Tournament Endgame Plays
2005 Jason Kirk  

Players who aren't accustomed to making it deep into tournaments, but find themselves there anyway, often miss great opportunities for improving their standing due to inexperience in the late stages of a tournament. These mistakes can end up costing them their own chips, opportunities to take others' chips, and opportunities to eliminate players and move up the payout schedule. If a new player to the endgame is paying careful enough attention, he'll spot openings that he can take advantage of - here are a few pointers to help you along the way.

Blind Stealing

As tournaments get closer and closer to the money, play often slows to a crawl as the short stacks look for the perfect hand to move all-in with and the medium stacks try to hold their ground. Aggressive players with big stacks can often pick up as many chips at this point in a tournament as they have through all the levels leading up to the money, but players on the medium stacks who are willing to take a few risks can also find this a great time to become big stacks. The key is knowing the players who are seated to your left. If you've been watching the action closely throughout the levels leading up to the money you should know these player pretty well. Pick a decent hand - something you could play in the face of a re-raise if you wanted to - and make a move when the timing is right. More often than not you'll pick a good spot and face little or no resistance, and enough of these steals when the blinds and antes get high can bolster your stack at a great time.

The Cooperation Play

When a short stack moves all-in late in a tournament and you find yourself holding a decent hand when your stack won't be damaged by calling, it's often worthwhile to toss a few chips in with the chance of taking another opponent out. Many times your fellow big stacks will get the same idea and enter the pot as well. If they do, and you don't hit an absolute monster hand, it's important that you resist the urge to make a bet when the board helps you in some way. Unless there are so many chips at stake that taking the whole pot is of maximum importance, the best play (if your opponent is smart enough to realize it as well) is for those of you left in the hand to simply check the hand down without any further betting. This way there are more chances to knock the all-in player out of the tournament and help everyone out. It's very important that you do not discuss this play at the table - that's collusion, and it's illegal. The cooperation here is implicit, not explicit.

In a recent tournament I found myself in such a situation with about 7 players left to the money. From the small blind I called a short stack's all-in bet with Q-9, and the big blind called as well. The flop came K-T-x with two diamonds, I checked, and the big blind bet out. I wasn't going to risk any money on a gutshot draw here, so I folded - and my opponent turned over Q-T for middle pair. The short stack didn't have anything dangerous, but with his pre-flop all-in move he very well could have had a king or a flush draw here. By getting overly aggressive with a weak hand, my fellow big stack left open the possibility of an opponent getting back into the thick of things. If he'd simply checked the hand down

The 10-to-1 rule

Many inexperienced players on the big stack who hold mediocre cards or worse and face an all-in from a short-stacked player tend to fold based simply on hand strength. If you have more than 10 times the short stack, however, it makes perfect sense to call regardless of your holding. You risk-to-reward ratio is extremely favorable in such situations - if you win you get some extra chips, and if you lose you're not really hurt. In one recent tournament I held 8-3 in the big blind with a big stack. A short stack with less than 10% of my total moved all-in, and I had to make the call despite my weak holding. My opponent turned over 4-3, making me a 65-35 favorite. A short stack can be moving in with literally any two cards, because picking up the blinds and antes becomes a higher priority as the tournament goes on. Taking small risks at the ending stages can pay off not only by adding a few more chips to your stack, but also by letting your remaining opponents know that you can call with any two cards in the right situation.

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