There’s an old adage for comebacks in poker tournaments: all you need is a chip and a chair. It’s an encouraging expression meaning as long you’re still in it (‘it’ being a tournament), then you can still win it. Never give up, even if you’re down to your last chip.
But it’s not just a hopeful motto. It actually happens. As we see in Episode 2 of Between the Lines, Italy’s Giuliano Bendinelli came back from just one big blind to capture the European Poker Tour (EPT) Barcelona Main Event in 2022, winning almost €1.5 million.
Extraordinary comebacks take place in Formula 1, too. In the same episode, we see defending champion Max Verstappen battling against adversity at the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix, starting in the 14th position on the grid but putting on a masterclass to clinch victory for Oracle Red Bull Racing.
But for you to get down to a single big blind and need comebacks in poker tournaments, something bad must have happened. Either a move went awry, a flip was lost, or a worst-case scenario: you took a bad beat. This can have a major impact on your mental state at the table, not to mention your poker strategy.
So, what’s the best way to proceed when you find yourself needing to make comebacks in poker tournaments, feeling down and out? How can you dig deep and put adversity in the rear-view mirror? And strategy-wise, what’s the best way to play a short stack and give yourself a shot at a comeback?
When the chips are down, champions dig deep…
Ep.2 of ‘Between the Lines’ explores adversity and two incredible comebacks from the world of poker and racing. ♠️ 🏁
— PokerStars (@PokerStars) June 13, 2023
TIPS FOR TAMING TILT
When something frustrating happens on the racetrack – an inefficient and costly pit stop, for example, or dangerous actions from a competitor – it’s imperative that the drivers remain calm and composed. They’re travelling at high speeds and one wrong move could be disastrous.
There’s no threat to your physical safety in poker, however, so we often see players give in to their anger when something frustrating happens – such as losing a big pot and dropping down to a short stack. The result? Bad play. Giving up and spewing off the rest of your chips, when you might have forged a comeback had you been patient.
This is known as ‘tilt’ and even the game’s greatest players would admit to feeling it from time to time. There are only so many times you can be all-in as a 90% favourite and lose before it starts to get to you.
The best course of action to counter it is to understand what tilt is, and how you can avoid it.
There are ways you can tame tilt to give yourself a shot at success.
In ‘The Mental Game of Poker’ by mental game coach Jared Tendler and co-author Barry Carter (one of the most critically acclaimed poker books of the modern era) Tendler breaks down the seven types of tilt (yep, seven!) and provides strategies for not letting tilt negatively affect your game.
HOW TO MAKE COMEBACKS IN POKER TOURNAMENTS
Once you’ve shaken off the loss of chips, your tournament begins again. Only this time, you’re starting behind, just like Verstappen did in Belgium. And just like Verstappen, you too can still end up victorious.
Short-stack strategy is crucial in poker tournaments, particularly when you’re near the money bubble or when the pay jumps become significant. Sometimes outlasting a few more players can make all the difference.
At some point, though, you’re going to need to accumulate chips to make a comeback. That means going all in at the right time and doubling up.
But that involves knowing when to push all in and when to fold.
In the video below, PokerStars Team Pro Lex Veldhuis takes us through some short-stack play, showing us when to play aggressively and when to play passively as a player with few chips.
From there, it’s all about successfully manoeuvring your way through the rest of the tournament. Entering pots when it’s in your best interest. Sticking around when you have the right amounts of equity. Stealing blinds, using your fold equity, and hopefully, doubling up again and again.
In the next video from Veldhuis, he shows us how to manage the many decisions a short-stack player faces as they rally to win chips and put themselves in a position to win.
HOW TO SURVIVE WHEN CARD DEAD
Of course, it’s hard to make a comeback if you’re dealt no good cards whatsoever.
We’ve all been there. Hand after hand, orbit after orbit, you’re dealt nothing but bad cards. You can see your rejuvenated chip stack dwindling down once again as the blinds and antes escalate. You begin to feel the pressure.
And that’s when mistakes are made, and your tournament chances get destroyed.
So, what’s the best way to deal with a long stretch of being card-dead?
You’ve got to stay disciplined. You’ve got to pay attention and observe. You’ve got to think about situations, not hands. And you’ve got to know when to make your move.
In a nutshell, when you’ve suffered a big loss in a poker tournament, the one thing you should never do is give away the remainder of your stack because you think you have no shot.
Because you do.
Like Bendinelli, all you need is a chip and a chair.
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