Differences between Tournaments and Ring Games
Greg Raymer contends that early in a
tournament you should play your normal ring game strategy, and while I don't disagree a great deal, I do disagree a bit. Tournaments
have a death penalty. You lose your chips, you are out. Suppose there is some line of play where after 20 such situations, you are
ahead 26 chips if you play it aggressively and straightforwardly. But if you would play it deceptively, you would be ahead 28 chips.
Better, right? Definitely not necessarily. Suppose as you gained the 26 chips, you never once went broke, but when you gained the 28
chips, you busted out 3 times. Huge difference. I couldn't care less about the two extra chips I gain. I care about being eliminated
those three times.
"In a tournament" you can't just look at the isolated expectation of the single play. Those 26 chips are better than the 28 chips,
because they are still in the tournament those three extra times, ready to go out and get more chips. High variance plays, even if
they are slightly profitable, should be avoided because losing is far more catastrophic in a tournament than a
Windows - Mac
Mountain Mike wrote:
> I'm so damn disgusted with my tournament play, I want to quit playing them.
> Is it possible a guy just isn't cut out for tournaments?
Definitely possible you aren't cut out for them. Many decent ring game players don't have the internal makeup to be able to handle one
key reality of tournament play: every single player loses most of the time! No tournament player finishes in the money more than 50%
of the time. 30% is a great rate. 10% would be the mythical random average for a tournament with 90 people that pays 9. How many
tournaments have you played and not cashed? Anything less than 20 is nothing to be concerned about, unless you don't think you have
the "stomach" to be able to aim for only a 30% or so win-per-play rate.
Victoria Palmateer wrote...
> All of that said, I believe that 10-20 to 30-60 players are not better
> poker players than the top 10% of tournament players. We wish we were,
> that is why guys like Daniel Negreanu, Steve Badger and Jim Meehan get
> flamed on here so much. Our
skills are different than theirs. They are
The unkindest flame of all! :) I won't speak for the other two, but I am not a gambler. As I said on this forum many times, I hate
gambling. I don't mind at all playing a game of skill that has a significant element of luck, but I only play when, and because, I
have the best of it. Poker can be played primarily for fun, but when you talk about winning poker, poker that earns money, gambling is
the enemy. If I take AA against 72o, that may be "gambling" to some, but it is more of a gamble to *not* take advantage of that money
edge, time and time again.
A successful tournament player in general will be very risk adverse, even though there are times in a tournament you have to take
risks, usually calculated risks, but sometimes
> Can they possibly win in ring games? Sure. But could we enter in the
> World series and have a shot? Probably not.
The vast majority of successful tournament players are successful ring game players who put in more hours at ring games than
tournaments (though less time in ring games than professional ring game players.) There are very few tournament players who don't play
ring games at all. This is not an either-or question, for a tournament player anyway.
> In their world they gamble and lose more than we do (this refers to
> percentage of wins). Their mental recovery
skills must be awesome.
I don't know that this is a good definition of "gamble", but a definite tournament skill is the ability to lose most days. Most
successful ring game players can't seem to handle this. They can't see the longrun of tournaments, so they just avoid them, and take
the much easier daily win in a ring game. Just a different way to do it, based on a different psychological makeup.
> Realistically there should be 2 separate sites for tournament talk
> and ring games. Since there are many more ring players they drown
> out the tournament players.
Tournaments are different than ring games, but ring games vary dramatically too (witness different perceptions between LA and Las
Vegas 15-30 games in the tail end of the dreaded 44 threads.) Ring game players who never have played a tournament may not be able to
speak knowledgably about tournaments, just like a home game player can't about casino play, but all tournament players have played in
ring games, and understand they are different.
Lee Munzer wrote...
> One player who flat out refused to acknowledge his status
> as one of the best players in the game was John Juanda.
You can be a great player while still being a total dimwit about your own ability.
> I think I asked you, Daniel or another top player whether someone as nice
> (I'll even say shy) as John J. can have the killer instinct. Whoever I asked
> immediately said John has it. Again, his record is outstanding, so I
> suppose you're right, but, the question I have is, does his truly
> nice guy persona act as a limitation on how far he can go?
