The World Series of Poker and several other stops on the tournament circuit often hold special “shootout" style events. These are among my favorite games to play.
In a traditional Hold’em tournament, if there are, say, 100 entrants, play starts with ten tables of ten players each. As soon as ten players are eliminated, tables are broken up and the remaining competitors fill in seats at the other nine tables. This process continues until there’s just one table left, and one player who wins the tournament.
A shootout works differently.
A shootout might start with ten tables of ten players each, but these tables don’t break down as players are eliminated. Instead, each table plays down until one player remains at each of the ten tables. Those ten players then move to the final table where each starts with an equal amount of chips.
In my opinion, shootouts require more skill than traditional tournaments.
To advance in shootouts, players are forced to play well under a variety of circumstances: full table play, short-handed play, three-handed play, and, ultimately, heads-up play. In a traditional tournament, just hanging in there and trying to survive can get you all the way to the final table. Not so in a shootout, because all ten players are in a must-win situation and have to play accordingly.
That’s the biggest mistake I see players make in these events. Their mindset is often on surviving, since that's their normal approach to traditional tournament play. In a shootout, however, second place through tenth place pay exactly the same amount — zilch!
The correct approach to winning a shootout (and for that matter, any winner-take-all Sit & Go tournament) is to really go for it. Because the blinds start out small, you can choose to set up a conservative table image that you can look to exploit later. But once the blinds escalate you need to start dancing.
Sitting back and waiting for others to go broke may work in a typical tournament, but it’s a faulty strategy in a shootout. It's all about the top prize, so your game plan should be to play aggressively and take advantage of those that are just trying to survive.
When pros talk about their game, they’ll often say something like, "I try to avoid playing coin flip situations with marginal hands.” In a shootout, the decision to play marginal hands is irrelevant. Your goal is first place and nothing less. Your sole focus must be on making the correct fundamental plays. If that means you need to gamble all of your chips with pocket fives against A-K in a classic coin flip, then so be it.
Here’s a good example of a marginal hand where it makes sense to risk it all in a shootout.
You hold Jh-10h and call the raise of a solid player. The flop comes Kh-7d-2h, giving you a flush draw. Your opponent bets again.
A big raise on your part might be an excellent play. If he’s bluffing, or doesn't have a hand like A-K or better, there’s a good chance that he'll fold to your raise. Even if he does call, you’ll still have a decent shot at winning a big pot if you complete the flush.
In traditional tournaments, this play is a little too kamikaze for my taste. In shootout formats, it makes a lot of sense and can make you a winner.
Editor’s note: Shortly after writing this column, Daniel placed 3rd out of 900 players at the 2007 WSOP $1,500 shootout tournament. He won $101,351.
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