Saturday, November 03, 2007

'Tight Players Don't Win Tournaments'

(Haley here, finishing up a few loose ends on the night and unable to get away from the computer.)

Have you ever heard the expression "Tight Players Don't Win Tournaments"? It's a mantra of modern-day tourney play, and it seems to fly in the face of the "tight is right" theme that's just about the first thing most serious poker players learn. But in poker terms it's live fast, die fast for Obrestad, the same as it is with a Dario Minieri or Alex Jacob or a handful of other young, hyper-aggressive players. It can mean a lot of fast exits when it goes bad early, but given a few good cards and a lucky break or two, these players can amass some deep stacks, and then have the rest of the field chasing them, trying to play their game.

So "tight makes right" isn't always the best, it seems.

The tradeoff, of course, is that the tighter and more judicious the play, the greater the chance of running at least fairly deep and having a sniff at the money. What happens to the tighter players, then, is they end up on in a spot where they need to win a big showdown for all their chips, with the Obrestads and Minieris sitting behind deep stacks, willing to make the call. Perhaps it's a bit of a freeroll for the aggro players at that point... but getting to the top of the board in the first place is the real skill.

It's a skill beyond most players, this one included. I'd like to share personal tales of all the times I dominated the tourney throughout and stomped my opponents into submission, but the truth is, I just don't have many --- maybe any --- tales of that type. On the rare occasions that I've done well in smaller tourneys, it's invariably been a situation where I've won that late showdown (or two of them, or three), and surged to the top very late.

Tight may be right, but tight players make lousy frontrunners.

And tight would still always be right, if it weren't for the skew that most tournaments' graduated payout schedules offer. It's the extreme jumps in pay for the highest few spots that justify the risk/reward ratio of the hyper-aggressive play, even if most of us recognize it but still can't pull it off.

So, we adjust and learn, even as other players are adjusting and learning and the entire concept of optimal tournament poker shifts over time. A decade ago a tighter style of player took home the money, but at the moment the looser aggro types have the upper hand. It may evolve to the point that so many people play the loose aggro style that it becomes generally unprofitable to do so, and play shifts back to the tighter end of the scale. For now, though, having the willingness to donk it up a bit increases both the risk and the potential reward.

Will Obrestad stay as hot as she is at the moment? Of course not. No one is -this- good. I remember watching a few months ago when she took down the big Sunday Guarantee on Full Tilt, and with a nod to the crazed fanboys at the rail, she got lucky there, too. She played great, but she still needed several key suckouts to take it down, particularly in the wild three-way seesaw that decided the thing. Most times, those suckouts don't come.

It's very refreshing to see a young female on the poker scene that's really, really good and not just a parlor trick a la Brandi Hawbaker. There's the added bonus for blog readers in that it gives the Wicked Chops boys fits; just for that and that alone it'd be great to see Obrestad win one every three weeks or so. (*wink!*) Unfortunately, that's not gonna happen, not that it'd slow Snake and Chops down any. Makes good reading, anyway...

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