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PokerBaffer Strategy

Advanced Poker Terms In Micros Friendly Language

I’ve noticed there is some embarrassment associated with not “knowing everything” within micro/low stakes poker, but, due to my massive ego, I have never been ashamed to say “durrr… what?”.

I’m really happy to say that people message me all the time, men and women, to ask a question, obviously a question they feel embarrassed to ask elsewhere.
In the last few weeks, I have received a higher volume of questions, and I think this may be due to the GPL broadcasts, where the action moves fast, and both commentators (GrifGraf) are very wise and experienced poker players, so hardcore poker terms fly around like babywipes at an orgy.babywipes

I know why people don’t just type the question in the chatbox on Twitch; because if they do, they might be made to feel like an idiot.

The Twitch chatters think some of the best players in the world are “donks” and that GrifGraf, with $15mil tournament earnings between them “have no clue what they’re talking about”, so just imagine what they’d have to say to a micro-player who willingly admitted they didn’t understand!
No-one likes being made to feel stupid, so I’ve decided to put together a short list of terms that I’ve been asked about in the last few weeks.

As always, I think and write about micro-stakes, large-field MTT play only, and some terms were outside my immediate understanding. However, I do come from an academic background, and have taken a bit of time to research some alien concepts, improving my own knowledge, and hopefully now yours.


When a poker player notices a certain thing that another player is doing and changes their own play to make more profitable decisions against them.
For example, if you notice a guy always c-bets in position, you may start to check raise his c-bets in a spot you wouldn’t have normally. You’re probably doing this already without referring to it as “adjustment”, and if you’re not, you need to make sure you’re paying full attention to the behaviour of your opponents.

Balancing Your Range(s)

Easy to understand in concept, hard to do in practice.

If you always play the same hand strength in the same way, your range (the possible cards you might be holding at any given time in the hand) is unbalanced and more exploitable (because you’ve become a bit predictable).
balancingIf you play different strength hands in the same way and/or same strength hands in different ways, your range is balanced, and making decisions against you in all spots will be much harder (because there’s apparently no rhyme or reason to any action you make).

Two things must ye know about range balancing:

  • It’s only important against thinking opponents who will pay attention to what you’re doing and adjust accordingly, which is not common in micro MTTs, certainly in the early/mid stages. If your opponent doesn’t care about your range, then neither should you! If they are folding to your bluffs and calling your value bets without any adjustment, then just keep on doing what you’re doing.
  • This is not something to introduce into your game overnight. How to do it is easy, when to do it requires practice, a clear understanding of your opponent’s thought process and off-table work to examine where your own ranges may be weighted.


A hand you call with that only beats a bluff.

Making use of this concept requires attention to an opponent’s possible range of hands.
Think about how many value hands he has that you lose to, then think about how many possible bluffs that you beat. If he has more value hands, you should fold, if he has more bluffs that you beat, then you can call.

I type “bluffs that you beat” and not just “bluffs”, because sometimes an opponent may feel like they need to turn their weak strength hand into a bluff because they’ve read your range incorrectly, but that weak hand still beats yours.

I cannot stress how rarely I believe micro-players bluff on the river. I could be wrong, maybe I’m getting bluffed all over the shop in $5 tourneys, but I don’t think I am.
When you encounter a micro-bluffer, they are normally just maniacs who love to get their chips in for any reason, they’re not really bluffing (because a bluff is a considered and deliberate play made for specific reasons with a view to make money in an exact way), they’re just punty gamblers, and good luck to them!
I have encountered some micro-players who I have had a suspicion are actual sharks, but they are rare, so call me a pussy if you want, but I just stay out of their way and target the weaker players.

It is frustrating to lay down middle-pair on the river and be shown a random, funky bluff, but in micro-stakes poker, make a note, adjust the ranges you assign him accordingly and know that you’ll get him eventually.
Stacking off with A-high might make Fedor Holz think twice about river-bluffing you in the future, but it will have no effect on “FishyMcTardo$1” because he is not paying attention, so save your chips for a better micro-spot.

ICM: Independent Chip Model

I waffled on at length about this here.

Levelling War

In short, this is poker game metaphorical dick measuring and is uncommon at micro-stakes, because your average opponent hasn’t yet grown his/her poker penis.

Anyone holding cards and chips can be said to be playing poker at “a level”; as far as I am aware, there is no fixed criteria for this, although if anyone can correct me on that and ship me a definitive link, I’d be thrilled.silhouettes-two-fighters-sunset-background-31912699

We could say my mum is a level 0 player.
If I registered her for a tourney, she’d sit in front of the computer and click ‘call’ or ‘raise’ or ‘fold’ with no real idea what’s going on. Maybe she likes Hearts, maybe she thinks that Queen is pretty, maybe she is getting a bit tired or bored or drunk… who the hell knows?

