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A Hand of Many Faces

Getting a juicy gap suited connector may get your heart racing, but beautiful poker pro Liz Lieu puts the brakes on impulse and pulls us down to earth with a vital checklist.

I don’t like responding to strategy questions, and I don’t use that word very often. Why? Well, when you’re talking about tournament poker, there are so many variables to consider with a starting hand. “How do you play pocket 10s, Liz?” is the kind of question that tells a lot about a player because there is no right way to play any hand.

Here’s a quick checklist of things you have to consider with every hand in a tournament:

1) What are the blinds and antes?
2) What is your chip stack?
3) Are you familiar with each player at the table? If so, how have they been playing the last two levels?
4) What position are you in for the hand in comparison to the button and blinds?
5) What action has happened before you look at your cards?
6) What is the chip stack of any player who has acted before you, as well as those still to act?
7) Where are you in the tournament?

So I’d like to look at just a few different scenarios and examine one particular starting hand. We’ll look at two different stack sizes:

1) M<7* (short stack), with blinds of 2k/4k with a 500 ante and stack of 24k
2) M>25* (deep stack), with blinds of 2k/4k with a 500 ante and stack of 345k

For this particular starting hand, we’ll look at three combinations of action and position:

1) Middle position with an early raise in front of me.
2) The big blind with a cut-off raise in front of me and a button fold.
3) On the button with an under-the-gun raise and call in front of me.

Confused? Well, let’s look at our starting hand.

King-Jack, Suited

Gapped suited connectors have tremendous potential in tournaments as you can really chip up when you hit these hidden gems.

1) Middle Position/raise in front of me: I’m folding here whether I have a short stack or not. There are players to act after me, and this is a good way to cut your stack by 10 to 50 percent.
2) Big Blind/raise from the cut-off: On a short-stack, I fold her most of the time but I may shove against an aggressive player, depending on his stack. With chips, I’ll call almost every time to see a flop here.
3) On the button/raise and a call in front of me: I’m folding here every time if I’m short-stacked, and I’m folding probably 90 percent of the time with a deep stack. If I’m running good and have a monster stack, I may call here, but it’s rare.

Hopefully you’ve taken away a few things from this. First, what you do depends on a lot of factors, from your stack to the action in front of you to your opponents’ stacks to where you are in the tournament. Second, I hope you understand why it is so important to focus on each player at your table on each hand. Third, being aggressive doesn’t mean being reckless. Your chips are precious, so use them wisely yet forcefully. Next month, I’ll explore a few more starting hands that can potentially cause trouble.

* ‘M’ is the ratio of the blinds and antes to your current chip stack and how many rounds of the table you can survive without being blinded away. So in this scenario, less than seven in the short stack and more than 25 in the deep stack.
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