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Shove or Fold? Looking for Spots When Very Short in a Tournament

Shove or Fold? Looking for Spots When Very Short in a Tournament


  • It's the middle stage of a tournament, you have nine BBs and are dealt K9o. Do you shove or fold?

  • Mo Nuwwarah breaks down a decision he made during a recent Mid-States Poker Tour Main Event.

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I’ll highlight hands I’ve seen at the tournaments I’ve covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

A hand of my own to share today — a couple, actually — as I recently had the opportunity to take a weekend trip and play the Mid-States Poker Tour Meskwaki Main Event, an $1,100 buy-in tournament just a few hours from my hometown. The event usually draws a big turnout and one of the biggest prize pools in my section of the midwest. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at a few hands from this tournament.

It’s the latter stages of Day 1b when today’s hand takes place, with roughly 75 players remaining out of a starting field north of 200. Level 12 (800/1,600/200) is underway and I’m down to just three big blinds after running ace-king into an opponent’s kings and losing the majority of my stack. The player on my left has demonstrated that he’s very loose and willing to gamble.

The Action

Action folded to me in the hijack. I looked down and saw the {q-Clubs} as my first hole card and pushed all in. The player on my left called immediately, and everyone else folded.

Me: {q-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}
Opponent: {q-Hearts}{2-Hearts}

The board ran out clean for me and I got nearly a triple-up after the blinds and antes were factored in. Suddenly, I had a semi-playable stack of about nine big blinds. On the very next hand action folded to me again and I shoved all in once more with {K-}{9-}.

The player on my left again called, and it folded to the big blind, who jammed all in over the top for about 50 big blinds. The hijack called that shove as well, showing down {10-Spades}{8-Spades}. The big blind held {k-}{k-} and looked like he was about to rake a massive pot. The community cards delivered a backdoor spade flush for the hijack, though, giving him a double-elimination and a huge pot.

Concept and Analysis

Focusing on the second of these two hands, I have an interesting decision when action folds to me. King-nine offsuit is a pretty borderline hand to shove with from middle position for nine big blinds, but I do generally feel more shoves get through than they should in live tournament poker.

The scenario is a little different than a black-and-white question of pure chip value on a shove/fold spot because of the hand that just happened. I’ve already seen this player is willing to gamble it up with a wide range of hands, and he just instantly called my smaller shove holding a {q-Hearts}{2-Hearts}.

On the one hand, he’s more than likely going to call me with a subset of hands that I beat — stuff like {q-}{j-} and {j-}{10-}. So that’s a decent argument for shoving in this borderline spot.

On the other hand, I’m no longer extremely desperate. With nine big blinds and 40-minute levels, I have a tiny bit of breathing room. These stacks of around 10 big blinds are actually more playable than many realize, and I’ve seen a lot of players open for raises and then fold to shoves from these stacks. I can afford to wait for a better than than {K-}{9-} since the player on my left is very likely to give me loose action when I shove.

Furthermore, the table just saw me jam it in with {q-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}. Granted, I had only three big blinds left, but recency bias tends to be something that affects the minds of most people, and they might be ready to snap me off with some hands that they would ordinarily fold like {a-}{2-} — that is, hands I would prefer to avoid and just take the pot from without a call.

Although I think shoving {k-}{9-} may have been a profitable move in this spot, I think I could have waited for an even better spot given the situation at the table.

Of course, the player who went bust with kings was rightly disgusted after the hand. But he got exactly the action he wanted, and that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

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