Scott: There’s been something on my mind, but I haven’t come across anybody who’s able to give me advice that I’d feel confident putting into action. You’re definitely the guy to ask since you’ve had consistent results in non-hold ’em events.
I’ve observed your play in the mixed-game tournaments online, which has already improved my game. I have played mixed cash games for many years and hold my own, but I’ve had poor results in tournaments. I realize that I can’t just wander into a tournament playing my normal game and expect a good result. What kind of strategy should I be thinking about in a general sense?
– Jerry, New York
Dear Jerry: I’m curious about whether your strengths are in the flop games (hold ’em and Omaha 8) or in the up-card games (stud, razz and stud 8). A HORSE tournament favors players who are more proficient in the stud-style games. This is not only because it’s three parts up card and two parts flop, but also because of the extra betting round in stud games. As you get deeper into the tourney, every hand in the stud games becomes more crucial.
Once you get involved, you generally have to follow up all the way to the river, whereas the flop games are more “hit or miss” – you can defend your blind for one extra bet, and if you miss the flop, you just release. There are many cases where the betting becomes accelerated in the up-card games, more so than in the flop games. Since most of each player’s hand is exposed, there’s a greater chance of being able to read somebody’s hand, which in turn creates aggression in players who would have to play more timidly in flop games, where they’re often unsure about opponents’ holdings.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as why the stud players are heavily favored in HORSE events. So, step one: Improve your skills in stud, razz and stud hi-lo.
I’m going to share the recipe for the “secret sauce” that gives me an upper hand in these events, and it’s the polar opposite of much of the advice that I normally give.
The key ingredient is the social game.
Poker is about gathering information. The idea is to acquire as much info as you can, then put it all into your mental calculator to come up with your best option for every hand. However, not all information is good information. Your opponents are constantly trying to trip you up by sending out misinformation to prevent you from reading them accurately.
Crucial to your success in a HORSE tournament is figuring out the best game of each player at your table. Players open up their hand ranges in the games in which they’re better and more confident. Conversely, they tighten up and play timidly in the games they don’t play as well. Information gained in this category is extremely reliable. You’ll be able to hone in on hand ranges, react accordingly and be correct a high percentage of the time.
Guess what? The best way to gather this info is by simply asking for it – often they gladly oblige. Start by being friendly and making small talk to bring down their guard. Then, go in for the kill: “What’s your favorite game?” Followed directly by: “OK, but what’s your best game?” The flood gates will usually open and they’ll spew out good, reliable information that you’ll soon be using against them.
Power in poker comes from information, NOT the cards! The only people profiting off the cards are the guys making them and selling them.
Scott Fischman is a professional poker in both the live and online poker worlds. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets. Send your poker questions to him at email@example.com or on Twitter: @scottfischman88.)