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One thing I've done recently is taken to playing a local no-limit tournament every weekend at my closest casino, the Garden City Casino in San Jose. They have a reasonable structure for a small, local, daily tournament (one key indicator: You start with 120 Big Blinds, and after a full hour, the blinds have only doubled, so the starting stack is still 60 Big Blinds), so I'm making a dedicated effort to play in it once a week to keep in practice, make money, and work on my live tournament game.

I've discovered something interesting: every week when I play, I learn one new thing about my game or how I do or should play in a tournament. I either make a great play which I come up with at the table, or I miss making a play which in retrospect should have been clear. This in general excites me - the idea of my game growing by one new concept every week is a positive one, and I like the idea of continual improvement. Example things I've learned:

The Stop-N-Go

I've heard about the Stop-N-Go play (when shortstacked and out of position, you just call a raise preflop and shove the flop no matter the cards) but hadn't applied it to actual live play, as in recognizing a situation where it is definitely the right play. Three weeks ago such a situation came up and I did not use the play, and I should have (and, incidentally, probably would have won the pot if I had, but that's not the point of this article or the learning itself).

A super-tight older player on my right had been very careful the whole tourney (or rather, the hour I'd spent on his left). In fact, 30 minutes earlier, he had raised a normal preflop raise, I'd looked down at pocket queens, and reraised him to not quite three times his raise. Everyone folded around to him, and he looked at his cards and pondered for a while and then folded, despite having me covered and having plenty of extra chips behind. In a tournament like this, it's hard to imagine a decent hand with which he shouldn't have called there (I suppose he could have been preflop bluffing, but he had never shown even an inkling of such a move, so it seems unlikely). I suspect he folded something like JJ, TT, AQ, or possibly even QQ or KK. He was that tight.

So, the tournament progressed, we each lost a pot or two, and he had 15 big blinds and I had 14 big blinds when I looked down to see pocket fives. When the action came to tight old guy, he pondered for a bit, and then raised: to just barely double the big blind. Almost a minimum raise. I looked at him for a while and decided that he was so tight, that he had AK or AQ and was unwilling to raise a lot without a "made hand" preflop. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that's about all he could have: mid to low pairs he would fold, high pairs he'd raise more. So I decided that 14 big blinds was too little for me to put in a normal reraise, and I'd take the race at this point in the game. I shoved, everyone else folded, and he snap called and showed AK, as I'd suspected. We raced, the flop came 998, but the turn was an 8 so he won.

I realized after the fact that against a player this super tight, I can stop-n-go even in position. If I had smooth called his raise, everyone else almost certainly would have still folded (everyone recognized him as super tight and got out of his way when he raised), he would have checked the flop which held nothing for him, I shove, and he folds. Conversely, if the flop comes with an ace or king, he bets and I get out with still 11 big blinds.

All in all, the stop-n-go was absolutely the way to go there, but it had never occurred to me to put it into practice in that way before. I learned something new, and filed it away in "interesting tournament moves you can make".

Live and learn! Especially in poker. That's what I love about this game.

- MarkT 21:25, May 19, 2010 (UTC)