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Winning STTs: Late Stage Tactics
Playing to win in the final rounds of STTs is the key to long-term profitability, explains Jon Huckle.
Short-handed play in online STTs tends to be a stumbling block for a lot of players, especially when you are reaching those last few places to the cash in an STT.
Often the worry of missing out on a cash will shrink a player’s sphincter to the point that they will sit there not daring to play a hand (unless they get a monster) till they blind themselves out hoping the others will knock themselves out. I have been there myself and often cursed my outdraws and my “What if?” attitude believing if it wasn’t for bad luck I would win all the time.
A wise man once said, and I believe it was Dan Harrington, that if you only play premium hands you are more likely to get outdrawn. This is not an excuse to play any two cards but along with advice from my peers it allowed me develop a more consistent winning game for STTs.
Often in these cases tight players will get a hand but it comes way too late, and they run into a big blind that cannot pass and ends up donking them out with J-2off. The ‘phew’ factor of getting a small profit often clouds players’ minds that if they had just played more aggressively a bit earlier on they could have been comfortable and not had to resort to the ‘wait and hope’ game.
TIP 1: PAYOUTS
When you have a good understanding of the payouts and your win ratios you start to understand that playing to win rather than playing to cash has to be the long-term winning strategy in STTs.
You need to employ a more aggressive stance when you go short-handed but not to just go thoughtlessly raising but apply some of the following as well. After all, one win will make you more profit in an STT than two 3rd places, assuming it’s a standard payout structure.
TIP 2: AVOID THE TURBO
I am a great believer that standard or deep-stack STTs provide the best opportunity for a good player to make a consistent profit. Turbos, hyper-turbos and the like are for bingo gamblers and for those with a serious problem that they have to squeeze in an online session during a commercial break.
In any game you need to have a certain amount of information on your opponent that will be critical in the later stages. You may already know a few of your opponents from previous games and notes taken, but knowing the players’ levels of aggression and range can often mean the difference between winning and wimping out so having that extra time in 10-seater STTs is of vital importance.
IN THE MONEY
So here you are - five players left, paying three. How can you convert this position into a decent payout? In theory most of the bingo nutters have been knocked out by now. You may have one chipped-up loony to look out for but he’s just a double up waiting to pay you off.
1. The first thing you need to do is widen your range of hands. When you are 5-handed the likelihood of running into monsters is reduced so you can afford to raise with a much wider range of hands. If you have an average stack and a position raise is affordable for your stack (i.e. if re-raised you can afford to pass) then be aggressive with more marginal hands.
2. If you are in a position where you cannot fold to a re-raise you must push all-in rather than just raising; you will put any opponent with a decent hand in a much more difficult position to call when he knows you cannot fold but don’t just shove with any two - you do need to have at least a fighting chance if you get called. You’re looking at, at least, connectors, suited aces, and two picture cards. This, however, is not an excuse to just go shoving all-in with a 5k stack when the BB is 300; controlled aggression is what we are after, not bang and hope. With average stacks of 3,000 when you are five-handed and a BB of 300, a 900 or even 800 raise is plenty to induce a fold from the blinds.
3. Be very careful of raising into short stacks with a marginal hand as they may feel the need to gamble to make the cash so pick your victim carefully and don’t try stealing from loose-aggressive players who will shove all-in on you because they assume any raise in position is an obvious steal. If you read my previous article on table awareness (issue 43) you should have a good idea of who is aggressive or loose and have a fair idea of who is at it and who needs a crowbar to let go of his chips.
4. If you do find yourself getting short, try and not fall below four BBs; you need to be able to make the big blind pass. When you do have to shove preferably don’t shove into a monster-stacked blind, as they are likely to call to try and knock you out unless you are holding a big hand.
5. If it passes to your button and you’re short, get it all in. It’s better to get it in first than have to call when committed on the BB with rubbish. Remember - they still can pass.
If you find yourself in the reverse situation with a large stack you can try knocking off opponents who are short-stacked as long as this does not seriously diminish your stack. Make sure you have a sensible hand when attempting this. I am normally happy to call a short stack’s all-in of 1,200 or less if I am sitting with 7,000 chips in the blinds as I’ll still have an over-average stack if I lose with 3 or 4 players left.
6. By employing aggressive tactics near the bubble in any STT you should find yourself in a very strong chip position when you reach the money stages. I will often find myself 3-handed versus a very short stack and a 2-1 advantage against the other player. The short stack will often just shove as soon as he’s in the cash so you can find yourself heads-up in a very strong position quite quickly. As long as you have a good idea of what your opponent has been doing you should be able to use any advantage in chips to overcome him with resorting to gambling all-in pre-flop. The heads-up stage in any standard STT can still be challenging and I’ll go into further detail about that in later articles.