Last night in a live 200 FO I saw some fine examples of how fear equity can determine not only the outcome of hands but the overall tournament placement. In particular respected players often ended up in the situation where a decision based on fear equity determines their route to placement (or not) on the final table early on in the middle stage.
A particular player was always calling serious preflop raises in position. This is a good way to play controlled aggression. Someone raises believably (3 blinds or so) in early position and the guy always calls from late position when no one else does. On the flop he also calls any cbet, but he will usually check behind when checked to. It’s not that he likes to make the pots big, but he does lean on the original raiser’s skill and persistance when he always calls like that. At this point the pot is over 10 blinds and if we are in middle stages in this kind of tournament, each player only has enough chips behind to make one more pot-sized bet on the river. The guy will infallibly bet the river, confirming the fact that he is not afraid to risk his tournament life on one hand, based on his attitude and temperament, and not specifically the situation at hand. In this case he bet with K high on an ace flop, only to be called by another K high who paired the kicker on the river. I can’t remember any tournament situation where I did something similar. Pre-determining my tournament destiny on a river bluff is just not how I understand tournament play. But I was glad to see an aggressive, confident player eliminated early from my table.
Another fine example is a so-called “luck player” who tends to put players at tough decisions in middle and late stages. Other players at the table confirmed my experience with him and were also looking for ways to take him out. We were implicitly colluding against a player who often won with a worse hand, simply because he is not afraid to draw out or to push out decent hands with scary bets from big pots. Hands like KJo or ATo are enough for him to stack against AQ or 99 occasionally, and last night when shortstacked he stacked my friend with AQ vs AK allin preflop, of course the Q flopped up first and my friend had to grind several small pots to return to an average stack. In the following hands I stack the luck player twice with AJ (uncalled) and with AK (calls with Ax, does not hit) and he is out.
At that point, a strange hand hapenned. At my right was sitting a flamboyant and aggressive young Chinese player, who since sitting down at the table talked and played over everyone with impunity. This can sometimes be beneficial to a weaktight player like me, who likes to work in the shadows of a peacock player careless with his actions. As a sidenote, while I pretend to be amused by their outright aggression, I am always watching this kind of opportunity because it allows me to disguise a strong hand behind the protection of the aggro guy betting in front of me. People have the image of a TAG about me, but in fact my play is on the weak side, where I do not ever try to push people out of pots without some showdown value. If I err, it is in believing that I have a hand that is marginally better than my opponent, but I am never the one to believe that the opponent is on a complete bluff (which they are often justified to be on, as a result of their viewing me as a rock who does not like risking much). Anyway I get dealt TT in the big blind and the aggro Chinese is sitting in button, when he gets dealt one of the card is slightly flashed towards me and he immediately asks me if I saw it. I said I saw a high card and he flips 55 open even before the deal is completed. The dealer asks us if we were misdealt! The first 4-5 players fold immediately and another guy in cutoff open-folds 22. The floor boss is called and he allows the hand to continue in spite of numerous protests, since my friend and I are still waiting to act. My friend shoves all-in for about 18 blinds and I flash call with my tens against his AK suited, knowing in advance that it’s better for either of us to have a big stack right then and there (we also swap winning percentages, so it’s EV+ for us to stack against each other whenever given the chance to). The flop comes low cards, I turn a T set and river pairs the board for my overfull. My friend is eliminated and I go on as table chipleader with what is now about 2.5x the average stack. The players comment how it serves him right to not take the misdeal! A few hands later the table is broken up and I am sitting near the bubble.
At the new table I raise AK first hand from UTG+1 and get respect all around. In UTG I get TT and I strangely fold it quietly instead of open-shoving as I would now, given the opportunity. Something about live MTT’s in late-middle stage, everyone is short-stacked at around 10-15 blinds. I possibly had about 18 bbs at that point and the chances of facing an overpair were less than 1 in 3. I figured that stealing the 2.5 blinds would not make the odds vs. elimination against an overpair. But in reality it’s not just the odds that gives me a reason to overplay a premium hand. It’s also the silent recognition that I am willing to go all the way at a given moment that will re-enforce my TAG image in the opponents minds. This gives me license later on to open-shove less credible hands. Anyway I also folded 66 in position vs. an early raise (could have reshoved and still survived a loss) and folded AJs from the blinds to an EP raise from a respected TAG regular who afterwards claimed to have KK. Then a very funny hand hapenned where the importance of timing is shown. An early position player stepped away to the bathroom, leaving his decent stack sitting there. The dealer collected his hand saw it before mucking it. Two other players decided to move all in K5s (shortstack) vs. 66 (defending bigger stack). The missing player returned and the dealer gave him his folded aces to see! The board ran KQJT and he got sicker tilting about missing the nuts versus two allins. That determined him to open-push his next big hand (AK, actually a reaosnable open-shove) and I called with QQ, which held and propelled me to chipleader position and into the final table.
My trajectory up to that point was barely touched by fear equity. But the strong players were eliminated because of a blindness towards fear equity. Inistead of relying only on tight-aggression skills, which seemed to be always sufficient to cause the opponent to lay down wither preflop or on the flop, they insisted on open-shoves or low-SPR bluff shoves on turn or river. When there is no fear equity in your opponent (either because they are desperate or because they connected well postflop) there is no point in moving in on them. Likewise, always calling from position with weaker hands is far inferior to reraising preflop with the stronger hand, taking control and building up fear equity int he opponent. Sure, I too open-shoved QJo one time when down to 10 blinds but mostly played conventional weaktight style and avoided coinflips like the devil. From my point of view, coinflips against equal or bigger stacks are going to be impossible to win sufficiently to make it to the final table often enough. Against much smaller stacks they are mostly OK.
The final table was remarkable only for a “fun player” who kept open-shoving short-stacks with hands like 94, 82, etc. He always won with two pair against any overpair (won against AA) and eventually busted out against the player next to him, who caught on to the whole tactic of open-shoving any two cards. I took out the respected TAG when he open-shoved JJ MP against my lucky AA in the button. The brave lady on my right bowed out graciously calling with JT from the blinds vs. my AQ BTN allin and that was rather nice since the turn came close to her straight on an QxxA board. Heads-up we chopped the 9k prize pot and I gave my friend the swap percentage (he promised not to gamble it immediately on blackjack, which he probably did a few minutes later) and left the casino happy and satisfied that I listened to my fear when it spoke and kept watching my hopes for the final 1-2 placement.
Without fear and hope there is no real poker.