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aokrongly’s Patience & Pacing in a Multi-Table Tournament

Patience is a very important factor when playing larger field MTT’s. Maintaining concentration, proper pace, and patience is key to making it deep in a tournament. aokrongly discusses his thoughts on maintaining patience and pacing in the essay below. aokrongly has been a member of FTR since January of 2005, and you can read more of his fantastic articles on FTR in the Poker Forum.

A while back I posted that my biggest issue with MTT’s was patience. After a couple hours I would consistently flame out, even though I have what has been consistently proven as a quality game. After much oversight from others and putting new skills to practice, I’ve cracked 2 final tables for over $3000 in winnings in the past few weeks. So I want to share a couple of observations while they’re fresh. A lot of times people with a lot of experience consider things “second nature” that are actually insightful to most players. Since I’ve only recently cracked this “patience” problem, I feel this may be of use to others fighting the same battle. So here it is before it becomes “second nature” to me:

1. Know whether it’s patience or play. If you don’t have a quality, consistent game then you need to address that first. Patience means playing your game the way it’s meant to be played and not making moves or plays unnecessarily. So if you think K9s is a quality hand, don’t know how to bet to eliminate pot odds for drawing hands, etc, then you need to address that first. All the patience in the world won’t help if your game is weak.

2. I didn’t know how to “pace my play” and I would feel behind in the tournament (from a chip standpoint) when I wasn’t. So I would become impatient. The following are things I use and keep in mind which have helped me pace my play correctly. What I mean is that there are hands you absolutely will play, there are hands you might play if you need to and there are gambling hands that you’ll play if you feel like they’re your final chance. (It’s actually a spectrum.) There is one sure thing, you can’t lose chips you don’t put in the pot. So, pacing has something to do with knowing when to play for value, when to play based on need, and when to just camp like Jim Bowie and Davy Crocket.

– Early chip stack doesn’t translate into making it deeper into the money. If your buy-in is 1500 chips and you’re at 15000 after the first hour it doesn’t mean as much as you might think. (I believe it means zero regarding the final table, but others might disagree.) So, don’t pace yourself off what the chip leaders have. Don’t feel like you have to build big fast or you’ll never make it.

– Instead I pace myself on my stack compared to the blinds and antes. Specifically, if the blinds and antes are less than 5% of my stack, or even 10% I’m not interested in playing with anything but monsters essentially, or doing some high probability blind steals. When the blinds get to 15% I’m looking for opportunities. At 20% I’m going to get active. This type of pacing keeps me from getting active unnecessarily, and that’s a good thing.

– I also pace myself on chip goals. In the tourney last night, basically 1000 players started with 1200 chips and top 60 got ITM. So my initial goal was 1000*1200/60. That should be average ITM chipstack. I figured 20,000 chips would be a fine amount to enter the final 60 players with. When I hit 18000 with a good 45 minutes to go, I camped like a dog (yet continued to take advantage of obvious weakness – which is a given).

My final table goal was 100,000 chips give or take. You can see how much happens between getting ITM and getting to the final table. There’s lots of work. This keeps me from thinking I’m on the final table just because I’m holding 20,000 chips after the first hour (which is never the case anyway). But it keeps you from getting the big head just because you’re the table chip leader. You have to continue your strong game through the entire tournament. You can’t get loose or weak or passive just because you have twice as many chips as anyone else at the table. It means nothing. Also, you can’t get overwhelmed if you have a couple towering stacks against you. Big deal, relatively speaking it’s nothing and they’ll lose them. How about getting them to lose them to you?

– You have to maintain your composure in the face of a big chip loss for whatever reason. If you tilt out because you lose 2/3rds of your stack, then you’re hopelessly lost. You have to learn how to take the hits and build back up over time! People tilt because they had 30k chips and now they have 8 and they want to get back up to 30k RIGHT NOW. You can’t, generally. Don’t go into mondo-aggressive-overload. Stay aggressive, stay smart, and take advantage of opportunities. But, if you’re pushing (literally and figuratively) to recover too fast, then you will get called down and sent out. Don’t expect to win post-to-post. You will take serious reverses. The question is what you do with them. Play smart or tilt out?

Let’s take a look at two examples from last night. I had 20k chips before ITM, just where I want to be. In the middle of a 22K pot my software craps out and the site auto-folds my STRAIGHT. I log back in and have 8K chips. I told the guy NH and brushed it off. Then I built my stack back up through controlled aggression and smart play. Still before ITM I’m on the SB with A6, I raise the BB and he calls. Flop is T high garbage, but pairs my 6. I bet strong, he calls. Turn is more junk. I bet again knowing he’ll fold. He raises me AI. Now I only have 6700 chips left (with bottom pair) but I fold like a cheap suit. People at the table went crazy. How can you fold, you’re crippled, pot committed, blah blah blah. I’m never pot committed to lose my stack!! He had 2 pair. But the point was I still had “meat on the bone” and I could recover a lot easier than I could pray from an A or a 6 on the River. — BTW, in the ENTIRE tournament that was the MOST CRUCIAL hand I played, in my opinion. Not the AI bets I won or the people I cracked out. Folding that hand was absolutely critical and the smartest play I made all night.

Over the next hour and a half I busted damn near everyone off that table. No grand rush of cards. Just smart, consistent play without any panic. I let THEM panic into me.

What I’m saying is patience isn’t passive. But it certainly isn’t freaking out at the first sign of trouble. The two tools that can help you are:

1. Basing your “speculative” play on your stack compared to the blinds. Under 10% minimum (20% optimal) of your stack, why be speculative? You don’t need the chips.

2. Calculate how many chips you need to reach goal #1, ITM, and meet that goal first. Then set a final table goal, then a final 3 goal, then a #1 goal. No baseball game is won in the first inning; no football game is won on the first play. No tourney is won in the first hour, or even the first 3 hours. Each hour is a step toward a goal. All you can do by trying to WIN the tournament before you’re in the final table is LOSE IT.

So, how did my tourney end? Final table 5th place. I call a short stack who was obviously feeling the heat (he had 100k, I had 250k or so). I had A6s, he had KQ. He caught. No worries. I set to trapping the chip leader. I make some plays that trained him to come over the top of my blind steal. Then I got QQ and triggered the trap against his TT. He caught the 4 cards for a flush. That’s poker. I had met all but 2 of my goals. Here they were:

1. Evaluate the table and know where the opportunities lie (at the starting table with 1500 chips).

2. Win a couple pots and get some positive momentum. (That’s the first 30-45 minutes.)

3. Work up to my 1st target of 20k chips over the next 2 -3 hours.

4. Once I got ITM, climb up to the next payoff level or two and get a feel for the action.

5. Build up to 2nd target of 100k (final table chips) over the next 2-3 hours. No hurry.

6. Final table – let others knock themselves out. (I happened to knock him out.)

7. Get up to 5th place – the payout climbed steeply from 9th to 5th.

8. 4th was a joke step up in cash (20% only) so my next goal was top 3. (This is where my game ended. You can guess the next 2 goals would have been.)

It’s a long post or sure. But it’s all about pacing in MTT’s. Most people lose (and I spent years losing) because they don’t know how to pace correctly or what to pace off of. This was meant to help. Hope it did.

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