It’s incredible to be welcoming you to our 30th podcast. We’ve built a big audience over the months and want to thank you all for tuning in.
Now let’s get right to the matter at hand, which this week is how to ship more tournaments and min-cash less. Coaches Doug Hull and Gareth James are our featured hosts, and they take listeners through a critical checklist of moves if you want to be the last one standing.
Some things that are discussed:
- The largest stack you want to be open-shipping with
- The largest stack size you should 3-bet jam with
- Understanding fold equity
- The value of getting your stack into a coin flip
- Understanding Nash Equilibrium and game theory away from the table
Why Are You Only Min-Cashing?
James makes it immediately clear: He is going for the win, online or live:
“All the money you make in poker tournaments comes in the top three spots, and if you’re just looking to go and cash in a tournament, you’re not really looking to maximize your profit… You have to play to win, that’s where the money is.”
Hull brings up the story of a friend who was complaining about min-cashing. He posed the question: How small does your stack have to get before you’re auto-shipping it in? His answer was 6 big blinds.
James points out that this is definitely waiting too long to get your chips in:
“Even when you double up… you’re still at the bottom of the pack… The lower your stack gets, the less fold equity you have.”
James would advise making a shove at around 15-20 big blinds — conditional on certain opponents and situations. He gives the example of an aggressive 20 big blind shove with pocked deuces vs. two other aggressive players. Waiting to get to 10 and below is critical territory.
As far as the 3-bet question, James is willing to 3-bet jam up to 25 big blinds. 3-bet inducing and 3-bet folding are both on his mind. Decent fold equity combined with the difficulty of calling out of position with a tiny stack make it a more attractive play.
Hull slows James down for an explanation of “3-bet induce” and “3-bet fold”, and he gives a few specific examples.
Tournament 3-Bet Shove Sizing
Hull and James relate the idea of calculating a decent 3-bet shipping size by observing the original raise and checking to see if you have 6-10 times that amount:
“If someone min-raises to 2x and you’ve got 20x, or 20 big blinds in your stack, that’s 10x the original raise. That’s a good benchmark to go with. If you look at 6x the original raise, and you’ve got 12 big blinds, you’re going to struggle to have much fold equity in that spot, and at that point you need to have decent hand equity.”
If you are not going to get folds as part of the package, calculations change dramatically. That’s why it’s important to understand the betting dynamic and have a plan of action based on math.
Should You Be Shipping More?
By now it has been established that too many min-cashing tournament players are not shipping it nearly enough as they should, because they are blind to opportunities rich in fold equity, or simply dictated by stack size.
What are some of the mistakes people are making by just calling rather than shipping in these situations?”, Hull asks, and James gives an example about smooth calling with AK, missing the flop 30% of the time… that’s not how poker tournaments are won.
“Players miss opportunities to get a full double-up” in these situations. Besides not taking advantage of fold equity, you’re blowing your shot at getting full value from your hand when you do hit the flop. James continues the AK example to illustrate.
“If you are playing fit or fold” with a short stack, you’re not playing to win, you’re playing to survive.
Don’t Fear the Bubble
James encourages listeners to have the courage to face the fact that you will lose the majority of tournaments you play. You must embrace the bust out. You must take the risks that can make you chipleader. And simply put, that means making more aggressive moves preflop when valuable opportunities present themselves.
Don’t limp or blind away to a min cash. Go out in a blaze of glory.
Coin Flips: Be the Shover
“Do I want to get in a coin flip for my tournament life?” is something we hear all the time. James has some observations.
In a coin flip you call off, you either win or lose (or tie in the rare 1% of split pots). Assuming an actual coin flip, calling off your stack is a 50/50 chance of winning/losing.
In a coin flip you induce by shoving on someone, your opponent will fold a certain portion of the time. This fold equity is where you get your edge on a so-called “coin flip”. You can still win the pot 50% of the time if you do get called, which is a sub-50% possibility.
Drawing that distinction once again underscores the need for aggression to win poker tournaments. You want to be “the shover”, not “the caller”.
Or as Hull says, “You have to gamble to get you in a spot where you can win.”
Nash Equilibrium in Tournament Poker
For those unfamiliar with the Nash Equilibrium, it is a foundational concept in game theory, and a key part of understanding game theory optimal (GTO) poker strategy.
Hull asks what software James uses to gain insight on GTO strategies (some of which are profiled in our Best Poker Strategy Software article).
Hull gives an easy example to explain Nash Equilibrium:
Let’s say Player A builds a computer program that ships every hand from the small blind. Let’s say Player B builds a computer program that only calls with pocket aces.
The computers play a million hands. Player B can clearly see they need to be calling with more than aces. So they adjust their calling range to include all pairs, two broadway cards, etc.
The computers play another million hands. Now Player A needs to adjust to ship fewer hands.
The players go back and forth with these adjustments until neither player can make any further adjustment that would give you an advantage. That is the Nash Equilibrium.
What Hands Are You Shipping With?
Hull recommends searching the web for ship/fold charts. These visual references help give you an idea of what hands you should always be shipping, and what hands you should always be folding, based on this Nash Equilibrium concept.
James points out you should be watching for players who deviate from the Nash Equilibrium, because you might be able to exploit other players who do not understand the push/fold charts as well as you do.
“Its probably one of the only areas of no-limit hold’em that’s been totally solved,” James remarks. Hull concurs that it’s like chess when 7 pieces are left — shoving in a tournament is the endgame of tournament poker, and the strategies are well-known.
Three PRO Videos by James to Watch
We outro the podcast by recommending three PRO videos to watch to follow up on the concepts here: