You make the call -- call, raise or fold?
The blinds are 50-100, and you're dealt As Jd. It's heads-up (just you and one opponent), and the final board reads Js 10h 7s Jc 10s. With 13,000 in your stack, you bet 1,000 into a 1,400 pot. Your opponent raises to 11,000. Do you call, raise or fold? Would your decision be the same if you held the Jd 10d?
This isn't a trick question. This hand took place in an event in Las Vegas years ago. I played it against Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, and I'm bringing it up here because it addresses a vital concept in tournament strategy.
I felt strongly that both of us had jacks full. As I pondered my next move, I evaluated how my position in the tournament might be affected by each option (call, raise or fold). More often than not, an analytical breakdown of the progression in a hand would yield enough information to make a final judgment. But with the bet I faced representing such a large percentage of my stack, I couldn't let myself be blinded by how "pretty" my hand was.
The ratio of stack size to big blind is one way to measure risk-reward. I began the hand with 130 big blinds -- a massive stack that gave me plenty of room to maneuver and provided a large margin for error. With a stack of that size, my strategy shifts. Chip accumulation becomes less of a priority, while protecting my tournament status becomes more important.
So ... I chose to fold. For what it's worth, my decision would not have been any different had I held Jd 10d, even though holding a 10 would mean that only one hand could beat me: a straight flush.
Why fold? Strategy.
When my stack allows me to employ a conservative game plan, it's easy to make big laydowns. As I mentioned, I felt Mizrachi and I both had jacks full. By folding, I was giving up 1,700 worth of positive equity. (Folding leaves me with 12,000; calling and getting a chop of the pot would give me 13,700.) The upside of folding was that it would secure me a 12,000 stack, which is pretty similar to a 13,700 stack at that point in the tournament, and I envisioned my chances of winning the tournament as being greater with a fold.
I did take into account some other nuances of the hand, each of which further pushed me toward a fold. For example, the fact that Mizrachi did not have the ace of spades in his hand conveyed to me that he was less likely to be bluffing with a missed combo draw. There was also a bit of the "I know that you know that I know" routine, which poker players refer to as "leveling." I thought he may have read me as being extremely strong, which induced him to fire a dramatic overbet, as he wouldn't expect me to lay down a monster hand -- a red flag that he might have a straight flush.
It ended up being a spot where I folded even though there was a good chance I had a winning hand (or at least a pot-chopping hand). I could see myself coming to a different conclusion given a similar situation in a different tournament.
For the cash game players: I generally make the same play when faced with identical variables on different occasions. Cash games are more about the math of the here and now, and less about how your future status will be affected. In other words, there are fewer strategic adjustments to be made in cash games.
Scott Fischman is a professional player in the live and online poker worlds. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated nearly $3 million in career earnings. He is also the author of the poker book "Online Ace." Send your poker questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.