Today, I'm going to embarrass the hell out of myself and recount this incredibly stupid thing I did last night, which ended up costing me my tournament life after I'd played a respectable game and was very close to passing the bubble.
I didn't have a ton of time, but I wanted to work on my game, so I hopped into a 2-table $11 SNG. I figured this would give me more useful experience than a single table SNG (which has its own very specific strategy) without involving too much investment in time or money. I've also found that the players at the $11 level, while not the deadly killers you encounter at higher levels, are typically competent players who provide more serious competition than the players at the $5 and $6.50 turbo levels who routinely call all-ins with weak aces. It's not significantly tougher, but it's within my comfort level. Those of you reading this who routinely crush the 10-20 cash games, or 100 MTT SNGs can point and laugh at me now.
Okay, that's enough. Save your energy, because you're going to need it for more mocking later.
I caught a few hands early on, and chipped up a little bit. I gave back some chips on a few steal attempts, but I stayed aggressive and right around average all the way through the first table. I identified which of my opponents were solid, which ones weren't going to fold when I had (or was representing) a big hand, and which ones were easy to push around post-flop. I used that information to play tight/aggressive ABC poker, and didn't get too cute or tricksy.
Sounds good, right? Nice, solid, smart poker, puts myself in a position to make a run, and that is what I should really be doing against competition where I'm pretty sure I have a bit of a skill edge. Note I just said "a bit," because in No Limit Holdem, one stupid mistake, one loss of focus, or one misread can negate all your other great decisions and smart, tough play.
With six players left, I had just under chip average, but thanks to a huge stack of about 11K, four of us were clustered very close to each other. I was fourth in chips, but within a few big blinds of second place. Very close to the break, with blinds at 75/150, I found AJo UTG +1. I had about 2450, so my M was around 10. In this spot, it's probably correct to just fold with four players left to act behind me, but I thought that, with an M of 10, a relatively tight-but-aggressive image, and the blinds about to hit me (and increasing soon, but I wasn't sure how soon, and I didn't check, which we will see was a serious mistake) that I needed to open up and play a few more hands. I opened for a standard raise, which at this point was 450. It was folded to the SB, who called, and the BB folded. There was now 1125 in the pot.
The flop came K-7-x with two clubs, and the SB checked. He was a pretty straightforward, non-tricksy player, so I interpreted his check as weakness, and made a 600 continuation bet. This made the pot 1725, and I had 1400 left. The SB check-raised me all-in, and I had to make a decision for all my chips.
The first thing I had to do was put him on a hand: well, it doesn't matter, because unless he's playing a weaker ace than me and completely missed the flop, I'm behind. If he paired his king, I'm dead to an ace. If he has a pocket pair, I'm racing, but now I'm a serious dog, and if he has a set, I'm drawing nearly dead. So I fold, leaving myself an M of 6. Not good, but still enough to have some folding equity if I can open-push a couple of times, and steal the blinds or double up.
Right. Until the blinds go up on the very next hand, cutting my not-too-great M of 6 into a deadzone M of just under 3. I have to push with KT, I get called by A8, never catch up, and IGHN in 6th place. Hee. Haw.
So let's look at where I made mistakes in this hand (if you haven't spotted them already) so I don't make them again, and hopefully you never make them:
- The first mistake I made was not knowing when the blinds would be up. When there are less than two minutes left in a level, I start calculating my M based on the next level of blinds. If I'd paid attention and known to calculate my M closer to 5, I'd have open-pushed with my AJo there, or just folded.
- The second mistake I made was committing myself with a very weak hand by making a continuation bet. Again, I should just check and fold, unless I hit that ace on the turn, and then I can push.
- The third mistake I made was folding and crippling myself. Though my instincts told me I was beat at the moment, there are still two cards to come, and if I've been so stupid as to put myself into this position, I should just play for all my chips there and hope to get lucky, rather than risking all my chips on KTo with virtually no folding equity.
If I was going to make a play at that pot, after he checks, the right thing to do was push, and even that is pretty stupid, because i'm not going to get called by a hand I can beat.
The only reason I can really support making a move there is the short-handed table, and increasing blinds. If I'm feeling desperate (and I really shouldn't) I should just open-push and hope to steal, or take a race. The other stacks are so close to mine, it's unlikely that I'll be called by a hand I dominate, unless I've gotten incredibly lucky and a player behind me gets a case of the stupids even worse than the one I have.
Ultimately, given the situation in the game at the time, just two off the bubble and with so many of us clustered close together, the right play was to fold and wait for a better hand. I'm happy to push with AK, or any pair down to 77 there, knowing that the blinds are about to increase, but opening that pot out of position with AJo is about as smart as doing it with the hammer, and I'd rather bust with the hammer than AJo.
Hopefully, this illustrates more than just what a donkey I can be. Hopefully, this illustrates how important it is to stay focused, and consider the blinds, the strategic implications of play near the bubble, and the dangers of the tight/weak/stupid play.