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Sunday Million Early Game Strategy

November 15, 2019
by Dave Roemer

So you’ve got your ticket to the Sunday Million. You’ve prepared mentally, are well rested, have some snacks on hand, and the game is about to start. Now that it’s go-time, how should you approach the early game strategy? In this article, we are going to talk about just that.

At the start of the tournament, the stacks will be very deep relative to the blinds. This means a few things:

  • We are likely to be at this table, with the same opponents, for longer than normal.
  • We should seek the strongest chip accumulation spots while protecting our stack when things seem uncertain.
  • Early setbacks are of little concern, so we shouldn’t panic when faced with them.

Let’s talk about each of these in order. Firstly, with deep stacks and low blinds in the early levels, it’s reasonable to assume we may be playing at this table, with these opponents, for longer than perhaps any other table we find ourselves during the event. Getting reads quickly becomes of paramount importance so we can seek opportunities to capitalize on this situation. Some things to look for specifically with the players to your right:

  • How do they enter the pot? Limping or calling, or raising mostly? Add to that what types of hands they are showing down, and we can draw some conclusions about their “strategy” which we can adjust to exploit.
  • Players that are limping, to they call a raise? Fold to a raise? If they call, how did they proceed post flop? If we see someone limp from early position, call a raise, then call down on a board of KJ739 with a hand like 76o, then we know immediately they are a loose/passive station type of player. Let’s raise to isolate their limps, sizing up to accomplish that goal, with our stronger hands, and value bet them relentlessly with the goods. Don’t bluff them, that won’t work well vs. this type of player.
  • Players that open raise, pay attention to what they show from early position. While players may well open relatively wide in late position, in EP they should really be snugger. When you see someone who’s open-raised in EP show down a hand like 54s, J8s, KJo or worse, you have a great opportunity. This player is opening way too wide to adequately defend vs. 3-bets. They will either have to fold too often or continue with inadequate values too often, out of position, vs. your aggression. As a bonus, you are also much more likely to isolate them when 3-betting their raise, vs. making the first raise after a limper. This is one of the more profitable situations you can find yourself in, isolating against EP players opening too loose.

And with the players on your left:

  • When there are limpers in front, how liberally do they over-limp? Raise to isolate? What types of hands do they have when they get shown? When they call raises, how sticky are they? Many players at this stage will call raises liberally, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. The may catch a piece of the flop and peel the turn, hoping to improve. Will they call down with their marginal holding, or yield on the turn or river unimproved? Determining the difference will tell you who you can barrel against for value with your good hands vs. who you can barrel off with bluffs. How about when the players on your left 3-bet? If those hands get shown, are they only strong hands, or are they re-raising lighter? This information will help guide you on how to proceed when they 3-bet your opens!

While we are always striving to accumulate chips, the true disaster in the early stages is losing all of ours. You will see other players get into crazy preflop reraising wars and turn over AKo and 88. This is not good poker super deep stacked. Note I’m not suggesting we should fold these hands, but really it’s ok to stop reraising with reckless abandon and playing 400+bb pots preflop. If you get into marginal situations, it is often prudent to err on the side of caution in the early stages. There’s an old saying, you can’t win a tournament in the first few levels, but you can lose it. Keep that in mind here.

And this leads us to the last point… early setbacks are not the end of the world. You flopped a set and lost half your stack to a rivered straight? Okay, shake it off, there’s more poker to be played. While this will make you one of the short stacks at the table, take note of how many big blinds you have. You will likely still have between 50-100 big blinds. This is nothing to panic over. While the early loss was less than ideal, a 50bb stack is plenty to work with. It’s critical to not lose your mind trying to “get it back” quickly, or tilt off the rest. Buckle down, stay focused, and play your “A” game. In the 2012 WSOP Main Event, eventual Champion Greg Merson was crippled down to less than 2 big blinds on day 5. If he can spin that back up into a win on one of poker’s biggest stages, you should never panic with a pile of chips as big as 50 bigs.

As you begin your Sunday Million campaign, try to keep these points in mind. Focus on observing what your opponents are doing, think about how you might be able to exploit what you learn about them, then look for situations to capitalize on what you’ve identified to accumulate chips. Protect your stack in the early stages, don’t be eager to put it all at risk in marginal situations. And when things go sideways early, never panic. Re-focus on how many big blinds you have and how you want to approach that stack size. 50 bigs may be the shortest stack at your table, but it’s still 50 bigs… there is a lot of play left in that stack to work with.

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