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Playing at the Margins

Staying ahead of the blinds is crucial to surviving multi-table tournaments. GOM’s Duncan Wilkie takes a look at how making the most of marginal situations can help you stay afloat.

When navigating your way through a big MTT, the onus is always on you to accumulate chips and stay ahead of the escalating blinds. Ideally, you’d like to do this simply by waiting patiently for a decent hand and extracting maximum value from it accordingly, but the pressures of a tournament mean that this is rarely ever possible.

There comes a stage when the increasing levels will soon have you entering push-or-fold mode and if you plan on keeping your head above water, sitting tight is not an option. At this point, you’ll have to exit your comfort zone, expand the range of hands you’re playing and utilise superior post-flop skills to accrue extra chips in some marginal situations. That’s precisely what Allen Cunningham did in this memorable hand against Jamie Gold in the 2006 WSOP.

With the blinds at $120k/$240k and Gold using his vast chip-stack to bully his opponents, he again opens for $800k from early position. Action folds all around to Cunningham in the big blind, who loosens his starting requirements slightly and defends with Ah 9d. Now, defending with marginal aces out of position is not something you really want to make a habit of, but Cunningham’s call is correct for two reasons.

Firstly, he knows that Gold is opening with a wide range of hands and that his ace-high may be good or racing against a small-to-medium pair and secondly, a player of Cunningham’s calibre will have a definite skill edge when it comes to playing a pot post-flop. Gold had already revealed a penchant for bluffing off his chips earlier in the tournament and proved he could be pushed off pots easily, so Cunningham is calling to either trap or outplay him here.

An 8h-3d-8d flop misses Cunningham completely and he checks over to Gold, who fires out $1 million into the $1.96 million pot. This bet does not really reveal anything about Gold’s hand, as while he may have a pair in the hole, he would be correct to fire here with almost any two cards. From Cunningham’s point of view, it is a relatively unscary board and there are far more unimproved hands that Gold would bet here than there are pairs, so he calls to see how things develop.

Fourth street is the 2c–an absolute brick that almost certainly hasn’t changed anything in the hand. The card doesn’t complete any flush draws and it is unlikely that even Gold’s opening range includes many hands containing a 2, so now is a great opportunity to see if he’ll continue to bet his hand by checking. Cunningham does just that and rather than fire a second bullet, Gold checks behind him and the pair share a Qs river. Again, this is a fairly safe card as it doesn’t complete any flush draws and the fact that Gold checked the turn suggests that he didn’t have a hand already as he made no attempt to protect it with a bet.

Sticking to that line of logic, a pocket pair suddenly starts to look unlikely while a flush draw has definitely missed, so when Cunningham checks to Gold and he bets $2 million, a queen or complete air look to be the most viable options. Eventually, Cunningham decides that his ace-high beats enough of Gold’s unimproved hands for it to be a profitable call. He does so and Gold mucks.

Hopefully Cunningham’s read demonstrates how using solid judgement in marginal situations can build your stack and help you stay clear of the chasing pack in large MTT tournaments.
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