At some point (hopefully!) in your poker career, it is a situation that you will face. Whether playing in a small online tournament or one of the World Poker Tour or World Series of Poker events, do you play for the win or do you play for the best cashout possible? While many would say that their goal is to play for the win, once finding themselves in the position to make more than they spent on the tournament, their play indicates otherwise.
I was faced with this situation just the other evening in a rather large online tournament. The bubble had just burst, leaving around 190 players with a shot at the five figure first place prize. While my chip stack hovered around the median, I knew it was going to be a tough battle to get any great distance up the cashout ladder. With the blinds at 400/800 and in the big blind, everyone folded to the small blind, who went all in with a larger stack than myself. I looked at the screen, which held my pocket nines, and quickly thought about the situation. I had said to myself that if one of the smaller stacks made the move, I was automatically calling. With the small blind's larger stack, however, I now had to think a little more on the subject.
If my opponent was pushing with an A-K or something similar (A-Q or A-J), I was facing one of those races that are always filled with excitement and dread. If he had one of the five hands that clearly beat me (pocket Aces through tens), then I was at a serious disadvantage. However, if he was on a pair lower than me or a paint card with a random second, I was dominating the situation. After all this review, I decided to make the call and, as my opponent's pocket fours came into view, felt I had made the right decision. After he spiked his four on the turn and my abrupt departure from the tournament, I did beat myself up with the possibilities.
With all of that thought, I initially was mentally kicking myself for the call. The blinds, while high, were not a serious threat to doing significant damage to my stack. I could have dropped the hand there and been alive, climbing up the ladder and gaining in payout along the way. At the same time, however, I felt that was a tremendous opportunity to double up and perhaps be around closer to the end of the tournament where, of course, the money would have been much better.
What it came down to was the determination that separates many a player from reaching towards those tournament victories. While making the correct decisions is a huge part of the game of poker, making the most money available is a sweet addition! In tournament poker, while making the cashout level ensures you'll receive more than what you started with, the best payouts are in reaching the final table. You have to take the chances when they present themselves to you. Playing defensively or to reach another level on the cashout rung is no way to make a strong run at the top in any situation, be it poker, business or many other aspects of life.
After all of this thought, I felt better about the situation I had found myself in and have to say that I would happily have made the same choice today. With a change of one card, the outcome of that tournament, for myself at least, would have significantly changed. It is something critical to remember when you're in a poker tournament. You must continue to play aggressively, whether fat with a stack of chips or grinding your way to the top. It is only through using that thought process that those tournament victories will come your way.
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