktail waitress. Such is life. We can work with this.
We’re actually in a pretty good place here once the flop comes out. The two players who cold called us actually have VPIP numbers that are twice as large as their Pre-flop Raise numbers. That means they like to gamble and see a lot of flops. They could have a ton of hands here that we’re beating!
In a tougher tournament, you want to check here, especially with the jack of clubs in our hand. It’s very likely someone cold called us with QQ, KK, or AA in tougher games. Here, however, these guys might be gambling with 9-6s. We might be getting calls from their A-3s! They’re certainly going to have difficult folding small pocket pairs.
We do an almost insultingly small bet here in the hopes that someone with a draw will want to raise it. Casual players sometimes will find it necessary to raise with their draws versus cartoonishly small bets. Sometimes you’ll get a guy to randomly raise a nine too. Then you’re really in business!
Also, if all hell breaks loose behind you most likely you’ve run into something better than your Jacks. You can save yourself a little here.
Truly, any bet is fine here. I just felt in the moment a small bet might get looser action from the big blind caller. I’d been raising a ton at the tables him and I occupied. I was hoping a small bet would get some loose raises from him.
If you bet large on this board you probably would still get these looser players to call with their nines or sevens, so a large bet is fine.
So, we bet smaller and the big blind decides to come along with us. Then we get the turn pairing the seven.
From there, we bet small again. We do it the second it is out there.
This is another super exploitative (read: exploitable) play. You need to use it only with guys you’ve played a number of hands with. You only can use it with more passive players who have a tendency to mirror your timing. This won’t work with even decent mid-stakes players, but it will likely work here.
With looser players you can fire quicker on this turn and get an honest reaction. If they call you quickly it’s a draw or, more likely, a weaker pair. People with sevens here tend to Hollywood or actually genuinely think about slowplaying before raising. They need a few seconds to think. A draw doesn’t have much to think of. A pair doesn’t have much to think of. They’ll often just call right away.
You might wonder why we’re not betting bigger. Now, we’re giving great odds for a draw to call us. That’s true, but one of those straight draws gives us the full house if it comes in on the top end. We’ve got one card of their flush draw. Finally, it’s far more likely our opponent has some weak pocket pair that we don’t want to blow them off of. A normal bet could lose the A-3s, 44, 55, 66, 88.
Also, what percentage of the time do you think he has a flush and straight draw there?
60% of the time?
40% of the time?
20% of the time?
It’s hard to know exactly what a recreational-style player calls there out of the big blind, but if we try to just take the pretty hands post-flop it’s hard for him to have many flush draws. This breakdown is just pocket pairs, suited aces, suited connectors, and broadways. Definitely hands every recreational player loves.
As we can see the gentleman has a flush draw about 1.5 times out of 10 on this turn, or 14.5% of the time.
Counting combinations is weird. That’s why this stuff isn’t as intuitive as we’d like.
Every flush draw you can think of is exactly one combo. Whereas there is six combos of 88 for example. Six combos of 66. The pairs add up.
In this breakdown, we try to give our opponent more flush draws, but by doing so we now add a bunch of nines they can call us with, even if we only count half the combos of each of these borderline hands.
As you can see, we’re still not adding a ton of draws.
Now let’s say our opponent never gives away their hand and slowplays all their three-of-a-kind and better hands. We’ll go back to their range where they don’t have as many nines.
Well that turn bet is one of those bets where people go. “This is such a dumb bet, no one will fold to this. Except maybe 22.” Well, that’s a good thing when we’re doing so well versus their range. This player is aggressive enough pre-flop they likely would have raised again with a premium. There’s even a good chance they would have raised their combo draws on the flop. Their range is mostly pocket pairs we’re shredding. If we bomb turn we lose a ton of them.
But now, on this river, our river shove doesn’t even look that big. We were looking forward to that, but our opponent probably wasn’t.
They’re playing with a ton of Monopoly money when it comes to tournament chips. The buy-in wasn’t huge. They’ve come this far. They want to know what you have. They already called the turn. They feel pretty pot committed.
So they call.
Even though we three-bet an under the gun raiser.
Even though we fired into three players on the flop.
Even though we triple barreled.
