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Utilizing Negative Inference in Multi-Table Tournament Play

Utilizing Negative Inference in Multi-Table Tournament Play
In the game of bridge, a very important concept that is consistently used by top players is called “negative inference.” The idea behind it is that clues about the cards that another player holds can be found in what they choose NOT to do, either during the bidding or the play of the hand. A similar approach can be used in analyzing what an opponent is likely to have based on what he DOESN’T bet during a hand in a no limit holdem tourney. Let us pose an example:

It is fairly early on in a tournament with a few thousand runners, and you are fortunate enough to have increased your starting stack of 1,500 chips to 5,700. You have been very aggressive, playing almost every hand with a combination of limps and raises. Blinds are at 25-50, and the player to your right, who is on the button and has not played a hand at the table thus far, has 1,470 chips. In the small blind, you look down at A-Q suited. There are two limpers in front of the button, who then raises to 350. You decide to try and thin the field with a raise to 650. The two limpers fold, and the button calls. The flop comes K-K-5, you check, and the button pushes for his last 870. What do you do?

The answer lies mostly in your use of this principle of negative inference, the things your opponent has NOT done thus far in the hand. First, let’s look at the pre-flop betting. Although the blinds are not yet excessive, they are about to change to 50-100, leaving the button with less than 15 big blinds. He has committed nearly half of his chips, but DIDN’T push in response to your re-raise. Therefore, it is most likely that he does not have a huge hand, such as one of the four big pairs or A-K.

The second negative inference to be drawn is the fact that he DID push all-in after your post-flop check. Would he have done this if he held a king? Although players such as Chris Ferguson love to bet out if they hit trips in this situation, just BECAUSE their expectation is that their opponents won’t anticipate it, the vast majority of players would check behind, hoping to induce a bluff on the turn or river, in order to maximize profits on the hand.

From these two negative inferences, you can deduce that your opponent most likely does NOT hold a king, the hand to which you are basically dead, and also does not have pocket aces, queens, or jacks (and probably tens and even nines), based on his actions thus far. He also is not likely to have pocket fives, based on the same reasoning noted above about checking post-flop with a monster hand. So, you are left with him either having the remaining six pairs, which you are behind, or any other hand he may have played, in which case you are ahead.

If he has pocket eights, sevens or sixes, you have six outs twice. However, if he has fours, threes or deuces, you have an additional three outs on the turn (another five will counterfeit his pair), and the potential for another three outs on the river, depending on the turn card. There are 2,320 chips in the pot, and it costs you 870 to call. Being that you are getting nearly 3:1 odds to make the call, and there is a decent chance that you are actually AHEAD in the hand, combined with the opportunity to become the dominant stack at the table and begin to put even more pressure on your opponents, it should be an easy call. In fact, he was trying to push you off your hand with A-J, and your hand holds up, eliminating him and putting you in an early position to make some noise in the tournament. 
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