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Talking Poker: Hand-for-Hand

Talking Poker: Hand-for-Hand


  • Discussing "hand-for-hand" play in tournaments with a look back at the crazy bubble at EPT11 Barcelona.

Welcome back to the Talking Poker series in which we highlight a particular poker term, giving you a clear, to-the-point definition and an example of the strategic concept to which it refers. Today we discuss what it means both technically and strategically when a tournament goes “hand-for-hand.”


“Hand-for-hand” play is instituted in multi-table tournaments, often just before the money bubble bursts and payouts begin, or after the tournament is in the money and just before another pay jump occurs. Hand-for-hand play means each remaining table much complete a single hand before the next one is dealt, thereby ensuring all tables play the same number of hands before the next elimination occurs.

Hand-for-hand play helps prevent players from stalling in order to slow down their table in the hopes an elimination occurs at another, faster-playing table.


A multi-table tournament begins with 175 players, with the top 18 finishers making the money. With 19 players left there are three short-handed tables in action.

The tournament director announces the tournament will be played hand-for-hand until the next elimination occurs. When hands finish quickly at two of the tables, the dealers wait until the hand finishes at the third table before proceeding. When that hand finishes, the tournament director announces “one more hand,” and the next hand is deal at all three tables.

Strategic Considerations

Hand-for-hand strategy resembles bubble strategy in most particulars.

Big stacks are provided many opportunities to pressure short stacks fearful of busting just shy of the money. Blind stealing becomes a favored strategy, with small opening raises (including min-raises of 2x the big blind) often enough to win the blinds and antes, particularly when those in the blinds are tight players and more apt to fold.

When picking targets to pressure, be wary of raising too lightly versus the player with the absolute shortest stack at the table who should recognize the need to find a double to survive. Often those with average or below average stacks who are still ahead of the short stack will be quicker to fold to opening raises as they understand the short stack will necessarily have to put him or herself at risk first with an all-in.

For more on taking advantage of the bubble to increase a big stack, see Josh Cahlik’s “Play and Learn: Abusing the Bubble in Tournaments.” And for a discussion from the other perspective of the short stack looking merely to survive into the money, check out Carlos Welch’s recent story of “How I Survived the World Series of Poker Main Event Bubble” in which he shares the strategies he employed in that unique situation.

Watch and Learn

We are just a week away from the start of Season 12 of the European Poker Tour, and once again PokerNews will be returning to Barcelona to rejoin the EPT for another exciting season. The tour’s return puts us in mind of last year’s EPT Barcelona Main Event in which Andre Lettau topped a field of 1,496 to win the title and a €794,058 prize following a three-handed final table deal.

That event featured an unusual situation on Day 3 once the tournament reached the bubble. The top 239 spots paid in the EPT Barcelona Main Event, and so once there were 240 players left the tournament hand-for-hand play was announced, meaning the remaining tables each had to wait for every table to complete a hand before the next could be dealt.

Well, they didn’t have to wait long, as no less than seven all-in situations occurred on the first hand of hand-for-hand play. Five players were eliminated, with the five players equally dividing prize money for the first four spots.

There was more to the story, though, as Neil Johnson, Head of Live Poker Operations for PokerStars Europe, explained to Remko Rinkema. Johnson also pointed out how the situation was particularly unusual — and challenging for staff — since not only were there simultaneous all-ins at separate tables, but also a couple at the same table, too. Take a look:

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Talking Poker: Hand-for-Hand 101

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