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Home Game Poker Tournament: The 15th Annual Turkey Shoot


Sky Matsuhashi

on December 5, 2019

The Turkey Shoot is a home game poker tournament my cousin Bert and his best friend Scott put on every year the day after Thanksgiving.  And this year marked the 15th anniversary.

It was held at Scott's home.  Two tables, a cast of familiar characters, 20-minute levels and 5 places paid.

I want to share with you my preparation and results for this year, along with a valuable tournament chopping lesson I learned (that cost me $200!).

Listen to the 15th Annual Turkey Shoot episode #268:

The 15th Annual Turkey Shoot Home Game Poker Tournament

Last year’s home game event (episode #213) was a $125 buy-in, 27-man tournament. I chopped it 4-ways and took home almost $400 in profit.

This year’s tournament wasn't held in a local card room like last year.  Instead, it was held at Scott’s house and we had just 18 players instead of 27.  But, being a home game, the buy-in was $110 with $100 going to the prize pool and $10 going to hot dogs, hot links and sodas. This was better than last year's $25 rake that went to the card room.  It was BYOB, so I BYO'd some beer.

I was also one of the two dealer-players and Bert was the other one. To “compensate” us for dealing, we were allowed to buy-in for a little bit less.  I readily accepted because I enjoy dealing and paying less for the same prize pool as everybody else is a win!

The great thing about having a full-time dealer in a home game is that you get in more hands. When the deal gets passed, things really slow down.  With my speed-dealing skills, we were able to get in more than one orbit every 20 minutes for the first 3 rounds.

As you experienced LIVE tournament players know, as the blinds go up and stacks get smaller there are lots of all-ins and people thinking about their decisions.  This causes poker to slow down even more and increases the cost of each round of play.

It took 3 hours to get to the bubble and just a few hands to get into the money.  The top 5 players got paid with 5th place getting $80 and 1st place about $650.

I was the one who busted in 5th.  With my smaller buy-in, I ended up making a few dollars in the tournament.  But, I also got to have some beers and hang out with a great group of poker peeps. This is a way better Black Friday than the one we all experienced back in 2011.

Home Game Poker Tournament Preparation

I prepare myself for optimal play before every LIVE tournament (even the home game poker tournaments). Here are the things I did and I recommend you do the same.

Lots of Online SNG Play

The 1st part of my preparation was playing a lot of online SNG tournaments. I didn’t feel like going to the cardroom and playing in any nightly tournaments.  I can fit in so many more tournaments and hands in that same amount of time, and I’m doing it from the comfort of my home.

Plus, in the small stakes of $3.50 and $7 SNG’s I play, my opponents were basically the same types that I was going to face in the Turkey Shoot.

I know this because I’ve been playing with many of these players for years like Bert, Scott, Rudy, Jacob, Tony, Jared, Gene, Don, Sarah and Donell.

Know the Player Types

A lot of these players are your standard low buy-in passive types.  They love limping and calling preflop and calling with any pair and draws post-flop.  This means that when they show aggression it's pretty easy to fold all but the best hands.

I'm sure you experienced local nightly tournament players know just what I'm talking about. Most players are very loose and passive who love to see flops.  Although, you occasionally find some pretty aggressive ones.  I'm one of the aggressive ones, but on the tighter side (TAG player).  But there were two LAG's there named Tony and Eddie, both at my table.  I had to watch out when they were still involved and had position on me.

But, Eddie busted before we merged one table and Tony busted on the bubble. I think Eddie got a couple bad beats but Tony's super aggressive ways burned chips and sent him packing on the bubble.

Classify them ASAP

The key lesson with LIVE tournaments: you must understand the players you’re up against.

I believe that at any table you can classify all of your opponents into their player type within the first 2 orbits, sometimes within just the first few hands.

If you see somebody doing a lot of limping you can assume they love to see cheap flops. You can also assume that this passive preflop style bleeds into their post-flop game, so they may be harder to bluff.

