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Thread: HU with a small stack

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    bambini's Avatar
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    Default HU with a small stack

    A couple of times recently I've wound up in games where the game has gone quite quickly, and before I knew it I was in a heads up with another player but 4:1 down on chips. On both occasions it happened when there was a hand where 3 players ended up shoving on each other and the winner knocked 2 guys out and tripled up.

    The result of this is that I'm the relative small stack, but the blinds are still pretty low so I'm sitting on 25+ BBs. On both occasions this felt like a difficult spot because my opponent was in such a strong position. If I made 3x raises PF, he could pretty much call with ATC, could become hyperaggressive and know that even in the worst case scenario he didn't stand to lose anything more than a quarter of his stack, but with the blinds so low there was no need for him to do anything crazy. Sure, I could shove on him more, but all that would mean is that he could fold (and I win peanuts by stealing the blinds) and bide his time until he had something great to call me with.

    On both occasions it played out that I slowly bled chips to him until I was down to 10BBs, where I was stuck with just jamming and hoping for the best. And of course I lost. To my mind, it didn't feel like there was a profitable strategy in this spot:
    - Shoving puts me in a lose-lose situation because I'm risking my entire stack to pick up very little in steals, and if he calls me then chances are I'm boned.
    - Playing my "standard" aggressive approach (3x raises and c-bets, etc.) is ineffective because I have close to zero fold equity whereas my opponent has tons of it.
    - Playing passively (checking and calling) is useless in HU at the best of times but particularly bad here because my opponent can quite easily put me in a spot where I have to fold.

    Any advice here would he appreciated. What do y'all do in this spot?
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    RyckyRych's Avatar
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    Remember that it is effective stacks that you are dealing with. If the smaller stack is 25BBs then that's all that is in play. True, the larger stack has some cushion but he should also realize that one careless mistake wipes his advantage away. He can't throw caution to the wind.

    Shoving 25BBs is certainly not optimal IMO. I can see 12 or even 15, but 25 still has some room for post-flop manuvering. Your standand approach should be just fine, just understand that you will need to adjust your play to how he is responding. If you think he is calling more liberally to your raises then you either need to tighten you opening range or play post flop with the understanding that his range will be wider. Fold equity is really something that comes into play on all-in moves or leveraged situations.

    Checking and calling might be very effective when still somewhat "deep" HU assuming your opponent lets you get away with it. This is particularly true if you feel you have a skill advantage post flop. If your opponent simply checks his BB when you limp or simply limps the SB himself it could be to your advantage to play a wide range of hads yourself. If you feel he has the advantage skill-wise then you would want to adopt a more "Kill Phil" approach.

    If you have seen any of my early videos where I find myself HU with a deeper stack (meaning more than 15BBs) I'll often say that this is the worst part of my game. I've worked on it, even to the point where I welcomed a 2-hour HU play-money cash game with TIME. Being from a turbo SNG background I do not have much experience with this spot. Just remember that once you are HU there is no ICM, it does play like a cash game. You are guaranteed 2nd place money, even if its WTA and 2nd is $0.

    Long story short, adjust to your opponent's play. If he is loose, tighten up and be willing to trap more. If he is tight, you can often open up and take some orphan pots, but be sure you have the goods if he hangs around.
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    Just to add to Rycky's post. I would start off by opening at least 35-40% of hands for a 2-2.5X raise and feeling out if I could limp some more (suitedness/connectedness!! -high card strength hands/pairs are raised by default heads-up) IN POSITION and defending a fairly tight 3-bet value range (let's say about 12-15%) from the BB (just calling goes out of the window, IMO, as you don't gain positional advantage post-flop as opposed to BvB situations). Obviously, if you know villain is probably tracking you, you need to mix some bluffs into this range with hands which probably will not be horribly crushed when called, but for your average microstakes player just playing exploitive will suffise, providing you make adjustments based on how villain reacts.

    My personal experience is, unless you run just completely flat, often villain stops knowing whether he's coming or going and completely loses the plot. Very few people at these limits actually have the understanding and mental flexibility to deal with this, in which case you might as well start some sort of "Kill Phill"-strategy.

    Also: have a plan when you enter a hand. Do enough thinking about the game away from the table (based on (un)successfull past hands) so you know how to respond to villain's actions and/or certain board textures as they occur.

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    bambini's Avatar
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    Sound advice guys. I like the idea of viewing HU with deep stacks as simply a cash game - I think that I've been too busy trying to get clever with my HU play to just adjust as I usually would.

