Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Playing the Perfect Poker Path

Only one player wins a tournament.

So, everyone else is on a path leading to their elimination. Even if they play correctly all the way through, the rest of the entrants will not win the main prize. Their final correct play will fail when the inevitable call or all-in push hits a bad beat or a monster. That's the nature of the game: it’s a gamble.

Playing correctly is supposed to work over the long run. Such a player will win more than his fair share of tournaments and come out ahead. But consider the problem of one tournament in isolation. Could some incorrect strategy increase the chance of winning it, and increase it enough to swamp the maths of the long run?

Consider the simple case of a tournament where everyone, including you, is playing correctly. You'll most likely lose. Unless you play incorrectly somewhere to change the perfect path. And play incorrectly often enough to put yourself on the perfect path, if at all possible. The trick is knowing where.

You can't know, of course, and in reality incorrect plays elsewhere move the perfect path. So, it may be more useful to view this path as a ridge above the surrounding landscape of the other player’s ridges. The higher your ridge, the less likely it will be terminated by contributing to some bigger ridge. This is called insurance. And you need it early. That is the time to play incorrectly.

I've seen it so often. The idiots, who double and treble up within minutes by throwing everything into seven-two offsuit, are maybe not such idiots. I’m not advocating this extreme an approach but, even as early as the first few hands, the surrounding ridges are growing. Fast. You need to grow with them. Play those marginal hands, bet those draws and call those bluffs – more so than my earlier thoughts on tournament poker strategy. Hard to be so reckless? Not if the entry fee for the tournament is an amount you could risk for just a few hands of poker. Plenty of players do it; you'll have more success than you think.

Or you'll go out. But you were going out anyway.

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