You’re deep in a poker tournament and approaching the money. You can’t wait to tell your family and friends about your success. However, you don’t have a lot of chips and the blind levels keep moving higher, acting like some imaginary blob that rolls over your chips and sucks them up for no reason.

The Situation

Your Chip Count: 17,500

Blind Levels: 2,000/4,000

Antes: 50

Translation: You’re in big trouble!

You’re only three players away from the bubble and you look down at JJ under the gun (UTG). Most players auto-shove here, but this is a stage of the tournament where you want to pay more attention to the payouts and payout ladder than your hole cards.

UTG Shove with JJ

Let’s say you shove with JJ from first position. You’re the shortest stack at the table. Therefore, there won’t be too much fear for others to call you. If a big stack wakes up with any Ace, they’re probably going to call. The best you can hope for is that they isolate you, which will reduce your risk and give you a shot at a double-up. If any other player wakes up with KJ or better, you’re probably getting called. Going up against KJ with JJ doesn’t sound bad at all, but you could get more than one caller. If that first caller is in earlier position, then other players begin to think about pot odds and increasing the likelihood of knocking out a bubble player.

You also have to factor in the Big Blind. They will already be in for 4,000. This doesn’t mean that the Big Blind should auto-call here. Actually, that’s not the case whatsoever. However, many players in the Big Blind will call with any two cards in this spot. This could be a significant positive because you will likely be way ahead and you want to double-up. That said, it will still present risk. Collecting 10,500 chips without any risk is still much better. It’s not just because you’re collecting 10,500 chips; it’s because your stack becomes much scarier to other players the next time you shove. Their calling range will significantly narrow, which will then allow you to pick up more blinds and antes and work your way back into the game.

UTG Fold with JJ

I have been in this position on the bubble, and I folded. I remember looking down at JJ and thinking to myself: You’ve got to be kidding me. I thought that because it was the most marginal spot possible. I knew I was folding because folding is riskless, which then led to me cashing (22nd of 221). If I had shoved there, I might have earned $0.

Calling a Shove with 66

When you’re in these kinds of situations and the bubble is approaching, your cards aren’t as important as the payout board. Let’s take a look at a different situation.

In this case, you’re already in the money and someone shoves from early position for 25,000. You have 18,000 and look down at 66. Most players call here. The primary reason is because it can be frustrating to not see a quality hand for a while and the increasing blind levels add pressure, making you think that you will never see a better hand. It’s a lack of patience. The correct play here is to fold. Since this player shoved from early position, either you’re behind or you’re racing. Do you really think you’re going to be ahead with 66 against a hand that shoved from early position? That would be extremely rare. Therefore, you would basically be flipping a coin.

There is a HUGE difference between calling a shove with 66 and shoving with 66. There is a huge difference in calling a shove and shoving in general. If you’re holding a good (not great) hand and you’re calling a shove, then you’re probably in trouble because it will be 50% at best. If you’re open-shoving, then you’re getting first-in equity, which is tremendously valuable because most opponents are going to fold unless they wake up with a monster. That being the case, you’re usually going to be collecting those blinds and antes. If you get called, it will likely be by one player, and you will still have a chance no matter what. Of course, you want to widen your open-shove range the later you are to act.

Conclusion

Don’t be one of those players that says, “I needed to call there.” No … you didn’t need to call there. You just called out of desperation. Fold more often in marginal spots when you’re short-stacked deep in a tournament and in early position. You will watch other players get knocked out during that time frame, which will move you into the money and up the pay ladder. When you’re in late position and nobody has raised, you can widen that open-shove range tremendously, which will lead to a lot of blind/ante steals and the rebuilding of your stack.


Tyler Nals

If you love poker, then you're in the right place. My poker strategy books are written for the beginner-intermediate player, and many readers have told me that these strategies have helped them turn a profit. My books are easy to understand and written from a macro perspective on how to win as a poker player. You will also find an entertainment angle. Regardless of what level poker player you are, you might enjoy A Fishy Poker Tournament, The Dark Side of the Felt, and The Poker Office. These are poker adventure books, not poker strategy books.

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