What is ‘Hand-for-hand’?
Hand-for-hand describes a situation in the mid-to-late stages of multi-table poker tournaments where hands being played across several tables are made to start at the same time so that the same number of hands are played across all tables in a certain space of time.
This rule is to discourage players deliberately delaying their decisions in the hand in an attempt to survive longer in the game, either to make the payout places or to make a position where the payouts rise significantly.
In poker tournaments, the game will typically slow down as the number of participants dwindles and approaches the point where everybody remaining in the tournament will make the payout places. This situation is known as the ‘bubble’ and typically leads to players playing extremely tight poker and taking few risks, aiming to at least reclaim their buy-in.
While it is impossible to discourage players from slowing down by playing very tight poker, the hand-for-hand rule ensures that players cannot stay in the tournament on a very low stack simply by taking a very long time to play their hands, since it would also slow down hands being played on other tables if they did so, rendering it ineffective.
As well as players playing extremely tight poker, bubble positions can also see an increased number of very large or all-in bets, as players make a desperate attempt to double up their stack to survive until the payout spots or take advantage of players who will not gamble during the bubble. For this reason, bubble positions can last for a very long time.
Tournaments with payout structures which rise drastically at certain spots can also produce other mini-bubbles as players try to make higher payout places. Another situation similar to a bubble can also often emerge just before the point at which players make the final table. All of these situations are typically where hand-for-hand play will be employed.