With a bit of practice my Mum might become a level 1 player, she now knows the difference between 2 pair and a straight and knows J-high isn’t a great hand. She will not think about any situational differences, and will be entirely inelastic and unbalanced. She’s only thinking about what cards she has, and nothing else.

Most often at micros, certainly in the early stages of MTTs, I’m a level 2 player, pretty much raising good hands and folding bad ones, although I’m always aware of not only what I have, but the possible ranges my opponent has.
I understand when I’m value betting or bluffing, I understand why I’m doing it and my average opponent does not present too much more of a challenge than assessing his average range and playing accordingly. I don’t consider my opponents to be thinking about what I have

At level 3 it’s time to starting thinking about what your opponent thinks you have. A level 3 thinker considers how their action has made them look too, and will adjust accordingly.
They won’t need to do this against a level 0/1 player, in fact it would potentially be expensive, because those players are not thinking about their opponents’ hands.
Level 3 is for outthinking level 2 players; if you are playing level 3 thinking against my mum, you are “levelling yourself”- if you thought she’d lay down bottom pair because you trebbed her with A-high and assumed she’d think about what that meant, it’s your mistake.

I’m not capable of playing at level 4 and don’t really understand, the “what does he think I think he has?” stage, but at my regular stakes, I don’t need to worry about that!
Some of the big name players have probably invented levels 5, 6, 7 and beyond, and that’s your levelling war!
They know eachother, they know how they think and that’s the cue for headfuck poker time. “He knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows….” Ad infinitum until everyone is a broken shell of a human being.


“Meta” is a prefix, Greek in origin, and the specific meaning in modern English is largely contextual. The use of the prefix has ballooned in the last 50 years to the point where it has become a mainstream reference, largely due to annoying film students cracking one out over 4th wall breaks in Woody Allen movies whilst skinning-up on their books about post-modern deconstruction.Annie Hall 4th Wall

The original Greek preposition “meta” is usually accepted to be translated as meaning “after” or “beyond”, and this is how it is best applied to poker.
In poker, “metagame” should be taken to mean a part of the game that is “outside/beyond” the mechanics and correct mathematics of an individual hand.
For example, you are facing a marginal decision against a river bet, you may find your decision to call is gently influenced by the opportunity to get information on your opponent and possibly create a certain type of image for yourself that may be profitable later on in the game.

This is not an excuse for spewing chips all over the place and smugly saying “metagame” to a table full of 50p/£1 cash donks so you look mysterious.
If you’re playing against people who will not pay attention to any image you create and will not change their playing style for any reason at all, then there are no metagame considerations to be had at that table.

Making profit from metagame plays is also dependant on a level of familiarity between you and your opponents, which is unlikely in a 3500 runner micro MTT.
That said, I have noticed that I am occasionally running into micro-regs in the last 10 tables of a large field MTT, and at that stage any extra info is useful.
If you’re a very regular player, you’re probably already taking notes on your opponents’ behaviour, and I think this is where the concept of metagame may become relevant to your micro-poker MTT grind.
If you find yourself deep in a tourney, against a good player, don’t just take notes on him, put a note about how YOU behaved. If you make a daft bluff and get caught, or are getting dealt a storm and look particularly active/mental then write this in his notes as well.
Odds are, the best micro-players are using a HUD, and taking notes on you too, and next time you play the guy deep in a tourney, a note in his profile indicating what he may incorrectly think about your style of play might be profitable in one marginal decision; deep in an MTT, that is valuable.

Polarised (or Polarized if you’re American and obzezzed with Zs)

A bet that puts a player on a hand at one end of the spectrum or the other; a polarising bet is one that seems to be unlikely to be made with a medium strength holding, it looks like it’s the nuts, or a bluff.

This is tricky one to relate to micro-stakes poker, because there are a lot of beginner players at this level, and they are not capable of evaluating the relative strength of their hand.
Top pair on a four flush board is still “the nuts” in their eyes, so an action from Jason Mercier that “polarises his range on the river” cannot be directly translated to “1stGameEverGuy164” in a $5 MTT in the same spot.Magnet

The main reason to consider whether an opponent’s range is polarised is to take that pot to showdown with a bluffcatcher.
It is my experience that micro-players are very rarely bluffing the river, and if they are, it is part of an overall maniac approach and before long they will put themselves in a position where you can call them off with greater equity.

A massive river bet in itself is not automatically “polarising”, it must be accompanied by other information collected from what he’s been doing on the river, and in other spots. If the guy is a total rock, a river bet does not polarise his possible range, we already know he only bets the stones.


