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UFA Under the Gun


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Constantly pistol-whipped and brow beaten by an onslaught of competitors for playing so many marginal hands sitting “Under the Gun,” it was time to refocus on my playing strategy and examine my game for easily detected flaws. “You’ve got to Inspect what you Expect!” So I decided to perform a thorough self-examination and I focused on a point in time during tournament holdem’ play where many consider you make your most critical money making decision: Under the Gun!

There was no beating around the bush and so I started by asking myself what cards were playable, or rather raise-able from this position. But then I had a much better idea, and I thought about the true champions and legends of poker, and the writers, who in these types of magazines hint that they too have “game,” and decided to ask them for their thoughts. This is what they had to say:

The following scenario was presented to each person surveyed:

You find yourself Under the Gun at the final table of a UFA no-limit holdem’ super satellite event with 7 unknown opponents and 2 world-class champions seated directly to your right. The blinds are $2,500 and $5,000, and you are in dead last with $67,000 in chips. The players between you and the button are all medium to low stacked. The chip leader with $650,000 is the big blind, followed by the $275,000 held by the small blind. Your cards are KJd; what would you do? And why?

If you were the chip leader in the same seat with the same cards, how different would your approach be to playing or not playing this hand?

Having provided that scenario I quickly found out how smart these guys and gals really were. I was instantly bombarded with questions: Do I know the other players at the final table and their style of play, how many seats are up for grabs, did I make a mistake in the blind amounts, and on and on. Okay, I confess, not ever having been to the final table at a big event, I might have left out a “tiny bit” of information, but like troopers storming a ridge, they still all responded with caveats to my scenario. So here’s what they said, almost word for word, and my humiliation!

Susie Issacs responds:

I’m mucking the hand for several reasons and here are three: #1 – There will be several seats awarded (you haven’t said how many but I assume in a super satellite there would be 4, 5, or 6), so I am mostly interested in survival. After I get through the blinds I would still have $60K left and now many hands to look at, possibly in better position. There are too many players to overcome if I commit that early. #2 – With lesser strength cards I would have a better chance at bluffing at the pot from the button on even 1 or 2 hands behind the button. #3 – Mucking that hand in that position gives me time to find a better hand or better position to bluff. While waiting, other players may go to war, it takes only one chip to win a seat…

If I were the chip leader, I am still going to throw the hand away. I am not looking to win the most hands or chips; I am just trying to win a $10K seat. Survival is key.

Mike Sexton responds:

I still think you need to include the most important detail – How many seats are being awarded? The blinds compared to your stack still give you time to play. However, I have no doubts that the chip counts are wrong. Back to the question. I believe the correct answer is to move-in, with Fold being a close second. There is no other choice. You still have enough chips to put a dent in the others, and you don’t have to worry so much about the blinds because as many chips as they appear to have, they do not need to play a pot (and most likely wouldn’t unless they picked up a real big hand). They wouldn’t call with A-10, or A-J for example. (I can say that because you said they were top players) Also, when you move-in in the first position, people put you on a BIG hand.

Rolf Slotboom responds:

First of all, the ratio of the blinds is rather low in relation to the amount of chips in play; this would be unusual for a super-satellite, right? Before you read my comments, please keep in mind I am a money player. It is unusual for me to enter more than ten tournaments a year and I never play satellites; therefore my opinion regarding the situation you describe is just that: an opinion (nothing more, nothing less).

In the case you describe (BB only $5,000, me as the short stack still $67,000), I wouldn’t mess with KJ under the gun, the game still being eight-handed. Had the BB been $20,000, I might very well have committed by raising all-in, but now I have a little more time: if I fold now and I also fold my blinds I still have $60,000 left to try to find a better situation to get my money in.

Regarding your second question: even though I tend to be very aggressive in the (few) tournaments I play, whenever I’ve accumulated a lot of chips, with blinds only this size, there doesn’t seem to be any need to become aggressive now. If I put in a lot of chips now, I will only get action from hands better than mine. So I’m not going to put a lot of chips at risk to try to win only $7,500 (the total sum of the blinds). If I’m not mistaken, there are more than $1,000,000 in chips on the table, so the small and big blind together account for a lot less than 1 percent of the total chip amount.

