As part of the webinar I attended the other day, Andrew Brokos presented his "Day-by-Day" strategy for advancing through the Main Event (ME). Day 1, for instance, focused on folding and simply waiting for good situations. Patience is everything this first day, he said; this is the "easy money" period, and you're so deep stacked, the blind increases are so slow, and so many of the players are weak, that you can simply fold, fold, and fold some more as you wait for high EV situations to get your money in far ahead of the competition. Note that this is basically Phil Helmuth's same strategy, as he feels his superior skill in the later stages of the tourney mean that he can/should avoid any "gambling" early.
Brokos then went on to detail each subsequent day's basic strategy through the next five days of play, explaining when you should shift gears from patient and wary, to that of actively accumulating chips, to when you should start fighting aggressively, and so on. This continuously shifting strategy was based in part on the level of competition you faced as the dead money fell away, as well as the blinds and antes increasing, and the tournament payout bubble and prize structure.
Now, unfortunately, I'm not playing in the ME this year. Instead, I've signed up for a $1K prelim event. The structure is still quite good, but it's not nearly as great at the ME. In my event, for example, blinds go up every hour (vs. every two hours for the ME) and we will start with 100bb (vs. 300bb in the ME).
What this means, me thinks, is that I need to take the gear shifting strategy of Brokos, and somehow adapt it to the faster play of my event. I've also added Harrington's basic strategy to the mix, along with some advice I've found useful by Phil Gordon. Finally, I've seasoned the plan a bit with the (somewhat contradictory) advice of Arnold Snyder and Matt Matros.
With all that in mind, here's the resulting Bug strategy I intend to employ four weeks from now when I sit down to play:
- Patient Grasshopper Mode: First two blind levels (25/25 and 25/50). Assuming I did nothing but fold everything during these entire two blinds periods, I'd be left with roughly ~60bb at the end of the period, which, according to Snyder, is still a "competitive utility" sized stack. In other words, while it would be nicer to have 100bb or more, this stack size is still fine. Now, of course, as I start the third blind level, my utility starts to fall off quickly, so sitting around and folding continuously is clearly not optimal. Also, there will undoubtedly be a number of weak players limping and/or splashing around, so I think I should try to take advantage of these folks when possible. With all this in mind, I think the name of the game is to play a very cautious, but not totally scared, style of play during these first two levels. Patient, ABC poker, with an emphasis on seeing cheap, high-IO flops in position should be key. I also need to fold a lot in EP, including small pairs and all the broadway trouble hands. I also don't think that stealing blinds in LP at this level is really worth it; the blinds represent a small fraction of my stack, and if/when I get caught and/or re-raised (and have to fold) the damage done will be more than the potential reward. Said another way, if you see me open-raising in LP during this period, I probably have a hand. Otherwise, I intend to just fold and observe. The goal is to: a) don't lose a lot of chips; b) figure out who's who at my table (i.e., what kinds of mistakes are my opponents making): and c) look for opportunities to increase my stack with minimal risk. In a sense, the first two blinds levels should be me observing a lot a'la Level-2 poker, but playing a cautious, mostly Level-1 ABC style. This is almost a tight-passive style of play.
- Gradual Transition to Accumulator Mode: Next three blind levels (50/100, 75/150, 100/200). Antes haven't yet kicked in, but the blinds are starting to climb. I think this is the period where my focus needs to be on staying ahead of the blinds and keeping my chip stack in the competitive or higher range. As the blinds increase from the start of this period to the end, I need to transition from a cautious "staying above water" player to that of chip accumulator. Assuming I haven't been moved and my table is paying attention, I can slowly begin to exploit my nitty image. I need to start stealing from the tight-weak players on my left, and getting involved with loose-weak players on my right. If I have LAgs on my left, I need to open fewer pots, but be willing to re-raise or call if they 3bet me (meaning play the stronger part of my range). If I have great players/pros at my table, the best approach during this period is active avoidance with all but very good hands. Don't get my stack in the middle unless I have a huge hand. Said another way, I need to employ a TAg style of play during these three periods.