This is a very advanced concept, and is only relevant against sharp minded, thinking players. It could also be said to be a purely metagame concept, both of these mean that it’s not something that micro-stakes MTT players should be losing too much sleep over.

It’s a tricky idea to get one’s head around. I’m going to be blunt here, if you are not already thinking in some depth about ranges and frequencies, then you’re not ready to worry about range-merging. Some of the most profitable off-table work you can do is to learn to recognise and react to the possible ranges of different opponent types.

Because I don’t believe this concept is massively relevant to micro-MTT players, and if I’m honest, I’m not sure I understand the idea 100% myself, I am going to provide a very short, idiot’s definition of range-merging, and if you feel you are ready to consider this as part of your game, I would suggest reading about it from people who actually know what the fuck they’re talking about.

We are merging our ranges when we make a bet that we primarily think is for thin value with a mediocre holding, but we’re not entirely sure where our opponent’s at. We want our bet to look polarized so that we will get called by bluffcatchers and fold out a better hand occasionally.

In the 2+2 thread that reportedly birthed the concept of range-merging, the phrase used is “valuebluffing”, which is now widely discredited as a term, but I think helps a micro-mind get to grips with it.
To be in a position to consider our bet a successful range-merge, we have to be confident our opponent believes we are only making the bet with absolute air, or the nuts, be the type of player to understand a bluffcatcher hand and call with it,  and that when they do call us with a better hand, they will see our mediocre holding and mistakenly believe they need to adjust and call us lighter in later pots.

Thin Value

I like to think of thin-value betting as the active version of bluffcatching.
You’re going to use the same principle, ie: working out how many hands you beat and how many hands you lose to and the smaller the gap between those two groups of hands, the thinner your value bet.

If you have a big hand, it’s easy to know you’re value-betting and you want to get called. If you have scabby rot, then it’s easy to know you are bluffing and do not want a call.
If you have a little bit, it’s easy to try to “play it safe” and check behind, but you are missing value, and given how tough it can be to make profit from poker, it’s not a great idea to ignore even small value spots.


I think this is one concept that is actually very relevant to micro-stakes play, because you are more likely to be playing against people who cannot lay down total bumholes.

I don’t think bluffing is a huge part of micro-stakes MTT poker, maybe in the last few tables, and occasionally there are some good opportunities along the way, but as a general rule, at these stakes it is so easy to extract value, that there’s no need to be a bluff machine.
If that is true, then it stands to reason that it’s worth making thin value bets in micro-MTTs, because if we don’t believe we garner enough folds from weak hands to make bluffs, then the logical antithesis of this is that we must get enough calls from weak hands to make money from thin-value bets.

I personally like to target players for thin value bets after I’ve seen them call off other players in other hands with very ropey holdings. I don’t like spending my own money to test out how light they call- I get the information before I make the play.


This has been quite a long blog, and has probably been very boring for some people. If you just want to play poker for fun or gambling, don’t worry about any of this crap. None of it can be used against you anyway if you’re just enjoying a gambling game of cards- you carry on and enjoy yourself.

If you are a serious micro-player, but all of this was insanely alien to you, don’t worry- it is my honest belief that you are not encountering enough opponents who have the thinking and elastic style needed to make these plays useful or profitable against them.
If you feel any of these concepts are relevant to your own developing game, please do not stop here, this was only ever intended as an introduction and a way to prove micro-players don’t need to stress about understanding all these terms.

I haven’t covered all the questions I’ve been asked, as I don’t want to bang on too long, but these terms were the main ones asked about, so if I’ve missed yours, I’m sorry! I will no doubt collect a few more and write another similar blog in the future so we can all keep learning together!

4bet Shoving for Value? That Is My Jam

I was asked an interesting question by one of my Twitter buddies this week, it was:

“Is getting big chunks of your stack in pre-flop really giving you a good ROI?”

He asked me that after I went on Twitter to complain about AK getting busted after I 4bet jammed 50big blinds against a loose, aggressive player who snap-called the 4bet with AQ.
Of course, once he flipped his cards, I had obviously made the right move in this exact moment, but poker is a long term battle, so getting it right in one place at one time is not the point.

Before I launch into what’s masquerading as a strategy article, let me press a few salient points.
The things I think are only ever relevant to micro-buyin tournaments, I have no comments to make on tournament buyins over $11 because I don’t often play them, and if I do it’s because I’ve micro satellited into them.
I don’t have the pedigree of people who usually write strategy articles, but to let you know where I am, I started playing very seriously at micro-level 8 months ago and have a 10% ROI on $12k investment over 2000+ microstakes large field MTTs.
My average buyin is $5 and my ITM% is 19.5.

