I was recently in an online tourney with a $20,000 payout.
5,000 people entered and unfortunately I finished 352nd. I
have one hand in that tournament that haunts me every night
before I go to sleep, and I have to replay it in my mind
over and over again, I have even dreamt about it. Please let
me know what I did wrong so I can forgive myself for playing
the hand the way I played it.

Alright, the blinds were at 400/800. My stack was about 10k.
I get A-J off 1 spot before the button. Everyone folds to
me, and since I think A-J isn’t that strong, and it is one
of my “unlucky hands”, I only called the BB.

The guy on the button called as well, the SB folded, and the
BB doubled the bet. So, I said, well, another 800 is ok
cause I will probably be getting 5:1 on my money, assuming
that the guy on the button calls. He does, and the flop
comes K-A-8. No flush draws are present and the big blind
checks to me. I bet about 2,500 as a feeler bet, with top
pair to see where I stood in the hand. The guy on the button
goes all-in for his remaining 8,000, I figured he was
playing position and I was going to call him.

But, the BB goes all in for his remaining 7,000, and that
scared me because he was the original raiser pre-flop. I
knew he didn’t have A-K, but A-Q was a possibility and A-8
was too, as well as a pair of 8s in the hole. After
reviewing in my mind the betting sequences, I folded
thinking that one of them had either 2 pair, or trip 8s.

They turned up their cards, and the guy on the button had
K-5, and the BB had A-6… I was STUNNED! I could have taken
that pot, and the chip lead in the tournament and could have
either worked with that lead, or sat all the way to the
money, but instead I was forced to later go all in with a
moderate hand, and get beat by a pocket pair.

My logic about the hand seems good, the only mistake I think
I made was not raising a considerable amount pre-flop in the
position I was in, I think that if I did it and they still
called I would’a been pot committed to call and would have
won.

Please help me, tell me what I can do so this won’t happen
again.

Thanks,
D.C.

>>> MY COMMENTS:

Thank you for the detailed email. You’ve touched upon
several important concepts here– and I have some insights that
may help shed some light on the situation (or at the
very least, might stop the nightmares!).

First of all, let’s talk about the strategies that SHOULD
have been going through your head at the time.

ON POSITIONING…

You were sitting one seat to the right of the dealer button.
In this position, when you get a strong starting hand you
want to RAISE and “steal the button” if possible.

This technique is simple. You basically just want the player
to your left to FOLD, that way you get to act last after the
flop.

You don’t have to make a huge raise, just a simple 2-3x
multiple of the big blind. Most players will try to limp-in
when they’re on the button because it’s the best position at
the table.

Your raise will stop them from doing so– assuming they have
a mediocre hand.

ON ACE-JACK…

You called Ace-Jack off-suit one of your “unlucky hands”. The
truth is, you are NOT ALONE in this thinking. Far from it.

A-J is one of those hands that seems to get run down all the
time… and it drives many players nuts.

The REASON Ace-Jack is tricky is because you never know if
your opponent has A-Q or A-K… or if they have something
like A-10 or A-9.

The obvious solution is that you MUST ALWAYS find out “where
you stand” BEFORE THE FLOP.

Do not– I repeat, DO NOT– limp-in with Ace-Jack! When you
do, disasters like this occur.

Think about it: The REAL reason you lost this hand that you
“psyched yourself out” because you didn’t have a good read
on your opponents after the flop.

And why didn’t you have a good read?

Because you didn’t make a raise BEFORE the flop.

If you had made a 3x big blind raise, the player on the
button most likely would have folded… and the big blind
might have called with his A-6.

After calling, you could be confident that you’re ahead in
the hand… AND you wouldn’t have to worry as much about
someone hitting a lucky two pair, because it’d be heads-up
to see the flop.

If the big blind decided to RE-RAISE you, you’d know that
your A-J was probably beat… and in that case, you wouldn’t
commit more chips when the flop hit with A-K on the board.

Get it?

ON CHIP STACKS…

When the action came to you, there were 1,200 in blinds in
the pot, and your chip stack was at 10,000. That’s not many
chips– just over 10x the big blind.

But fortunately, you still had MORE chips than your other
two opponents. That means stealing the blinds would have
been an EXCELLENT move in this situation.

I mean, chances are your opponents do NOT have strong hands.
So without the chip stacks to bully you, you could have
confidently guessed they’d FOLD to a pre-flop raise.

Winning the blinds as often as possible is a CRUCIAL TACTIC
that you must implement, especially in a tournament like
this…

ON TOURNAMENT STRATEGY…

OK, so let’s review. Your positioning, your cards, and your
chip stack were all reasons you should have made a pre-flop
raise!

But if it makes you feel better, you DID make a smart move
with your post-flop feeler bet.

Now given the fact that you didn’t raise pre-flop, SHOULD
YOU HAVE FOLDED TO THE TWO-WAY ALL-IN?

To quote Matt Damon’s character in my favorite movie
“Rounders”:

“You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle. But you
can’t win much either.”

Possibly more important than the decision itself is what you
should have been THINKING ABOUT in order to MAKE the
decision.

If this had been a ring game, you would have wanted to make
the decision based on the betting patterns of your
opponents.

But since it was a tournament, you probably didn’t have time
to develop much of a read on these opponents…

Had I been in your shoes, I would have CALLED. I would not
have folded.

Here’s why:

After committing 1,600 chips pre-flop and 2,500 post-flop,
you’ve only got about 6,000 left. With the blinds at
400-800, that’s considered “short-stacked”.

As a general principle, when you have LESS THAN 10 times the
big blind, it’s time to make a move.

(The exception to this rule, of course, is in the VERY late
stages of a tournament– like a final table– when the
blinds are ridiculously high.)

But anyway… with just 6,000 chips, my guess is that you
were too afraid of LOSING the tournament.

And I’d venture to say you weren’t thinking enough about
WINNING the tournament.

The reality is, the chance to TRIPLE up with top pair and a
solid kicker is not common. Especially since there were no
flush or straight draws on the board.

This was your “golden opportunity” to build a respectable
stack and set yourself up for a nice payout.

The ability to take a risk and “go for it” in this situation
is what often times separates the AVERAGE tournament players
from the PROS.

If you analyzed the players at the final table of a
5,000-player tournament like this– or even a 500-player
tournament– you’d find that ALL of them won a couple HUGE
pots earlier.

Maybe even more than a couple.

Just remember this mantra:

IN ORDER TO WIN, YOU MUST RISK LOSING.

That’s why you see “pros” often get eliminated from
tournaments in the very EARLY stages. It’s not because of
bad beats, it’s because they TOOK A BIG RISK and it didn’t
work out.

Next time you’re in this situation, stick to your game plan
of “tight-aggressive”. If you’re going to enter a pot, do it
with some gusto.

Raise pre-flop, bet post-flop when you hit top pair, and
call the all-in in hopes of tripling up.

Of course… what’s done is done, and there’s no sense
beating yourself up about it.

Believe me, I’ve made PLENTY of mistakes that were probably
a HUNDRED times as dumb as this one…

You’ve just got to get over it. Learn from the experience
and move on.