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When deciding whether or not to play a tournament, whether it is a $100 or a $50,000 buy-in, the thought process should be pretty similar. It’s obviously going to be a bit different when playing high stakes, but the general approach is about the same.
Personally, when deciding to play an event like this, I need to first figure out whether or not it’ll be profitable to play, and then decide whether or not the hassle of selling action for such a large event is worth my time. Fortunately, I was able to sell the amount that I wanted pretty quickly.
Once you have the above steps taken care of, actually playing the event really isn’t that different than any other event. Figuring out your opponents and how you are going to play against them is the same in a $1 buy-in online tournament as it is in a $50,000 high roller. What changes, of course, is the ability of your opponents.
One of the main things to keep in mind, no matter the buy-in, is that the most realistic result will be to bust without cashing. Knowing that the majority of the time you will lose money, is an incredibly important reality to keep in mind when playing in any event.
Going into the tournament, I was about as well-prepared as I could possibly be. For the previous six weeks, I had been working on my Game Theory Optimal (GTO) based training site, which meant that I spent the time studying GTO and working hard on my game, as well as making content for others.
In the days leading up to the high roller, I played in the $10,000 buy-in World Poker Tour event at Aria, and finished in sixth place out of 192 entries. That tournament was an incredibly pro-heavy, stacked field, arguably as difficult as the $50,000 field.
Of course, doing your homework and playing well leading up to the big event doesn’t necessarily mean you will have success. Let’s take a look at one of the (few) hands I played in this tournament.
The Situation: There are seven players at my starting table in level 1, and I started with 300,000 in chips. This is the second orbit, and I had previously lost a pot with pocket kings, bringing my stack to 258,000.
Blinds: 1,000-1,000 with a 1,000 big blind ante
Villains: The hijack is an unknown older recreational player, and the cutoff is Ali Imsirovic, a very skilled and aggressive high-stakes professional who has 300,000 behind.
Action: The hijack raises to 2,500, Imsirovic calls in the CO. It folds to my big blind and I defend with 5 4.
Flop: J 6 2
This is a pretty good flop for me. It’s a dry board where I have a gutter, which in this case is four outs to the nuts. It’s not a board I can lead on, however, so I check.
Action: The hijack checks, and Imsirovic bets 3,000.
Theory wise I have two reasonable options here. I can call and try to pick up some equity on turn cheaply, or I can raise and start turning my hand into a bluff, squeezing out the opponent in between us and putting pressure on the weaker parts of Imsirovic’s range.
Action: I call, and the hijack calls as well.
This is a great turn card for me, having picked up a pair to go with my draw. While it is a reasonable card for me to lead heads up, being three ways, it is generally better to not have a leading range here.
Action: I check, the hijack checks, and Imsirovic bets 12,000.
Once again theory wise, I have two fairly close decisions. I can either call and try to realize my equity three ways, or I can turn my hand into a bluff. I decide to raise here, the main reason being that the opponent in between Imsirovic and I certainly has a pair of fives beat, and by check-raising the turn I can get him to fold an extremely high percent of the time, as well as start to leverage all but the strongest hands in Imsirovic’s range.
Action: I raise to 48,000, the hijack folds, and Imsirovic calls.
This is an absolutely wonderful card for me. Having very disguised trips with a hand in my range that he won’t really expect me to have is a great spot for me to make a lot of money on.
Action: I bet 136,000, and Imsirovic raises all-in for my last 68,000.
This is a very difficult spot. While I did bet the river for value, when he puts me all in, I can only beat a bluff. In order to come to a decision, I first need to break down what he can get to this river with, what hands he might want to bluff with, what he jams for value with, and look at the odds I am getting to finalize my decision.
Pot: 386,000 + 68,000 = 472,000
It is 68,000 for me to call. Thus, I am getting 6.9 to 1 on a call, and need him to be bluffing only 12.6 percent of the time.
The only value hand I can realistically expect him to have is 6-6. There are three combinations of that hand left. The tough part is figuring out what bluffs he can have, and would he be willing to follow through on them. The main two hands that come to mind are 7 6 and A 6. Both of these hands would get to the river, they are far down in his range, and they block the strongest hands I can have (6-6 and 6-5).
So, if he can have only three combinations of value, and could conceivably turn a hand like A 6 into a bluff, then that would give me have a fairly comfortable call. After three minutes of tanking I called and lost to 6 6.
The largest buy-in of my career ended in only 25 minutes, and I put it in with little or no equity the entire hand. Most would feel upset about this, busting such an important event so quickly. However, I am of the mindset that the most important thing to consider when playing is how well I play and not whether or not I was lucky enough to do well.
I’d play this hand the same way if I was back in the moment, and that is what matters. ♠
Ryan Laplante is a WSOP Bracelet winner. He has more than $5 million in tournament cashes with eight WSOP final tables. His website is PokerProtential.com, and he is a coach for ChipLeader Coaching at clcpoker.com