As you can probably tell from those stats, I am a long way off “crushing” large field micro MTTs. I clearly have an issue with making the money too often whilst not making enough final tables/top three cashes. I think my main problem is I am just too nitty later on, and am not good at spotting decent bluff spots, which is vital to very deep runs.

Nits never massively prosper in large field MTTs.

That said, these particular strategy musings are definitely relevant to the early/mid part of large field, 9-handed MTTs, when there are more players who are less experienced and there for a punt.

Once you go deep, you are more likely to be playing against better opponents, and so the following ideas on 4bet jamming for value become less and less relevant.
I don’t play much 6-max and I don’t ever play cash, so how relevant this advice is to these formats is very unpredictable.

Please bear all this in mind before applying this approach consistently, at any stage of a tournament, busting with a medium holding on the bubble and saying “Kat StupidFace Arnsby told me to do it”.
When I write strategy for micro-players, I’m always happy with contention/correction because I want to improve my own game and get my ROI higher than it is so that I can afford a holiday sometime.

In addition, I am looking here at a very particular spot, specifically when we open, get 3bet and are considering whether to 4bet-jam FOR VALUE or fold.
I say 4bet-jam for value, because (unless we have some very detailed reads/info on a particular opponent) in most tournament structures we won’t have a decent enough stack to allow for 4betting and trying to play poker after the flop, or 4bet>folding in the early/mid part of tournaments, so another specific point here is that our stack is between 25 and 50 big blinds.

If you think you can 4bet and get a fold, then that is a different situation, but my experience of micro-tourney players (early/mid stage) is that once a player has 3bet, a 4bet bluff against them is an ambitious project.
It is also worth noting that there is the occasional supernit/TAG player at microstakes, and if they are 3betting you, watch your back.

I use my HUD stats to help me make decisions, and my thoughts here relate to the large sub-set of micro-players who have around a 25%VPIP, about 17% PFR, and 10% 3bet figure (give or take).
If you’re not using a HUD (why not?) or you can’t on the site you play on, these numbers translate (very approximately) to a guy who’s voluntarily putting money in about 2/3 times an orbit, open-raising roughly 3 times in two orbits, and 3betting at least one time in ten against an open (usually from any position).
suitedSpotting the one time he calls anyone else’s 4bet-jam with A9 suited is worth making a note of if you don’t use a HUD, even if he was good in that case: at micros it’s unlikely that he seriously worked though his opponent’s possible range, it’s far more probable that he just liked the look of his “pretty tickets”.

Your average micro-player fancies any Ace, they get tumescent over two broadway cards, they are properly tugging one out over a suited Ace, and any pair is basically the money shot.

It is this psychology that my 4bet-value-jam philosophy relies on.

In addition, micro-players do consistently have an “at least I won’t be out” mentality, meaning that if they have you covered, even by just 5 big blinds, they feel a lot happier about calling you off than if they would be eliminated.
I think this is because of the famous “chip and a chair” phrase that every gambling/recreational player has heard; they always think they can mount a miraculous comeback.

On this basis, here’s the pre-flop 3bet>call range I assign to a micro-player with similar statistics to the ones detailed above:

Hand Range1

There is a possibility that you think this is a little bit wide, so I also constructed a 2nd range, taking out some of the more skanky Aces and including only pairs 77 and above:

Hand Range 2


I prefer Range 1, I honestly think it’s more realistic. I think I have also been quite generous to average micro-players in that I have not included and really crap hands.
I have noticed that micro-players are not adverse to a cheeky attempt at a 3bet bluff, and (especially in bounty tournaments) hate to pass once they get caught at it. They also like J10s and middle-suited connectors, but since I’m trying to construct consistently helpful, standard/default ranges against the type of micro-player we’re talking about, I decided to keep it simple.

That brings us to our own hands. I’m going to assume we’re always 4bet jamming with KK/AA in a micro-tourney unless there’s a bloody good reason not to, and in my opinion, in the early/mid stages of micro-tourneys these reasons are harder to find than a good tune on a Justin Beiber album.

This gives us the following equities with the following holdings against the two hand ranges:

Hand Range1: AK 58%, QQ 67%, JJ 62%, 1010 57%, 99 53%, 88 50%

Hand Range2: AK 57%, QQ 65%, JJ 59%, 1010 53%, 99 48%, 88 45%

If we take that info and assume that 88 or less is a punter’s bet and make our 4bet value-jam range 99+, Aqs+, and AKo, we will end up with average equity of 63% against Range 1 and 61% against Range 2.

4bet jam range
Truth is, even if we throw AQs and AQo into our 4bet-value-jam range we’ll still have 58% against Range 2, and if we think that Range 1 is most likely then even including AJs and AJo gives us 59%.