But if you see another player getting aggressive with open-raises, cbets, donk cbets and bets when they get checked to, you can safely assume that they're a LAG player who likes to bully others with their chips.

You must exploit players as soon as you understand them, especially in LIVE home game poker tournaments.  You must try to build your stack ASAP, and the weakest players are the most likely source of chips.

If you know somebody’s ultra-loose-aggressive, and you have position on them, it’s a good idea to start re-aggressing against them when you know they can find a fold. Shove their aggression back in their face and put them to the decision.

If you know that a player is super-loose-passive and loves to call, then you must value bet larger than usual. You flop TP with position against them? Don't bet a “standard” 1/2 pot, but make it 5 or 6 bb’s. If you think they can give you value, go for as much as possible.

One of your goals in tournaments is to build a huge stack so you have a better chance of making it deep and into the money. Exploiting what you know about your opponents is how you’re going to accumulate those chips.

Tournament Structure

You must know the tournament structure, preferably before it begins.  This is easy to do with card room tournaments because they usually have structure sheets printed out.  This will tell you when the antes kick in and you can estimate when you'll likely make the money.

In our tournament, we play 20-minute levels, making it LIVE turbo tournament. I’m very familiar with turbo tournaments so I know that I need to begin making moves fairly early.

We started with 130bb’s, but with blinds doubling every 20 minutes, that shrunk real quick.  Players started going all-in around the 4th level with the first bust-out in that same level or the 5th.

When people start busting out, everyone realizes that their tournament life is potentially on the line now.  This means you have to look for people who are overly concerned with busting out.  Two guys in particular, Joey and Jared both seem to not take too many risks and when they come out betting it’s with a pair or better.

When you find these scaredy-cats, you’ve got to target them for blind steals and for iso-stealing preflop.  When they limp in, they want to see the flop cheap.  So, make it 4-5bb’s and get them to fold (earning you a quick 3.5bb’s with a simple 5bb raise).

The Turkey Shoot t-shirt I won for making the money. I'm proud that I've earned loads of these over the years.

Preflop Stealing

You must prepare yourself to steal a ton of pots.

Preflop stealing of blinds and antes are a must, but everyone knows that.  In these low stakes LIVE tournaments, most people steal with open-raises a ton.  But, most people don’t do so with 3bets.  Home game poker tournaments are perfect for punishing players who open-raise too many hands and are willing to fold versus a 3bet.

To find players who will fold to your 3bet, pay attention to every showdown.  As soon as you see somebody in the EP or MP open-raise with J9s or A6o or 33, target them for 3bet steals especially when you’re IP.  A good time to test this out is in the early rounds when you’ve got lots of chips and the antes haven’t kicked in yet.

Post-flop Stealing

Don’t forget about post-flop steals. A lot of these low stakes tourney players are calling stations so it’s hard to bluff them.  But, look for players who seem to call a lot preflop, especially out of the blinds, and fold frequently vs cbets.  When you spot them, raise their blinds then cbet every flop.  Your job is to build your stack, so targeting players who call preflop then give up quickly on the flop is a profitable strategy.

This is another reason why it's critical try to play hands from the CO and BTN as much as possible. These are the best positions at the table because you have the most information on your opponents and they don’t understand the value of position as well as you do.  So, take advantage of this by raising weak players in the blinds and calling or 3betting other weak players who acted before you.

Also, take lots of stabs at the pot when they check to you.  These players bet for value when they have TP+ so their check indicates weakness.

Look for Weak Players

Another sign of weak players are those who bet for weird reasons (protection, to see where they're at) or make nonsensical plays.

I saw this one player bet 2x pot on a flop of T44.  Everyone folded and he showed his Ten.  Somebody asked him, “Why did you bet so much?”  His answer: “I was worried somebody had a 4.”

Does that make any sense? You’re worried that someone has trips, so you bet 2x pot with your TP.  This makes it easy for only better hands like trips or TPTK to continue.  He turned a potential value-betting hand into a bluff with that super large sizing on the hard-to-hit board.

