By Andy Bloch -- In my last tip, I talked about the necessity of loosening up your pre-flop game, especially in the late stages of a tournament.
This week, I'm going to provide you with some more specific examples of the kinds of hands you may want to play when you're under the gun or on the button, and the ways you may want to play them as you get closer to the money.
For each example, I want you to assume that antes have come into play, which makes stealing the blinds not only more profitable, but also more of a necessity if you want to maintain a playable stack.
If you're not willing to raise with anything but "premium" hands at this point in a tournament, you'll find your stack becoming noticeably shorter with each hand and orbit of the table.
With that in mind, let's say I'm under the gun; I'm going to be raising pre-flop with almost every pair, depending on how aggressive I think my opponents are. I'll also play suited Aces all the way down to A-8 and unsuited Aces all the way down to A-10.
I'm also likely to play any two suited cards that are 8-9 or better. As far as off-suit hands go, K-Q or K-J are probably the worst hands I'll consider; I'll play both of these hands from under the gun when there are antes, but I won't play K-J from this position when there are no antes.
By the same token, I'll play a lot looser when I'm on the button and it's folded to me: any Ace, any King, any suited Queen, basically any two suited cards 4 or higher, and usually any two unsuited cards that are 8 or higher. This puts 59% of the hands into play, which are just about how many you should play in that spot.
Of course, you'll need to adjust your starting hands based on the make-up of the table. If you're seated with a loose-aggressive player, you're going to play fewer hands because they'll call or re-raise you a lot more often than more passive opponents.
On the other hand, if the table's playing tight, the player in the big blind is playing tight, or you're on the bubble, it's a great opportunity to open up your game and steal more often. This is especially true if you've got a huge stack and everyone else is just looking to survive.
Remember, this is a baseline strategy - deviate from it based on your opponents, the stage of the tournament, who is in each blind, and your position. What do you do when you're facing a pre-flop raise? Think about how you would play in your opponent's spot and that should give you an idea of what cards they might be holding.
If you don't know anything about your opponent, assume that he's varying his strategy based on his position; playing tight under the gun and raising with less than 10 percent of his hands (tighter than I recommend) and looser on the button, raising with about half of his hands.
For example, say your opponent raises under the gun and you're next to act, holding A-10o. You've got to respect the raise from under the gun because your opponent is probably only playing about a third of the hands he'd play from the button.
Not only that, but the rest of the table is still left to act and any one of these players could easily have a big hand with which they'll call or re-raise. Since you're clearly out of position here, you need to lay your hand down and look for a better spot.
If you do call with A-10o in this situation and everyone else folds, you're probably going to be a 45% underdog to any of the hands that your opponent should have been raising with from under the gun. Even in this "ideal" situation, you're still risking chips when you don't have to.
If you're holding A-10o in the big blind when someone raises from under the gun, that's a different story altogether. You've already got money in the pot and you've seen who's still in the hand.
Similarly, if your opponent raises on the button and you're in one of the blinds with A-10o, your hand is actually the favorite because he's likely raising with any Ace in that spot.
There are also some players who don't take their position into account before they decide to play a hand - they just play with Aces through Jacks and AK no matter where they are at the table. You need to tighten up against these players as you know they're only putting their chips in the pot with big hands.
All of this is just a framework for playing on the button and from under the gun. Use it to help figure out which hands you should play in these spots and which hands you should be playing when your opponents are in these spots.
-- Andy Bloch
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