Knowing Where You Stand

Holdem ProgressIt is absolutely vital that you know where you stand in a tournament.

If you do not understand your position and situation in the tournament then you can’t adapt your strategy accordingly and you will not be successful.

You will have to “change gears” a number of times during a tournament and the only way to know when the time is right to make a change is to fully understand where you stand at all times.

So lets look at how you monitor this, and in particular you should be paying attention to two key performance indicators. The first I call “Time to Play” and the second is the Average Stack.

Time to Play

This indicator tells you how large your chip stack is compared to how much it is currently costing you to play one orbit of the table.

An orbit of the table means the time it takes the dealer button to circle the table and return to the same player and we are interested because we want to know theoretically how much time we have to left to play if we were to just sit there and fold.

Why would we just sit there and fold? Well we wouldn’t, that’s why I said theoretically, but what this measures is how much time you have to wait for good opportunities.

If your Time to Play number is high then you can continue to be patient and pick your spots. If it is not a favourable number, it means that we do not have the luxury to wait to pick the best spot, and we may have to take a little more risk before it’s too late.

The Time to Play factor is calculated by first working out the cost of one orbit of the table. In most cases this would just be the total of the big blind + the small blind as that is all you would have to put into the pot if you folded every hand.

Sometimes in Tournaments there are Antes involved which is an amount each player has to put into the pot before every hand. If there are Antes then you would have to add that to the calculation by multiplying the Ante by the number of people at the table to give you the total Antes you would have to put in during one orbit of the table.

Once you have worked out the cost of an orbit then divide your chip stack by that figure and you will come up with a indicator of how many orbits you can just sit there and not play a hand.

If you have 20+ orbits then you have time to play, and are in no rush. We can continue to play our Tight Aggressive strategy and wait for the best spots to play.

Less than 10 orbits and you need to start to look for an opportunity to make a move before your chip stack gets too low. We want to make a move before the fold equity gets too low at which point we are less likely to win a pot without having to have the best hand because our chip stack is so low it is not costly enough to discourage our opponents from calling, and we want this additional way of winning available to us.

Less than 5 orbits and you are now at critical status and need to find an opportunity pretty quickly, and pretty much only have one move left, all in, as any hand you enter now, you will most likely be pot committed anyway, so lets get the maximum fold equity by putting it all in before the flop.

Remember that the blinds and antes are regularly increasing, so you have to keep recalculating this figure.

The Average Stack

The Average Stack in a poker tournament changes as people are eliminated. It is calculated by taking the total number of chips in play (total entrants times starting stack) divided by the players still remaining in the tournament. Online it is usually displayed in the tournament lobby screen.

It is very useful as a good barometer of where you stand in the tournament compared to everybody else. It should be used in conjunction with the Time to Play indicator above to establish whether you need to change gears and change your strategy.

For example you may have calculated your time to play indicator and come up with a figure of less than 10, which would suggest that you should be looking to make a move at some point soon. However if you were to look at the Average stack and see that a lot of your opponents were in the same situation, then you would need to bear this in mind, as all your opponents are also looking for opportunities to make their move and are less likely to fold to your move if they have a half decent hand.

Don’t obsess about the average stack figure, just be aware of it in comparison to your Time to Play figure. A lot of the time your stack can be dwindling and when the blinds are high and you have a small stack it can dwindle fast! Use both these indicators to know when it is time to take more risk before it is too late.

Take this situation

The average stack is 24,000 chips. You have 9,500. The blinds are 800/1600 and you are under the gun with K-Q.

Now in the early stages of the tournament I would be folding this hand from this position but it’s not so simple in the middle and late stages.

The cost of a single orbit of the table is currently 2,400 (big blind 1,600 + small blind 800). We have 9,500 chips so our Time to Play factor is about 4. *ALARM BELLS* Our time to play is less than 5, so that suggest we are now in the critical stage.

Next we would check the average stack and see what everyone else’s situation is like. The average stack is 24,000 which is a Time to Play of 10, so our situation is significantly more critical than the average.

So, we are in mission critical, we don’t have time to sit and wait for a really good opportunity, we have to take the first reasonably good opportunity we can and try to double up.

K-Q is not a premium hand, but is a pretty good marginal hand and so as long as I was first into the pot, I would without hesitation be moving all in with this hand. Hoping either that everyone folds and I pick up the blinds (and increase my Time to Play by 1) or someone calls and my hand holds up to double up.

This is significantly more risky than our strategy previously in the tournament but it is necessary. What is the point of just sitting there when the blinds are so high compared to our stack that we get to such a short stack that when we do pick up a hand, a double up doesn’t get us very far.

Always know where you stand

If you keep these two indicators close in your mind throughout a tournament then you should find it easier to know when you need to change gears.

Tournament poker is all about patience and not making silly mistakes. Mistakes are OK as long as you learn from them but not silly ones, this usually means you have not learnt from past mistakes.

However there comes a point when you have been as patient as you can be, and it just hasn’t worked this time round, its time to change gear and take a bit more risk, and see if you can turn the fortunes around for this particular tournament.

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