Freeroll stategy Part II; How to play

by ~ April 17th, 2008. Filed under: Instructional posts, poker.


* Modified June 15th, 2010 *

Now we’ll get into what cards to play and how to play them. Part II of How to Play Poker for no Money; the Freeroll Strategy.

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Okay, so you registered on a site, found the freerolls, managed to register in one.

Now,

  1. How much are you in it to earn money?
  2. How much are you playing just to play or practice poker?
  3. How much patience do you have?
  4. How important is “playing proper poker” to you?

See, for me the relative importance of each of these aspects varies every time I play no matter what kind of situation I am playing in. To cash in freerolls, 1) and 3) are the most important. You have to have your eye on the prize. You also have to have and to maintain almost extreme patience at times.

If you are playing to play or to learn, your chances of winning decrease. You will call too often preflop, call too often after the flop, and after doing so a couple of times you will find yourself with a few chips left and someone puts you all in and you’ll just say “what the heck, maybe I’ll get lucky on the river, or maybe he’s bluffing” and you’ll call and get eliminated. Also, a winning freeroll strategy is not a good learning base for other poker situations.

If it’s important to you to play “proper poker”, that is, betting to give bad pot odds to those who might call, calling because you have pot odds to complete your open ended straight draw, your chance of winning decreases. You will get sucked out by players who don’t know what pot odds mean, or bet out of pots when both your opponents shove over your bet at a King-high-no draw flop. In a freeroll even players who know how to play “properly” won’t do so, either because they know that this is not the best approach to playing freerolls or because they don’t much care about the outcome. Trying to apply good poker strategy throughout is only going to cause you frustration in freerolls.

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Okay, so how do you play?

We’ve established that you have to go very deep in order to win any prize money. Contrary to what the players seem to think, this does not mean play lots of hands early and hit a hand and build a big stack. Survival is paramount, especially with lots of bad players being very active early on. Play a very tight/passive style at the beginning:

  • Raise only AA/KK/QQ/JJ. Call all-ins preflop only with these same hands plus AK.
  • Try see the flop cheaply with any other pair, suited connector, suited Ace or AQ/AJ/AT. If it’s raised even a small amount, mostly throw these away unless there are other people in or likely to stay in. We are trying to hit monsters for cheap or else get out of the way.
  • If someone at your table is raising every second hand, push all-in over their raise with the pairs and big Ace hands.

On the flop, if you catch two pair or better, play very aggressively as weak players will overvalue their own hands and call you down with mediocre hands. If you have a good draw, keep going if it’s cheap.

Don’t be afraid to bet for value if you catch something. Say you get a free pass in the big blind when one person limps and the small blind completes. You have K6 and K84 comes on the flop. Bet out with 2/3 of the pot. If you get raised, throw it away. Most times you’ll take it down, but if someone calls you, try to to get to showdown cheaply as you only have top pair with a weak kicker. Often you’ll find the caller had A8/A4 or 76 for a gutshot draw. You want to see the showdown cheaply though in case he has K9.

Be patient. You’re going to fold a lot of hands preflop, either because you don’t have one of these hands to play or because you limped in but someone made a big raise after you. Conserve your chips. In these early stages you’re doing two things by being patient. First, you’re staying out of trouble and out of the way of the idiots who push all in when they hit middle pair. Wait for these guys to knock each other out. Second, save your chips for when you hit a monster so that instead of doubling up from 1,000 to 2,000 you can double up from 1,350 to 2,700.

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So, you survived the first few orbits. Time to crank up the aggression. Limping is no longer an option. The blinds are up to 50/100 or so and you’re in one of three situations:

  1. You’ve lost chips due to a couple hands that didn’t lead anywhere or someone shoved and you thought the better of risking all your chips to find out if he really could beat your top pair/weak kicker. You have 500-800 chips.
  2. You’re down or up only a few chips. You have 900 to 1,800 chips.
  3. You’ve picked up one or more pots with monsters or idiots overvaluing their hands. You have 2,000 or more chips.

In situation 1), you have to pick a good situation (decent cards and/or late position with tight, medium stacked players in the blinds) and shove all your chips in. You can no longer wait for monster hands because the blinds will eat you up. Also, your stack is getting too small which means that players won’t be afraid to call you if you shove all your chips in the middle.

The range of hands opens up pretty wide now. Any pairs, any Aces, as well as any two big cards are hands to consider shoving. With the weaker hands we might consider folding if two or more players have already put in more than our stack.

Don’t limp. Unless you want to take a risk and get tricky with AA/KK, your only play should be all in. Aggression alone can win you a few blinds, and hopefully when you do get called your hand catches or holds up.

In situation 2) you’re only a few more hands away from situation 1). If you’re in the low end (800 to 1,200) you can afford to wait another orbit or so if you don’t get a favorable situation, but your play is still all in.

If you are in the high end (1,300 – 1,800) you can afford to raise rather than push all-in, then make one continuation bet on the flop. Otherwise, you’re done with the hand if someone reraises or bets into you and you’ve missed the flop.

If you’re in situation 3) you’ve got to pressure the other players. Look for favorable situations like late position, tight players in the blinds, or decent cards (notice I didn’t and position, tight player and cards because if you have the first two you don’t need cards). Raise, continuation bet reasonable flops, make the other players make difficult decisions. Don’t go crazy, but look for opportunities to put pressure on. If someone gets aggressive, don’t be stupid and fight back with nothing. Lay them down and wait for the next opportunity.

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Basically this last section just keeps repeating over and over again with the crucial point being around 10 big blinds or so. When you get lower than 10 big blinds you start looking for an opportunity to push all in. When you have more than 15 big blinds, look for opportunities to pressure other players.

Luck/chance/variance always plays a part. You will win some hands when you started out behind and you will lose some hands when you started out ahead. You just hope that you win when you are short stacked and all-in, and lose when your opponent was the one short stacked.

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If you stick with this tight-tight/passive then aggressive approach you’ll be playing the opposite of 85% of the other players. Most players see the low early blinds and think they should get active while the cost is low, and when the blinds rise they get scared. This is the opposite of how they should be playing. Another 5% will be loose all the way through, and another 5% tight/weak all the way through. If either of these last two styles of players go very far it will be purely on luck.

btw, the only difference between this recommendation and standard tournament play is the extra tight and passive early recommendation. This is to avoid playing too many hands against the very worst of the players. They outnumber the better players and will knock each other out, but be careful ’cause they may take you with them as well when their runner-runner straight comes in and takes out your neighbour and his TPTK, the missed flush draw of the short stack, and your set of 9s all at once.

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Don’t be afraid if a big stack gets moved to your table. In all likelihood a lot of luck went into collecting those chips. Unless you happen to run into Chris Ferguson when he was working his bankroll challenge, that big stack is no better a player than you or else they wouldn’t be playing a freeroll. Just be careful because that big stack can risk taking you out without denting his stack. If you see that he’s loose, he’s a bank just waiting for you to cash in.

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There are a lot of other poker concepts that can go into playing freerolls well such as reads (although I often do better if I’m not paying full attention. I think there’s a trade-off between detachment/patience with attention), fold equity, ICM, plays based on the flop and position, ect. These you can learn from other sources or other entries that I have in the blog and are outside the realm of what I’m trying to convey here.

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Compendium of instructional posts:

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