There’s a chance all these statistics are melting your brain, fair enough, it’s pretty boring, but the short conclusion is that if you raise with 99+, AQs+, AKo with a dream of 4bet shoving, you will have around 60% equity against the average micro-player’s 3bet>call range.

So… to answer my friend’s question, which can now (after a bit of study) be re-phrased as:

“Do you really want to get large chunks of your stack in pre-flop with average 60% equity?”

The answer is “Yes. Yes I do.”

Tournament play is never secure, you risk blinding out if you sit around waiting for “the perfect spot”; in the majority of tournaments, this spot will never come in time.

In large field micro-tournaments, you can potentially win a lot of cash from a very small investment, but it will never be easy, at some point your tournament life will have to go on the line; it is my opinion that I’d rather do this when I have a chance at becoming a monster stack in a decent spot, rather than waiting for a spot where my opponents are making a smaller calling mistake against me due to my teeny-tiny stack.

If you only have time to play one or two tournaments a week, and just enjoy chilling-out in front of the PC with a beer and football on in the background, then maybe a tighter, lower variance strategy is better suited to what you want to get out of the game. It can be very annoying to bust out with 1010 against A9 too early when you just want to have fun for a couple of hours.

If you’re looking at being a more thinking micro-reg and have the time to play enough volume to combat the variance, then don’t be afraid to 4bet-value-jam those hands… it would seem that in the long-run, it’s the right move.

Never forget the conditions discussed at the start of this and only apply this strategy to the right players at the right time of the tournament. Watch out for thinking micro-regs, they will adjust to you in the same way you adjust to them, so tighten (or loosen) that 4bet range accordingly as the game moves on.

I’ve put myself out there a bit with this blog, and I hope I haven’t inadvertently exposed myself as a complete tard. I’d love to know your thoughts/opinions/arguments… and watch out for me at the tables, now you know my 4bet-value-jamming range, you can exploit me all over the shop!

PKOs: Progressive Or Regressive?

A good part of my normal micro-tournament schedule is made up of Progressive Knockout tournaments (PKOs). If you don’t know what they are, they’re a crazy form of bounty tournament where a percentage of the buyin is attached to each player and awarded as a prize should you knock that player out.
The exact percentage varies, depending on the game, but, most usually it’s 50%/50%. So… if the buyin is $10, $5 of that goes into the prizepool and $5 goes onto players’ heads. If you knock someone out, you will instantly receive $2.50 and your bounty will increase from $5 to $7.50. If someone then knocks you out, they will receive $3.75 and their own bounty will increase by $3.75 and so on.

This means that by the time you get deep in a tourney, the average bounty will pay you more than a buyin, and in some cases much, much more.

The very first one of these that I played, I had some super sick rungood and was up 15 x the buyin before the bubble had even burst. Obviously, I instantly fell in love with them and registered for the exact same game the next day.

That didn’t go so well.
I busted in the first hour after playing my normal tournament game, (wondering why there were so many maniacs) and then 3bet shipping for 18bigs with AA from the hijack. The hand went 6 ways to the flop and I lost to 68s.

Out loud, I said “My goodness! That was an unusual collection of calls, I wonder why those gentleman played the hand like that, ho-hum.” Well… they weren’t quite my exact words, but that was the gist of the sentiment.terry-thomas-gent_2709096b

As a micro-player, I’m used to seeing some wacky action, but in these tournaments there is a lot of madness, and I have started to understand why.
I’m going to attempt to offer some advice on playing this tournament format at micro-stakes level, although I make no claim that this is good advice, it is simply a product of my experience having played around 750 of these tournaments. I have good results at this format, up to the $11 buyin level, although I appreciate the sample is too small to be excessively self-congratulatory.

In addition, this will not be scientific or mathematical advice, partly because I’m not up to offering that type of advice, and partly because plenty of research has shown me that there does not seem to be concrete mathematical advice on this topic- in short, I’m not sure anyone knows what the fuck is going on with these.

There is some good discussion of the maths of this format on the 2+2 forum, but to be honest I didn’t really understand it, and, as usual, it was not from, or aimed at, micro-stakes players. If anyone does have any ideas about the maths, please share them with me; ideally in a classroom environment, with a test at the end, because as I have honestly stated before, maths is not my subject.

Register On Time

I often register late for normal tourneys. I play on PokerStars mainly, and the structures are solid enough to allow this. In addition, it’s very easy to get max value on big hands from micro-players, so if I can get dealt anything half decent in the first 3/4 orbits, I can usually double quickly and be at least average stack without grind-folding for two hours to be in the same place.

Size matters
Size matters: Get in early!

