Poker Workshop: How to Make Better Decisions in Poker Tournaments

I was there when Rupert Elder defeated Max Heinzelmann heads-up to win €930,000 at the European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event in San Remo.

I watched him for hours. Every facial movement, every glint, every stare, every hand played.

What did I learn? Obviously, by the way I played these four hands at the recent Unibet UK Poker Tour in Brighton, absolutely nothing.

Fortunately, Elder was on hand to put me straight.

How to Make Better Poker Tournament Decisions

Tournament Hand #1

Level 1 25/50. I have 25,000. There are no reads at the table as we are very early.

Five of us are involved in a limped pot. I hold Q10 on the button. The big blind raises to 250 and we all call.

The flop is 1044. A female player in the cutoff bets 500 and I'm the only player to call.

The turn is the 2 and we both check. The river is the 6; she checks and I bet 1,025, trying to push her off a smaller club.

She calls holding 88 for the flush.

rupert elder poker strategy tips
Handy to have an EPT champ around.

Rupert Elder Says:

“I’d raise pre-flop to try and get the pot heads up or take it down pre. I'd play flop the same and probably bet the turn for value."

"I don't see her checking a flush too often here and you'd probably have a good idea if she has a four from her demeanour. If not, she probably doesn't have a four anyway as it likely bets."

“On the river, I'd check back. I don't expect her to show up with a small spade. Literally, which holding can she have that contains a small spade in it that isn't two spade cards?"

"I don't see any merit in trying to get her to fold a medium or big spade, and if you check back you sometimes win. So basically you don't fold out anything better and you only get called by better hands.”

Lesson Learned

"The biggest lesson that I learned with this hand is to take my time on the river and consider what small spade she has in her hand. If I did this - and I didn’t - then it’s an obvious check back."

"I do this a lot. I don’t think I'm very likely to win the hand and so I bet without considering my opponent’s range and what they will do when I bet."

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Tournament Hand #2

Level 2 50/100. I have 23,000. An aggressive player opens to 400 from under the gun and I call in the small blind with QQ.

Rupert Elder poker workshop

The flop is J42; I check, he bets 500 and I call. The turn is the J. I check, he bets 850 and I call.

The river is the 9. I check and he checks behind.

Rupert Elder Says:

"The call pre-flop is fine although my standard is to 3-bet and expect him to call with lots of hands."

"If he 4-bets I'm pretty happy to call depending on sizing. As played, flop, turn and river is fine.”

Tournament Hand #3

Level 4 100/200. I have 20,000. A tight guy opens to 500 in mid position and I call on the button with 65.

The flop is 972 and we both check. The turn is the K. He checks, I bet 600 and he check-raises to 1,800.

I call. The river is the 4 and I fold when he bets 3,000. 

Rupert Elder Says:

“The call pre-flop is fine. You can also 3-bet and I am not a huge fan of folding. I'd certainly be betting this flop when he checks to you."

Rupert Elder poker tips
Keep thinking

"Every hand he holds has equity against yours so by betting you protect against them winning the hand. For example getting AK to check fold on this flop is a pretty decent result for you."

“On the turn I think you played it fine. His check raise is kind of weird; it could be something like 99, he could be doing some weird merge with AK, if for some reason he checked KK on the flop that's possible."

"He could also just have QJ or JT or something, but they're pretty rare and if he's tight I'd expect him to have a value hand more often than not here. It costs 1,200 into 3,700 so we need around 24% to continue."

"If we assume he's always good on the turn and ignore board-pairing flush outs (we are probably about break even on them, sometimes he has a boat and we call his river bet, sometimes he has AK or something) then we have 7 spades and 3 eights."

"That leaves us with 10/46 outs, if we say it is very probable he has either a K or a 9 in his hand then it's 10/45 and we have 22% chance of hitting, plus we win a bit extra on the river when we hit (in particular on an 8). On the river I'd just fold.”

Lesson Learned

"I was confused by the check-raise. I wasn’t expecting it, and given my image of him I was 100% sure he was doing this with a value hand."

"My decision to continue with the hand wasn’t based on the mathematical logic that Rupert details here. I can’t think like that as don’t know the math, and don’t practice it. Instead, I know if I hit, I am likely to get his entire stack, hence the decision to see the river."

"What I have learned here is I am well behind most players who practice their mathematical reasoning."

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Tournament Hand #4

Level 8 400/800 a100. I have 25,600. A very tight lady opens to 2,400 from early position with well over 50bb. Another tight lady calls in the hijack with a similar stack.

I am sitting on the button with AQo. I look across at the big blind and he has 15-18bb stack and I decide to fold.

Rupert Elder Says:

Rupert Elder poker advice
And then think again

“When you say very tight you have to define what hands you think she would 3x UTG with. Is she the kind of player that looks down at AJs and just folds it? Has she limped before from UTG?"

"If so, what sort of hands do you think she's limping (you can then take them out of her raising range)?"

The flatter could certainly be a bit more speculative, but it would be good to know what you think about her 3-betting range. For example would she re-raise with QQ or AK here? If not, then you are very likely in good shape vs the flatter so she adds dead money to the pot."

“If the UTG raiser is indeed very tight (let's say for example she only opens 99+ AQ+ from UTG) then folding seems like the best option. Against very tight ranges I would probably only really consider flatting here; I don't expect people to fold good hands pre-flop and so 3 betting is pretty fruitless.

"If I thought their ranges were wide enough, I would prefer calling over going all in over 3-bet then deciding if they go all in.”

Lesson Learned

"I thought the original raiser had a range of 99+ and AK. I didn’t think she was even opening AQ here."

"I didn’t think about the flatter's range. I was only concerned about the opener’s range and that given my stack size I would be hamstrung if she would have four-bet pre flop."

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The Math is Incredibly Important!

"As usual I am humbled by the detail professional players go into before making their decisions. From a beginner's perspective, this level of information must seem incredible."

"But it must be remembered that players like Rupert have put in incredible volume over the years and a lot of these spots become second nature to them. It’s important to always play hands in the way Rupert describes."

"Think. If you have a particular troublesome hand, then record it and go through it in detail at a later date. The math is also incredibly important."

"If you want to get better at the game then spend time learning poker odds and math. It’s something I haven’t done and I am at a disadvantage as a result. If you want to watch Rupert Elder in action, check him out at www.twitch.tv/ruperte."

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