Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Glenn's Online Freeroll Strategy

Felicia mentioned something about my getting in the money a large percentage of the time on freerolls and it was requested that I post something of my strategy. Well, I don’t have any guidelines that I strictly adhere to, but I’ll give some pointers of things that I do and look for. I don’t feel that I have any earth shattering advice for many people, but perhaps some of what I do needs to be repeated to pound into the brain ;)

(Disclaimer: remember this is for the NLHE freerolls that I play; this may or may not help you in pay and/or limit tournaments, but I don’t play any pay ones online—only live—so I don’t have any experience to know if it works.)

Beginning of the tournament: Notice who is actually playing, and who is sitting out, having signed up, then forgotten about the tournament. Sometimes it is over 50%.

This is where experimentation starts. Most people are playing a little cautiously and trying to figure everyone else out. Take advantage of this and play a little looser. I don’t mean become a maniac, but marginal/speculative hands will have much more value. Additionally, if you miss, since most people are being cautious, they may not necessarily call you down either. Bet those draws, semi-bluff, do all the tricks until you start getting called down. I’ve had tables with other bluffers, who, of course don’t believe anyone else either, and have had to stop this technique right away. I suppose I could be like a lot of the others and play conservatively, folding, folding, and see how the others play first. However, using this “first strike” method, I have been able to build up chips a majority of the time for later. Conversely, this method has been lead to a quick ‘out-the-door’… remember I’m playing freerolls, so for me, nothing invested, nothing lost.

Once the blinds start going up, usually around the 3rd level, it’s time to start tightening the play. Opponents that you have been playing with might get confused with this as well; it’s always a good thing to confuse your competition. They’ve seen you play more hands and now you’re not. You might get more calls from these people. Many freeroll players are completely unaware, however; so don’t expect to throw off too many people.

Now that you’re playing tighter, the newer people (as many are going to be getting bumped out) are watching you play tighter. When you’re in a hand, they’re going to believe you. Yes, once again, these are freerolls and there are going to be a ton of people who don’t believe you, but heck even pay tournaments have those people, so no surprise here. However, most of the time you’ll be able to steal in later positions with weaker values. Just keep in mind who you’re trying it against. As part of the tighter play, I will NOT try to steal from a chip leader, not unless I really have something (e.g. ATo in the cut-off).

If you go for a steal, you must follow this up with a bet on the flop. I’m assuming here that you realize that by “steal” I mean that you were in a last position (button or 1 to 2 from the button) and no one else has come in; therefore, you should be—preferably—HU with the big blind (ok, preferably, you bought the blinds no contest, hehe), at most vs. two others. If you have more than two opponents in the hand with you on a steal attempt and miss the flop, do NOT bet. Hopefully you still have last position and if they check to you, check behind and take the free card. If you raised with a weak ace, get your ace on the flop, bet and get called… proceed with caution! Remember that it takes a better hand to call a raise than to make a bet. Unless you’ve watched your calling opponent turn over very weak hands, you don’t want to be betting a weak ace when it’s entirely possible that you’re beat. Don’t try to “bet” your opponent off his hand. You raised in late position, most people are much more suspicious of a raise from late position.

OK, betting. I stated that you must bet your steal on the button regardless considering that the above conditions were met. Now, say those conditions are met, how do you bet? The same way you always do. This means that if you’re the type of person that, if you have a monster hand, you bet bigger than the rest of the time, it’s time to change! I played some poker with my nephew this past Thanksgiving and he was hilarious… checking when he had nothing, betting just a little with weak hands, all-in when he had a good-great hand. Every time that he bet big, I just folded (to his credit, he started to realize this, but too late, I had most the chips ;). Too many people do this in their normal play. The reverse is also true, going all-in on a draw or when they’re weak. I’ve seen so many people with a premium pair < AA check-raise all-in when an ace hits the flop. What?? Check-raising ties a player to the hand; you’ve gotten them to commit chips, which normally keeps them IN. I much prefer leading out if I’ve raised, see the resulting action and take it from there.

Later play: Towards the end of the tournament I’m normally average to short-stacked. I am rarely the chip lead with my more conservative play. This may not be for most people, but after spending an hour to accumulate chips in the early stages, I don’t want to blow them by still playing loosely and end up spending that time for nothing. During the later stages I try to hang on and get into the money. If I’m short stacked, there’s really nothing else to do but go all-in if I have a good hand. There’s really no other way to protect it. If I have average chips or better, raising is the better play. Example: the other night I had average chips in the middle of the tournament. I’m in UTG (under-the-gun, first to act) with AQs and have been playing tightly. Although a group II hand, I’m not going to throw this away. I thought, heck, I might just steal the blinds with this one (if people saw how tight I was, and here I am raising… unless they have a great hand, they’re not calling). Well, this one guy that hardly ever raised went all-in for more chips than I had, and a short-stack called. Easy muck, even without the short-stack calling. I had observed the all-in player and he had only shoved before with high wired pairs. This time around he had AKo, not exactly the correct play in my thinking, but I was right in knowing that I was beat (interestingly, the short-stack had AQo… no ace, no queen dealt, I would have been out).

Once again, I raised with my AQs so that I could have the luxury to be able to fold should someone go over the top of me. I did raise because you don’t want someone in there with a weak hand out flopping you, or chasing a straight/flush to run you down. This is a tournament; you still want to limit the field. (Another example of bad tournament play: I’m shorter stacked later on and I have JJ on the button… several limpers to me, no raise, so I shove. Caller? Early limper with KK. Flop? Axx. If I had NOT shoved, he would have allowed someone with a weak ace to out flop him. Do NOT slow play, especially in early positions.)

Sklansky: Yes, I often Sklansky my way into the money. This means that I if I’m short-stacked and close to the money, but not in it yet, I will still fold marginal hands like small pairs and weak aces (AT, AJ, sometimes AQ) in early position. Heck, if I’m close enough, I might fold it in last position, even if I’m in position to steal! This is providing I have enough chips to out last the shorter stacks. My first priority is to get in the money. If I’ve gotten this far, I don’t want to blast myself out after spending 2-3 hours getting this close. Now if you’re really short and you are in steal position, you HAVE to go all-in with those marginal hands (first to open) or else you blind yourself out, you’re that short. There’s a time and a place, monkey*!

“First to open” brings up a point I don’t think many realize. You have to be first to open depending on your stack size, opponent’s stack size, etc. If you have a limper or more, that’s more money in the pot for it to get “protected”. If the pot’s big enough, someone might call you down for the value that they’re getting based on the pot size, regardless of how tight you might be and now here you are shoving all-in. Even if you have AA and shoving is the right move since there are a number of people that have limped, one or more people might still call with all the money in the pot from the limping.

Once I’m in the money, I play more aggressively. I’m getting paid, that was my first goal (and the point of the tournament). Now I want to be paid more :-D All-in’s are more frequent for me. I want to get higher in the money, and the only way to do that is to build chips. If I’m already average or above in chips, then I play more cautiously, but as I stated, I normally am not at this stage.

I hope this helps. I have a vet appointment for our Dax-a-monkey so I must go now.

[* ask Felicia –grin- ]