Why do most players on large networks call here in small buy-ins, especially on networks that don’t attract tons of pros? Does our opponent think we did this with 66 here? Surely, he knows we don’t play many draws this way, right? Wouldn’t we have bet bigger on the flop with those hands, in the hopes of getting pairs to fold eventually?
The truth is humans have a basic weakness for when it comes to loss aversion. Think about what happens at a cardroom when someone bets 1/3 pot on the river. How often do you really call a bet that small and see a bluff? It doesn’t happen a ton. But you’ll see guys literally hold their hand over the muck and say, “I gotta see it.” They pay it off, nod, and muck. No one at the table blinks an eye. Because if that player had folded and then was shown a bluff the REAL social faux pas would have occurred. “Oh my God, all you had to do was call 1/3 pot! POT ODDS! POT ODDS! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”
But what is easy for us to forget between sessions is those 1/3 river bets are often 6 to 10 big blinds. That’s a great win rate for 100 hands. If we keep throwing away those calls it is going to add up significantly.
So, what does this all have to do with players cutting through HUGE fields? Everything.
When I watch my students who consistently get through huge fields of low buy-in players, they are NEVER afraid to make a mistake. They will play as goofy as they need to. All they care about is setting up the kill shot.
I went through my recent hands and tried to find the strangest triple barrel I could find in a low buy-in to make this quiz. I show hands like this to my students all the time to see how it makes them feel.
Does the super exploitative/exploitable plays make you sick to your stomach? Are you worried about making a mistake with one of these weird bets and having your poker group tease you? Or did you see 60 big blinds go into your stack at the end here and think, “wow that helps us a ton for the rest of the tournament.”
What I notice about my students who are doing well in large fields is they will break a lot of rules with passive players in order to get the HUGE river bet. They know people struggle to fold on rivers because curiosity equity is a hell of a thing. Opponent love to call when there’s a missed draw, even if logically and combinatoric-wise it’s very hard for you to have a missed draw. My students who are succeeding understand this gap in recreational player logic and seek to exploit it all costs. They’re fine with doing something stupid on occasion. They’re fine with shoving into a random QQ there once in a blue moon. What they don’t want to do is check back the best hand or not get value from what was a great situation.
There are other students who are petrified of making a mistake. They will always cold call here pre-flop and play passively post-flop, even checking back rivers when it’s obvious they have the best hand. They’re constantly worried about a player turning a hand into a bluff on the river, so they don’t ever value bet. They forget all the time that recreational players struggle with that. Some of them are so resistant to playing flops that they’ll just three-bet a huge amount here pre-flop which forces all weaker hands to fold. They’re terrified of someone cold calling them behind and having to play ball.
The players who get huge stacks early from busting recreational players reap benefits for a long time. If they go to something absurd like 150 big blinds they are really in the driver’s seat. If they go from 150 big blinds to 140 big blinds it doesn’t impact them much. However, if one of their opponents goes from 30 big blinds to 20 big blinds that impacts them significantly.
With these bonus chips that are worth less the “big field crusher” turns up the aggression. They apply more double barrels, three-bets, check-raises, etc. When the ante kicks in and most players are around 30 to 50 big blinds, those plays will put their stacks at risk. However, the player who took risks early on to bust a recreational player is rocking 80+ big blinds, and he’s not sweating it if one of his pressure plays doesn’t work.
If this player then targets his double barrels, three-bets, check-raises, and other plays to players who have high fold percentages statistically when challenged, they then become this center of gravity attracting more chips.
But it all starts with recognizing the recreational players are going to go bust EARLY in a tournament. If we play scared versus them, fearing plays that statistically never happen, then we’re not going to maximize our profits. We will be much harder to beat, yes. If we balance, we will become a much tougher player to beat. But if we open up our defense and strike, we can take the bull by the horns now. That can mean our jaw is exposed. We have to take that chance.
I hope these tips have been beneficial to you and your game. Best of luck to all of you!
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Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player who currently lives in Queens, New York. He has been a pro since 2006, the same year he graduated high school. Alex does have WPT and EPT final tables along with WCOOP and SCOOP wins, but he is more well known as a teacher of low-to-mid stakes players. To get one of his training packs for free, click here. To get content like this sent to your inbox every day for free, sign up for his newsletter at http://www.pokerheadrush.com/