Try to play more hands against bad players and less against good ones.

The CSIs

oK, you made it to the money. What now?

Step back for a moment and take stock of the situation—figure out your CSI. Note the CSI of everyone at your table. Who has medium-sized chip stacks, big stacks, and short stacks? These counts don’t need to be exact; close is good enough. What’s the average chip count for all players remaining in the tournament? If you’re playing online at PokerStars.com, this information can be obtained by clicking the info tab. In live play it’s often displayed on a screen that also tells you how many players remain and how much time is left at the current level. At your table, is the average stack sufficient to play poker (CSI of 10 or greater) or is everyone approaching “push-and-pray” time, where they have to move all-in on every hand they play? (Remember that if you’re committing more than 1/3 of your chips by raising, it’s best to push all-in.) All these factors have a major effect on what course of action you should take.

Sizing Up the Players

Not surprisingly, you’ve entered a stage where many players will go broke. They’ve made the money and there’s palpable relief in the air. The dynamics have now changed in potentially advantageous ways. Some of the short stacks who hung on like grim death and folded their way into the money will now open up, sticking it all-in with a wide range of hands and the attitude, “I’m going to gamble and double up …or go home!”

What tactics should you employ to take advantage of this? In general, you want to avoid players who probably have real hands and gamble a bit more with those likely to have random hands. you’ll need to decide who’s who and nothing I say can provide an exact guideline. By carefully observing the opposition, however, you may unearth some helpful clues. Here are some things to look for online:

  1. Pay careful attention to hands that are shown down. If a player is raising with weak hands, you can expand your range of calling hands. Conversely, if a player has a liberal range of calling hands, you’ll need to tighten up your raising requirements.
  2. Identify players who don’t seem to have regard for position or don’t take advantage of position.
    A player who’ll play a marginal hand out of position is a good one to target. Players who have position, but don’t have the courage to bet without having a good hand if it’s checked to them, are also prime candidates for plucking. A big part of playing position is the ability to pick up pots by betting when everyone else has checked. Players who can’t bet without a decent hand lose a lot of the advantage that comes with being last to act. When they check behind you on the flop, you can usually pick up the pot by betting the turn. Playing pots against these players is lucrative.
  3. Look for players who don’t seem to understand pot odds. A player who tries to complete a draw when he’s being offered poor odds is making a mistake. For example, if you bet the size of the pot on the turn and your opponent is drawing to a flush, he’ll only be getting 2-to1 pot odds as a 4-to-1 underdog. you want to get involved with gamblers such as this.
  1. Identify those who don’t seem to understand implied odds and let you in cheaply when you can make a hand that can bust them. Inexperienced players with a hand such as AA may make tiny bets attempting to suck money out of you, while giving you a very good price to draw to a straight or flush. Then when you make it, they’ll call when you move in. Perfect!
  2. Earmark players who seem to be playing too many hands. If a player is raising 30%-40% of the time, he can’t have that many premium hands. These are good candidates for re-steals, usually by moving all-in. Most of the time, their hand won’t be strong enough to call.


You hold Jh Jd and have a stack of 54,000 in the hijack seat with blinds and antes of 600/1200/100. A loose-aggressive player to your right makes it 2,400 to go off a stack of 32,000. what should you do? Re-raise to 7,200. You don’t have to move all-in here to play the hand properly. You also don’t want to just call and let those behind you enter the pot cheaply. The chance that the LAG player has a big hand are quite small. Not only is it much easier for him to be fishing around for a cheap flop, but he made this mini-raise after the first three players passed.
If it goes back to the mini-raiser and he moves all-in, I’d call for multiple reasons. First, you have more chips than he does. Second, he might make this play with AQs or 77 or any other hand that has some value, in hopes that you’ll lay your hand down, or that he’ll get lucky. Third, his play makes little sense after 3 passers. Fourth, our hand is Category 2 and is only inferior to a few other hands. And last, this player is a LAG, so his actions are suspect. The result of this analysis is an easy call, even if it’s hard to verbalize all the reasons until you gain more experience.

The smaller someone’s stack is the more likely they are to have a random hand when they move all in.

Picking Off the Desperados

Who’s likely to have a random hand? Someone with a CSI of less than 3, for example, is desperate to find a playable hand. An example of this might be someone with 6,400 when the blinds are 600/1,200 with an ante of 100. For a chart that will help you understand which hands to raise and call with at a CSI of over 10, see Appendix C. of course, you don’t want to double up any short stack unnecessarily, but once you recognize how desperate the other player is, a call is correct in many cases.

