Tournament strategy – coin flips

This article was posted on June 10, 2010

With the 2010 WSOP in full swing and with pretty much all the WSOP satellites featuring a Multi-Table Tournament format, people seem more focused on MTT strategy these days than ever. There’s only one problem with MTTs – ask any player – you can’t win one without coming out on top in at least a handful of coin-flips. That’s right,  luck is huge in dictating the final outcome of MTTs, and there’s no getting away from that. Most players hate tournament coin-flips. The more skills a player has, the more he seems to hate the coin-flip. The coin-flip represents a point in the tournament when all players – regardless of their skill level – become vulnerable, their heard-earned tourney skills no longer capable to serve them, and their fate entirely dependant on Lady Luck’s caprices. It’s obviously not a pleasant spot to be in if you’re a player but if you want to win a MTT, you don’t really have a choice in the matter. 

Good players know how to make the most of the coin-flips too though. Despite the fact that a coin-flip is supposed to be a 50-50 odds event, in poker it’s rarely that. The first thing you need to do to maximize your coin-flip odds is to make sure that it is indeed a coin-flip you’re getting. Getting 45-55% odds is OK, but if you get to the point where you only get 30-70%, that’s no longer a coin-flip, so don’t talk yourself into making such a move. You need to have a solid read on your opponent(s) to know when you’re most likely to get yourself into a true coin-flip. 

What would you say if I told you though that you could actually tamper with the odds involved too? If you were to say: fold equity, you’d be right. The game of poker has a way of rewarding aggression. In order to ever stand a chance to win a tournament like the ones featured at the WSOP, or even the online qualifiers leading up to the WSOP, you have to be aggressive. Experts say you have to be the fox rather than the farmer, which means you have to go for all the marbles and not settle for a nice, cozy cash position. 

Aggression is rewarded by tournament coin-flips too. When you do have your back against the wall, and when you do realize a coin-flip is the only way to survive, pick your spot carefully, and always be the one who shoves, rather then the one who calls. The fold equity offers an advantage to the player who does the shoving: he’ll secure two ways to win the pot. He’ll either force his opponent to fold (in which case he’ll win the blinds – which are quite substantial in the closing stages of large-scale MTTs, and can thus provide a valuable life-line), or he’ll win the pot straight up at showdown.

On the other hand, the player who makes the call, will only have one chance to win the pot: through a straight showdown. Bottom line: be the aggressor, because it pays.

Of course, in the case of online MTTs, you should always sign up for rakeback too. Poker rake back gives you a nice rebate on the tournament fees that you pay. Most of the time, you’ll need several tries to secure that WSOP package, so that extra money can pile up nicely.


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