Alex Fitzgerald likes to keep it simple. Instead of presenting complex, impossible to remember analyses, he uses analytics to find the essence of successful play. So it probably should not be surprising that his “most important thing” in poker came down to: aggression. Specifically, he recommends taking and keep the betting lead.
In his recent webinar for APT, Alex presented some compelling statistical comparisons of results when one is the aggressor versus the reactor. Alex delves into strategy even deeper in his video series Master Tournament Poker in One Class which, from my preview of the materials, appears well worth the time and money. The empirical evidence is clear. Three-betting pre-flop with a strong hand is more profitable than flatting a raise. Being the continuation bettor is more profitable than calling a c-bet. Aggression wins.
But do I generally play like this? Sadly no.
I generally view myself as a reasonably solid tight-aggressive player, veering into loose-aggressive when my need for action kicks in. After listening to Alex’s webinar, I realized that I am more timid that I thought. I set mine in early or middle stages of tournaments with middle pairs more than is optimal. I play survival poker: keep away from large pots with vulnerable hands, try to take advantage of my monsters, save the aggression for late in the tournament.
My amateur poker life is currently as much about entertainment as it is about profitability. But listening to Alex drove home where I am going wrong. I need to be the leader in more hands. I need to maximize my fold equity and drive out calling stations.
Alex’s Beat the Pro Challenge
I explored Alex’s ideas further by taking his new Beat the Pro (BTP) challenge on APT – Pre-flop Raise Sizing, MTT. I had already taken his 3-Betting In Position, MTT challenge. It would be an understatement to say it did not go well. But I figured I’d try to apply what I learned from Alex’s webinar to this new challenge.
The results were better, a bit short of Alex’s return but not bad. I watched Alex’s play and commentary and was struck by the gap in the specific bet sizes that each of us made. My play is generally not so far afield from the pros in the BTPs, the pros just play some of the tougher moments better. But Alex’s bet sizes were almost always bigger than mine pre-flop, and sometimes smaller post-flop with darn good justifications. The more I thought about the live MTTs I play, the more I realize that his logic is correct. His larger pre-flop bets result in folds, particularly of limpers. Conversely, I end up in way too many multi-way pots.
Standard Tournament Raises
Alex’s advice also seems to fly against a piece of current fashionable tournament practice: the small opening raise. So 2.2x-2.5x is commonly seen pre-flop in televised tournaments with reasonably deep stacks. The logic being that the lower raise can be as profitable as the old school 3x-3.5x. If 2.25x has similar fold equity to 3x why put the extra chips in? The smaller raise also allows you to play a wider range of opening hands while minimizing risk.
It made a lot of sense to me. Until I was in the big blind at 500/1000 with 100 antes and someone went to 2500. Now I am getting better than 3-1 on a call. It’s tough to fold a hand in the top 50%-60% for that. Maybe that’s what the raiser wants. If you are a skilled pro that may make sense because of your post-flop edge. But at low stakes tournaments, amateur players are just mimicking the TV pros.
Alex, on the other hand, is pushing his big hands and trying to isolate. In the video preview to the raise sizing BTP, he provides a helpful acronym for this strategy: PBSH. Position, Bigger Pots, Superior Hands, and Heads-Up. A straightforward construction that is easy to remember. You want to extract value with your big hands while reducing the variability of multi-way pots. Certainly sound reasoning.PBSH = Position, Bigger Pots, Superior Hands, and Heads-Up Click To Tweet
In upcoming tournaments I will strive to incorporate more 3-betting and holding the betting lead into my game more often. I know that results from a small sample of tournaments will not be enough to judge success or failure. I am more interested in 1) how it feels to try a new approach, and 2) whether I elicit folds that I may not have previously.
What do you think? Have you tried to apply Alex’s method? How did it go?
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