Arts & Entertainment

The Stop and Go Play

There are all kinds of ploys you can use at the poker table. Here’s a little trick that’s very effective in No Limit Hold’em tournaments. It’s known as the stop and go play.

You’re in a tournament and are sitting on a short stack in relation to the other players. The blinds are 200-400 with a 50 ante, and you have 3,200 in chips remaining. Everyone folds to the button whose big stack of 82,000 dominates. He raises the pot to 1,200.

The small blind folds, and you, in the big blind, hold A-Q. You feel it’s the best hand. The dilemma you face is whether to go all-in right now and raise your last 2,000, or to just call the bet and see what the flop brings.

I’ll bet that most players would probably move all-in before the flop.  After you read this column, though, you’ll understand why it’s often much better to call and see the flop.

Presume that the button is on a steal-raise; since he has so many chips, he’d likely call your 2,000 re-raise with virtually any two cards. If he does call the raise with a hand like K-10, he’d get to look at all five community cards, and he’d also knock you out of the tournament about 38% of the time.

Well, moving all-in pre-flop is the correct play in some situations, but not in this case.

Your opponent would only have to call 2,000 to win about 5,000. Not many hands are that much of an underdog before the flop. In fact, calling with a hand as lousy as 2-3 offsuit wouldn’t be such a bad idea; even it will beat A-K over 34% of the time.

Okay, so now that we’ve established that your opponent will usually call your all-in raise, why wouldn’t you want that to happen if you think A-Q is the best hand?

Remember, in tournament poker, it’s all about survival. Sometimes you must sacrifice value in order to survive. In this case, if you wait until after the flop, you can actually increase your chance of winning the pot.

Here’s where you can use the stop and go play.

Instead of going all-in before the flop, just call the 1,200 raise from the player on the button. You can use your remaining 2,000 to (hopefully) force your opponent out later in the hand.

Keep in mind, though, when you make the call before the flop, you must be committed to moving the rest of your chips all-in regardless of that flop. The only time you might want to divert from that plan is if you flop a very strong hand.

When that doesn’t happen, and the flop comes something like 9-6-4, 8-3-3, or even K-7-2, bet your last 2,000 immediately, hoping that your opponent will fold. You may even be able to bluff your opponent out: If the flop comes J-10-9 and your opponent has a pair of fours, he’ll probably just give up right there.

Now, if your opponent holds the K-10, the flop comes 9-6-4, and he does call your 2,000 bet, he’d only win the pot approximately 25% of the time. Calling would be a mistake for him and you would benefit.

Stop and go play not only increases your chances of survival, it can also force your opponent into mistakes after the flop. If you move all-in before the flop, your opponent would be absolutely correct to call with his K-10, but he’d be making an error if he called after the flop.
The fundamental theorem of poker, coined by author David Sklansky, dictates that anytime your opponent plays a hand differently than he would have, given that he could see your cards, you gain.

Based on that theory, stop and go play offers more opportunities for your opponent to make a mistake. Because you’ve already made your decision before the flop, putting in your last chips after that juncture doesn’t require much thought. Your opponent, however, still has to make a difficult decision that he wouldn’t have faced earlier.

Visit to submit your questions and comments to poker champion Daniel Negreanu.

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