World Series of Poker Europe

Preflop Opening Raises Late in Tournaments

Three-handed play

A while back I was reporting on a tournament where I noticed a certain trend occurring at the final table. Once the field had been whittled down to the final three, I looked on as a player consistently made a move that cost him more chips than he should have been losing time after time — and all because of one tendency he kept repeating.

During three-handed play, the player in question had the button. With blinds at 100,000/200,000 with an ante of 30,000, the player opened with a preflop raise to 700,000. The player in the small blind came over the top with a raise all in and after the big blind folded the player on the button folded as well.

Fast forward to the next time this player was on the button. He once again opened to 700,000 and the still short-stacked small blind shipped all in once more. The same result occurred.

The third time this player had the button, he opened to the same amount — 700,000. This time the small blind folded, but the big blind opted to come over the top with a three-bet. Once again the button released his cards and lost the hand.

While these plays can be very common late in a tournament during an aggressive three-handed match-up, the issue here was not with opening for raises from the button but rather the betting amounts.

With the big blind at 200,000, the player on the button was opening with raises to 700,000 total. That’s a raise of 500,000 on top or 3.5 times the big blind. That represented a fairly large raise for this late in the game.

Each time the player made the raise, he was clearly opening with a hand with which he was not willing to call a reraise. While that is fine and fairly standard button play — that is, to open with raises and sometimes fold to three-bets, if needed — his bet-sizing was causing him to lose more chips than he should have.

Consider the following: If the player on the button had opened with min-raises to 400,000 instead and those three hands played out in identical fashion, he would have lost 1.2 million from those three hands. But since he opted to open to 3.5 times the big blind on each of his buttons, he ended up losing 2.1 million in chips — a difference of 900,000!

Smaller preflop opens have become the standard in tournament poker compared to the 3x raise, which was once considered the most logical open. This is, of course, due to a risk/reward principle based on stack sizes later in tournaments. More often than not, a smaller raise before the flop will serve the same purpose as a larger one while risking less of your stack.

Additionally, larger preflop raises also tend to inflate the pot going forward. A larger open means you’ll have to continue out for more and risk more of your stack on any given hand, including hands in which you’re betting and finding yourself in marginal positions.

Stack size is one of the most important factors to consider during tournament poker, and by constantly bleeding out more chips than are necessary, this player put himself in a losing position. By losing extra chips, the button player was effectively giving himself fewer options moving forward and slowly backing himself into a corner where his choices become more basic and rooted in mere survival.

A smaller preflop opening raise can help to alleviate the pain of bleeding large amounts of chips while still allowing you to play an aggressive game.

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