By: Paul Hewson
In the past three years or so, computer-based “solvers” have done a marvellous job helping poker players figure out what starting hands to use. But most of these programs are for cash games. What about tournaments? They’re a lot like cash games in the first few rounds, then somewhere around the third or fourth level, boom – the antes kick in. Each player has to throw a few chips into the pot, and that changes everything.
Let’s look at this situation again: At last year’s World Series of Poker Main Event, Level 2 saw the blinds at 150 and 300, no antes. Level 3, on the other hand, was 150-300 with a 25-chip ante. That is a huge difference at a 9-handed table. Instead of 450 in chips up for grabs, there were 675 to go after – that’s 50% more chips. In later rounds, the antes grew in proportion, up to a third the size of the small blind. That means there were double the chips on the table when nine players anted up.
Move One Place
Stack size notwithstanding, if you stick with your usual starting hands once the antes come out, you’re not being nearly aggressive enough. The more money there is in the middle of the table, the more risk you should be willing to assume in going after it. That means you should open a wider range of hands. You should also be willing to call much more liberally from the big blind.
As you can see with the WSOP Main Event structure, antes come in different sizes, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for how to attack them optimally. But you can get reasonably close by remembering this rule of thumb: Pretend you’re sitting one seat to your left. For example, if you’re in the hijack, open the same range that you would from the cut-off. If you’re in the cut-off, open the same range that you would from the button.
What about when you’re in the small blind? That’s trickier still; you’ll be out of position if the big blind calls, so people already have different ideas about how to proceed – many choose to open-limp the vast majority of their hands, antes or no antes. But if your standard play from the small blind is to open-raise a large percentage of hands, open even more when the antes begin. Have you played any heads-up poker? That’s pretty close to how wide you need to be opening, or else the big blind will be able to call correctly with just about any two cards.
Alternatively, you could make your open-raises larger instead, and go with your typical starting hands. That will help restore the usual “ratios” you normally deal with in the early rounds, or in cash games. Either way, remember to adjust your default ranges to account for how loose/tight your opponents are, and as always, may the rectangles be with you.