When someone goes all-in for no more than 2.5 times the big blind, it’s correct to call with any two cards. No hand is more than a 3-to-1 underdog against a random hand, so if the pot’s offering you bigger odds than this, you should call in every case, no matter what you hold! I encourage you to call before you look, so that a garbage hand doesn’t give you second thoughts. If you pass, you might survive longer, but you’re giving up value that could lead to an intimidating presence.


You have Ah 4s in the big blind with a stack of 34,000 and blinds and antes of 600/1,200/100 (CSI=12). The cutoff moves all-in with a stack of 5,500. No one else is in the pot. Call. He has a CSI of 2 and should move in with many hands. Your ace-high is strong enough to call. Even if he shows up with KK from time to time, you can still win the hand. If you lose, you won’t be severely damaged.

You have 7c2h in the big blind with 19,000 chips (CSI of 7); the blinds and antes are 600/1,200/100 and the button moves all-in for 2,900. No one else is in the pot. Call. It’s not necessary to even look at your cards. It costs you 1,700 more to win 5,600. Even with this, the worst of all starting hands, you should call.

Isolation Play

At this stage of the tournament, there will be times when a short stack moves-in. If you and other players behind you have substantially larger stacks and you have a playable hand, you’re faced with a decision. Should you raise or just call?

If you call, other players who have yet to act may also call. It’s a common misconception that this improves your equity, since two of you are now ganging up on the all-in player. you’re often better off isolating the all-in player, who’s frequently desperate and has only a marginal hand., by raising and chasing off other competitors, maximizing your chances of winning the pot. Calling rather than raising also offers aggressive opponents the opportunity to re-raise and chase you out of the pot.

The result of these dynamics is that you need to use your strongest hands to protect your more vulnerable ones when calling, while re-raising with your medium-strong hands. I suggest the following approach if you’re in position (between the raiser and the button):

Call with AA, KK, QQ, and Category 4 and 5 hands. If you’re on the button, call also with Category 6 hands.

Re-raise with AK, AQ, JJ, TT, and 99.
If you’re out of position in the small blind:
Call with AA, KK, QQ, and Category 6 hands.
Re-raise with AK, AQ, JJ, TT, 99, and all Category 4 and 5 hands.
Notice that you play more aggressively when out of position than in position. This is due to the fact that you’ll have to act first post-flop if the big blind calls, so you want to discourage the big blind from playing. When you do call, you’ll do so with your strongest and weakest hands, leaving your opponents guessing.

Be aware that your opponents may be making isolation plays too so just because someone re- raises an all in player doesn’t necessarily mean they have a monster.


You hold Ac Jh and have a stack of 28,400 on the button with blinds and antes of 600/1200/100.
A loose-aggressive player two to your right moves all-in for 5,400. what should you do? Call.
It’s incorrect to either re-raise or to fold. Some players would move all-in, but that would be a mistake. The pot has been raised already and by calling, you keep a lot of options open. You have position throughout the play of the hand if someone does over-call and if you make a strong hand, you might be able to punish him. 

Now you’re in the little blind and everything else is the same as in Example 1 above. Now what? Move-in! Because you have to play the whole hand out of position if the big blind enters the fray, pushing all-in is now your best move. Notice the importance of position in making the correct play. 

You have 32,000 in the little blind with blinds and antes of 600/1,200/100 and a hand of 6h 6d. The cutoff goes all-in for 5,300. It’s passed to you and the big blind is an aggressive player with 38,000 in chips. what’s your play? Move all-in. You don’t want to call, only to have the big blind over-call with position behind you for the rest of the hand. Unless you flop a set, your hand is unlikely to play well after the flop. If your aggressive foe re-raises pre-flop, it’s even worse. Now you may be put to a tough decision for all your chips. Guess wrong and you’ll likely be walking to the exit, replaying the possibilities in your mind and thinking there must’ve been a way to win the pot. Instead of opening all these unappetizing options for your opponent, just move all-in and put him to the test. The only pair he’s likely to lay down that beats you before the flop is 77, but he won’t be calling with hands such as Q9s and KJo that you’d rather he didn’t play. It’s hard enough to beat the all-in player, much less expose yourself to the problems the big blind might give you. Only 4% of the time will the big blind wake up with a bigger pair than 66. 