Poker is not like bayoneting somebody on Normandy beach. Some successful players are creeps. Some are really nice men and women. The
nicer ones may even have a tiny edge by being nice -- you tend to focus on the real point, finding a way to win, instead of the
creep's point, winning in the most obnoxious, gloating way possible. Usually players try to beat creeps, which often works in the
favor of the creep (because their opponents are coming into the fight relatively under-armed). Often though there will be an air
around a table where everybody is hoping a creep goes broke. That is definitely bad for the creep. (As opposed to people not minding
as much to lose to a nice person.) Anyway, I don't think being a nice guy hurts or helps much in tournament poker.
Dave Downing wrote:
> What I did comment on was that successful tournament players have a loose,
> aggressive, playing-the-player style. I didn't say anything about how
> they play in a ring game, or how ring games should be played at all.
Most successful tournament players do NOT have this loose style. Most tournament players DO play-the-player extremely well. That's the
point of poker after all, to beat your opponents. However most are not overly loose-aggressive. Yes, SOME are, but most aren't. And as
I tried to show with an example from a tournament, Scotty sure isn't.
> Lets look at some winning style tourney players...Scotty N., Layne Flack,
> Barbara Enright, Men "The Master" and of course John Bonnetti. ----snip----
> Not one of these guys or gal could be described as tight aggressive.
> Sure they can slow down and play a waiting game for a while, but they
> are mostly loose, ultra-aggressive and "making moves" players
Scotty? Loose-aggressive? Not a chance. Scotty's best game, probably, is Omaha. He is absolutely NOT loose-aggressive. He once called
me on the turn and river with nut low made and second and third pair. Call the flop, call the turn when low is made, call the river
when a blank comes. And, he was right to just call since I had low too and top and bottom pair. This was not some scintillating play,
and granted he was playing against me who he always plays very tough, but no "loose-aggressive" player would just call with this hand
on each street.
Men the Master has a style all his own. To try and define it would be wrong, and loose aggressive is almost as off the mark as it is
with Scotty. Men's style is that he generally plays based on his opponent -- one of the least appreciated of the poker skills. He does
well being generally very aggressive because that is the correct way to play against the mass of
There is no "best" in poker. There is only winning and losing, and the
long run. This obsessive fixation on thinking
there is this animal called a "tournament player" that is distinct from a ring game player has no connection with reality. Most
successful primarily tournament players are successful ring game players. Many (though not most) successful primarily ring game
players are successful tournament players. There are virtually no players who play tournaments who don't play ring games. And there
are only a small group of successful tournament players that are very unsuccessful ring game players. Unfortunately the semi-informed
seem to think Eskimo is somehow a prototype for successful tournament players. He's not. He's an anomaly, both in tournament play and
> I was in a tournament recently and noticed a technique of another player.
> When the last buy in was over, most players tightened up their play, but
> this player was very loose aggressive and accumulated lots of chips! He
> "buys" his way to the final table. He keeps rebuying lots of chips during
> the final rebuy period and hammers away at the pots, and said he usually
> ends up at the final table.
My goal in any tournament of any size is to have (at least) 1300 when we start playing 200-400. Have that much and you will be in
contention. In some small LA tournaments, it's possible to buy as much as 1800 in chips. Just doing this increases your chances to win
dramatically. Unless I just win no pots, I'll always be still alive when we get to the key tournament rounds: 100-200 to 300-600. You
gotta win pots there and no artificial chip buying strategy will help you. But players who don't buy all the available buys are at a
huge disadvantage, as a group, to the players, as a group, who do take all the buys. The final tables of these usually have 7 people
who took the available buys. The "one bullets" are long gone because they just didn't have enough chips to compete where the blinds go
up so fast -- unless they just got lucky. And if you are hoping
to "get lucky" you are better off in a ring game where luck is far more valuable.
Great players can show their greatness in about three ways: in the longrun/life, in the shortrun/a few months or even one day, and in
the shortest run possible in poker - a single hand. Greatness came be demonstrated in making a good laydown, or a good raise, or a
good read on a player, or several other things in a single hand.
Unlike live games, tournaments start all players on an equal footing. Everybody has the same bankroll, and the same random seating
assignment "luck". This makes it different from live games where people play with unequal bankrolls and unequal life circumstances.
Some folks say tournaments are trash because many people win occasionally, but only the best win in ring games. This attitude misses
the basics of poker.
Bad players, *very* bad players can and do
win in ring games every single day! A bad player has a much much much better shot of winning in a ring game on any particular day than
in a tournament.
Over a lifetime only the best win in ring games. It makes no sense to compare the results of someone's lifetime of poker to a single
day of a tournament. Tournament play is just as judge-able over a lifetime.
