In NL tournaments forcing your opponent to risk total effective stacks through the last bet is powerful
By the time you read this article, the 2015 WSOP will have concluded and hopefully I will still be in the main event waiting to come back to Las Vegas for the November 9. This year I played a full slate of tournaments (over 30) and was able to cash seven times. Even though I played a lot of mixed limit events long fielded NL tournaments still seem to be one of my strengths. In the Million Maker I was able to finish 27th and in a $1500NL with over 2,000 entrants 42nd.
Every year I learn something new about tournaments through playing at the World Series. And this year I was able to fully understand how powerful a 20BB stack can be. Every good player knows that 20BBs use to be the old “golden zone” of reshipping. Someone would raise to 3-4x, and you could move all-in with 20BBs and pick up a ton of dead money without showdown. If a hand like AK called you, and you had reshipped with 68 suited, you still had ok equity making the play extremely profitable. However, the times of people opening to 3 or 4 times the big blind are long gone. Most people now open to the minimum when antes come into play. This means that reshipping 20BBs is risking far too much of your stack on a re-steal. In fact, sometimes, as little as 10BBs can be a reshipping stack with fold equity if the opener is at the bottom of their range. But the power of the 20BBs stack is still not to be ignored. It can be very powerful to have 20-25BBs, and facing a min open, basically make a small three bet forcing your opponent into making the last decision.
Let us take a look at a hand that I played in a $1500NL tournament at the WSOP this year. We were down to about 80 people and I had 22BBs on the button. A younger, tighter player opened the pot to 2x from MP2 with about 38BBs. There weren’t that many short stacks behind him besides me so he did not have to worry about being shipped on all that often. I looked down at K♥ 5♥ on the button. As a cash game player my first instinct was to fold. K5 has very little value and there was no way we were deep enough for me to flat in position to try to hit my hand. However, using a hand with a king or ace in it as a three bet bluff can be very useful as your opponent is less likely to have aces, kings, AK or AQ—hands that they might auto stack off with preflop with these effective stacks. But instead of reshipping all-in and risking my 22BB stack to win about six big blinds, I decided to make it five big blinds. That way the pressure was back on my opponent to make the decision of whether or not I was bluffing.
After a long time my opponent finally folding 88 face up and said “if you shipped I would have snap called”. After playing with this opponent for several more hours it was apparent that he was a recreational player and it is debatable whether or not he should have folded his 88 starting with 38BBs. However my play actually looked stronger to him than a reship (adding the most fold equity) and if he did wake up with a monster I would have easily folded to his four bet all-in and would have saved my tournament life.