In a bounty tournament, the only hand that you can guarantee you have every single opponent at your table covered is the very first hand of the tournament, so I recommend playing it.
In a normal structure, I can ship 12bigs with a premium hand and get called by one medium/big stack who loves A10. In a bounty, shipping 12 bigs will get a call from pretty much anyone who covers you, even if you haven’t played a hand for 25 orbits. Five of them will call you with anything- sending you all-in to the flop with 25% equity whilst holding AA. That feels horrible, so avoid it more effectively by playing the first hand.


I’m not a big pre-flop limper. If it’s good enough to play, it’s good enough to raise in normal structures at micro-stakes, in PKOs, I see more value in flaccid action in multiway pots.
That’s not to say you should see every flop! If you have a majority of your opponents in the hand covered (you’re late to act pre) or the majority of the table covered (you act early pre) then I vote for limping far more regularly.
My normal structure VPIP is around 18% with 15% preflop raise. My PKO stats look more like 35% VPIP with 10% raise. I am playing way more suited connectors and one-gappers, K2s+, Q2s+, J2+ and every single pair; one pot early on can put me a few chips ahead of the majority, and that’s enough!
If I have a bit of bad start, and find I do not have a majority of table opponents covered, then I find it beneficial to nit-up to fuck. I only want to see the cheap flops if I have a chance to take bounties, otherwise, I will wait for a premium and hope for the best, confident I will get preflop value from a 150bb ship from somebody.

In addition, my preflop 3bet% drops a lot in this format. Isolation is an impossible dream if there is a short stack in the pot, anyone who has you covered is coming with you anyway, and anyone who doesn’t is going to have a massive hand if they call. I will only 3bet pre in this format with AK and JJ+, and that will be for the entirety of my stack; there is no point trying to be clever in this format at micro-stakes.


Most people who watch me play say that I’m a bit aggressive sometimes; that said, even I manage to stay pretty nitty in the 1st few levels of a normal tournament. With 200 big blinds and small pots, I see no value in being too pushy too early in normal structures; in a PKO I think there is plenty value in early aggression on the flop. Even if I only win a couple of small pots, if I have 3050 chips compared to a guy having 2950 chips, I have better implied odds in every single hand we play together.
I want to have more chips than the majority of the players at my table, because if I get one of them in good for a massive pot, I want that bounty, I don’t want someone else to scoop it for buttons the next hand.Boba Fett

This works because micro-players want to see flops, but will give up fairly easily if they don’t hit; you will find you go to the flop multi-way a high number of times. People are fishing, and if they miss, they will check fold with with tempting frequency, and even a 10% pot bet will get them out if they have no hope. This will only be effective if they have less than you/around your stack- an early big stack won’t be so easy, he’ll call you with Q-high and his fingers crossed. Given that having a guy covered by 1chip is enough to take his bounty money, it is always worth having a go at that small pot, especially on very wet or dry boards; they literally either have it or not, and they’ll raise or fold accordingly.

The flop is where the money most often goes in in this format. It seems to have been profitable to me to put any short stacks to it for 100% of their chips with a draw, or even naked top pair.
Watch out for a player who limps pre then goes mental on the flop, especially larger stacks. If you have a decent holding and bet into a stack that covers you, a call will usually indicate hope, where a raise indicates strength. If you are pushed in by a larger stack on the flop after he limped pre, you should have two pair or an overpair as an absolute minimum, if you have a draw and cover nobody… you should have folded preflop!
Basically, if you don’t have it, try to nick it with a small bet and give up if you get action. If you do have it, or a decent sniff at it (and you have others covered), go ballistic- just get it the hell in, never look like you’re hoping… DO OR DIE ON THE FLOP!


In PKOs, it can be frightening how often you will see the turn multiway. It is my advice that you avoid this situation wherever possible. If you are a short stack, you should be in or out preflop, as a medium stack you should be in or out by the flop at the latest. If you are a large stack, you should have put the muppets in or folded them out on the flop.
dangerThe only time you want to be creeping onto the turn is if you are playing a pot where everyone has about the same stack and you have a very mediocre holding that you would have folded on the flop to a bet, or you get a super good price from someone who is trying to do what I suggest above, or a short stack who “doesn’t want to lose the callers”. I would recommend not thinking of these as potential bounty pots, but what I like to call “top up pots”, you may have a chance to “top up” your stack, putting you a few chips ahead of you nearby opponents. If it goes ballistic, you are out; the turn is too dangerous in this format.


