Pre-Flop Play in Online Tournaments
As more and more tournament poker has been seen on television, players have been introduced to a wide variety of pre-flop styles that either were never seen before at the table, or at least were not discussed prior to the advent of the hole card camera. While once it was shocking to see someone like Gus Hansen make a raise under the gun with J-4 offsuit, now it has become so common a move as to be almost clichéd. As a result of this exposure to radically different strategies, it is more important than ever for an online tourney player to consider just how he or she intends to attack the table pre-flop. What you choose to play will go a long way in determining your success or failure in online tournaments.
First, think about the image you wish to portray to your opponents, remembering that the likelihood is that you won’t be seeing this group of players for too long. It will do little or no good in the long run to set up a rock-like presence if, in doing so, you get blinded off a quarter of your stack and then your table gets broken up, leaving you with new opponents who only know that you haven’t done very well so far. These factors may make it very tempting to play a much looser style, hoping to steal some pots and amass some chips in the early going, but this, too, has its pitfalls. Playing too many hands out of position often leads to awkward situations post-flop, where you may catch a small piece of the board and not know how to proceed.
Regardless of how loosely or tightly you decide to play, it is still essential to remember that, just as in real estate the key is “location, location, location,” in poker it is “position, position, position.” The more frequently you can see flops where you will be the last one to act, the more freedom you will have to take down pots with impunity, daring your opponents to play back at you.
The key positions to get more aggressive in are the button (dealer position) and the two seats immediately to the right of it, what are called the cutoff and the hijack. As poker has evolved in recent years, you will almost never find a player who doesn’t know that the button will raise with almost any two cards in a pot into which no one else has bet. As a result, you almost need to have a stronger hand to raise in this position than in the cutoff, because there are players who will almost automatically three-bet from the blinds against a button raise, acting on the assumption that the raiser is weak, which more often than not, he will be.
It has been said that “the cutoff is the new button,” because a raise from this position is still seen as less suspicious than from the dealer, so now people are more frequently stealing blinds from either there or from the hijack, counting on the fact that the player or two that could have position on him after the flop will fold all but a very strong hand.
Even though players may be suspicious if you are raising most of the time in these three positions, unless you are doing it the vast majority of the time, they will still be hard-pressed to play back at you if they have a limited number of chips. In a tournament where the starting stack is 1,500, and the blinds are 15-30, if you raise a normal 3 times the blind to 90, a player coming over the top of you will need to put almost 20% of his stack in the middle, and can quickly get short-stacked if his timing is off. Most players will think twice before making this move with anything other than a premium hand.
Remember: Focus on position in your pre-flop play and it will make for much easier decisions as the hand plays out.