- Full Blown Chip Accumulation Mode: Next four blind levels (100/200/25, 150/300/25, 200/400/50, 300/600/75). Antes have kicked in, so the blinds are now definitely worth stealing. Here is where guys like Brokos and Matros agree: accumulate chips, accumulate chips, accumulate chips The bubble will begin to be visible on the distant horizon, so having enough chips to get into the money and/or bully the bubble is key. I also want to have enough chips to survive a bad beat or two. Again, I need to be cautious, but playing weak-tight is death. The transition from TAg to moderate LAg has to take place during these four blind levels. A lot of advice you hear from pros is that you should play to win, not just money, but Brokos made a good case in his webinar for a goal of just making the money. In single table SnGs, the Guru used to preach "taking the hill," and I think this approach can be embraced at this point, too. Build a stack, protect it, and get ready for bubble play.
- Bubble Play: Next three blind levels (400/800/100, 500/100/100, 600/1200/200). Blinds and antes are getting brutal at this point, so chip accumulation is still paramount. Just keeping up with the blinds is no longer sufficient. Bad players will be slowing down, and good players attacking the weak mercilessly. The antes alone will devastate my stack, so I have to keep building and accumulating. On the other hand, as stated above, juts making the money is actually a big deal; as Brokos said, "cashing matters." The trick (which I confess I'm not entirely sure how to accomplish) is to walk that fine line between too cautious and too aggro. I think the secret is to continue to focus on attacking weaknesses in a few other players I've identified at my table as having exploitable tendencies. Look for scared players who are playing tight. Be aware of other players that are in bullying/abusing mode. Avoid the big/aggro stacks that want to put me to a test. I also need to avoid difficult decisions; i.e., I shouldn't bet/raise if I don't know what I'll do if I get re-raised, and so on. The trouble with all of this of course is that by this time, I expect most of the dead money to be, well, dead. If I'm lucky enough to make it to this point, I am afraid I'll want to revert back to me-scared-turtle mode, which is not a recipe for making the money and thriving. I'm open to further suggestions for play at this point in the tourney.
- ITM: Next four blind levels (800/1600/200, 1000/2000/300, 1200/2400/400, 1500/3000/500). Brokos and Snyder are in reasonable agreement here: both say play to win. The issue, of course, is that all the short stacks that squeaked into the money are going off like popcorn (as Mr. Multi likes to say). You can't be risk averse during this period, but you do have to be very aware of the desperation factors of the the other players. Short stacks will be gambling, big stacks will be sucking up chips, and those in the middle will be bounced around like ping-pong balls. Some pros say that you should go big or go home at this point, with the goal of building a massive stack and playing to win. Others suggest going back to patient chip accumulation mode. I think playing to win is correct. Stealing is actually a bad idea at this point, as is re-stealing; recklessness will be everywhere. Brokos and Snyder both say that your profit at this point will come from identifying desperation in your opponents, and then picking off their desperation moves; i.e., you have to be willing to call/gamble against them. Yikes. Suggestions are welcome for this phase.
- Remaining Blind Levels/Final Table. If I'm lucky enough to make it this far, I think the strategy is actually quite clear: play to win. Fight aggressively for pots. No more passing up edges, even small ones. Really try to get involved with weaker players. Don't play too loosely, but also don't bet/fold or raise/fold. Decide on each hand if you want to play for stacks, and then do so. The way to win the tourney requires aggression and fearlessness (plus a healthy dose of luck). The trick, me thinks, is simply don't be afraid. As someone once said, if you want to live, you have to be willing to die.
So, is this the right strategy? Honestly, I don't know. But as any battlefield commander will tell you, having a plan is an order of magnitude better than having no plan whatsoever. Failing to plan is planning to fail, right?
In any case, the next step for me is to take this overall strategy and create a handful of "check-lists" that I can pull out and review at various stages along the way through the tourney. This (hopefully) will help keep my head in the game and focused on the right style of play to employ at each blind-level/stage.
All-in for now...