Payout Structure and Getting to the Money

My cousin Bert announced the payouts right after he collected everyone’s money. Card rooms announce the payouts after the re-buy or re-entry period ends.

Your goal with any tournament of course is to take the whole thing down in 1st place.  But, a secondary goal that leads to winning is making the money. So, you must be aware of when the bubble is so you can adjust your play accordingly.

If you're a short or medium stack, you want to attack medium stacks who have a fear of busting. Don't attack large stacks who might be more willing to call. A loose player with a 40bb stack won’t think twice before calling your 8bb shove in an effort to crack you. You can't be surprised if you see them show up with A3o, K7s or 44. Now, you might be ahead of them with ATo or KJs or 99.  But, if you were bluffing with J7o in the hopes of adding some quick chips and they called with K7s, you’re probably leaving the table.

If you’re a large stack, pick on anyone who can find a fold, but watch out for short stacks who feel “pot committed”.  They might have just 2.5bb’s and are not folding anything in the BB.  If you have 20bb’s, losing 2.5 isn’t the end of the world, but 1 or 2 more mistakes like this and your 20bb big stack can be a 5bb shorty real quick.

Before your next LIVE tournament, do a little preparation first.  Don’t just show up and start playing.

Think first about the types of player’s you’ll likely face and review the structure sheet.  Gauge when you think you’ll enter the money so you can be prepared for the bubble.

While at the table, look for players likely to fold preflop and post-flop, and target them with your steals.

And above all, have fun and good luck! Now, I challenge you to take action!

Lesson Learned: Speak up during the chopping discussion

Because I did not speak up during the chopping discussion, I think I missed out on $200.

Here’s the situation: Tony just busted in 6th so we were now in the money.  I was a short stack along with Donell and Rudy.  The two big stacks had a bit more than us, maybe 12 and 9bb's. Doing an even chop would’ve netted each of us $330.  My idea would’ve been for us 3 short stacks to give $25 to each of the big stacks. This would’ve netted each of them a little over $400 and we’d walk out with about $280.

They had all been drinking a bit and nobody was making much sense and they were talking over each other so I just sat their quiet, hoping they’d come to a conclusion on chopping.  But then Rudy said, “Screw it, let’s play it out.”

I think if I would’ve spoken up, I could’ve turned my 2.5bb stack from going out in 5th and earning $80 to just ending the tourney right there and earning $280.

I think I screwed up and I cost myself $200 in value by being quiet.

Try an ICM Chopping Software

After the tournament, I went home and hit an ICM chopping software to see what my stack was worth.

ICM stands for Independent Chip Model and it tells you the $ value of your chip stack in relation to the other chip stacks at the table and the total prize pool.

This is what people often refer to as a “fair chop”.

When I ran the calculations, I found my stack was only worth $230.  Chopping and taking $280 would've been an extremely +EV decision!  Damn, should've spoken up.

Check out the ICM chopping calculator here.

Support the Podcast

Andrew Morris picked up PokerTracker 4, the best poker tracking software.  I love it and use it everyday!  In appreciation, I sent him a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4.  With a ever-growing database of hands to study and all the helpful features, PT4 is the go-to software for serious poker players.

Don Schiewer bought the Smart HUD with a 1.5 hour webinar for PokerTracker 4.  It’s the best online poker HUD in the business, and you can get the Smart HUD by clicking here.

Chris Wasson and Greg Thompson picked up the Effective HUD Use Webinar (10% off) so they can learn how to better use this critical tool to exploit their opponents.

Paula, Dale Silver, and Ian picked up the Getting the Most From PokerTracker 4 Webinar (10% off) because they know that I'm teaching exactly this in the webinar.  They're learning how to filter for leaks, run reports and dissect opponents (among many other things).

Lars just upped his poker study game by getting the How to Study Poker Webinar ($5 off). This webinar will help you get more out of your daily study time.  You ARE studying daily, right?


Sky Matsuhashi

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