Daniel Negreanu responds:

You’ve left out some important information, how many seats are they giving away? Regardless of that fact, considering all the possibilities I move all-in.

Since I’m the short stack, I likely have to increase my stack to get a seat. If however I had 300,000 in chips, I would likely make it 20,000 to go and most likely fold to a re-raise.

Matt Lessinger responds:

In your first scenario, where I am the low chip man UTG with KJd, it is an easy fold. I may be in last in chips, but I am nowhere near being blinded off, so I can afford to be patient. And with two world-class players in the blinds with large stacks, there is no sense getting involved with such a marginal hand.

If I am the chip leader, the situation changes. I don’t think you could ever be completely wrong for folding KJd UTG under any circumstances, but you would be more correct in playing it if you have the table chip lead.

Matt goes on to say, “In no-limit, stack size is almost as important as what cards you do play. But that works both ways. You can’t just concentrate on your own stack size; you have to worry about the relative stack sizes of each and every opponent. That is the one piece of information that has been left out.

Lou Krieger responds:

Al, although this scenario is a bit dicey because you’ve not provided any indication about the playing style of the opposition, and not all world class players have the same style. Some, like Berry Johnston and Tom McEvoy, are more deliberate, while others, like John Bonetti love to mix it up. In addition, I have no insights into the playing styles of those less-than-world-class opponents who are also at the table.

However, since I am in last place in a super-satellite, and am assuming that only a few will win entries into the big dance, I need to gather some chips, so here’s my thinking.

If I raise from under the gun by making it $10,000 or $15,000 to go, my opponents will either credit me for a pair – any pair will do – or a hand with an ace in it. I’ve not yet reached the point where I have to play just about any hand for all my chips; I still can see some cards before my stack is that depleted.

Opponents who act after me are unlikely call my raise without a hand that can beat a pair, or an ace with a reasonable kicker. As for the two world class opponents who are hovering to my right with lots of chips, I assume they will also call me if they have hands that can beat an ace or a pair – unless, of course, they are skilled enough to read me for a steal – with precisely the kind of hand I have. Even so, I’m not so short stacked that either of them will probably want to risk putting me all in unless their cards can support their actions. One of them might come over the top if he’s holding an ace, figuring that I might not want to commit all my chips in a position where I figure to be either a rather small favorite or a big underdog.

Before I raise with this hand, however, I’ve got to be willing to commit all of my chips if any of my opponents come over the top. If I am not willing to play this hand for all my chips, I really shouldn’t play it at all. I certainly have enough in front of me to see the impending blinds – and another round after that – and still have more than $50,000 in front of me.

If I were the chip leader at the table instead of the short-stack, I’d surely raise by making it $10,000 to go. But if someone came over the top of me, I could easily afford to release my hand, since I’d really be risking no more than a very small percentage of my stack in an attempt to steal the pot with a marginal holding. If I come in for that kind of small raise as chip leader and am called, I’m going to put my opponent all in if I flop a king, a jack, a straight draw, or a flush draw. Moreover, I’ll probably put him to a decision about most or all of his chips if the flop is ragged and he’s a solid enough player to release his hand to a big bet on the flop.

Andy Glazer responds:

Lovely, I have position on two guys and they are the ones with big stacks and who play well.

I have plenty of time, and there’s probably not much limping going on at this stage of the tournament, so much of this hand’s value – the flush or high straight – isn’t working for me. I’m likely to be heads up with someone who will pop me back for the rest of my chips, and I don’t even have an ace in my hand. The goods news is the two big stacks are both smart enough to know they don’t have to take risks. However, just folding and waiting for a moment where I have position on the big stacks and know whether they will be in there or not might be better.

If I’m the chip leader, my hand goes into the muck so fast people might think I’d never been dealt cards. Why would I want to risk a giant stack in early position when I’m practically a lock for a seat without playing a hand?

Despite the lack of information provided by yours truly, it was very interesting to note the real questions raised by these respected players and authors. Although approaches varied, “stack sizes, position and information relating to opponent styles were indeed as important as the cards dealt.” So, the next time you hear, “Cards in the Air,” be sure you have all the information available before it’s time for you to act “Under the Gun.”



Wilmer Brennan
Wilmer Brennan
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