The Tournament End Game

Piggybacking Poker

Tournament Poker Endings"Most pitchers fear losing their fastball and, since I don't have one, the only thing I have to fear is fear itself." -- Dan Quisenberry

Poor thinking players find ways to eliminate themselves in tournaments (and of course the better players are thinking of ways to do it too!), but there may be no better "tell" for how good or bad a player is than when/how he deliberately commits his last chips -- the hand, the attitude, and the situation. Weaker players often show themselves at the end of tournaments, where they not only commit chip suicide, but do it muttering the same death chant... "get full value".

Suppose you are two tables away from making the money, two behind the button with a weak-ish/mediocre hand like QJ in Holdem, and have one single chip, with blinds of two-chip/three-chip. Also suppose that you just played an excellent hand on the button or one behind the button where you took a tough beat to lose to an all-in player. In other words, you didn't foolishly ante yourself down to one chip. You didn't cripple yourself. You played fine, but you happen to have one chip left.

You need more chips, and you need a decent hand quick. You only have a few hands to look at before having to put your single chip into the big blind. You are nowhere close to the money so you have to win some hands to get there. Beggars can't be choosers. You want to play this QJ.

The question is: what situation are you looking for?

First I'll tell you what you are not looking for, which happens to be the situation most weaker players do look for... two limpers in front of them, where they can call and get four way action on their money (one chip from each of the limpers plus one chip each from the two blinds). If a player goes in here and mutters something about "full value", make a mental note that they don't have much of a grasp of the game.

That is not to say you should fold here. This is not a very good scenario, but again, beggars can't be choosers, so committing your one chip here is probably your best choice. However, the point is, this is not the situation that you want.

The general situation you want is to go all-in after one single opponent raises in front of you. What you want is for everyone else to fold in the face of the raiser. Ideally, you even want the raiser to be an aggressive player who has a huge stack -- meaning he will be intimidating/difficult person for the other players to face, and he may in fact be aggressively playing a big stack by raising with a mediocre (or worse) hand.

Let's compare the two scenarios. In the "full value" one, let's say (very generously) that you have a 20% chance of winning the pot. You are getting 4-1 on your money, and have a 4-1 chance to win. Given your desperate, "beggars can't be choosers" circumstance, this is not bad. Twenty percent of the time you'll have five chips, which is enough that if you win your next hand you'll have an actual "stack" of chips. You still only have one chip worth of value though. In a ring game, this would be like a coin flip, but in a tournament, given the death sentence of losing, coin flip equity has an extra negative downside.

Much, much better is the scenario where you face only one opponent. Suppose instead of having an equal hand against four opponents, you are even a 60/40 underdog to that one opponent. This is much better! Here, you will have four chips two out of five times compared to five chips one out of five times. Instead of one chip equity, you have the equity of 1.6 chips, and you literally get the death sentence of elimination half as often. The importance of this can not be overstated. Having one chip is infinitely better than having no chips. Your main goal is simply to not go broke. The next goal is to maximize your expectation. The "full value" play is a dramatically worse on both scores (even if it is usually better than folding the QJ).

Even when you have a single chip, you can "play a big stack" by piggybacking onto the play of someone who actually has a big stack!

Also Shortstack Play, Proper Poker Pace, Win Tournaments, Not Hands, Final Tables and Risk Losing