    I think I get what you're saying, J, although if my villain's response is to get all the chips in on every opportunity then it makes any PF play designed to induce a fold pointless. Probably best to just tighten up and wait for a decent pocket pair or ace with a decent kicker.

    So, next question...what's "Kill Phil" strategy?
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    Quote Originally Posted by bambini View Post
    Sound advice guys. I like the idea of viewing HU with deep stacks as simply a cash game - I think that I've been too busy trying to get clever with my HU play to just adjust as I usually would.

    I think I get what you're saying, J, although if my villain's response is to get all the chips in on every opportunity then it makes any PF play designed to induce a fold pointless. Probably best to just tighten up and wait for a decent pocket pair or ace with a decent kicker.
    That's way too tight. If villain simply knee-jerk jams on you every time, you need to get it in wider. Off the top of my head: all pairs sixes and higher, all suited aces except maybe A6s-A7s, A8o+, K9s+, QT+, KJo+, QJo. That should be about 18% of hands and will give you about 65% equity vs a random hand. Even if villain re-raises way tighter, let's say only 30% of hands, you'd still be a 55-45% favourite in the long run calling with that range.

    Edit: Besides villains range could be wider than it appears. This is because instinctual players overvalue certain hands hands they shouldn't fight back with and discard ones they should pull the trigger with. Villain might chuck away a hand like Q6s, yet take a stand w/ 54o. If that's the case (and there's fairly little to suggest it isn't at the micro's), you'll massively crush his range with something like 25% of hands.

    Quote Originally Posted by bambini View Post
    So, next question...what's "Kill Phil" strategy?
    A Kill-Phil strategy is a push/fold strategy which is very nearly unexploitable, based on your stacksize and the stage of the tournament. The reason it's called unexploitable is, when you do it correctly, villain has to counter it perfectly in order to just break even with you. It's the basic premise of a book called "Kill Phil" (the Phil in question being Phil Hellmuth, a good hand reader and small ball tournament player, you may have heard of him).

    Obviously, most villains are unaware this even exists (or may have heard about it and think it is rubbish), so they won't even nearly counter you perfectly, so you profit. Not as much as when you just see through villain and own him, but it's a good strategy to fall back on if you feel you're being outplayed or, in the heat of the moment, you can't think of anything to actively counter his strategy.

    An adaptation of the strategy for online play was produced and I plucked it off 2+2 some time ago. Uploaded here: http://users.telenet.be/jan..verschueren./KillPhil.pdf
    Last edited by J_Verschueren; Feb 20th, 2013 at 02:03 AM. Reason: thought of something else to point out.

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    Q often discussed his Kill Phil exploits, read some of his posts.
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    Kill Phil strategy is designed to exploit the fact that better players are loathe to risk their tournament life when faced with an all-in call or fold decision.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RyckyRych View Post
    Q often discussed his Kill Phil exploits, read some of his posts.
    Jinx!

    It never crossed my mind, Bambini, but Rycky's right, if you're interested in seeing how some of this strategy might work in action, you could read some of my old posts which chronicled the 'adventure'.
    Last edited by Queso; Feb 20th, 2013 at 03:11 AM.

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    Here are a few of the posts:

    http://www.pokerology.com/forums/sng...me-around.html
    http://www.pokerology.com/forums/sng...xperiment.html
    http://www.pokerology.com/forums/sng...urth-july.html

    And here's an article I wrote on the strategy:

    "As tournament poker continually evolves, only those who can adapt and adjust to the constantly changing landscape will survive. One very interesting adaptive strategy which has appeared in recent years is the “Kill Phil” series of books by authors Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson.

    As the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ title makes perfectly clear, the strategy is aimed toward leveling the playing field against the “sharks” of the poker world-- the “Hellmuths”, “Laaks”, “Gordons”, “Iveys”, etc-- small-ball specialists whose formidable post-flop skills routinely destroy the competition. Solid players who know how to pick their spots and are loathe to risk their entire tournament life when all their chips are on the line preflop. And herein lies the genius of the “Kill Phil” approach.

    To best illustrate the concept-- and the cornerstone move that gives KP all its power-- imagine for a moment that you’ve been given a ticket to a $10,000 No Limit Hold “Em tournament which starts in two hours, but you’ve never played the game. Is there anything that can be done to give you even a puncher’s chance against the seasoned professionals and tournament experts?

