For those of you that regularly play tournament poker, you'll encounter coin-flip situations that you must play to have a shot to make the final table and eventually take down the tournament.
A coin-flip situation is basically one where you’re 50% to win the hand. A classic example of this is pocket queens versus A-K.
If you find yourself facing one of these situations, or you’re getting to the point of a tournament where you know coin-flips will happen, here are some tips to help give you a slight advantage.
1. Be the First to Move All-In
When you’re in a potential coin-flip situation, you want to be the first person to move all-in. This gives you fold equity and a chance to take the hand down without flipping.
Fold equity is important late in the tournament because chips become so valuable. When you move all-in you put your opponent to the test and he must evaluate his own predicament.
If your opponent decides he doesn’t want to flip, you take the pot and increase your stack. Even if he calls, you are still about 50%.
This is a classic spot where “aggressive poker is winning poker.” You’re not going to always force him out, but this move works enough of the time to make it part of your arsenal.
2. Avoid Flips With Dominated Hands
A lot of amateurs will play dominated hands thinking that they may be flipping at best. The reality is that they are setting themselves up to be dominated.
Examples of these types of hands are weak aces like A-6 and hands like K-9, Q-10, etc. When you’re thinking about flipping, you must consider whether or not your hand is dominated.
Sure, there are times you‘re going to play the A-6 hand, such as when you’re very short stacked. However, when you’re well stacked in chips, this hand is usually going to cost you a significant portion of your stack.
Taking a look at some stats, A-5 is only about 30% to win against any pair higher than fives. Hands like K-J are no better than 25% against any ace.
Even small pairs can get crushed in this type of situation. A small pair will only flop a set 12% of the time to outdraw a larger pair. Afterwards, you’re trying to hit 9%.
3. Don’t Flip When It’s Not Necessary
You will see some amateurs try and play coin-flips in spots where it's not necessary. For example, you might see a medium-stacked player play a coin-flip hand to try and knock out a short stack.
Another example is a big stack playing a coin-flip because “he has the chips.” Neither of these scenarios is smart poker and are not ideal situations to play flips.
In the case of the middle-sized stack, they are risking a solid portion of their stack just for the sake of an elimination. Most of the time, this is a bad play.
For the player loosely throwing his chips around, that’s how chip leaders blow their chip leads. You need to evaluate every situation you might be flipping in and decide whether it is appropriate.
If the flip isn’t necessary, find a better spot. Being on the wrong end of a couple ill-timed flips can devastate your stack.
Choosing the Right Time to Flip Will Improve Your Results
We're all smart enough to realize that we're going to lose our share of coin-flips that go to showdown. That’s just tournament poker.
However, we don’t have to lose every potential coin-flip situation.
As we have already discussed, careful timing and targeted aggression can help you take down pots before going to showdown and can help you avoid pitfalls some make in playing flips.
Greg Raymer had an amazing run in the 2004 WSOP Main Event. He won every flip on the way to winning his World Championship.
Following these tips won't make you a world champion, but they will help you improve your results in poker tournaments.