When I sit down, I always take a look at the players. It's amazing how often you can pretty much figure out who has a clue. The only ones who may fool you once in a while are the young guys. Most of them are less than good, but occasionally you find one who can play. Also many of them can be dangerous because of their aggression.
Besides how players look and smell and handle their chips, I watch their bet sizes. The two mistakes most players make are playing bad starting hands and making incorrect bet sizes. (Also, bad players don't mix their play up enough, but that is hard to find out about before you play for a while.) I'm just sayin'.
Early on, in the big blind I picked up ♠10 ♠9. With the blinds at T25/50, a player raises to T150 from early position. It folded to me. I hate playing hands out of position (early in a tournament, especially) and would actually fold ♥K ♣Q or ♣A ♠J or that type of hand. With the hand I have, however, the implied odds are good. It is disguised and you might get a big chunk of his stack with the right flop, so, right or wrong, I called. Certainly, it will be easier to play than some of the better hands. The flop is ♠8 ♦5 ♥2. I checked and the preflop raiser bets T250. It just didn't smell right, so I reraised to T600 and he folded.
Players who always make a continuation bet leave themselves open to being exploited. You are allowed to check occasionally without giving up the hand. That runs counter to this advice: Don't give up the lead. Some of both is best, I guess. I'm just sayin'.
I continued to chip up. I had a few decent hands where the opponent(s) paid me off, I stole when I had position, the usual stuff. In tournaments, there is often what you might call a defining moment, a hand that either really chips you up, or one that crushes you. Sometimes you have to embrace the gamble.
When my stack was at T11,000, I was on the button when this hand was played. The blinds were T100/200 and an early player min-raised to T400. It folded to the guy on my right who raised to T1100. I peeked at my hole cards and saw ♦A ♦K. What would you do? I just smooth called. The min-raiser rates to go away (his stack was around T5,200) and the guy on my right had around T7,500. I decided to let my postion work for me. Even if I don't hit the flop, I planned to try and take it away on the flop or float him.
I was shocked to see what happened next. The early min-raiser moved all in!! The guy on my right called!! Calling is a very large mistake. He didn't know I have a monster hand behind him, and he should move all in himself to isolate against the the early guy -- either that or fold. I now moved all in also. The early guy might have been playing games with pocket aces or kings, although in weak tournaments like this, I see them do it with crap most of the time. They get impatient; they can't stand it; they want to be a hero; they've seen it on TV.
In any event, I want the guy on my right to put the rest of his chips in, too. That way, I may lose to the early guy, but collect from rightie. If I lose to both, I'll still have a playable (but short) stack. The guy on my right called. If he were going to call anyway, then he should have reraised all in, as I said. When he calls the first guy, he's got so much of his stack in there anyway, he's never folding. Shove, it's simple. I'm just sayin'.
The first guy showed ♥4 ♠4. My righty showed a real hand: ♠J ♥J. So, we are off to the races.
The flop came ♦Q ♦7 ♣2 -- a good flop for me. I now have 15 outs and am 54% to improve my hand. The turn is ♦8, a beautiful card. The river was a meaningless rag and I scoop a giant pot. I now have ~T23,000, more than what an average stack at the final table would be! More importantly, all my weapons are available. I can bully, if I choose. I can play suited connectors, if I choose. I play conservatively, if I choose. I can get up and go the bathroom and miss several hands. I have many options.
The guy who had the jacks, now stood up and said, "Nice catch."
Huh? What was that all about? A nice catch is when someone comes from behind and hits a 2- or a 4-outer on the river. That would be a nice catch. We were in a classic race situation. According to Card Player magazine's Poker Calculator, the odds are: Pair of 4s is actually 18%, the pair of jacks is 43+% and I am 38+%. After the flop, I vaulted into the lead at 55%,
I continued to run well. There were no big races, no bad beats, no suckouts and I held some decent cards, and so continued chipping up. When I got to the final table, I had T45,000. There are always two or three (or occasionally four) short stacks. The play at final tables is interesting. The most common action would be for somebody to bet and everyone else fold. This was how this particular final table played, as well. Players with A5o would move all in. If they were going to play, they pretty much had to. The blinds were T800/1600 with a T300 ante; not a complete crap shoot, but pretty close. I had a fairly big stack, but my M was less than 10! Look how much money was in the pot before any betting: T5400, an amount worth fighting for.
A guy with ~T10,000 moved all in. It was folded to me on the button and I looked down to see ♣A ♣J. I didn't just call, I moved all in as well. The blinds folded and the other guy turned over ♥A ♠6. YES!! I don't remember the flop or the river, but I do remember the turn: ♣6. Ugly. Now the guy in the big blind said "I would have had a straight," and rolled his eys at me as if to say that should I have let him play; we could have eliminated this guy. Well, sorry, my objective isn't to eliminate this guy and move up (seven players got paid), it's to win the most money I can (I'm always thinking first place, $2050 in this case, or second place, which was around $1100ish). So, of course, I should do what I did. I said, as nicely as I could (in a low voice, this was just between him and me), "I will win 80% of the time and we won't be having this conversation." The other guy accepted it; he wasn't mad, just frustrated because he could have won a nice pot.
EDIT: Four days after I posted this, Jordan from HighOnPoker made this statement: It is not your job to bust players. It is only your job to collect chips. I don't know how good a player he is, but Jordan is someone who "gets" it.
Did I go into my shell? Did I worry about going up in flames? No, the next hand I had ♣K ♦J and raised when it came to me. Everyone folded and I picked up half of what I had lost on the previous hand. KJ isn't very strong, but it seemed that the first person who raised took down the pot. They were playing tight, for sure.
I chipped back up to T46,000 or so, and we played a hand where another short stack moved all in. I checked my cards and saw ♦K ♣K !! When it came to me, I moved all in. The pots were too big to slow play or mess around. He turned over ♦A ♥8. Unfortunately, he flopped an ace and it held up for him, another disgusting result. To make it worse, after the hand a guy to my left said "I folded an ace." Nice, he hit a 2-outer. You always wonder why the other guy sucks out and you never do (but that's fodder for another post).
We played for a while and when there were six players left, we were all approximately equal in chips (I believe I was back up to around T45,000). One guy was a little short (T25,000ish), but that can change pretty quick, and I was no longer the chip leader. So, when a chop was suggested (around $900 each), we all agreed. Lightning had struck twice.
Some comments on the chop.
(1) Yes, it's fun to play it out. But unless you finish 1st or 2nd, you are costing yourself money (not to chop). As a matter of fact, the chop wasn't that far from 2nd place money.
2) I always think that I can outplay the other player(s), but stuff happens. AJ loses to A6, KK loses to Ax.
(3) Also, if you are the only person who doesn't want to chop, now you're the bad guy, and if you lose a hand and end up short stacked yourself, don't even think about suggesting a chop now. Don't forget you might run into some of these same guys at a final table another time -- a time when you have the short stack.
Greed is supposed to be a bad thing. Just sayin'.
After the tournament, I headed for the $1/2 NL hold 'em game, but my heart wasn't in it. I played passively for the most part, and that is losing poker. Tournaments are exciting and fun. When you get a big stack at the final table, the adrenelin is pumping. After that, there has to be a let down, I guess. I left the cash table game and cashed out my chips, up $46. I was happy to be plus (the way I had played), and headed home.