Defending Against the Isolation Play

Factors to consider when defending against the isolation play are your chip stack, the strength of your hand, and the tendencies of your opponent. Here are a few examples that illustrate the integration of these considerations.


A player in middle position makes a standard raise to 3,600 off a stack of 10,400 with blinds and antes of 600/1,200/100. The cutoff moves all-in for 31,000. You’ve just come to the table and know nothing about the playing styles of these two players. You have Ac Kd in the small blind. whether or not to call depends on the size of your chip stack. If you have a CSI of either more than 25 (67,500) or less than 10 (27,000), call. Between these two extremes and lacking any additional information, fold. 

Everything is as in Example 1 above, but now you hold 9c 9h in the big blind. Calculate your approximate CSI and use the same guidelines. If you have a big stack of more than 25 CSI or a smallish stack of less than 10 CSI, call. If your CSI is between 25 and 10 the best play is to let it go. 

Same situation as the two above examples only this time you’ve identified the player in the cutoff as a loose aggressive player (LAG). You’re in the big blind with 9c 9h and a stack of 39,000. Call. Even though you may have to beat two players, your focus in the hand is the LAG with the bigger stack. It’s likely that he’s making a play here and will show down a small pair or, at best, two over-cards such as KQ. If he had a bigger pair than you, would he play it this way? Unlikely. It’s a lot more likely he’d raise it to 10,000 and hope to get a customer. 

If you’re short- stacked move in whenever you think you won’t be called.

Attacking the Short Stacks

This is the one stage of a tournament where I recommend actively going after short stacks. Whenever you have the biggest stack that has yet to act out-chipped by about a 4-to-1 margin, you can put on your bully hat and move all-in. Push all-in with every hand you play, so you’re certain to have your opponents covered, while giving away nothing about your hand. you can make this play with any pair, any ace,

any two suited cards, and any hand that has a blackjack value of 15. Fold equity is what makes this play correct. often, your opponents will fold a better hand than yours.

If You’re the Short-Stack

When you have a CSI that has dipped below 5, consider yourself short-stacked and move all-in at any time with any two cards if you think there’s a good chance that you won’t be called. If there’s a limper in front of you, ignore him if your all-in is at least six times his initial bet. If two or more limpers have entered the pot before you act, add one big blind for each limper to the above requirement—with 3 limpers you need at least 8 big blinds to move in. Although it might be more difficult to get past three limpers, no one has shown any strength and it’s likely they’re all trying to see a cheap flop. If they do all fold, you’ve picked up some precious extra chips.

This is an easy play to make if you have some value in your hand. Value can be any pair, any ace, suited connectors (even those with a gap), and any hand with 19 blackjack points in it, but if you’re at a tight table and have a big enough stack to still be threatening, you can loosen up your standards a bit more. It’s best to err on the side of aggression and go out in a blaze of glory with some hope of winning, rather than to be eaten alive by the rising blinds and antes without putting up a fight.

you need a better hand to call a raise than you need to push when you’re first in—Category 5 or better if you have a CSI of 5; Category 6 or better if you have a CSI of 4; Category 7 or better if you have a CSI of 3 or 2; and Category 8 or better if you have a CSI of 1.


You hold 9h8h in the hijack position with a stack of 10,700 and the blinds and antes are 600/1200/100. It’s passed to you. what should you do? Move all-in. The standard raise would be to 3,600 and that’s more than one third of your remaining stack. Moving all-in increases your fold equity, eliminates all decisions, and maximizes the chance that you’ll win it right now. 

You hold As Js in the cutoff position with blinds and antes of 600/1,200/100 and a stack of 13,000. It’s passed to you. what should you do? Move in your entire 13,000 stack. Hopefully, you chose this option without a lot of hesitation. Looking at Appendix C, you’ll see that AJs is in the top 10% of all hands dealt. If you’re called, you’ve a reasonable chance to win and if you’re not called, you’ll increase your stack significantly. 

You hold Qs9s in the cutoff position with blinds and antes of 600/1,200/100 and 10,400 chips, a CSI of 4. It’s passed to you. what should you do? Move in. You’re desperate to acquire chips and should take this opportunity to try to pick up the pot. 


  1. Evaluate the remaining field, and your table in particular.
  2. Play situations, adjusting to what your opponents are likely to do.
  3. Use the isolation play, and know how to play against it.
  4. Attack, and confront, short stacks.
  5. Play aggressively when you’re the short stack, especially when no one has raised.

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Author: Billy Walters