A Tournament Analysis Case Study

The Tropicana $200 Limit Holdem Tournament in Atlantic City Provides Some Good Lessons on Tournament Poker

(The following is an original article from

I headed down to the Tropicana in Atlantic City for the monthly $220 limit Hold Em tournament. This event is getting bigger, with eighty-two entrants today. I started off cautiously and could not find a hand in the first few rounds, as usual. In one instance I had

two of clubs two of hearts

in the big blind and nobody raised so I stayed in the hand. There was no betting on the flop or turn and, when a two came on the river, I bet only to be called by another player who made a small straight. Ugh!

I was not making progress and took a chance a short time later with

nine of clubseight of clubs

in a multiway pot. I flopped top pair and bet it on the flop, only to be called by an opponent who then bet into me when I checked the turn. I just have realized I was beaten at this point and folded, however I called his bet. He had

ace of spadesnine of hearts


and out kicked me. Several hands later I was forced to go all-in with

king of clubsten of clubs

and turned a miracle straight to the Ace when a Queen fell on the turn. Unfortunately, I had no more chips to bet with and the side pot became much larger than the main pot when this card gave one of my opponents a set and the other a smaller straight. Oh well, at least I had some chips again.

Several hands later I made a move with

ace of diamondssix of diamonds

,but I had to fold when the flop came

nine of heartsten of hearts jack of hearts

and my opponent put pressure on me. After a few more rounds, I was almost down to the felt when I picked up my "nemesis" hand,

ace of clubsnine of clubs

I raised the big blind and was re-raised by an opponent who just wanted to put me all-in. I felt pretty good when the flop came

nine of heartstwo of clubs five of clubs

I had top pair, top kicker and the nut flush draw. I proudly displayed my hand face-up since I was all-in. My opponent did the same. I could hardly believe my eyes when he showed

five of heartstwo of spades

giving him two-pair on the flop. Now I needed a 9, an Ace, a club or a higher pair than twos (other than 5-5 or 2-2) on the board, none of which materialized and I was out of another tournament.

At first I was upset because of the "bad beat" I took yet again, however I took the time to analyze my play and I discovered a crucial mistake that I made. Have you noticed it from my description above?

If not, let me explain, but first I want to say that to improve your game you must always and constantly be willing to analyze your play objectively. Many poker players are so closed-minded that they are incapable of improving their game because they are unwilling to analyze it objectively. Now, the way I like to analyze my play, especially in tournaments, is to start with my final hand and work my way backwards and give reasons why a particular play may or may not have worked. Eventually, it should be possible to focus on the "crucial mistake", which is what I call the main reason for not performing better in a particular tournament.

Recall, in my final "bad beat" hand, the one that eliminated me from the tournament, I lost with an

ace of clubsnine of clubs versus five of heartstwo of spades

Let's start here.

At first, my opponent's play with the

five of heartstwo of spades

seems ridiculous when, in actuality, it really wasn't. The first question I need to ask myself is why did this apparently decent player play this garbage hand? It was because I did not have enough chips to be a threat and he saw an opportunity to play me all-in heads-up. He took advantage of a favorable situation, a situation in which he could not really get hurt, but possibly build his stack without any threat from me. So his play wasn't all that bad.

So far I have determine the probable reason my opponent went up against me with his

five of heartstwo of spades

and it was because I did not have enough ammo (chips) to be a threat to him. Now I need to ask myself why I did not have enough chips to be a threat - even though I won a significant hand when I made the Ace-high straight with my

king of clubsten of clubs

earlier in the tournament, at the same time both of my opponents made solid hands, as well? The reason is because, in that hand, when I had a true opportunity to amass some chips (by making what may be construed as a lucky hand), I was all-in and could not bet anymore. As a result, the side pot became far greater than the main pot and I was not eligible for any part of it.

Going one-step further back in my analysis, the next logical question I must ask myself is "Why was I all-in on this hand?" a crucial hand that would have given me decent ammo for the second part of the tournament. The answer to this was because a few hands earlier I played

nine of clubseight of clubs

flopped top pair, couldn't get away from the hand and lost to

ace of spadesnine of hearts

I was out kicked in this particular hand, but it was my fault because I played my 9-8 incorrectly. My problem was not just playing the 9-8 because this is the type of hand that can win a decent sized pot by flopping a straight - my problem was playing the 9-8 after ONLY making top pair with a very weak kicker AND being bet into by my opponent. In the long run, this is the type of hand that should be abandoned in tournament play EVEN WHEN you make top pair because the chips I lost to my opponent's A-9 were critical and losing them lead to my eventual demise in this particular tournament.

Let's now analyze my results assuming I did not play

nine of clubseight of clubs

or assuming I folded it after the flop failed to turn my meager holding into a monster hand and I was bet into. Assuming the above, I would have had more chips in the hand where I played

king of clubsten of clubs

and made the Broadway straight. I would have amassed some serious chips in that particular hand because I would have had the resources (chips) to bet with and increase the size of the pot instead of being all-in. Fast-forward a few hands later to when I picked up

ace of clubsnine of clubs

and was eliminated from the tournament by my opponent who played back at me with

five of heartstwo of spades

If you recall, his play was not that out-of-line because I did not have enough chips to be a threat. In the new scenario, however, I would have had a significant stack and there is no way my opponent would have been able to play his "lucky" 5-2 hand. I would have picked up the blinds uncontested and still been in the hunt in this tournament, instead of standing on the rail. I made the mistake and I take responsibility for it. There is no other way to feel about this situation. My mistake cost me any further opportunity to "get lucky" and potentially win this event. Period.

This is the type of analysis that everyone should do once they have cooled off after a perceived "bad beat" or a big loss. You need to step back and look at your play objectively and, as a whole, within the context of the game you are playing. This is really what I have learned over the past few years as a part-time player with full-time dreams. This is the type of analysis I have come to force myself to do because it is the type of analysis that my mentors, Sklansky, Malmuth etc. would perform. It is a good example of how I am maturing as a player and it is a good exercise to demonstrate a skill I have acquired through my play. It is also a suggestion that I think other aspiring poker professionals should become proficient at and something I feel each of you should do next time you THINK you suffered a "bad beat." In the long run, it can only help your game even though, in the near-term, you might not like the results of your own analysis.

For more excellent poker related articles and content, please visit Card Player Magazine.

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