Using Doug Polk’s Tournament Play To Improve Your Spin & Go Strategy

Using Doug Polk's Tournament Play To Improve Our Spin & Go Strategy

As promised in the previous installment of Exploring Upswing Poker, I’ve been working my way through UpswingPoker’s Poker Lab videos over the past few weeks on behalf of our Spin & Go Strategy fans and have continued to be impressed by the quality of the analysis, particularly in the plethora of MTT videos available from Mr. Doug Polk himself.

While watching one of these video series – a 4-part hand-history review covering every hand Doug played on the way to shipping a coveted Pokerstars SCOOP title – I was struck by just how much of the analysis was applicable not only to MTTs, but to most other poker formats as well, Spin & Go games included.

Therefore, I decided to share some of these universal poker strategy tips with all you eager grinders in the hopes that it can help you navigate through some of the tougher decision you face at the tables, be they in the PokerStars Spin and Go games or during your own MTT grind. So let’s get started and have a look, shall we?

To C-bet Or Not To C-bet

When coaching students in Spin & Gos, one topic of discussion that always seems to come up is C-betting; which of course makes total sense as it is one of the most frequent plays we encounter in the game. However, for all that’s been written and said about this topic, it still continues to pose a problem for many players including myself and, as it turns out, one of the best players in the game as well.

In this particular spot, WCGRider – aka Doug Polk – opens the 56 of puppy-feet (which, you may remember, is the nut suit) and gets a call from “Bad-Reg” Jason Mercier in the Big Blind.

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The flop brings a single-tone board that is very close to being the absolute nut-worst flop for WCGRider’s particular hand, but after Mercier checks, Doug c-bets his low-equity hand and takes down the pot when Jason quickly folds. Easy-peasy japanesy, right? Well, not so fast!

Immediately upon seeing the flop in the replayer, WCGRider says that he hopes to see himself check it back and, after observing the c-bet, affirms that he made a mistake by betting.

This is the point where Doug drops the following golden nugget that we would all be wise to internalize or review, depending on where we are in our continuation-betting strategy development. The reason Mr. Polk feels his c-bet was sub-optimal is not, as one might expect, simply that we will have better hands to bluff with (the “standard” explanation in this type of spot) but rather this much more intricate and astute observation:

Any hand that probes the turn is not going to be a hand that folds to this bet; so I can get rid of all those hands that this bet won’t work against by just checking back and bluffing later.

POW! Head asplode! Amirite?

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Not only does this concept perfectly illustrate higher-level reasoning for a relatively “simple” spot, but it also highlights the idea that just because we check back the flop, it doesn’t mean we can’t bluff on later streets (as long as we balance our ranges by checking back some of our value hands as well of course).

Spin & Go Strategy

As we can see, this concept can relate directly to our Spin & Go strategy, where we’ll often be raising a relatively wide range and completely whiff the flop. So the next time you’re tempted to c-bet blindly in a near-zero-equity spot, perhaps try the opposite approach of the “betting for information” strategy and instead look to check for information. You feel me?

But It Worked!

It’s true that Doug’s c-bet worked in this particular situation, but one mark of a strong poker player is someone who can analyze and improve their play even when all goes according to plan. Or, as Doug put it:

It’s not a question of does this play make money, it’s a question of what makes more money.

Spin & Go Strategy

Once again, this is an idea that has the utmost significance for our Spin & Go strategy as we will often have a +EV play, such as open-shoving 97s 15BB deep for example, whose counterparts (minraising and limping) are likely to show a much higher expectation.

When To Bluff-Catch

Although this is concept is a bit more widely-understood, it’s an important one to revisit for one very important reason: becoming a world-class bluff-catcher will not only help your bottom-line in a very direct and immediate way, but it may also instill in your opponents a deep aversion to bluffing you in the future, which is never a bad thing when you’re playing opponents who are bluffing relatively intelligently (as opposed to fun players who punt off stacks with bluffs that have little rhyme or reason).

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In this hand, WCGRider opens K7o on the button and cbets a J92ss board, which he once again admits was a mistake. After the turn goes check check, Doug’s opponent mexican222 decides to probe 55% of the pot, which Mr. Polk, who rivered third pair, eventually decides to call. Regardless of the way this specific bluff-catch turned out (not well), the important thing to note is Doug’s explanation of why this particular spot was a good one to do so: (quote edited for clarity)

In a bluff-catching situation on a flush-draw board, not having the flush-draw yourself should make you more likely to call since it increases the likelihood your opponent was on that same draw himself.

Since a “blocker” is a poker term used to refer to a player holding a card that represents one of their opponent’s outs, this concept is what essentially amounts to a “reverse-blocker”, meaning, once again, that our lack of blockers increases the likelihood of our opponent holding those same cards. Therefore, since WCG doesn’t hold hearts, queens, tens, or eights (all the cards that make-up the likeliest draws when his opponent check-calls the flop), the value of bluff-catching in this particular spot is about as high as it can get, all things being equal.

Spin & Go Strategy

Regardless if you’re playing multi-table tournaments or 3-handed Spin & Go SNGs, this concept will be directly applicable to many of the bluff-catching situations you will face at the table, so make sure you internalize it and begin applying it to your game the next time you hold reverse-blockers and face a tough river decision on a board that includes a wet flop with a dry runout.

Bonus Nugget

And finally, although this spot is much less applicable to the Spin & Go games seeing as non-all-in 3-betting is a much less frequent occurrence, I’ve had to explain the idea to my students so often throughout my poker coaching career that I’ve decided to include it here in the hopes I never ever have to repeat it again. Take it away WCGRider…

upswing poker spin & go strategy doug polk scoop pokerstars

If you have a hand you’re considering 3-betting, and you’re thinking “man it would really suck if he reraised me”, probably just take the flat.

Thanks Mr. Doug, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

See Doug’s complete SCOOP Review and many more videos by signing up to the Upswing Poker Lab.


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