3 Strategic Mistakes to Avoid in Tournaments with Nick Petrangelo

Meet the latest elite player to join the Upswing team: Nick Petrangelo.

Nick is a tournament crusher who you’ve probably seen playing the world’s biggest buy-in tournaments. He’s 30th on the all-time money list, with cashes totaling about $16,000,000.

In the past 4 months alone, he’s cashed for ~$5,700,000 and won his second WSOP bracelet.

He plays on PokerStars under the name “caecilius.” His online career highlights include victories in the WCOOP $25k High Roller for $624k and the Sunday Million for $209k.

You’re about to get an exclusive look into Nick’s training course, Winning Poker Tournaments. Each section below details one of three common mistakes made by most tournament players, plus how you can avoid making them yourself.

Let’s get to it!

Mistake #1: C-betting small (33% pot) on Ace-high boards vs. the big blind

Tournament regulars have been using small c-bet sizes for years, especially on ace-high boards. But, ironically, an Ace-high board is one of the flop types on which a small c-bet is least appropriate.

To prove this, Nick breaks down the solver-recommended strategy for the following boards (lojack vs. big blind):

  • A J 4
  • A K 2
  • A 5 4

Here’s what Nick had to say:

You kinda see these boards get grouped together by weaker regulars or guys playing a bunch of tables. I think we see a lot of high frequency 33% pot c-betting [from these players].

What I want to get into today is that [33% pot c-betting] is not a prevalent strategy on any of these boards. In fact, it’s way off. The 33% pot c-betting only happens on the A J 4♣, and it’s a low frequency play.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the solver’s recommendations and Nick’s thoughts for these boards.

The solver’s frequencies on A J 4♣ are:

  • Bet 90% pot with 37.82% of hands
  • Bet 60% pot with 20.08% of hands
  • Bet 33% pot with 21.62% of hands
  • Check with 20.48% of hands

I’ll let Nick explain:

[The in position player] only checks back 20%, so it is a really high frequency c-bet. But it’s strongly favoring betting 90% here, which is something I don’t see very often. I think it makes a lot of sense when you think about how the ranges interact.

[The] big blind is so wide... They have a bunch of flush draws that need to put money in the pot, but aren’t doing that well. And they have some weak ace-x that are gonna end up folding a bunch of turns and river.

We have a bunch of strong hands that we want to take advantage of getting money in the pot when he has the mandatory calls as soon as we can. And we also have a bunch of hands* that have pretty reasonable equity––but really high EV as barrels––that we start betting.

*Nick is scrolling his mouse over the low pocket pairs, here.

[With these hands] we’re gonna make him fold hands that have much better equity than ours. Like, we’re gonna get to bet big with 66 and he’s gonna have to fold stuff like J7, that basically has us crushed.

The solver's frequencies on A K 2♠ are:

  • Bet 90% pot with 50.47% of hands
  • Bet 60% pot with 3.35% of hands
  • Bet 33% pot with 2.51% of hands
  • Check with 43.67% of hands

We get to do some small betting [on A J 4] with some combos of KK and many combos of QQ (because QQ needs protection, whereas KK doesn’t). The QQ gets to protection bet a lot, and then we get to do linear betting with the JTs and the J9s for protection and some value.

That’s not really the case here [on A K 2]. We have the same equity versus the defending range as we do on the other board, but we don’t have the incentive to create that small linear betting strategy.

That’s a key difference in this hand. We don’t really have to protect here. And we’re benefiting more from getting more money in the pot with those K-x with a broadway and backdoors. Then we just check the ones that are weaker and not worth putting money in (like the K6, K7, K8, K9) because they don’t need protection and getting money in the pot isn’t worth that much--there are a lot of K-x that are beating them.

And then we have these hands like QQ, JJ, TT that really don’t need protection on the A-K-2 and benefit a lot from just checking down. We still get to run these big bets with the [lower] pocket pairs and use them as barrels.

We’re still c-betting a large size with hands that aren’t really that intuitive*.

*Nick is scrolling over the pocket pairs and very low equity bluffs like 65s, 76s, and other suited connectors that have completely missed, which the solver bets at a mixed frequency

The solver’s frequencies on A 5 4♠ are:

  • Bet 90% pot with 11.56% of hands
  • Bet 60% pot with 11.82% of hands
  • Bet 33% pot with 13.58% of hands
  • Check with 63.04% of hands

This A-5-4 is a very high frequency check back. The obvious thing that’s going on is, of course, we don’t have A5 offsuit and A4 offsuit. But another thing going on--that’s a little less obvious--is that the big blind’s distribution on this board is very polarized. We don’t wanna just put money in the pot with hands that have 50% equity against this polarized range*.

