WorldSeries of Poker tournament strategy is complex. It's a marathon event with long odds against a win

Imagine having to come through a field THIS big. Who says poker's an easy game?

It's the World Series of Poker main event, 2003. This is a real-life example of poker tournament strategy -- making a move for the big time versus sneaking into small prize positions. 

There are less than 80 players left. The top 63 will receive money.

Player A has a deep stack, which he has won by gambling, overrating marginal hands and getting lucky. He raises to $20,000.

Player B, who has a little less than average chips but is under no massive pressure, looks at his hand and finds QQ. He minimum-reraises to $40,000.

Here, he has made observations about his opponent, and devised a poker tournament strategy that's as simple as any which work: wait for the right moment and trap your over-aggressive opponent.

He figures that the raiser, who has shown down weak cards all day, has much less of a hand than his QQ.

Player A takes the bait and reraises all-in. Now player B’s World Series of Poker survival is on the line. If he’s wrong, and the guy has a hand like AA, KK or AKs, it’s at best a 50-50 and at worst he’s in big trouble.

However, if he has the guy figured out correctly, this is his chance to have a genuine shot at a massive prize, real life-changing money. The winner of the World Series of Poker always picks up a multi-million-dollar pile of cash.

Player B calls the all-in bet. Player A turns over AJos. An Ace flops, and player B walks out of the tournament.

What’s your gut reaction to the above situation? Did player B do the right thing by trapping the weaker hand, or did he shoot himself in the foot? Was his better move the all-in reraise after player A’s initial raise more likely to push him off his AJ?

The answer...

There is no definitive right or wrong answer here. Player B (a good friend and now disciple of the Church of Texas Holdem) claims he took a year to recover from this hand. Once he had time to reflect, he figured that his play was correct.

His poker tournament strategy was spot-on: but Lady Luck turned her back on his pair of ladies.

He got his money in the middle with a huge favourite: player A had only three outs, the Aces, to hit, barring a fluke straight or flush. Should the QQ have held up, he would have been well above average chips and have had a genuine chance of winning the World Series of Poker main event.

True, player B could also have folded his QQ to the first raise, and clung on for one more hour to get into the money. Who knows what would have happened? Chances are he would have ended up with one of the smaller prizes.

Sometimes it’s better to risk a smaller bird in the hand to stalk the Ostrich in the bush.


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