If you get to the river and you haven’t made a massive hand on a draw you saw cheaply, then GTFO. This is not the time to get the shorties in, as stated above, this should have already happened if it was going to happen.
If your long odds draw magically hits, then Get The Fuck In. Do it: all of it. Don’t be fancy, and worry about “missing value”, just ship your chips. Too many players at micro-stakes in this format WILL call you off with top pair on the river after letting you hit your wicked draw for cheap, especially if they have you covered; take advantage of this, but do not emulate it.
The odds of a micro-player risking his tournament life on a river bluff are skinny, so if you can only beat a bluff, even if you have him covered, get rid; this structure IS about winning bounties, but perhaps just not that specific one!


I worry less about the bubble in this format. Normally I’m being a bit aggro if I’m stacking around the bubble, and very TAG if I’m a short stack. In this format, min cash can be peanuts compared to the bounty of a short stack at your table; he is your bubble!bubble1
It’s very odd as a long-term tournament player to ignore the paystructure in a tournament, but in the PKO format half the money is out there in the field.
Without meaning to be rude, if you are the type of player that is worried about losing your tournament life, this is not the format for you. At this stage of a PKO, you must be prepared to risk everything to put pressure on those who are more used to hanging on for the money.
My ITM% for bounty tourneys is 13%, lower than my 20% average, but my ROI% for them is 40%, much higher than my 15% average! If you just like making the money, play a different format.

Late Game

As a short stack in this format, I don’t have much strategy except wait for a premium and cross my fingers. Sounds lame, but when I know I’m getting 3+ callers, what else can I do? Tell me! Seriously.

As a big-stack, I’m a total LAGTard in this format. In normal tournaments, if I have a large stack, I’m pretty careful with it, especially where the structure allows, I’m not playing big preflop pots. In a PKO, if I can get a guy in pre and leave myself at least 15 bigs behind, then I’m gonna, and with a massively wide range, only slowing it up if I’m covered by a guy with action to come.
I have noticed that medium stacks are reluctant to call a big stack’s 3bet ship, even when I’ve shown my range to be mental, I can’t explain this.

ICM suicide is less of a concern to me in this format, because the bounties are as sexy as the payscale, if I can take 25 buyins worth of bounties and bust in 50th place, I’ll be better off than grinding to the FT and busting in 9th place for 20 buyin payout.

The times this aggro mania goes in my favour, I will approach the final as a dominant presence anyway, and am more likely to bink a top three cash.

I haven’t made enough final tables to speak with any authority on them… probably because I’m playing hyper-aggro in the last 100 players!


PKOs are super fun, and I recommend them to everyone, and I hope this basic advice helps you, as I know lots of regular structure players say they don’t like them because they are just gambling. I don’t think that’s true: I just think there is a different strategy required from “normal” structures.
If you have anything to add to this, please do, as I said, I’m no expert.

Happy hunting… unless you’re on my table, in which case… I’m gonna getchya!

Basic Understanding Of ICM: I See Monies

I was running a tournament once where a guy got dealt AA and trebled up. He proceeded to stuff tournament chips in his pockets and tried to leave for cash desk.
I explained to him that this was a tournament, and he had to stay until either he had no chips left, or nobody else had any chips left.
He wasn’t impressed, he didn’t understand how he could have won such a big hand and have nothing to show for it but a pile of plastic discs with £0 cash value.canstockphoto17590866

Tournament poker is not the same as cash poker, we all say it all the time, but the fact that the chips have no fixed cash-value is a massively important distinction, and I can see many players at my level don’t understand why, so this strategy article is designed for beginner/intermediate players who don’t know what ICM means, and are making big calls, with medium holdings, late on in tournaments- this will help you.

So how much are my tournament chips worth? The old man’s logic that bangs about in cardrooms is that your tournament chips aren’t worth anything until you’re actually in the money, and while this makes sense, it’s a little bit basic.

Your tournament chips always have value, and this may be referred to as your current ‘tournament equity’. This value is not fixed, and it fluctuates as your stack size changes, and as runners are eliminated from the field.

Tournament equity is worked out using your current stack size, the prizepool distribution and the likelyhood of you winning one of those prizes from your current position. This is some pretty fancy maths, and frankly, I have not got the first clue how do to that maths.

canstockphoto6537063Luckily, I don’t need to, because I can use something called “an ICM calculator” designed by clever people who probably have even less sex than I do.

ICM stands for Independant Chip Model, and that’s the name of the mathematical model that’s been developed to work out how much your current tournament chip stack is worth. It’s clever stuff, but like so much in poker mathematics, you don’t need to understand the whole theory, just what its principle means to you.

Okay… imagine this ridiculous situation (hypothesis is always a bit ridiculous, roll with it, it’s an example designed to help you understand a concept): There is a final table with 4 players and 3 prizes. All players currently have 10000 chips and there is £1000 to be won, paid as £500, £300, £200.

