Two Facecards Take a Beating on the Button

The Internet can be a great place to practice your tournament skills in small buy-in events in preparation for playing a big buy-in tournament either online or in a brick-and-mortar casino. Since I play lots of online events, my mailbag is filled with letters from cyber players seeking how-to advice on tournament strategy. In this column, I am transforming one of those letters into a quiz format that I hope will make the player’s scenario and my analysis of his play educational as well as entertaining.


Online player Craig was playing a $22 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament against 230 opponents. After plowing his way through the field, he made it to the final table with an average chip stack. With only six players left to compete for the gold and the glory, Craig was in fourth place with approximately $28,000. The chip leader was sitting to his left with about $40,000. The blinds were $600-$1,200 with a $125 ante when he met an untimely demise.


“I was on the button with a suited Q-J,” Craig began. “Everyone passed to me. The big blind hadn’t been defending his blinds often, and the small blind (the chip leader) seemed to have tightened up his play, waiting for a few more people to get eliminated before making a move. Neither player had seen a flop for several rounds.”


How Would You Play This Hand Before the Flop?

  1. Fold to preserve your chip count


  1. Just call the size of the big blind


  1. Raise to try to knock out the blinds and win the pot


Here’s How Craig Played 

“Although Q-J suited isn’t a big hand, I felt that a raise was in order to try to pick up the blinds and antes. I raised to $3,600, three times the big blind. The small blind called my raise, as did the big blind. I wasn’t happy with that result at all, but I did have position on both opponents and felt that if the flop didn’t hit me hard, I could still get away from the hand. The flop came down K-10-9 rainbow. I had flopped the nut straight!


“I couldn’t believe my eyes when the chip leader moved all in from the small blind. The big blind pondered and finally folded. Now it was my turn to act.”


How Would You Play This Hand on the Flop?

  1. Call with the rest of your chips because you have no worse than a tie with the chip leader


  1. Fold, because the chip leader might have flopped a set and you will be out of action if the board pairs and he wins the hand


Here’s How Craig Played It

“Obviously, I pushed the rest of my chips into the pot. The cards were turned over and the chip leader had a K-J offsuit. I was just hoping a queen didn’t come off, because I wasn’t interested in sharing a pot of this size. Sure enough, I got my wish. A queen didn’t come off, but something worse did. The turn brought a king and the river brought a jack, giving my opponent a full house!


“I was pretty disgusted with the outcome of the hand, but although I was disappointed and felt unlucky, I like to analyze every hand that busts me out of a tournament to see if there was any way I could have played it differently to avoid getting beat. After the flop, there was no way to get away from my hand, but I wonder if my preflop play was flawed?


“Once the final table gets shorthanded, my raising standards usually drop. This table was playing pretty tight, and I was having success picking up an occasional pot without any struggle. When I showed down a hand, it was usually a big hand, and I think most of my opponents respected my raises. My question is, do you think raising with my Q-J suited was a mistake? If not, was the amount of my raise too small? The small blind may have folded the K-J if I had made a bigger raise, but I didn’t want to become committed to a hand like Q-J preflop, so I raised an amount that I thought would make the blinds fold and that I could live with losing if one of them reraised. What do you think, Tom?”


My Analysis

In a shorthanded game in which the players in the blinds appear to be playing too tight, your button raise of three times the size of the big blind was correct. The chip leader actually should have folded his hand in the small blind. But, he must’ve had more gamble in his veins than you thought he had, because he chose to gamble with you before the flop. And on the flop, he apparently thought that taking a chance with his top pair and an inside-straight possibility was worth the risk of moving all in. There was no way to avoid this unpleasant result, unless you had folded before the flop. I believe you made the right play under the circumstances.


Continue analyzing your game and we’re sure to meet in the winner’s circle one day soon, either online or on land.