Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bubble Cash and Fold-Strategy Calibration

In my previous two posts, I discussed my second-place tournament finish, the deals that were offered during that tournament, and (to some extent) the strategic adjustments I intended to make. Due to illness and scheduling conflicts, I was only able to play two tournaments in January, and I bubbled both of them. Fortunately, I still netted $50 because I won three $25 bounties in a $125 tournament and a $350 "bubble offering" in a $250 tournament.

The $250 tournament has a much more severe bubble. (With 76 entries, seventh place gets $980 compared to only $1750 for third place. Thus, it's hardly worth risking going out 9th or 10th unless you have a great shot of at least 2nd place, which pays over $3k.) This, combined with the somewhat reckless strategy of the other players, makes it worth playing very tight once you have enough chips to cruise into 7th place. That's exactly what I tried to do this past Saturday. However, I initiated my "outlast through super-tight play" strategy a bit too early, and came in 8th place instead of 7th. Fortunately, I also knew that it is common practice for players at the final table to create a small kitty to be given to whomever goes out on the bubble. This creates a sort of safety net for the "outlast"strategy, and I was able to come away with $50 from each of the seven players who cashed.

I initiated my super-tight strategy sort of accidentally. There were under 30 players left and I had 50k or 60k in chips. I really wish I had taken note of the specifics so that I would have a better idea of how to modify my strategy in the future, but the blinds were already up to 1500-3000 and the ante was something like 300. With about eight players at my table, I was second after the blind and limped with AJs after another limper. I had already decided to tighten up a bit; otherwise, I would probably have raised with this hand. The player to my left raised to 17k and everyone else folded. I took a long time considering pushing this hand all-in. My opponent's raise could have been a squeeze play, so I think my fold equity would have been good, and AJs fairs decently against his calling range if I push. In tournament chips, I think my EV is positive here if I push all-in, but in real money, I decided it wasn't worth risking what was very likely going to be at least a $980 payday. I folded and decided to play only the very strongest hands from then on.

I got only one more playable hand until the final table. It was A8o on the small blind that I pushed in and won the (substantial) blinds and antes, when there were about 16 players left. I folded literally every one of my other hands until my very last hand of the tournament (55 under the gun when I had 8.5K and would have had to pay a 1K ante next hand plus a 6K big blind). I was prepared to play my strongest hands until the final table, but no strong hands came. At the final table I was prepared to fold KK pre-flop, but I probably would have pushed with AA. The best hand I got at the final table was 88, and I folded it.

Although I didn't intend to adopt an "always fold" strategy when I was at 50K and about 26 players left, the weakness of my cards made that the strategy that I nearly de facto employed. If not for that one hand where I won about 9k with A8o, I might not have even gotten the $350 with that strategy. This provides a useful lower bound to refer to when employing an "outlast through super tight play" strategy. I can now say with confidence that, in this tournament with 76 entries, 50K is not enough to safely get me into the money when the blinds are at 1500-3000 and there are about 28 players left.

I can simplify this a little further. Since the 76 entries (some of them were re-entries, but that is not really relevant) each started with 15,000 in chips, that makes 1,140,000 total chips, and my 50K represented less than 1/20 of the chips in play.

This analysis is far from complete, but I find in instructive to examine extreme scenarios when they come up. This does not thoroughly point to what strategy would be optimal, of course; my sense is that it would be best to play somewhat tight in the scenario I described above. However, I have learned an approximate boundary for when an always-fold strategy goes from +EV to -EV, and I can incorporate that into my decision-making and intuition.