Now I know what they mean by “grinding”

After my PartyPoker account took a bit of a nosedive, I found myself with but $6.75 left to play with. Finding that my previous play strategy was getting me caught with my pants down a number of times – limping in with KT and missing flops, chasing flush draws that never come, etc. – I devised a new, ultra-tight strategy that so far has helped nurse my account out of critical condition. I call it “coasting”.

How does it work? Well, in the low-level PP Sit & Go tournaments, each player starts with 800 chips. Blinds start at 10/15, and go up every 10 hands. This is what I call “gravity” – the amount of chips you’re forced to put into the pot every 10 hands. It starts at 25, but increases at a close to exponential clip as the blinds increase and the number of players decrease. The trick is, you have to play extremely tight – no suited connectors, no baby pairs, not even my darling T7 – for the first three levels. Just about the only hands I’ll play are AA, KK, QQ, or JJ. If I do get one of those hands, though, I’ll jam* pre-flop. (If I get AK, I’ll limp in, see if I hit a pair or better, then jam if I do.)

The purpose of this strategy is not to win pots or dominate the table. Instead, I’m aiming to earn just enough profit to be able to play virtually no hands, withstand the gravity of the table, and still finish in the money. When I do make it that far, I’ll usually push all-in on the next decent hand I see, since I’ll almost certainly be the shorty at that point. So far, I’ve used this strategy four times and cashed three of the times, so it’s working out OK. (I might’ve gone 4-for-4, if not for someone who was trying to dump catching two pair against me.)

There are a few drawbacks to this super-conservative strategy. First, it’s not a really high-profit way to play. I haven’t won an S&G with this method, since I’ve usually got half the chips of the second-place player once we’re down to three, and I’ve only been able to use it on $5+1 S&Gs, meaning that my profits have only been $4-9. Secondly, there is often a point where you have to do a “leap of faith” play, push all-in, and hope to make a hand when you’re called. If you do, you’re golden; otherwise, game over. And of course, playing ultra-tight makes it more likely that you’ll fold hands that would’ve been monsters. In my last S&G, I let go of pocket nines that would’ve given me top set, and I didn’t overcall an all-in with AQ suited that would’ve won with top pair and top kicker. But I did feel relieved that I passed on an AJ hand that would’ve made top pair… but would’ve been behind to two pair and lost to a rivered set of tens.

On the bright side, $5+1 tables lend themselves extremely well for this sort of play, because the players don’t respect their buy-in as much as I do and as a result play like wild men. On my first experiment, the first player got knocked out on the second hand, and another got bounced on the fourth. Later on, we went from six-handed to four-handed as two players went all-in and both got cut down. I’ve yet to try this sort of strategy at a higher-level table, but something tells me I won’t get away with coasting as easily at $10+1 tables or higher.

My strategy up to this point has led to my once anemic $6.75 account to grow back to $17.75. (Of course, now that I’ve mentioned all this, you can expect this strategy to backfire and my balance will go straight into the toilet. But we’ll see.)

* – POKER LINGO: To “jam” is to move all-in with the specific intention of driving all the other players out of the hand. For example, if there’s 100 chips in the pot and I have 600 chips in my stack, an all-in move would be jamming the pot, since I’m forcing everyone to call six times the amount in the pot – far too much for any hand that isn’t a favorite to win, and probably too much for a hand that’s favored but vulnerable. Typically when you’re short-stacked, the popular tactic is “jam or fold”, meaning you either raise all-in or you don’t play the hand, since you run the risk of being bet out of the pot in later rounds if you just call.

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