In 2008 when I won the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star Championship at one point I won 17 hands in a row. I had a pretty dominant cheep lead at the time and was in position to raise or be involved in just about every hand. I had control of the table, and would certainly have been considered the table captain that day, and it was an integral part of me taking down that title.
What exactly is the table captain though?
Well, the table captain is the poker player at the table who is setting the pace for the rest of the group; very often raising more hands than the other players each orbit, leading the way post flop, and in general making the first move in most to all situations they are involved with. It’s a position of great strength, as often you are putting your opponents at a great disadvantage, because they’ll very often being forced to make tough decisions, and tough decisions usually lead to mistakes. The more mistakes you can provoke from your opponents the better chance you’ll have at scoring a big win.
Before you jump right into the next tournament and start cramming raises down peoples throats, trying to assume the role of table captain there are certain things that need to be considered. As with most poker strategy, there are a number of factors to take in to account before deciding the right course of action.
The first check mark I like to make before jumping into command of a table is making sure I have an adequate chip stack. I like to have an above average stack, somewhere in the range of the top twenty percent of the tournament field. The next significant factor is your table draw, in fact, it may be the most important factor of all. There are just some tables that do not allow for this type of play, they’ll do anything to stop you and in these situations its best to just back off, and wait for hands. I go around and I read every single player at the table, and what I’m looking for is players that are OK with you stealing their blind just about every single time. Keep an eye on all the opponents’ style, and if you feel like you can outplay most of them, than the conditions are ripe.
Once the conditions are set its time to start raising. It doesn’t matter what your hand is, but once you see one of your marks in the big blind it’s a perfect time to raise it up, or get involved. If you see a semi-competent player to your left, you may want to limit the hands to a more playable category, such as suited connectors, pocket pairs, and weak paint like Q-J, J-T, Q-T, etc… Ideally you’ll be first into the pot and will take the pot down, but it’s also OK to flat call weaker opponents who are in the pot prior to you, if you have position and again the players on your left are weak enough to fold, or give up easily on the flop. Even though I like to be table captain, I am not a big fan of three-betting in many spots, because it often leads the pot to get out of control, therefore diminishing your edge as weak players will often be willing to commit themselves more in three-bet pots.
On the flop is when it’s time to make the decision to either retain control of the hand, or check out. Instead of looking for flops that are connecting with your hand, you should more be keeping an eye out on flops you don’t think connected with your opponent’s hands. If I’m in there with a 6-7 of spades and see a flop of say Q-J-10, I’m ok with just checking, and possibly giving up a chance at a continuation bet since it’s most likely hit my opponent. When you are raising so many hands, its fine to give up one, or two if you are winning the rest. You can’t be leading every pot.
Now more often than not though a flop will be prime for the taking. Something with a lot of low cards, or something like an A-3-5 flop, or a K-2-6; these flops are relatively dry and I’m leading at that flop the majority of the time. As table captain you need to be more looking at your opponents range than your own, and boards like this are prime as even if your opponent thinks you may be weak, its very difficult for them to make a move without a significant holding, leading to a lot of small pots going your way. While they may not seem to be worth much, winning four or five small pots is essentially the same as winning one big pot, and you are doing so with considerably less risk.
Now in the situation that you do hit your hand, now you still want to lead out because anything else looks suspicious. If you are leading at the majority of the flops, and then start checking your opponent may be smart enough to pick up on this. You’ll get far more value betting out, and forcing your opponent into making that mistake of raising you with a small piece, draw, or over cards thinking “He can’t have it every time, can he?
As table captain, though it’s important to have the ability to lay down hands. Since you’re winning so many, players will be waiting to take their stabs at you, so if they do show significant pressure, be ready to back down and release waiting for a better spot to battle.
Learning when to step up as the table captain is a very important aspect of tournament poker. You’ll need to rely on your table reading abilities, and board reading skills to identify the right and wrong time to take the wheel, but when you do take control and get comfortable with it you’ll see an instant boost to both your confidence and hopefully your bottom line.