In this case, all players hold 25% equity of the total prize, or a cash value of £250.

ICM calculations do not account for a skill edge, or sick luck, so if all players have an exactly equal stack, the calulator will assume they will all go on to win the tournament the same amount of times. This does affect things slightly, but let’s get to grips with the basics before we start denigrating the details.

Now, as we know in tournaments, if someone goes all-in, I call them, and I beat them, they will be eliminated, and their chips will be mine; rack it up, bitches.

If that guy had the same number of chips as me, then I double my stack from 10k to 20k, which obviously means I double my tournament equity from £250 to £500, right?


What nonsense is this?
What nonsense is this?

In our hypothetical example, if I call a guy’s all in, and win, then I have doubled my chipstack, but with 3 players left, I will not have 50% tournament equity, just by virtue of having half the chips in play.

Why the hell not?

The most simple way of explaining it is that sometimes, I will spew off my chips, sometimes I’ll get bad-beated, and sometimes I’ll get outplayed. Just because I have half the chips in play right now, doesn’t mean I’ll win the tourney everytime, it doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to take down the £500 first prize.

If I run the new numbers through the calculator, now 3 players, still £1000 to be won as £500, £300, £200 and now the stacks are 20k, 10k, 10k, my new tournament equity is £383.33 and the other two have £308.33 each. (This is not me working this out, play around with an ICM calc. It’s good, clean fun!)

WAIT A BLOODY MINUTE! I just made a £250 call, I stood to lose £250 of tournament equity, I made the call like a hero, I risked EVERYTHING and only won £383.33 of tournament equity back? What now?

When is poker ever
When is poker ever “fair”?

That really doesn’t seem fair, and that’s cos it’s not.

Stop crying at the injustice, and let’s work out how this valuable information helps us.

In our final table, with 4 players, I have £250 of tournament equity. Then someone is all in and I have to decide whether to call. I look down and see pocket 77s. This guy is pretty loose-aggro, but not a maniac, he’s been opening pots quite regularly, but showing pairs and all the Aces, and I estimate that my 77s, would have about 50% pot equity against his total shoving range.

I have to call 10k to win 20k and I have 50% pot equity. Easy-peasy, I call the twat, right?

In a cash game, why not? Gamble, gamble, gamble. You double your money instantly if you win.

In a tournament, then it’s gonna be a ‘no’.

Remember, if you call and you win, you win £133.33 worth of tournament equity. If you call and you lose, you will lose £250, so you need to estimate that your current holding has much greater than 50% chance against the shover’s range, or you will be making a bad call (layman’s terms for -EV).

If this guy is a nut-case, and you know he’ll shove any unopened pot with any two, then you can consider you have a greater chunk of that pot-equity, and a call may become more reasonable. Understanding your opponent’s ranges is vital to making use of the ICM in late stage tournament decisions.

The key understanding here is that an action that is +EV in terms of winning tournament chips, may not be +EV in terms of winning cash, and this is really hard to wrap one’s head around, especially if you are principally a cash poker-player.

It is sometimes said that “a fold is always +EV in a tournament”; I think this is raw simplification, but the principle is sound. If you are eliminated from a tournament, you have 0% tournament equity, and that’s never good.

All you need is some crisps and a chair.
All you need is some crisps and a chair.

While you do not want to be blinded out, the ICM shows us that calling off your chips for a race, may actually be more -EV than folding in tournament play.

In late stage tourney play, I live by the mantra “call tight and push light”, and this is how you can grind your stack upwards. It can feel scary to 3bet shove with 8/9 suited, but you are now putting your opponents in a position where they need to decide whether AJ can really be said to hold 75% equity against your shoving range, as opposed to calling off with 77 because you “haven’t seen a hand in a while and it’s probably a race”.

I’ve attached a link to a ICM calculator that I use. I haven’t found one that works out equity for larger fields, which would be helpful as I play 3500+ runner tournaments. I’ve been applying the logic that I just scale up, but I’m not sure how sound that idea is, and if anyone has any further advice on that, I am all ears (and eyes, you can type it).

Understanding ICM is advanced strategy, and I don’t want to make beginner players sweat about yet another load of mathematical bullshit that makes poker boring; but sometimes a principle is important, and you only need the principle here.

Take this one thing from my basic Independent Chip Model Theory understanding-

In the late stages of a tournament, get your stack shoved in against habitual opening raisers with tighter continuation ranges, and DO NOT call off some guy’s all-in unless you think there is very high chance your hand has him totally steam-rolled. If you cannot apply this discipline, get back to the cash tables where every chip is exactly what it appears to be; tournament play requires a bit more imagination.

Link to ICM Calculator

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