Let's start off with pre-flop and the very first thing you should consider - stack size. I can't stress how important this is. The biggest mistakes I see are calling when they are too shallow, 3-betting without a plan if they get 4-bet, raising out of shallow stacks and making ridiculous overshoves pre flop.
All of these are examples of making decisions without a plan. Position, previous action, stack size, size of the blinds/ante, stack size of your opponents, opponents tendencies and how far along the tournament is are all factors that need to be thought about before a chip even enters the pot.
Planning in action
Lets say middle position opens to 2,500 with the blinds at 500/1,000/100 from a 45K stack. We're on the button with 100K. Before I go any further, how we proceed with various hands depends on a lot of things, the most important being your opponent and their tendencies, and your image. Now we consider three stereotypical opponents:
Opponent #1 - Middle-aged man with a hat
Opponent #2 - Young aggressive female
Opponent #3 - Young tight male
Now what would you do with the following hands against each opponent?
#1 - Middle-aged man with a hat
With I think we should start off by 3-betting. I know this may be frowned upon by a lot of online pros but I think it's perfectly fine to 3-bet this type of opponent very wide for value pre flop, with the intention of folding to a 4-bet. Against a player who never folds pre flop but has a 0.1% 4-bet bluff frequency, I think it's important to exploit his pre flop looseness (I think that's a word) and play a lot of flops against him heads-up in position. And we can happily fold when he 4-bets or shoves, knowing it's extremely likely he has a very, very strong hand. We should 3-bet pre flop knowing he will call 100% of his opening range (which we crush) and we can then make good decisions post flop with a much better hand, with position.
With the same theory applies, it's far ahead of his pre flop opening range but as with I don't believe it's strong enough to call if he moves all-in or 4-bets. So again we should 3-bet for value knowing we will be in position with his range crushed.
On to . . Given the fact he never folds to 3-bets, I think it's best to just throw this away. Although we will be in position, our hand flops so badly, and we could well be up against a better ace and get ourselves into trouble this shallow.
I think with we are still far ahead of hands he will open, so it's best to take the initiative pre flop and 3-bet. It's also much easier to win the hand post flop when you have the initiative pre flop. Again I think it's best to 3-bet here (with the intention of folding to a jam or a 4-bet), we're trying to get them to call with worse hands out of position, which will clearly end horribly for him and great for us :)
is a tricky one. I think I would go ahead and 3-bet but there's definitely an argument for just calling pre flop because our hand is quite awkward to play post flop on a lot of boards. But I do think it is just about strong enough to 3-bet for value, again with the intention of folding.
The is a slightly different spot. I would go ahead and 3-bet again here because our hand flops pretty well and we will be in position against a loose player. We are essentially 3-bet bluffing but we can take down the pot on a lot of flops and barrel our opponent off of better hands. But, playing this shallow, I would take more pot control lines when we do flop 'one pair' type hands as we could well get ourselves into trouble.
Finally the . I think folding here is pretty clearly the best choice against this opponent. Our hand is terrible and we will likely end up bluffing away a lot of chips with no equity to win the pot if we get involved.
#2 - Young aggressive female
With against this opponent, they are going to be very difficult to 3-bet as a bluff as they will likely 4-bet us far too much, far too wide, so we can't profitably 3-bet hands that we can't call a shove with. In general I might 3-bet now and again light against this type of opponent to keep it in their head that I'm at it, but I think it's best to just wait for strong hands. The great thing here is we can 3-bet and call a shove with a much wider range of hands, knowing that they won't be folding 2-2, A-7, J-T and so on. So with , it's a very easy decision to 3-bet and snap her face off.
is also a fairly easy decision. I think our hand is strong enough to 3-bet and call when she shoves.
is a clear fold. It's not strong enough to call pre flop, and definitely not strong to 3-bet and then call a shove. It's also a hand I might 3-bet and then fold to a shove, to keep her on her toes with a blocker, but it wouldn't be very often.
With , unless she is completely insane I don't think 3-betting and then calling a shove is an option, and I think 3-bet folding ruins our hand's value. It's a good spot to call pre flop, way ahead of her range, in position and with a hand that flops amazingly well.
a tricky spot. This comes down to how crazy she is. Against similar opponents I would 3-bet and then call a shove for sure, but against others I think it might be a bit thin. Whether I call or fold would depend on how well I thought they played post flop and how well I thought I did. With confidence against a weak player I think it's fine to call quite wide here, but if you are not that confident post flop or you fear they are a very good player, I think it's best to just fold and not get yourself into a mess.
I don't think I would 3-bet fold with here and obviously we can't 3-bet call, it would be totally dependent on the post flop ability of her and us. It's the same as the situation.
I don't think we can do anything other than fold the here. She will 4-bet too much to make our 3-bet profitable and our hand is terrible, so it's needless to call and try to own her post flop with such a bad hand.
#3 - Young tight male
With against this opponent I would be looking to 3-bet them light a lot, and call with hands I don't want to turn into bluffs because they flop so well. I'd only be 3-bet calling them with a very tight range of hands. So pocket Tens is quite awkward, I don't believe it's strong enough to 3-bet and then call a shove, and there is no reason to 3-bet if they fold everything worse. I think the best option is to call in position pre flop with what is likely the best hand.
Again I think is in the same category as , I would happily call in position against a passive player.
is a great spot to 3-bet light, knowing he will be folding far too much pre flop and hardly ever calling, so the value of how our hand plays post flop is irrelevant. And we have an ace blocked :)
is the same as Tens and , it's not strong enough to get in pre flop but more than strong enough to call in position with a sick hand!
With against this opponent, I think its fine to call pre flop, though it wouldn't be an awful decision to 3-bet our hand as a bluff because we can get into awkward spots post flop, but I think it's much better to call pre flop.
We have two options with . If he's particularly passive post flop, I think it's okay to call but I have a slight preference for just 3-betting pre flop and winning the hand most of the time.
is another spot where it's fine to 3-bet light against this type of opponent. They are perfect to be punished for their pre flop tightness, so attack them at every opportunity.
The Key to Winning
A play I've talked about a lot is 3-betting light, something which, with the right timing and picking the right spots, is an amazing way to accumulate chips with little risk and without having to go to showdown or even to have a good hand. Good hands are hard to come by, so it's important to keep accumulating and to preserve your stack as much as possible, and this is one of the ways to do it.
Everything I've said so far is a general outline and in real time there are many more factors to consider. Players are rarely as obviously predictable as the way I've described them and there are a million different variations so it's important to adjust to the way they are playing, to the best of your knowledge and ability.
It is also important to notice when they are reacting to the way you are playing against them. If they are tightening up, don't 3-bet as much because they will have a strong hand a large amount of the time. If they are playing looser, 3-bet them more, sometimes for value and sometimes for a bluff.
All of this might seem a bit overwhelming but I'm basically trying to point out that it's very very important to consider as many things as possible, and to use the information you have to the best of your ability. Plan for what is going to happen, be one step ahead and you will crush.