One day's tournament play is very much like one day of live game play -- you win or you lose. The thing about tournaments that some
folks will never understand is that tournaments are an even *more* longterm thing than ring games. Good players win over half the time
in ring games. Even the greatest player wins far less than half the time in tournaments -- but over the course of time, true ability
shows itself. Doyle Brunson has World Series bracelets from three decades. Ya think that's easy?
Playing Ring Games in California vs. Nevada
> I fail to see what is the significance of your comment is. So they call
> 2 ,3 or even 4 bets with these hands, so what. The question is whether
> in the long run these hands can be winners. It seems to me that in the
> long run, they are going to be dominated hands.
He's saying in a game where players routinely call raises, multiple raises with QJ, A8 and A7 suited, that hands like KQ and AJ are
now dominating hands overall, rather than dominated.
My experience with RGP is that people playing in different sorts of games somehow don't seem to understand their "typical" game can be
light years different than somebody else's typical game. Here's an overgeneralized statement -- if you almost always fold KQo in
California 20-40 Holdem games, you are playing badly;
if you almost always call with KQo in Nevada 20-40 Holdem games, you are playing badly.
Mike Caro wrote...
> I also agree with you that KQ dictates a call by most experienced
> players in many of the California games where they are sometimes
> -- believe it or not -- more likely to dominate than be dominated.
I have to laugh when I see people talk of KQ as a dominated rather than a dominating hand. In California, with a raise before the
flop, five way action, if the flop is K22, and it is a bet and raise to me with KQ, and nobody has a deuce, my hand will be good (at
this point) 90% of the time. Clearly this is not so in some games elsewhere, but you can take it to the bank here.
Gary Carson wrote...
> I've played in games (20/40 games and 3/6 games) where the right
> thing to do with KQo in second position after an under
the gun raise
> was to 1) fold 2) call 3) raise. It's not a function of the KQo, it's a
> function of who those other guys are, the kinds of hands that
> under the gun player might have, and what everyone else is likely
> to do if you call and what everyone else is likely to do if you raise.
I wasn't just making the point though of adapting to specific players. Strategic advice should never be an absolute lockstep.
Knowledge of your specific opponents is a good thing. However, my point is that strategy/advice should be built around the specific
game "type", not just players. There can be reasons for doing either a fold, call or raise with the same hand in the same position
when confronted with special circumstances, but a person should have worked out in advance the way they want to most commonly deal
with situations, based on the game type they commonly play in. And games vary a lot, from California on one side (usually) to Nevada
on the other side (usually) with the rest of the country somewhere in between. The common California game is so different than the
common Nevada game that people are not even talking about the same thing when they say "a 15-30 Holdem game".
David Sklansky wrote...
> The bottom line is that the hand should be folded only in games where the
> button will usually raise and there will almost certainly be a bet on fourth
> street. Most games are not like that.
Still don't know how anybody could make a statement like David's last sentence above. Eight people take a flop in 15- 30 Holdem, small
blind bets, two callers with only the 44 and the preflop raiser on the button left to act, on a 983 flop. David's "most games are not
like that" is utterly ridiculous if applied to the Commerce casino as one example. Most games *are* like that. And the correct way for
the button to play, as long as they have two overcards, an overpair or even one overcard diamond is to raise to try and get it head-up
with the reraising small blind.
My own experience is in 15-30 games in Los Angeles or San Jose. In either one of these places most games will get a raise from the
button almost all the time. Maybe they play more timid poker in other places, where a preflop raiser is going to misplay his hand
horribly by not raising, but I have never seen these mythical 15-30 games says exist -- apparently because I don't play in one of the
few middle-limit ring games spread in Nevada.
> Yes you have to loosen up (I think considerably) in the following manner.
> You need to loosen up in starting hand selection. Along with this adjustment
> you must play *very* well post flop.
I agree completely with the third sentence, but partly disagree with the second. A *very* common mistake that players playing ram-jam
California games 3-6 to 15-30 make is that they think they should play more hands. You need to play hands that make *stronger* hands.
Suited cards primarily. You need to habitually play hands like T9s that you might throw away in other parts of the country, especially
out of position. So, you are playing more hands, BUT then you gotta start throwing away QTo or and two offsuit connectors below JT
under almost all circumstances. Yes, these hands can make straights, the type of strong hand you need to win a pot, but they just
won't win enough to justify the expense and variance. My point is, you may play slightly more hands overall, but in actuality you are
more rigidly tightening your starting requirements, not loosening them.