In split pot tournaments it is tough to get knocked out. Patience and not passing the big bet street without drawing both ways is key.
It is absolutely amazing how long you can remain short stacked in a split pot tournament. A lot of people do not realize that it is tough to get knocked out when you are all-in and since split pot tournaments are either limit or pot limit there are no antes in the blind games. That means if you survive a round with one big bet you can go through an entire other round before getting it all-in.
In both the $10k Omaha 8 or better and the $10k Stud 8 or better tournaments this summer I was down to one big bet with about forty people left. In both events only two tables cashed and I was able to work my short stack up to the average and make it to the end. Obviously it takes a lot of patience and discipline preflop to do this but also it takes discipline to not go past the flop or Fourth Street generally when you are not drawing to both sides of the pot. The chips are just too valuable in a split pot game to lose the extra bets. If I can play 4-5 orbits with six or seven big bets, if I make a bad call on fifth street in Stud 8 or better I could lose an additional two more bets for a total of three. That six to seven bets become three to four bets and suddenly if I do not win a pot I may be out in a couple of orbits.
This is why split pot games, especially limit games, are really a different type of tournament than no limit games. I truly believe that the best approach to the game is more defensive and is about saving bets, as opposed to trying to power through and accumulate chips like you may in a NL holdem or PLO tournament. This is why you see some of the same names make it to the end of these split pot events year after year. A player that might not know what he is doing may run hot for a period of time during the tournament but usually the bad calls going for one side of the pot and the luck will run against him at some point. The players that tend to play slow and steady, that stay a within a few bets of the average but never put their chips in drawing bad tend to stick around and put themselves in a position to win the tournament.
Let us take a look at a hand that I played from the $10k O8 with about fifty people left. I had six big bets, about half of the average and a player under the gun raised. MP2 called and I called with A♠2♠K♥7♦. Now, this hand in itself is strong enough to three bet as it has both high and low potential and backup low. In fact, in a cash game, especially if the player in the middle hadn’t called, I would three bet to isolate the raiser and drive the blinds out of the hand. However, this was a tournament, and like I said before, the name of the game is saving bets. I did not want to get into a spot where I totally whiffed the flop and was forced to call down light due to the size of the pot. Taking that line would burn up almost my entire stack. With this in mind I just called, which also brought in the big blind. The flop came out 8♠ 3♣ J♥, the preflop raiser bet and the MP2 player called. I then called with AK high, a backdoor spade, and broadway straight draw and more importantly the nut low draw, as did the big blind. So the pot now had 6 big bets in it and I had committed 1.5 out of my stack of 6. The turn brought out 9♦, completing the rainbow. The under the gun player bet out again and now the MP2 raised. So at this point the pot was nine big bets and it was two cold for me to call. This is where the math can get a little tricky in split pot games. Firstly I thought I was absolutely drawing dead for the high. The middle position player really should have a minimum of J9 for top two here and quite possibly QT for a straight. I had to call two cold and most likely a third bet on the river to win HALF of the pot. Let us say that if I did call the turn, the BB would fold and the UTG would call. On the turn I call two to win half of ten (nine plus the UTG’s overcall) and then on the river another one bet to win half of twelve total. More importantly if someone had A2 along with me for the nut low draw I could get quartered and call three big bets to win a quarter of twelve.
There also could possibly be other variables in the hand such as the BB check raising the turn or the under the gun reraising. The point is that I thought at that time it was not worth an additional three big bets, which would total 4.5 of my 6 stack as if I was wrong it would be devastating for my tournament. I ended up making the fold and only the under the gun called. The river paired the eight and the UTG check called with aces and the MP2 player, of course, had the QT for the straight. I then was able to win the next pot I played in for a nice double up to get down deep in the tournament.