At the final table of any large multi-table tournament, the prize payouts increase rapidly with each player eliminated. Most players, especially the smaller stacks, are just trying to outlast their opponents, to move up in the payouts. There is good reason to do this, and mathematically we demonstrate this in From Vegas to Vietnam! using the Independent Chip Model (ICM). However, when taken too far, it can allow aggressive players like Qui Nguyen to show a profit too easily from blind stealing.
Let’s look at Hand #110 from Day #2 of the final table as an example. With four players remaining, the blinds were $500K/$1M with a $150K ante, for a total starting pot size of $2.1M. Qui open-raised to $2,350,000 from the button with 10h-7h. In the book, he remarks, “I had just regained the chip lead, and as such, I am the last player anyone wants to mess with.” To find out how often this needs to succeed to show an automatic profit, assuming Qui’s hand has absolutely no equity after the flop, we use the formula:
(cost to Qui) ÷ (total pot size, including his raise)
…so that comes out to:
$2,350,000 ÷ ($2,100,000 + $2,350,000) = 53%
In other words, this raise only needs to get through 53% of the time to show a profit, even assuming Qui loses every time he gets called, which of course won’t be the case playing 10h-7h in position.
Qui made this play four-handed, but even at a full table you can open with a wide range of hands from the button to pick up the blinds. Personally, I open-raise about 40% of the time from the button – even more if the blinds are weak. Here are the typical hands with which I open from the button:
Jumping back to Day #1 of the final table, Hand #31 is an interesting twist on blind stealing, but the principles remain the same. The blinds were $300K/$600K with a $100K ante. Eight handed, it was folded around to Vojtech Ruzicka in the small blind, who completed the $600K. There was now a total of $2 million in the pot. Qui Nguyen pounced on this, and made it $2,125,000 with Qc-9c from the big blind. Since he had already paid the big blind, this only cost him an additional $1,525,000, to win $2 million. Using the same methods as before, we see this only needs to succeed 43% of the time to show an immediate profit! When it doesn’t succeed (assuming Vojtech doesn’t re-raise), Qui gets to play Qc-9c in position, which will certainly show some additional profit. (In the book, Qui remarks that he would make this play with any two suited cards.)
Of course, Qui would tell you that in order for your blind steals to be effective, you also need to follow up with post-flop aggression when you do get called. There is a saying we use in the chess world that says, “The threat is stronger than the execution”. No one wanted to take on the Qui Nguyen juggernaut post-flop, which in turn made his blind steals so successful.
There are numerous other examples in From Vegas to Vietnam! of Qui Nguyen taking advantage of his shorter stacked opponents. When you are a big stack at the final table, it is mandatory that you do the same!