    In his excellent book “Tournament Poker For Advanced Players”, David Sklansky points out that a complete beginner could actually be somewhat competitive in a tournament if, for the first few levels, they raised or re-raised all-in with AA and KK only, and otherwise fold. Yes, they would occasionally be outdrawn, and yes, the skill level present in this approach is practically zero, but it does bring up some interesting dynamics which are worth considering. The main idea is that better players will fold nearly all hands preflop rather than risk their tournament ‘life’ on what rates to be a coin-flip, or worse.

    For the rest of the tournament (after the first few levels), Sklansky adds the following instruction: “...in unraised pots move in with any pair, any suited ace, AK, and suited connectors down to 54 suited, otherwise fold. If the pot is raised before action gets to you, move in with AA, KK, or AK suited.” While of course offering nearly no advantage to the player, this strategy at the same time offers the best chance of advancing as deeply as possible into the tournament.

    Acknowledging that this approach clearly has enormously exploitable holes (the complete absence of a post-flop strategy being the most obvious), Sklansky goes on to challenge others to perfect the ‘System’, and this is exactly where the authors of “Kill Phil” have picked up the ball.

    With the help of university mathematics professor Steve Heston, they have refined the ‘system’ to the point that some remarkably unexploitable shoving strategies have evolved. It seems obvious at first glance that the all-in move, applied randomly and indiscriminately, would be suicidal. It would be easy to beat a player who shoves all-in with 56s-- if you knew that’s what they had. But as Heston himself points out in the introduction to “Kill Phil”, the strategies are mathematically calibrated to balance both monster and bluffing hands, so that opponents never truly know what you have. And since tournaments are based on survival-- and since calling with the rare ‘very good hand’ is their only defense-- they most likely wont be willing to pay to find out.

    Sound risky? It is, but then again, dig a little deeper and you see the genius at work. Tournaments are risky. To be a KP player, you must be comfortable with and accept the fact that any hand could be your last. And the true beauty of this system lies in the fact that while you might appear to be reckless and foolish, nothing could be further from the truth. The authors have devised groups of hands to shove with based on stack sizes, position, and stages of the tournament which, even if called, will usually have a very reasonable chance of holding up. You’ll almost never be dominated or without live cards in your hand. And often, winning a big pot in this way will earn you very suspect calls from frustrated players later in the tournament when you actually have something like AA or KK.

    There are four skill levels in the KP hierarchy, incorporating more and more judgement and table-composition adjustments as each successive level is reached: Rookie, Basic, Basic Plus, and Expert.

    Rookie

    Expanding slightly on Sklansky’s original System, the “Rookie” level is simply designed for the complete poker beginner with no or very limited tournament experience. It literally requires no decision making whatsoever. Giving an hour’s study time as the necessary investment in Rookie , the authors encourage devotees to move on to Basic and Basic Plus as quickly as possible.

    Basic

    The “Basic” level is where strategic adjustments to the foundational “all-in” approach actually start to come into play. At this point, a player’s relative strength at any given point in the tournament is determined by a fascinating stack-size/ratio calculation similar to that of Dan Harrington’s “M”: “CPR” and “CSI”. “CPR” stands for “Cost Per Round”, while “CSI” is the acronym for “Chip-Status Index.” While sounding complicated, the calculations are actually very simple, and with a little study and practice can truly become second nature.

    As play progresses, it becomes important to have an understanding of how big your stack is relative to the blinds. By comparing the Cost Per Round (the blinds, plus antes if they are in play) to the size of your stack, a fundamental determination can be reached in very general terms: we have either a Huge Stack (greater than 30 times the Cost Per Round), a Big Stack (>10), a Medium Stack (<4), or a Small Stack (less than 4 times the CPR). The size of our stack (CSI), is the key indicator in choosing which hands, from which groups provided, and at which times, we should be making our all-in moves with.




    Of course this is a simplification of the foundational approach that is taught in “Kill Phil”, and as the authors themselves thoroughly and repeatedly point out, the goal of their radical rethinking of the game is ‘not to use mechanical strategies forever’. It’s assumed that the ideal KP adopter is a thoughtful player who’ll use the teaching as a launch pad for an ever-expanding understanding of the game. Charts and directives are never a substitute for applied judgment and real-time critical appraisal. But the combination of a mathematics-based shoving matrix and the aforementioned personal characteristics (assuming you have, or can develop them) may possibly bring your game to new heights you never dreamed possible.

    “Kill Phil”, its sequel “Kill Everyone”, and the recently released “The Raiser’s Edge” are certainly books worth looking into if you’re interested in potentially leveling the playing field against some of the stiffer competition you may face in today’s tournament climate."
    J_Verschueren likes this.

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    Kill Everyone is my favorite book on poker. Just the concept of bubble factor alone is worth the cover price.
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