*Nick is scrolling over KQs, KJs, KTs here.

He adds that we don’t even get to barrel these hands on the turn that often after being called. We only get to barrel high cards, and not even the ones that give us a pair.

If we have a suited connector with a backdoor straight draw like 98 or T8, we still won’t get to barrel much because the cards that give us a gutshot also smack the big blind’s range.

[The high card hands] benefit a lot more from checking back. And then either hitting a pair that you share with the big blind--a hand he would have auto-folded on the flop--or hitting a flush draw that you share with the big blind.

Mistake #2: Check-raise bluffing with only high equity draws

Tournament players love to c-bet, and the best way to punish an over-c-bettor is with a well-structured and aggressive check-raising strategy. But do you know the specific hand-types you should use? Let's dive into an example to answer that question.

WCOOP $25k High Roller. Blinds 350/700/90. 7-handed.

Nick is dealt A J in the big blind
UTG (66k stack) raises to 1,554. 5 folds. Nick calls.

Flop (4,088): J♥ 3♣ 2
Nick checks. UTG bets 1,331. Nick raises to 4,200.

(UTG is RomanHLD, a tough cash game regular. And I should note that Nick thinks a larger check-raise would have been better.)

Nick breaks down the three categories of check-raise bluff hands in order of “savagery.” Let’s start with the most obvious.

High equity draws

On the J♥ 3♣ 2 flop, this category includes big flush draws with straight draws/backdoor straight draws (A4hh, K4, Q5) and combo draws (65, 64 or 54).

These are the most obvious check-raise bluffing hands––most of you probably already familiar with them.

Many players only check-raise bluff with hands from this category, but that results in a very high equity check-raising range that your opponents can exploit by overfolding. Consider: if you only check-raise with strong made hands and very strong draws, why would a thinking opponent continue light versus your check-raise?

To put your opponents in a tougher spot, you’ll need to mix in some check-raises with hands from the next two categories.

Backdoor hands and weak pairs that have nut potential

On J♥ 3♣ 2 this includes hands like 4♣ 2, 5♣ 2, and 65o (with a heart) at a high frequency. I think a lot of people would check-call these hands by default, and some tighter guys out there probably fold it, but Nick and the solver’s recommendation to check-raise is superior. It will be reasonably tough to win the pot otherwise.

Hands like 4♠ 2 or 65o (without a heart) are also check-raised for the same reasons, but at a lower frequency.

Savage bluffs

This section is driven by hands with a powerful backdoor flush draw and blocker, all of which have a straight draw or a backdoor straight draw: A6x, A5x, A4x, K5x, and K4x. Q5x and Q4x are good too if they’re in your preflop range.

Here’s why this makes a lot of sense:

  • You’ll pick up a draw (and thus a good barrel spot) on a number of turns.
  • You’re blocking the strongest top pairs and overpairs (AA, KK, QQ, AJ, KJ, or QJ)
  • When the flush completes, you get to use your A or K blocker to represent it.

Pulling from this third category is perfect when you're in a spot that calls for a high check-raising frequency, like the example above.

Mistake #3: 3-bet bluffing with suited connectors and suited Ace-x when under 40BB deep

With deep stacks behind, 3-bet bluffing with mostly hands that have good playability makes sense. But you need to shift your 3-betting focus to hands with blockers when stacks dip below 40 or 50 big blinds.

You want to 3-bet with hands that can hit strong top pairs and strong straight draws. These hands are perfect for value betting and bluffing postflop in these low stack-to-pot ratio situations.

For example:

SCOOP $5k. Blinds 1,750/3,500/450. 7-handed.

Nick is dealt K♥ Q in the hijack.
utg folds. Lojack raises to 8,050. Nick 3-bets to 28,500. 4 folds. Lojack calls.

Specific hands Nick recommends 3-betting in the example above include:

  • Suited 9x such as K9s, Q9s, or J9s
  • Offsuit broadways such as KQo or AJo

Hands like 76s or A3s just don’t play that well as 3-bets at this stack depth, especially when facing an open-raise from early position; there simply won’t be enough chips to maneuver postflop, and these speculative hands often need to get to the turn or river to realize their equity--a tough proposition with just 2 pot sized bets behind.

Winning Poker Tournaments with Nick Petrangelo 

After watching several videos from the course, I am absolutely blown away by Nick's expertise and his ability to explain the game in an understandable way. So, get excited! 

If you're ready to start learning from Nick, you can get Winning Poker Tournaments right here!