Small Ball vs. Long Ball in MTT's

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Small Ball vs. Long Ball in MTT's

An interesting article from Alex Fitzgerald at the end of this post.  He is arguing to take small risk / chip accumulation strategy (aka "small ball") which is very effective for a player who has good hand reading skills and the discipline to fold marginal hands.   The other strategy that we've seen dominate the Wynn tournaments (especially the Saturday unlimited re-buy) is the take big risks to get a big stack early while re-buys are still allowed ("long ball").  Aggressive playersn try to make pots huge in the early going and target timid weak passive players who don't want to get involved in huge pots early on.
I'm a fan of playing "small ball" v.s "long ball" but I do appreciate the advantages / disadvantages of both.

Small Ball Strategy's Advantages include:
  1)  staying alive longer with a medium to small stack
  2)  avoiding "cooler" / "bad beat"  minefield spots more often
  3)  letting weaker players in the field bust out earlier and remaining alive in a tournament in order to use one's skill advantage
Small Ball Strategy's Disadvantages include:
  1) Easy to exploit from more loose aggressive players who will notice that the small ball player is avoiding big pots and confrontations. 
  2) Stack size often is small or medium at later levels / final table making it more difficult to reach the top three spots, resulting in a smaller ROI with frequent min cashes.

Alex's article below argues the pros of small ball strategy.   I think like most things in poker it is an "it depends" situation.   I think large field MTT's like the WSOP and others should warrant a strategy to stay alive longer than less experienced / skilled players in order to give the more experienced / skilled player a chance to use those skills.

Whereas a smaller MTT with relatively fast blind structure (30 minute levels,  a few missing levels) would advocate a more aggressive style to accumulate a bigger chip stack early.  But I would add that being able to change gears and play a tad more conservative to protect that big stack is prudent.  

Long Ball Strategy's Advantages include:
  1)  Being the aggressor more often than not in hands which maximize's fold equity / fear equity
  2)  Gets chips from steals and exploiting weak tight & passive players who fold too often.
  3)  Provides a good chance to finish in the top three spots to get a bigger payout / ROI
Long Ball Strategy's Disadvantages include:
  1) Introduces higher variance into one's game. (In the money % goes down).
  2) Requires playing many tournaments in order to realize the ROI by getting into the money and the top three spots.
  3) Lose chips to tight passive players who are not able to be bluffed.

Given all the dynamics and hidden luck in MTT's (table draws, variance of the game, etc.) there is no easy answer.   

p.s.  I listened to an interview from Phil Helmuth after he won an EPT  NLHE event last year where he stated that his game plan was to apply maximum pressure and aggression right from the start.  Quite ironic given his reputation as such a nitty player.   But, I bet Phil's version of loose aggressive is a bit more conservative.

Go For The Win, Not EquityPosted on November 2, 2015 by Alex Fitzgerald

Let me ask you something: In poker tournaments is your goal to maximize your equity of every single hand you play?
It seems like a simple question. Of course, we want to make as much money as possible. However, the answer to this question is complex.
Think of Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey. Pretty much no one on Earth would dispute that Ivey is a much better poker player than Hellmuth. Yet, Hellmuth has 13 Hold’em bracelets and Phil Ivey has none.
This seems odd. Many contend that Ivey is the best professional poker player in the world. He’s played the WSOP for more than a decade. He often makes large bets on whether he can win a championship. In fact, it seems he can win in every other format, except for No Limit Hold’em tournaments.
In my humble opinion Phil Ivey’s issue is that he’s an attack dog. When he sees equity he pounces. This has made him untold millions from the game, and has made him dangerous in the highest cash games on Earth. In poker tournaments however it is a liability.
When you see Phil Hellmuth sweating what looks like a trivial hand there is a reason for it. He is thinking about the entire tournament. He is imagining how the table will play out with his new chip position if he does each action. He’s not just computing what his equity is in the particular hand. He’s asking himself what are his opportunities going into the future. How much profit is he sacrificing down the road if he makes this play right now?
It is a nuanced way to think about poker tournaments, and given his staggering results it would seem to be correct. What we can deduce from his tournament strategy is that poker tournaments are not about maximizing profits at each turn. If that were the case Hellmuth would naturally transition into the biggest cash games. It’s actually about getting as far as one possibly can. That means getting profit from as many hands as possible (i.e. accumulating chips from more small and medium pots than winning them in a few large pots).
When you risk all of your chips in a tournament almost without fail you’re betting more than you stand to win. Going from 20 big blind to zero is far more damaging than going from 20 to 40 is helpful, despite the fact it is the same numeric value. Also, when your chip stack or expected growth is greatly diminished you have a lesser chance of seeing all the hands afforded to you in one tournament. If you were going to be allotted 430 hands in this particular event, but you snapped off at hand 200 trying to get an extra big blind or two of equity, then you have made a poor mistake.
Your goal is to see as many hands as possible. That means you need to stay alive. To do this, you need to get in, get a few chips, and get out as often as possible. The less you risk the fewer ICM disasters you can make. When you make small moves the big blinds you’re betting are closer to the same value as what you stand to gain. It’s only when we play for all of it and our tournament life that we can make colossal errors.
To do this, we must balance. If you have a hand that works as three bet and a flat, you should flat. Why? Because later when you have a garbage suited one-gapper that can only be profitably played as a three bet you will be frustrated with yourself for having burned out the play earlier on a hand that didn’t require it.
Is there someone at your table who folds often to reraise? Reraise big with your dry aces, because they are horrible to play postflop. When you get a bluffing hand that more post flop potential, say a J-10 offsuit, three bet smaller.
Stagger your raise sizes, carefully allot your hands, and play as much as possible without diminishing your returns. It doesn’t matter how many chips you come into the final three with. That’s still where all the money is. Last as long as possible.
Good luck to all of you.

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