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Machiavellian Poker Strategy
by David Apostolico
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In Tournament Poker and the Art of War, David Apostolico showed players how to use the strategies explored in Sun-tzu's military manual to dramatically enhance their tournament play. Now he focuses on that other timeless masterpiece of tactical thinking—Machiavelli's The Prince—and reveals its uncanny application not just to tournament play, but to all forms of poker.
Read a review of Machiavellian Poker Strategy
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Know Your Chip Leader

In a no limit tournament, there can be wild fluctuations in chip stacks. Luck, skill and circumstance can all play a role in propelling someone to a chip lead. Facing a player with a huge stack canDavid ApostolicoDavid Apostolico is the author of 'Machiavellian Poker Strategy', and 'Tournament Poker and The Art of War,' and his latest title 'Poker Strategies for a Winning Edge in Business.'  David's website is  be a daunting task. Not knowing how he got there can make that task more challenging. Let me offer an example from a two table tournament I recently played.

At our table, we had an eclectic mix of styles and skill level. One player was loose, aggressive and clueless — which usually translates into an early exit in this game. However, this player kept sucking out and managed to build a huge chip lead. To make matters worse, when we consolidated tables, the chip leader from the other table quickly gave all of his chips to our chip leader giving him a monster stack.

Now, our chip leader had not shown me one iota of poker skill all night so my strategy was to wait patiently for an opportunity. Once possessed with a monster stack, our leader’s style became quite effective even if unintentional. Even though we knew he was clueless, we were all somewhat powerless to do anything about it without of a decent hand. He wasn’t going to fold anything.

Still, I remained confident in the fact that our chip leader would self destruct and if I just played poker, I would find myself the recipient of his mistakes. When we got down to four players, I proved myself to be a prophet. There were three critical hands that turned things around for both me and our chip leader.

The first hand, I was in the big blind when our chip leader limped in followed by another limp from the button. The small blind folded and I checked my option holding 9c10s. The flop came 8-9-10 with two clubs. Certainly, this was a good but dangerous flop for me. I immediately decided to move all-in. I didn’t want anyone playing a draw and if someone had a made straight, then I would just have to live with that although I would still have a few outs. Our chip leader immediately called and the button folded. He turned over KK and my two pair held up. That was his first mistake. With the high blinds, he never should have slow played that hand.

The next orbit, I was again in the big blind when our chip leader limped. Again, the button limped and and the small blind folded. I had A-8 and the flop came K-8-8. This time I decided to just check and let our chip leader do the betting for me. He made a big bet on the flop, the button folded and I smooth called. The turn brought a blank and again I checked. This time he bet enough to put me all-in and I quickly called. He flipped over AA and was drawing to one out — the case ace. It didn’t come and I again doubled up. Again, he never should have slowed played this hand and allowed me a free look at the flop. After this hand I was still far behind, though, which shows you how big a chip stack this guy had.

The very next orbit, the very same circumstances. Our chip leader limps, the button limps as well, the small blind folds and I check my option with 10-4 off suit. The flop comes 10-7-2 rainbow. I throw out a feeler bet and get called by both players. The turn brings a K. This time, I checked. I still thought I had a better hand than the chip leader but I was somewhat concerned that the button could have a hand like K-10. To my surprise, both players checked behind me.

The river brought a 3 and I fired out a bet. Our chip leader made a substantial re-raise by forcefully throwing out some chips. He would have been better off waving a white flag as he essentially announced he had nothing. The button folded and I called quickly. Our chip leader turned over his J-6 off suit and I scooped a big pot. More importantly, our chip leader was now the former chip leader and he would never regain the lead.

The primary lesson learned here is that if your chip leader hasn’t earned his status, remain patient and wait for him to self-destruct. Poker is a streaky game and even the biggest donkeys will occasionally gather a mountain of chips, although they won’t hold on to them for long. It’s extremely important to know how a player got all of his chips. When we consolidated tables, the chip leader from the other table clearly gave our chip leader too much credit for his stack. The other leader tried to make a move on our leader and ended up losing all of his chips when our chip leader made a clueless call. If he had known how poor a player our chip leader was, he could have easily waited for a better opportunity.

I have an entire chapter dedicated to this topic in Machiavellian Poker Strategy for anyone interested in reading more.

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