It happens to us all more times than we’d like to count. We build a nice pot with pocket kings and then the flop comes and… BAM! There’s the ace. The way you handle it depends a lot on your opponents, the stack sizes, and more. Let’s look at a submitted by one of my readers:
We’re at the final table of a live no-limit hold’em tournament: nine players remain, six places pay. I have a stack of around 14BB, which is above average, when I’m dealt K-K in the big blind. There are two limpers ahead of me, and I raise to a total of 5BB. One of the limpers calls. He’s a calling station and seems to call any raise once he’s limped, and has got this far by mostly hitting his hands. After the call, my remaining stack is around the size of the pot, and his is around 3BB less than mine. The flop is A-x-x and I’m out of position. What next?
Given that my opponent has previously called pre-flop raises with holdings such as unsuited medium connectors, I’m unable to gauge how likely it is that he holds an ace. I’ve also seen him bet weak draws, so if I check and he bets I’m still not convinced I’m beaten. A small bet would almost certainly be called, and would also commit me.
What happened is that I pushed and he called, showing A-2 off-suit. Against another player I would have given more consideration to retreating after the flop and saving my
My reader didn’t write the last word, but I think we can fill in the blank. Tournaments add an extra level of poker analysis, and they add an extra level of poker psychology too.
Analytically, tournaments are different from cash games because you aren’t trying to win chips, you are trying to finish in a certain place. How you play various situations can vary widely depending on the prize structure. If six places pay, but first gets 50 percent, then it often pays to gamble and try to win tops. If the places pay about equally, though, then it’s generally better to be cautious and try guarantee a spot in one of the later places. You didn’t specify the prize structure, but it would have to be quite out of the ordinary to justify not playing your pocket kings.
Psychologically, tournaments multiply the natural ups and downs of poker many times over. You don’t just lose a hand for a few big blinds. You get knocked out! You don’t just win a few bucks, you win first place! This psychological layer makes people question themselves on even the most mundane situations.