With the World Series of Poker here once again, Nate Meyvis's newly-released Thinking Tournament Poker: Volume 2 is a timely resource for players working to improve their tournament game.
At thirty-four pages, the slim e-book includes sixty-nine hands from Day 2 of Meyvis's 2014 WSOP Main Event. Like Volume 1, he discusses every hand that he played — no matter how small — analyzing each alongside three gifted poker pros: Andrew Brokos, Meyvis's co-host on the Thinking Poker Podcast and an avid camper; Leo Wolpert, a WSOP bracelet winner and former Jeopardy! contestant; and Gareth Chantler, a continent-hopping traveler, writer, and poker player. The result is an especially helpful resource on the middle stages of tournament play.
Meyvis's strategy as described in this installment is very different than on Day 1. In short, he's more aggressive. His active table presence isn't only a general adjustment to middle-stage play, which encourages stealing the larger blinds and antes, but also the function of "tight but thoughtful players" to Meyvis's direct left. It's an important psychological adjustment to make, Meyvis notes — one that requires him to remain sensitive to the possibility that players sometimes play tighter in tournaments than in cash games.
Despite higher aggression, Meyvis isn't blindly loose and reckless. He considers a host of factors — his position, cards, and image — along with other details that are available only in a live setting.
In one hand, for example, after noticing that the big blind is more interested in a phone call than his hand, Meyvis raises with . In another hand, with tight players on the button and in the blinds, Meyvis prepared to open any two cards if no one raised before him. "It did fold to me," he notes, "but my left-hand opponent in the four-seat was telegraphing the fact that he wasn't going to fold, so I did not raise the -offsuit that I held."
In yet another hand, against a raiser who "seemed to be stealing," Meyvis reraised to 4,400 with from the button.
"Damn, dude," Leo Wolpert says in response to that last one. "You're a psycho. I'm beginning to think I fold a bit too often. This is the kind of spot where I just find it tough to convince myself to widen my range so drastically, even if it's possibly a profitable adjustment."
While Wolpert concedes that he might just be a "galactic nit," his observation prompts a productive conversation about how Meyvis played, or misplayed, this hand.
After the blinds fold, the original raiser calls and the two players see the flop come . With 10,450 in the middle, the original raiser checks, Meyvis bets 5,200, and his opponent folds.
Despite the fact that we know he's holding rags, Meyvis reminds us that he has a considerable range advantage over his opponent. Although he happens not to have a strong starter in this instance, he would also reraise preflop with premiums like , , and , as well as .
In addition, he notes, "a king-high board is good for attacking a weaker opening range, and it is also fine for attacking the part of such a range that is good enough to call a three-bet."
Meyvis assumes, rather than explains, the importance of range-oriented thinking and optimal play. Ideally readers would read Thinking Tournament Poker, which resembles a kind of practical casebook, alongside Ed Miller's Poker's 1% — a book that Meyvis himself admires.
Given the texture of a flop, Brokos would consider a delayed continuation bet (i.e., on the turn) since Meyvis will have no equity when called. But Meyvis argues that there are exploitive reasons to bet the flop right away, especially since opponents will sometimes perceive the flop check as weakness and call the turn.
"If people are overfolding in three-bet pots," he explains, "I might as well exploit them to the logical extreme by three-betting garbage and continuation-betting almost every flop."
As Day 2 progresses, Meyvis continues the aggression, such as on one occasion when after noticing tight players in the blinds, he raises to 1,900 from the cutoff with .
The button reraises to 4,200 while smiling a little. Relying on live reads once again, Meyvis nearly four-bets him because, in his opinion, many players will fold too often to four-bets and players with premium hands often try extra-hard not to smile. Wolpert disagrees — he's seen many players smile and chat when they hold premiums.
Rather than auto-folding, Meyvis weighs his options.
"I thought it was likely that he had a hand like , , or , and that he might be inclined to play cautiously against a four-bet," writes Meyvis. "That said, players can overcome their fears with , and has such poor equity if called that I should be very confident in my ability to pull off an exploitive play before trying it. As such, I folded. That said, you will encounter many players who are only looking to 'catch you' with a strong hand and not thinking very carefully about what they'll do after that. These players' ranges can often be weighted toward reraise-folding hands, and they make good four-bet targets."
Even if he wouldn't make the same play himself, Brokos loves the fact that Meyvis feels compelled to offer so much justification for folding to a three-bet. This, perhaps, is the great value of the Thinking Tournament Poker — no spots are dismissed as straightforward or "standard." Even when the co-authors disagree on a hand — in fact, especially when they disagree — the commentary from the four is indispensable.
Readers wondering how Meyvis's tournament ended won't have to wait for a third volume. After committing his chips with two nines against an opponent's two sixes, his hand doesn't hold up on a ten-high flop, and Meyvis is soon eliminated.
Don't be too upset for him, though. Meyvis will be bracelet hunting again in this year's Main Event. Let's hope, for all our sakes, that he isn't dealt .
Ben Saxton is a teacher and a writer from upstate New York who has played small stakes poker, both live and online, since the early 2000s. Ben lives in New Orleans and covers poker on the Gulf Coast.