Steve Gross, also known as “gboro780,” is an online tournament monster who had an incredible 2009. His live and online tournaments combined have earned him just under $3 million. Gross’ incredible work ethic, grinder attitude, and consistent results caught the eye of Doyle’s Room, which recently named him a member of the Brunson 10. It’s safe to say he’s well versed in strategies concerning online tournaments, which brings us to this week’s concept: stealing strategy.
First of all, for those who don’t know, can you describe what “stealing” is and your opinion on whether or not it is necessary to be successful in a tournament?
As the tournament progresses, the blinds and antes grow larger, and it becomes tougher to accumulate by just playing good cards, so you have to compensate by trying to pick up some money without cards. I do think it’s necessary because not only will your stack deplete without it, but you'll stop getting action on your big hands if you only play one or two hands an hour.
If you are active and mix in some stealing here and there, it’s tougher for people to know where you’re at. It lets them make more mistakes, and it makes you a tougher opponent.
When looking to steal, what are some considerations you are making and what factors should be in line?
I think about my image, how often I have been stealing, and how much credit I expect to get from my table. I also think about the players who are waiting to act after me and how likely they are to make plays without cards. I think about the big blind and if he is a defender or will usually just let you take it if he has bad holdings. Previous action dictates a lot of what I do and how often I’ll steal. If I think people perceive me as playing solid, I will be more active, and if I think they are waiting for me to get out of line, then I tighten up.
How much does your hand matter?
Your hand matters for sure, but I guess I equate blind stealing to raising with crappy cards [laugh]. Ten-nine suited for example, you may not be willing to go all the way with it, but it's still a powerhouse hand. But I’d definitely prefer to have the jack-nine offsuit than the queen-deuce offsuit of course — hands that play and flop decently well in the event that you do go to the flop. So, I think it matters, but usually if I’m legit stealing the blinds, I’d prefer the table to just muck preflop and take what's in the middle.
If all the other factors you mentioned lined up, but you look down at a hand like nine-three offsuit in the cuttoff, do you still go for the steal?
If I think I'll get away with it, then sure, but there's a really fine line between aggressive and reckless, and between creative and spewy, so you have to be careful, especially in this day and age where everyone has kicked up the aggression preflop. Years ago, if it was folded to my button and the blinds were significant, I’d raise almost any two cards. Now, I fold there more often than not.
So these days, even with a decent hand like ace-high in the cutoff or button, do you get wary of stealing there because players are so likely to re-steal against late position raisers? If so, how do you adjust?
I’ve been at tables deep in tournaments recently where I’ve been three-bet five opens in a row and wanted to throw my computer out the window. I’ve also been at tables where I’ve gone hours without being played back at and everything just seems to fall into place. I think the best players play by feel and adjust their play from there. Sometimes I’ll have ace-seven offsuit in the cutoff and be willing to snap a shove against one of the blinds’ three-bet because of the way things have been going. Other times, I’ll fold pretty quickly if I get raised. It’s hard to put it into words, but the more hands you play, the more of a feel you have for how certain people are looking to play against you. You just have to treat every hand separately and try to add it all up and make as best a decision as you can.
So with decent hands, you might be willing to stack off or four-bet against an opponent who would try to re-steal lightly?
Right. If someone is out of line preflop, then the old school method would be to tighten up your opening range so you can eventually catch them with their hand in the cookie jar. New school thinking would be more along the lines of still playing the hand but anticipating that person’s aggression, almost expecting the three- bet and subsequently, being willing to put in the fourth bet when it comes back to you.
Where do you see beginners making mistakes with steals? Is one of them folding to re-steals too often and not playing back?
I think when people learn a new move, it’s natural to overuse it, like a kid with a new toy. When they get it, they are super pumped and play with it nonstop the first few days. I think when I was a beginner, my first mistake was not stealing enough. Then, I learned how to steal, and my mistake became stealing too often. You have to find a balance between the two. If you steal every time it’s folded to you in late position, then the play is going to start losing its effectiveness.
I have heard people say, "Under the gun is the new button." Is it smart to sometimes try and steal under the gun because of the respect it gains from other players? Or is it suicide?
Raising under the gun is good as long as you don’t overdo it. Not to sound like a broken record but being selective and picking good spots is half the battle. Some regs are known for raising under the gun or under the gun plus one every orbit. I know for me, that’s a style I'd have a tougher time making work.
How it Applies
At the FTOPS final table a few months ago, I recall being five or six-handed with maybe second in chips. The two players on my left were the most active aside from myself and not surprisingly they were the other two big stacks. Meanwhile, the two or three remaining players to my right were the shorter stacks and playing reasonably snug, so I had opened under the gun and under the gun plus one once we got short handed a few times with success attacking these smaller, passive stacks in the blinds.
That led to me open ace-rag under the gun. The under the gun plus one player, “bmwcoupe,” three-bet me. It was just a great spot for me to open a ton of hands, and that’s when smart active players usually look to re-steal, so I thought it was a good time to come back over the top. I four-bet with ace rag and he folded.
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